All of the early hype and excitement about a new regime came crashing down Saturday night, as the Gators put on an uninspired display, getting embarrassed by Kentucky in a 27-16 loss. That about does it for the last remnants of the football program pre-2010, as the last positive streak came to a desultory end. Nothing is left from the great run of 1980-2009, and the rebuild now appears to be more of a 3-5 year one.
It appears that too many, including the players, bought too much into the fool’s gold of the first game. It was stunning to hear Coach Mullen say in his post-game presser that he and the coaches witnessed first-hand how the team felt entitled and practiced poorly all week. It looks like there are still a lot of bad apples left behind from the Swamp Donkey’s tenure, and the new staff is stuck with playing most of these guys as there is a lack of SEC talent and depth at the OL, LB, and safety positions that will take years to restock. Hearing how the team came in overconfident is mind-boggling – talk about out of touch with reality.
There isn’t much analysis needed – the OL and DL were outplayed, outhustled, and physically beaten all night.
On offense, it’s apparent now why Mullen has chosen to throw so often – the OL is soft, and doesn’t play with the attitude necessary to run block. Combine this with a mediocre QB, and it’s a recipe for disaster. The absence of Brett Heggie at guard or center is really being felt, and he can’t get back soon enough to bolster the interior O-Line. It may be time to shuffle positions and put Ivey back at guard, bench both Jordan and Johnson, and get some young guys in. John Hevesy is supposedly a master technician as a position coach – let’s see it. There was actually one area the OL performed well in – the draw plays were effective all night. .Franks is what he is – even when given time he misses open guys or is late with the throw. When he’s pressured at all, it’s a complete crapshoot. The skill guys did what they could to offset the poor OL and QB play. Malik Davis is still recovering mentally from his knee injury, bit is starting to show flashes of his old form at RB. Perine is excelling on 3rd downs, both running and receiving. Scarlett, however, looks tentative and slow – he has lost whatever juice he displayed in 2016, and is in danger of losing snaps. The WRs consistently bailed out Franks on bad throws. There was a ton of YAC and two potential scores lost due to inaccurate throws. Once again, it appears the jet sweep is not allowed at Florida. Toney (again) is being underutilized – he is electric with the ball. Perhaps it’s time to move him to the QB room. Finally, what was up with the first play of the 2nd quarter? Run the damn ball and get a first down or TD there – that cost the team 4 important points. If that was the call from Mullen, despite the struggles of the O-Line, it was brutal.
What did I think of the execution of the defense? I’m all for it. That was one of the worst tackling displays in memory, as the Wildcats gained 168 freaking yards after contact! It was shocking how bad the DEs were at setting the edge or playing contain on the QB or RB. I’m not sure how much blame to pin on the staff, as some players apparently don’t want to be coached. It took until the 4th quarter, but Polite finally started to play the read option correctly on handoffs to the RB and made some tackles for little or no gain. Too little, too late, though. The LB fits in the run game were horrendous. Joseph just freelanced and continually got pinched inside, and Jackson’s tackling technique was awful. Just having a healthy David Reese to bolster the run defense may have been enough to win – he may struggle in pass coverage, but he’s by far the best run-stopper on the team. The safety play was terrible. Brad Stewart is approaching “bust” territory – many had high hopes for him. Taylor is getting lost in pass coverage. I knew things were bad when Stiner was named a starter – he may work hard, but he’s just not a SEC-caliber safety. The injury to Shawn Davis is really being felt here, and no one knows exactly when he’ll return. To add injury to insult in the secondary, all-SEC candidate Marco Wilson is out for the year with a torn ACL. After he went down on the second defensive snap of the game, the entire defense seemed a little deflated. Trey Dean gets his chance now to back up a lot of his talk – he made some plays, but also looked like a freshman on occasion. If he or Henderson go down……yeesh. CJ was all over the field all night, even though you could tell he was gassed. I wasn’t impressed with Coach Grantham’s schemes, either. I wonder if he’ll ever decide to spy a running QB? Where is all the blitzing and pressure that was promised? What’s the worst that could happen – the QB breaks contain and converts 3rd-and-long plays all game? Oh, wait……
Colorado St. comes into the Swamp with a lot of momentum off of a surprising 4th quarter comeback win at home over Arkansas. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Gators react to such a dispiriting loss. The players better focus on nothing other than improving themselves – they ain’t all that, despite what they may have thought. The Rams came back against Arkansas with their passing game, and with the injuries and lack of depth in the Gator secondary, I expect a lot of passing by them this week. I wonder if the game plan for the Florida offense will be pared down to more basic plays, despite the potential wasting of so much talent at the skill positions. The O-Line has to get better, and Franks has to improve his accuracy. I hope the RBs are incorporated more into the passing game, and that there are some quicker throws to the WRs to allow them to make plays in space. If they start slowly, there will be rumblings from the stands – Gator Nation is not happy right now.
This is an early fork in the road for Mullen and the team. Will the players pick themselves up and allow themselves to be coached and improve, or will they tank? Or will they not take either path and just run directly into the tree? I’m still holding out hope for a winning record, but the loss to Kentucky was sobering and exposed a variety of problems. The coaching staff has a lot of work to do to build the players back up and improve their play. It’s time to start using the bench as a motivator to adjust some attitudes and to get some young guys in if the upperclassmen don’t want to buy in. This has suddenly become a critical game to set the tone for the rest of 2018.
Prediction: Florida 31 CSU 21