SPORTSTALK

Gator Deflator

Florida football has myriad midseason maladies

Posted

3:30 p.m. Nov. 2

EverBank Field, 1 EverBank Field Drive, Downtown

Sold out, but tickets can be found on resale sites

Hello, Gator fans: four wins, three losses and third place in the SEC East – that's not what you expected going into this season, am I right? And the untimely end of quarterback Jeff Driskel's era — that took you by surprise, too. I wish I had some answers for you. I wish I could say that if a few things just went better for the Gators, then they would be back in the mix.

Basically, I wish I were a better liar. But I'm not.

I deal in reality. And the reality of the Florida Gators is harsher than last week's cold coffee. It's not as simple as losing the starting quarterback, or Dominique Easley from the defensive line, or Matt Jones — no, not the erstwhile Jaguar with the Foot Locker discount card — from the running back stable. The problems with this team cannot be isolated to one or two or three key personnel. They won't be fixed in time for the Nov. 2 Florida-Georgia game. They won't be fixed in 2013.

It's arguable that there are too many problems to list here, but I'll touch on the major ones.

Lack of imagination: An old adage applies to the Gators offense: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This holds true for the putrid offensive football we have seen this year — and really throughout the Will Muschamp era. Florida Gators football for years was among the most exciting college football to watch in the entire country. Throughout the Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer eras, even non-fans could watch Gators football and know that they were going to see something worth watching. Now? What we get is some low-rent, wannabe Woody Hayes "run the ball, stop the run, and play smashmouth" template that works better in theory, or in sepia-tinged photographs from yesteryear, than in practice. Muschamp built the team to play 16-13 games against Alabama. However, when Alabama needs to throw the ball downfield and score 50, the Crimson Tide can do that. We know the Gators cannot.

Bad personnel evaluation: Exhibit A: Kelvin Taylor. Son of Fred Taylor — the best running back in Jaguars history and arguably the best in the illustrious history of the Florida Gators. It took until midseason for Kelvin Taylor to get significant playing time, in spite of his elusiveness and his pedigree. No one really knows why Jones and Mack Brown kept Taylor off the field earlier than he was absolutely needed, except, well, they were upperclassmen. Taylor had 74 yards in the crushing loss to Missouri — almost half of the total offensive output. There is little chance that a Muschamp team would be able to recruit a legit top-flight quarterback like Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel or FSU's Jameis Winston at this point — believe me, no one with real skills is going to want to come to Gainesville for the rest of the decade. But if a player did, he probably wouldn't play for years — not because he lacked talent, but because he lacked tenure.

Support will dry up: Let's suppose the Gators lose to Georgia. Lose to South Carolina. Lose to Florida State. Let's suppose this is a six-loss team, one that scuffles its way to a December bowl game. What will happen? The stands will be empty, and the booster clubs will be mutinous. And they should be. People have been conditioned to expect quality product — double-digit wins and contention for conference titles. Remember how Ron Zook was run out of the 352 area code? He was exiled from Gator Nation for a lot less, in terms of demonstrated semi-competence, than Muschamp.

Unless the Gators find a way to turn it around and win some games, sort of like longtime assistant Charlie Strong has done in Louisville with his Heisman candidate quarterback "Steady" Teddy Bridgewater, Muschamp will not be here for 2014. Nor should he be.

The Gators program is like a Formula One racecar — it demands high performance. As it should, given the wealth of talent in the Sunshine State's high schools, especially at the skill positions.

Of course, I've been wrong before about football. I thought the Jaguars would be a lot better than they were at the beginning of the season — a function of irrational exuberance because of preseason games and what appeared to be a nice draft. I really would prefer to be wrong about Muschamp's Gators. Unfortunately, I don't see much hope. The offense is static, and the defense is not strong enough to compensate, and no easy fixes appear on the horizon.

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