One Exhausted Gator Fan, Halfway Through the Season

College football…what a sport. What a great sport. If you’re reading this blog, it’s probably because you love college football as much as I do. I think it’s the greatest sport of them all. Nothing in this world is perfect, but a packed college football stadium on a warm Saturday evening is pretty darn close.

If you ask any passionate football fan what the only downside of football season is, I bet I can tell you what their answer would be. I’m as sure of the answer, as I am sure that the Florida Gators run a slow developing delayed hand-off up the middle on every single solitary first down. Yeah. That sure.

The one, and maybe only downside to college football season, is that it goes by way too quickly!

College ball kicks off on the eve of September and ends promptly after the first week of January. And like the Energizer Bunny, once it starts, it keeps going, and going, and going.  All of that physically and mentally demanding work in the offseason boils down to 12 games. 13 if you can win half of them and 14 if you’re among the best in your conference. Then it goes in the history books.

And here we are, just past the middle of October and already into week nine of the season. For fans of teams like Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Miami, this season must feel like it’s just racing away. It’s been quite a year so far for those schools; Alabama is still the team to beat at the top, Oregon and FSU both have National Title and Heisman dreams, and Miami has come out of nowhere to an undefeated start and top 10 ranking. I guess the saying is true—time flies by when you’re having fun.

So, if you do believe in that old adage about time and fun, the opposite must apply when you aren’t having fun. Right? That makes sense to me.

Well, what makes a football season fun? You all remember the ridiculous mantra from little league— “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as you have fun.” Sorry coach, there’s no fun in losing…although that Jaguar performance up in Denver the other week was actually pretty fun to watch. But I digress. The tailgating and the cheering and the atmosphere on any given Saturday is always fun, but it’s never fun to lose. I think we can all agree on that.

The Florida Gators have now lost two games in a row in which it has totaled just one offensive touchdown. In Gainesville, the only thing that makes or breaks a football season is wins and losses—bottom line. Plagued by injuries, this team needs to find a leader now more than ever. Better yet, a leader must emerge by his own standards, and rediscover this team that has played absent-minded football for two weeks.

Once upon a time, the Gators were known as “The Fun N Gun”. Those teams were perennial winners. It’s always great to be a Florida Gator, but the word “fun” doesn’t come to mind anymore when watching this team. And the only “gun” associated with this Gator team is the one is uses to shoot itself in the foot every rare chance the offense finds the redzone.

This explains why the season is moving at such an excruciatingly slow pace if you’re a Gator fan. The Energizer Bunny has been replaced with a tortoise. He keeps dragging, and dragging, and dragging along, much like the Gator offense as of late. I know I can’t be the only one who thinks it.

It’s been so bad that I’ve had to turn off sports radio all week. I just can’t put myself through it right now. I usually listen to Jeff Prosser and Dan Hicken every morning on the way to work, and I’m always down to “pop off” alongside Hacker and Joe C! But after a week like last week, it’s been nothing but Garth Brooks greatest hits on my CD player.

And here we are, Gator fans, in the middle of our bye-week and trying desperately to regroup before the game previously known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” comes to town. It was two years ago, after the FSU game in The Swamp, when Will Muschamp challenged his team’s manhood and deemed them “soft.” Florida looked soft against Missouri, especially on the offensive line which was supposed to be the strength of Florida’s offense.

Florida sits at 4-3, and is entering the crucial portion of its season. The Gators play five games in November, starting with Georgia and finishing with undefeated, second-ranked FSU. If you want to blame the disappointments and the losses of this season on the injuries, that’s fine! I think that has more to do with it than anything. Florida is absolutely decimated. But Georgia fans will tell you to sell that sob story someplace else.

The ‘Dawgs come into this game just as beaten up as the Gators, maybe even a little more swollen. Florida must overcome its injuries and adjust its gameplan according to the 11 players it will field on offense. Muschamp wants to pound the ball and wear down the opposition and rely on his defense to force a low scoring game. That strategy has to be tweaked at the very least. If Florida continues to refuse to take deep shots down the field, opposing defenses will continue to load the box with seven and eight men and shut down the running game.

Brent Pease was brought to Florida because of his creative and innovative offensive mind, but for whatever reason, Florida’s offense is one of the most predicable and ineffective offenses in the SEC. Pease must open up the playbook and take more risks. With the Georgia game approaching, Florida needs to create an offensive gameplan that Georgia will not be prepared for.

This game won’t steal the headlines like it has in years past, but it’ll be just as hard hitting and tightly contested. Go ahead and throw away the records and toss the excuses to the can. Whatever remains of Florida’s season comes down to November 2nd. Oh, and by the way, the same goes for Georgia, which has gone from National Title contender, to unranked in a matter of weeks.

Florida is trying to prevent a three-game Georgia winning streak—something that hasn’t happened since the Ronald Reagan Administration. Will Muschamp, a defensive back for Georgia under Ray Goff in the 1990s, understands the importance of this year’s game in particular. I don’t think his job is on the line, but a third loss in a row to Georgia just might be the final straw for a number of Gator fans.

My advice for the Gators: Rest up this week and watch plenty of film. And make sure you don’t forget to watch replays of the 2011 and 2012 Florida-Georgia games. One striking aspect of this rivalry is momentum. Georgia has found ways to keep momentum on its side the past two years. Florida must win the psychological edge if it wants to beat Georgia this year. That goes for the Gator fans, too. I was in the stands of EverBank Field last year, and frankly, the ‘Dawg fans were much louder last year, and the players were motivated from it. I plan on seriously damaging my vocal chords this go-round.

The Gators and ‘Dawgs have fallen far behind Missouri in the SEC East, but certainly not too far. A couple of Missouri losses would turn the SEC East completely upside down. Ironically, Missouri being undefeated is what has turned the division upside down in the first place!

Danny Wuerffel once said, “All you can ask for in life is a chance.” Well, the winner of next Saturday’s game has at least a glimmer of hope and a chance to get back into the hunt for the Eastern division. The loser…well they can take some advice from my good friend Garth and “slip on down to the Oasis” for the rest of the year!

Gators Revert Back to 2012 Formula

Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy’s first start was a memorable one, as the Gators now own the longest winning streak by one SEC team over another in an annual, uninterrupted series. Florida has defeated Kentucky for the 27th consecutive time, 24-7.

It was a dominating all-around performance for this Gator team, which finally looks comfortable in its own skin after a rather shaky September start. Florida’s opening drive against Kentucky set the tone for the rest of the game, as the Murphy-led Gator offense started from its own seven yard line. It was by far the most impressive drive of the season—Florida drove 93 yards on 13 plays, converted three 3rd downs, chewed up almost eight minutes, and most importantly, capped the drive off with a touchdown.

It’s been a smooth transition for Murphy so far. Had you only looked at the stat sheet, you would have never believed it was his first career start as a Gator. His performance was like the second coming of the great “famous” Jameis Winston of Florida State (insert sarcasm here). Murphy completed his first 13 passes of the night, while throwing and running for a touchdown in the first half.

Perhaps the most crucial stat since Murphy has taken over as quarterback is Florida’s redzone efficiency: Seven trips, seven scores. Six touchdowns and a field goal.

While Jeff Driskel is arguably Florida’s most talented quarterback on the roster, Murphy has proven thus far to be a better decision maker, which is all this team really needs under center. Florida’s offensive production in the Muschamp era, or lack thereof, has been a topic of scrutiny for quite some time now. In year two of Brent Pease’s offense, Gator fans were expecting a much improved attack in 2013. These expectations were not unfounded, but like it or not, they have been put on hold due to the current situation the team faces.

It seems as though Florida has reverted back to its strategy from a year ago: Ball control, ball security, and great defense. It resulted in an 11-1 regular season, and with the defense that Florida has, particularly its defensive line and secondary, it is not unrealistic to believe the Gators still have a good chance to win the SEC East.

The key ingredient to Florida’s offense last season was a great running back. Florida had that in Mike Gillislee, who rushed for over 1,100 yards.

Running back Matt Jones, fresh off a career high 176 yards rushing against Kentucky, appears to be the man most likely to fill the shoes Gillislee left behind. Jones, who battled through a nagging viral infection during the summer, has seemingly hit his stride and will be expected to carry the load and build off of his successful day in Lexington.

If Jones is able to mirror the success of his predecessor, good things are likely to come to this Gator team that is seeking its third straight SEC victory against Arkansas on Saturday.