5 Keys for a Successful Offense in 2014

 

will-muschamp-570x379For a program whose success has been synonymous with fielding a high-powered, fast moving offense, it goes without saying the first three years of the Will Muschamp era have been a difficult adjustment for Gator fans.

Muschamp however, entering his fourth, and likely, make or break season at Florida, has been forced to make a major adjustment of his own—by remodeling his team’s offensive philosophy, hiring offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, from Duke.

Roper, a David Cutcliffe protégé and quarterbacks guru, has been called upon to fix the once powerful engine known as the Gator offense; an offense that has struggled to create any sense of an identity, other than being consistently inconsistent. You’d have to go back to the days of Tim Tebow to find a Gator offense that meets the standard set by Steve Spurrier long ago.

There are many spots to point fingers when you try to make sense of Florida’s anemic offense under Will Muschamp—inserting a pro-style offense with spread personnel, questionable playcalling with seemingly no intentions of taking risks or creating big plays, etc.—none of which matter when it comes to the 2014 Gator offense. Implementing a revamped offensive scheme for a full offseason, and a healthy one at that (so far), there will be no looking in the rear view mirror for these Gators. Led by quarterback Jeff Driskel, a slew of talented running backs including Kelvin Taylor, and a young, explosive group of receivers, the Gator offense realizes the importance of finding a rhythm that has been missing for the length of their careers at UF.

Although coming off a season in which Florida finished 114th in points per game, an all too familiar position under Muschamp’s watch, there is certainly an aura of hope and excitement in Gainesville again with the hiring of Roper. Not only does Florida’s offense return with more depth than it’s had in years, but it seems as if Roper’s system—an aggressive, no-huddle spread attack—will be a much better fit than his predecessors’.

With that said, it is difficult to tell whether or not the Gator offense will flourish in its first year under Roper at this point; the task at hand is a demanding one. The Gators face one of the toughest schedules in the nation, playing Alabama, Georgia, and FSU all away from The Swamp, while hosting Missouri, LSU, and South Carolina. All are familiar faces, and all are due for an Orange and Blue payback.

Here are my four keys Florida must maintain if it wants to have a successful offense under Roper in 2014:

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 8.53.15 PM

1. Stay healthy. While obviously an area of importance for any football team, this has to be the greatest concern in 2014. The Gators are coming off a year in which it couldn’t field enough healthy players for a spring game, an eerie case of foreshadowing for the 2013 season. Consider this: the last time a Gator quarterback started each game in a single season was 2009. That’s half a decade. What other major program has suffered that? Although the Gators are better prepared to sustain injuries than last year, what team is really prepared to lose their starting quarterback in game three? It would be a nightmare scenario and an almost guaranteed fate-sealer for Muschamp if his team suffers another slate of injuries the way it did a year ago.

2. The emergence of Jeff Driskel. I believe Driskel has the all the physical tools to take this team back to Atlanta for a shot at an SEC Title. Granted, there’s plenty of uncertainty when you look at his numbers and performances. For as many poor moments and decisions Driskel’s made, however, he’s still the same player who led Florida into Texas A&M and FSU, and came back with victories in two extremely hostile environments. In both games, Driskel had some key runs that kept drives alive and set Florida up for some scores. Something has to be said about a first year starter leading a team into those stadiums—especially in Tallahassee, where he displayed a gutsy performance just two weeks after a high ankle sprain.

When you consider the type of offense Driskel will run this season, you can’t help but get excited about the potential that clearly exists. You can bet a number of plays in Roper’s playbook involve #6 calling his own number. Driskel’s mobility is the secret ingredient that could end up making this offense come around full circle. With such a predictable offense the past two seasons, Florida’s no-huddle attack will be anything but predictable. Just imagine Driskel leading an up-tempo Gator offense, racing across Florida Field like Scottie Wilbekin going coast to coast in the O’Connell Center. Driskel’s mobility, coupled with the multiple threats at running back, could create a lot of headaches for opposing defenses.

3. Finding a go-to receiver. Although the Gators lose two of their top three receivers from 2013, Solomon Patton and Trey Burton, the receiving core should be the deepest it’s been in the Muschamp era. Led by Quinton Dunbar, Florida’s receivers include a plethora of young talent in Ahmad Fulwood, Demarcus Robinson, Latroy Pittman, Valdez Showers, Alvin Bailey, and some big bodies to throw to at tight end; there is no reason why Florida’s offense can’t be anything less than dynamic. Dunbar will most likely be Driskel’s go-to receiver as he’s been a consistent target the past two seasons. If Dunbar is able to fill this role as the go-to, opportunities will arise for other receivers to become an integral part of the group. Driskel has raved about Robinson’s big play ability all spring, and Fulwood showed flashes last season that he could become a dependable target in the future. While Robinson’s game has more to do with yards after the catch, Fulwood, standing at 6’3″, has the length and deceptive speed to open up a facet of the passing game that Florida hasn’t seen in quite a while—the deep ball.

4. Limiting turnovers. One of the most telling statistics in all of football is turnover margin, an area in which Florida enjoyed a +15 ratio in 2012, yet dropped to -2 in 2013. Turnovers are huge—they’re drive killers when you commit them and they’re momentum shifters when you force them. You can’t help but reflect on the Miami game when you talk about the turnover issues the Gators suffered last season. Despite committing five turnovers, four of which occurred in Miami territory, Florida nearly doubled Miami’s offensive yardage and was still well in position to win that game late in the fourth quarter. Take away just one of Florida’s interceptions or fumbles and the Gators probably leave South Florida with a win, rather than a gut wrenching defeat that was a sign of things to come. It’ll be up to Driskel to fully understand Roper’s concepts and formations—something he should be able to handle as a redshirt Junior, although won’t be easy considering the new offense he’ll be directing. The entire offensive unit needs to spend a lot of time with each other this summer. Turnovers are especially important in the redzone, and the Gators must make that an area of great concern throughout the 2014 campaign.

5. Creating balance in the running game. The running back position may be Florida’s strongest group on offense. The spring game featured the introduction of Adam Lane, who will displayed an impressive combination of shiftiness and power. Lane is the newcomer to the core of running backs that have already proved to be a talented group. Kelvin Taylor, who earned the starting role by progressing throughout his freshman season, appears to be well on track to becoming the breakout threat Gator fans hoped he’d be after enrolling at UF. Taylor’s combination of speed, explosiveness, and strength makes him Florida’s most dangerous ball carrier. Not to be forgotten, Mack Brown and Matt Jones add experience and dependability. Brown looked like he was in the best shape of his life in the spring game, showing improvements in acceleration and hitting the hole. Jones, the starter last season, comes with a degree of uncertainty because of health issues. If he can remain healthy throughout the year, Jones will get his fair share of touches and a chance to become a major part of the rotation.

With each back possessing their own particular skill set, the potential for Florida to create a balanced and dangerous running game is there for the taking. It will be interesting to see how Roper handles the rotation, and I’m sure he’s drawn up a ton of misdirection that’ll involve Driskel.

The Best Moments of the Ron Zook Era

The Ron Zook Era (2002-2004)

zooker3

 Quick stats:

  • Overall record: 23-15 in three seasons.
  • 2002: 8-5 overall | 6-2 vs. SEC | 5-0 vs. SEC East | 1-2 vs. SEC West
  • 2003: 8-5 overall | 6-2 vs. SEC | 4-1 vs. SEC East | 2-1 vs. SEC West
  • 2004: 7-5 overall | 4-4 vs. SEC | 3-2 vs. SEC East | 1-2 vs. SEC West
  • SEC records: 16-8 overall | 12-3 vs. East | 4-5 vs. West

Ron Zook. “The Zooker.” Ron…Zook…

Well, what can I say?

Although lacking the ability to articulate fluid, coherent sentences—often stumbling and mumbling through halftime interviews—Zook never lacked emotion and enthusiasm, both on and off the field (just ask the Pi Kapp Fraternity boys).

Zook, I believe, really loved the University of Florida, also. If you saw footage of his press conference after being fired, you’d get that sense too.

zookerThat’s the biggest shame of his short-lived tenure at Florida (short, unless you’re a Gator fan…those were three long years) . He really loves UF! I think Zook will always be a Gator to some degree, as he spent multiple years at Florida; first as an assistant under Steve Spurrier, second, of course, as Commander in Chief of Gator Nation. He was a players’ coach, a master recruiter, but a horrible game manager.

Many believe Zook never had a chance to succeed at Florida. Most say he was treated unfairly—I agree with both, to a certain extent at least.

I mean, come on, do you all remember FireRonZook.com? I was a huge fan of FRZ…I can still remember laughing to the point of tears reading one of the posts after we lost to Ole Miss when I was but a young Gator, maybe 11 years old:

“I’m still so pissed off I can’t even think straight. I sit here trying to write a decent blurb to convey my feelings, and I just want to throw my laptop across the room…call me whatever the hell you want to…but after yesterday you can no longer call my opinions unfounded. I was embarrassed to be a Gator yesterday. The last time that happened, at least we were tied 31-31 at the end of the game against a worthy opponent.”

Man, I loved me some FireRonZook.com. Good times.

Although the site has been shut down for years, it has recently been somewhat salvaged. By the way, these jokers have now dedicated the site to firing Will Muschamp! We’ll talk about this another time.

Back to Zook.

Was he treated unfairly? Sure. Did he suffer a ton of bad luck? Yeah, probably. But I will say in no uncertain terms, that firing Ron Zook is the best move Jeremy Foley has made since hiring Billy Donovan in 1996.

Zook had absolutely no chance to succeed at Florida, however, not because of the fan base or anything related to outside the football program. Zook had no chance to succeed at Florida because he is not a capable head coach, especially for major college football program.

Anyone who has followed Gator football the past 25 years knows that Zook was incompetent. He served as defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier from 1991 to 1993, and was demoted to special teams coordinator by Spurrier after the ’93 season. Florida had great teams in those three years, but the Gators gave up a lot of points and had a secondary famous for blowing coverages and missing assignments.

That’s why Gator fans were so puzzled when Foley announced that Zook would be the man to take over the program; a program that for the previous decade under Spurrier, fiddled and toyed with the Southeastern Conference—racking up wins, records, and rings.

So Foley decides to replace Spurrier with a coach that Spurrier himself basically ran out of Gainesville. Needless to say, it was an awful hire on Foley’s part.

After the firing of Zook, Gator Nation pleaded for Spurrier's return

After the firing of Zook, Gator Nation pleaded for Spurrier’s return

I have to mention, when I discuss the Zook years with Gator fans, some of them try to tell me that Zook didn’t have a chance because Spurrier left the cupboard bare. That’s absolutely ludicrous (Luda!)…in Zook’s first season, he inherited the Heisman runner up in QB Rex Grossman, a 3,000 yard rusher in Earnest Graham, a quality group of receivers led by All-SEC WR Taylor Jacobs (one of the most forgotten and underrated players UF has ever had, in my opinion), and a defense loaded with veterans such as Keiwan Ratliff, Gus Scott, Robert Cromartie, Bam Hardmon, Mike Nattiel, and Bobby McCray. The Gators were loaded, ranked sixth in the nation prior to the 2002 season.

Granted, the Zook Era had it’s great moments, but those were overshadowed by fourth quarter collapses, multiple defeats to teams Florida had never lost to in the 90’s, and the astonishing fact that Florida never beat a ranked team in The Swamp under Coach Zook.

Think about this: In Spurrier’s 12 seasons at Florida, the Gators lost just five games at home, and at one point from 1994-99 boasted a 30 game home winning streak. In just three seasons, Zook’s Gators lost six games in The Swamp.

The numbers speak for themselves…Zook was a coach that had nothing but good intentions for UF, just terrible hire—amplified by the fact that he had to replace the man that will probably have the field named after him one day. Within 10 years I bet Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field becomes Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Steve Spurrier field. Eh, not much of a ring to it, but I bet it happens. Who could’ve replaced Spurrier? It would have been a demanding task for any coach, but Zook certainly should not have been the man to do it.

So, without further ado, here are the best moments of the Ron Zook Era. I’m saving the worst moments for later…


Top 5 Best Moments

1. 2004: Florida 20, #10 Florida State 13 Florida coach Ron Zook rides the shoulders of his players after beating FSU

This game still amazes me, as Gator fans remember it game as “The Triumph in Tallahassee at Ron Zook Field.” The unranked Gators, at 6-4 and without a single victory over a ranked opponent, invaded Tallahassee on the night in which FSU would dedicate the field to legendary head coach, Bobby Bowden. It seemed like an ideal night for the dedication—Florida hadn’t beaten FSU in Tallahassee since 1986; nearly 20 years of frustration for Gator Nation. Florida State came in at 8-2 overall; this wasn’t one of Bowden’s vintage Seminole squads, but it was still a top 10 team with a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. To add more, the Gators’ previous three trips to Doak Campbell Stadium (’98, ’00, ’02) all ended with double digit losses. FSU was going to murder Florida, and everyone knew it.

Ciatrick Fason scores the winning touchdownQB Chris Leak, RB Ciatrick Fason, and a relentless Gator defense apparently didn’t get the memo, as Florida never trailed in the ballgame. The Gators struck first, capping off a 14 play, 97 yard drive when Leak hit Chad Jackson for a 13-yard touchdown strike late in the first quarter. That drive set the tone for the rest of the game.

Ironically, on the day in which the field was named in his honor, you could argue that FSU lost this game solely because of Bowden. Bowden chose Wyatt Sexton over streaky-hot-and-cold Chris Rix as his starting quarterback, and Sexton was ineffective all night. Rix, a reckless but talented player always played well vs. Floirda…by the time Bowden inserted Rix, it was too late.

Ciatrick Fason ran for 117 yards, including an eight-yard touchdown rush to give the Gators a 20-10 lead in the 4th quarter. Rix would do his best to salvage a comeback, but was picked off by Gator Safety Jarvis Herring, sealing the greatest moment in the Ron Zook Era, and perhaps Florida’s most memorable victory in Tallahassee ever.

2. 2002: Florida 20, #5 Georgia 13

My dad is a University of Georgia grad, and this game was the one and only time that I’ve ever felt bad about winning the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. This game is not to be mentioned in the Joost household.

Steve Spurrier dominated the Georgia Bulldogs in his 12 seasons at Florida. He went 11-1 in that span, enjoying many blowout victories and Gator celebrations at the Cocktail Party. 2002 was going to be different. Spurrier was gone. Zook was already reeling just eight games into his first season. Florida was unranked at 5-3, its worst record entering the Georgia game since the 1980’s. Georgia, on the other hand, was a rare prohibitive favorite—ranked fifth in the country and undefeated. The Gator curse was going to be trounced one and for all, except it wasn’t. Rex Grossman set a Florida-Georgia record with 36 completions and threw for 339 yards against the David Pollack-led Junkyard Dawg Defense.

bentroupeThe ‘Dogs would take a 13-12 lead into halftime, but Florida would take over in the fourth quarter—Grossman led the Gators on an 89 yard drive, capping it off with a touchdown pass to TE Ben Troupe, and then diving into the endzone for the two-point conversion. The Gator defense would close the game out, and Florida delivered one of the most shocking and frustrating losses to Georgia in the history of the rivalry. The loss to the Gators would be the only blemish on Georgia’s season; UGA may have played for a National Title if not for the fightin’ Zookers.

3. 2003: Florida 19, #6 LSU 7

I’ll never forget watching this game at my Nana and Papa’s house in Atlantic Beach. I recommend watching the highlights above—the video was made by the official UF athletic YouTube channel and has play-by-play audio of Mick Hubert at his finest. LSU, led by Nick Saban, was undefeated and would later go on to win the National Championship despite losing to Florida at home. www.gatorzone.com-c4

After Tiger WR Syler Green returned a punt for a touchdown early in the game, I remember my brother Jason looking at me and saying, “Well Nick, there’s gonna be plenty more of that today.” Jason was wrong. The Gator defense would pitch a shutout, as a Freshman named Chris Leak would calmly lead the Gator offense into Death Valley, throwing two touchdowns.

This was also the coming out party for Ciatrick Fason, who played high school ball at nearby Duncan U. Fletcher in Neptune beach—the same high school my mom, aunt, uncle, and Jason graduated from. This was a great day to be a Florida Gator.

4. 2002: #10 Florida 30, #4 Tennessee 13

Rex Grossman throws ball

A biblical flood came through Knoxville on September 21st of 2002, and the waterworks continued with the flowing tears of 100,000 Tennessee fans after Florida upended the Vols in blowout fashion. After 25 minutes of scoreless football, the Gators would create a storm of their own—scoring 24 points in the final 4:55 of the second quarter.Jeremy Foley escorts Coach Ron Zook

Tennessee would fumble eight times in the game, losing three of them which propelled the Florida onslaught. Florida handled the swamp-like conditions like Gators do, totaling more than 400 yards on offense, 324 of which came from the right arm of Rex Grossman.

This was just weeks after the Miami Hurricanes decimated Florida in The Swamp , 41-16…needless to say, this one was a much needed rebound.

5. 2003: #23 Florida 16, #4 Georgia 13

www.gatorzone.commattleachMy Uncle Stephen is a great man. He’s the youngest of seven children; my dad’s baby bro. Uncle Steve had a lapse in judgement you could say on November 1, 2003. He got married that day. Mass panic ensued throughout the family…we were going to miss our first Florida-Georgia game in years. I was able to listen to some of it on the radio before the wedding and by the time we arrived at San Jose Catholic Church, the score was even at 13 a piece. Remember, folks, this is 2003. No smartphones, no nothin’. Here’s how I found out the Gators won: As my dad walked down the aisle, I gave him a little Gator chomp to see his reaction. Papa Joost gave me a look that would probably make most men nervous; a look that pierces one’s soul and injects it with venom—it was the look I was banking on!

I would later learn that Matt Leach kicked a field goal in the closing seconds to give the Gators a 16-13 win over undefeated Georgia. By 2003, Florida had won 13 of the last 14 meetings in the seires…ouch! Losing three in a row to the Pups is hard enough for me…I can’t even imagine. And dad, if you’re reading this…I’m sorry.

Stay tuned for the worst moments of the Zook Era!

Thanks for reading! Until next time, Go Gators!

Spurrier, Zook, Meyer—Best & Worst Moments

New series coming soon! I’m gonna break down the tenures of former Florida coaches Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, and Urban Meyer. I’m going to start with Zook and save Spurrier for last. This is going to be fun! Hope y’all are all doing great, Go Gators!

 

spurrier                               zook urban-meyer

 

 

 

 

Each had their great moments…and controversy was never absent for any of them. Can’t wait to get this started with the Zooker!

The Game That Made Me a Gator

The defining moments of any college football season are found in the great games—many of which, come from the most spirited rivalries.

Happy Friday, Gators. Only 119 days and 20 hours until we’re live from The Swamp again!

For much of last year, blogging was like medicine to me…and not that delicious grape-flavored Dimetapp we used to take as a kid. Writing blogs was like gulping down the most disgusting cherry flavored cough syrup you can imagine. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking of that crap. But when it was over, I always felt better. Same with blogging. I’d be so frustrated week after week, but this domain has always been a safe place to vent. It’s worked wonders for me, my psychiatrist agrees.

But what do you say we change the pace today, and I’ll tell you a story about the game that changed my life as a Gator fan? Ok, gather ’round the campfire now, y’all…

me-and-william

My grandparents, natives of Atlantic Beach for over 50 years, had a recording of this game on VHS. From the time I was about six until I turned eight or nine, I would watch this game every single time we’d go to visit. No kidding, hundreds of times. I can still remember it so vividly…I’d go to the back room, play the video in the VCR (an old device used for watching movies), and go to Gator heaven for a couple hours. They had the old Sunshine Network recording, with Larry Vettel and Nat Moore doing the play-by-play, two legends in my book.

For the hundreds of times we went to Nana and Papa’s house, I’d visit November 22, 1997. #1 FSU vs. #10 Florida

Gator Nation refers to it as “The Best Game Ever Played in The Swamp,” but I really think it is absolutely the most incredible, everything-you-could-ever-imagine, exciting game in the history of college football. I actually made a speech about this game last summer at FSCJ. Here’s my breakdown of why the 1997 Florida vs. Florida State game is the greatest college football game of all time. When you take everything into account— the history, the controversy, the implications, the emotion, the hatred, and the game itself, maybe you’ll agree. I’ve posted the highlights below.

The Long, Detailed Back-Story

So this was right around the start of the late 90s, when both the Gators and Noles had become perennial powers in college football.

  • Between 1991 and 1996, FSU won five ACC Titles and made two National Title appearances, winning one.
  • During that same span, Florida had a similar resume—five SEC Titles, two National Title appearances, one win.

1997 marked the peak of the Bowden-Spurrier, Florida-Florida St. rivalry. I miss those days so much. Keep in mind, Florida’s lone National Championship was the prior season, in 1996—a vengeful, dominating, 52-20 victory over previously undefeated and #1 FSU in the Sugar Bowl. The largest margin of victory ever suffered by the #1 team in a National Championship Game.

In the minds of the entire FSU nation, 1997 was going to be a big pay back year. Also I must add, Bobby Bowden voiced the overall sentiment of Nole fans prior to facing the Gators in the National Title. FSU had beaten UF 24-21 in November of ’96 in Tallahassee, and felt that a rematch put FSU at a disadvantage.

I would agree with that; Florida certainly had the motivational edge to beat FSU in the Sugar Bowl. But the only reason why Florida was granted a rematch—along with the only reason why Florida’s victory gave them a National Title—was this:

  • Florida defeated Alabama 45-30 in the SEC Championship game.
  • #3 Nebraska was upset by unranked Texas 37-27 in the Big XII Championship game, which knocked them out of contention for a Sugar Bowl berth.
  • The only remaining undefeated team was Pac-10 Champion, second-ranked Arizona State. The Rose Bowl automatically selects the Pac-10/Big-10 Champions for its game (remember, this is pre-BCS era), so Arizona State played Ohio State the night before the Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes would upset the Jake Plummer-led Sun Devils in the final seconds of the game, 20-17,  making the Sugar Bowl a de facto National Championship game.

So, the ’97 game in The Swamp would be a rematch of the National Title Game. Not only that, it would be the sixth meeting between the rival schools in just four seasons. As you know, the Gators and Noles play each year, but also played in two Sugar Bowls: The first, a 23-17 Seminole victory in the ’94 season following the infamous 31-31 tie (“The Choke at Doak”), and the second as I mentioned before, was for the ’96 Title. Six meetings between the biggest rivals in all of college football (without a doubt in the decade of the 90s) in four seasons! Keep in mind, between 1994 and 1996, both teams entered the game ranked no worse than seventh in the country in every meeting.

The 1997 Season and Storyline Prior to the Game

FSU came into the ’97 game undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Coaches’ Poll and boasted the Nation’s top-ranked defense, while Florida was No. 10.

WARRICK WEARY1997 was a roller coaster year for the Gators. Florida began the season as the top ranked team and decimated Peyton Manning’s Tennessee Volunteers for the fifth straight season. After starting the season 5-0, the Gators dropped two of their next three games—becoming a victim in LSU’s Death Valley, and suffering a rare beating from the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville (Both were Spurrier’s only losses to LSU or Georgia in his tenure at Florida).

Although fielding maybe its best defense in the history of Gator football, led by defensive coordinator Bob Stoops, Florida’s offense sputtered all year. Throughout the season, Spurrier rotated three quarterbacks in his system. The starter, Doug Johnson, was out of shape and “playing minor league baseball and drinking beer” all spring, as Spurrier described it. Johnson was also punished for missing curfew the week before the LSU game. Noah Brindise was the second stinger. Brindise, a Senior walk-on, didn’t even earn a scholarship until mid-November of ’97. The thrid stringer was Jesse Palmer, a talented player, but an inexperienced Freshman.

With that said, FSU entered the game as a double-digit favorite to win, despite Florida protecting a 20-game winning streak in The Swamp; a streak that would grow to 30 before it ended.

The Pregame Fight

Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles entered The Swamp, with revenge on their mind and ready to crush the hated Gators, knowing their rivals from Gainesville were the only thing in their way of a National Championship berth.bowden(1)

During pregame warmups, as part of FSU’s tradition, the entire Seminole team approached midfield and began stomping on the “F” logo, with their helmets raised high above…as if to say, this is our house, and we’re here to take it.

Florida linebacker, Jevon Kearse, was the first to notice. Kearse led a swarm of Gators to meet their friends from Tallahassee at midfield—literally showing FSU that they would not be defeated at their home stadium without fighting with everything they had. A brawl ensued on the 50 yard line…players and coaches were involved, throwing fists, pushing, and shoving until the officials separated the two teams. But Florida had made its statement.

The atmosphere within Ben Hill Griffin Stadium had become a mad house, or as the voice of the Gators, Mick Hubert, would later say “an insane asylum.” To add more fire, Florida’s All-American cornerback, Fred Weary, met his defensive group huddled up inside the endzone. Weary held a newspaper article—one of many which predicted an FSU rout—and leaped to the top of the huddle with his teammates hoisting him, and shred the newspaper to pieces. The Gators were ready to battle.

Senior Day at Florida, November 22, 1997,—What I Call the Greatest College Football Game of All Time

The Gators warmed up in their traditional, blue jerseys and white pants, but stunned the crowd as they ran out of the tunnel wearing all blue. Although we rock the all blue multiple times each season, this was a rare sight in ’97. Something the Gators hadn’t done in years.

taylor-looking-good

Florida received the ball first and drove 83 yards down the field, which included a razzle-dazzle vintage Steve Spurrier trick play to convert a fourth down, and capped it off with a Fred Taylor touchdown run. Florida led 6-0, after Collins Cooper (the worst FREAKING kicker in Gator history) missed the extra point. Spurrier implemented a risky, never before seen strategy, that he followed the entire length of the game. Spurrier rotated quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise after virtually every play. Spurrier mentioned after the game that he was told FSU had stolen his play signals—whether or not that’s true, we’ll never know. But the system worked, certainly beyond all expectations.

The game would go back and forth all day and night. Florida led 18-17 at halftime, but trailed 26-25 deep into the fourth quarter. With less than five minutes to go, it appeared FSU was in position to seal the game and escape The Swamp with a win. Florida St. drove to the Gator three yard line, but Florida mounted a goal line stand behind a deafening Swamp crowd. Bowden would turn to his kicker, Sebastian Janikowski, to convert an easy field goal, putting the Noles ahead 29-25 with 2:38 remaining in the game. After making his kick, Janikowski turned to the UF student section and began mocking the Gator faithful by doing his own rendition of the Gator Chomp. Just one of many examples of Janikowski being a D-Bag on the highest level.

dont-you-love-thisNeeding a touchdown, Florida began its drive at the 20, and on the first play, Doug Johnson hit All-SEC receiver JacQuez Green for 63 yards down the sideline. Fred Taylor would score his fourth rushing touchdown of the game a few plays later, giving Florida a 32-29 lead.

On FSU’s next drive, quarterback Thad Busby would throw an interception to Senior linebacker Dwayne Thomas, who dropped an interception earlier in the game. Thomas’ pick produced what many call the loudest moment in the history of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

My mom always tells me that she swears she felt something rupture in her stomach from screaming so loud. My mom, brother, and uncle all went to the game. Unfortunately for me, I was only five and still hadn’t gotten past the stage of crying every time the Gators lost.

The game ended, and the Gators rushed to midfield to celebrate in the same way FSU did during warmups.

celebration

Until next time, Go Gators!

me-and-muschamp

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Start Writing Again

Well, today’s Thursday, April 24, and my first post of 2014. How shameful for an aspiring writer…but, perhaps, how typical of a 21 year old man-boy still learning the ropes of the adult world. Nevertheless, the monkey is coming off the back tonight.

I tried to write a blog here and there, but I’ve struck-out every time. I wanted to write about the job Billy Donovan did with our basketball team, and when I didn’t, I promised myself I’d do a blog about the Orange and Blue Game (…Debut, I mean).

And then I still didn’t write a blog, which brings me to today. This is the furthest point I’ve reached all year—normally, I’d write a sentence, read it over and over again, and just quit.

It’s not that I don’t want to write or that I’ve lost any passion for writing. For some reason, I just can’t seem to get the ball rolling—as if my brain is taking play calls from Brent Pease whenever I pick up my laptop. Honestly, I think it’s just because whenever I write something, I want it to be really good. Some days, the creative juices aren’t flowing.

But now (not necessarily at this very moment), I’ve realized that’s exactly the point of a blog! It’s not about writing your best stuff every single day. It’s just about writing. Length doesn’t matter. Quality, well, that’s subjective anyways, so I’ll let that work itself out.

It’s kind of like when you start working out after you haven’t lifted in months. If you hop on the bench press (or even worse, squats) and try to pick up where you left off, by the end, you’ll probably be thinking, “Shit, I’d have been better off not even trying to lift again in the first place...” You gotta start small.

So that’s what I’m doing, starting small with little rants like this one.

But before I finish, I want to recognize how incredible this basketball season was. Let’s face it Gators, we needed this like American Idol needs Simon Cowell to return. Seriously, who the hell even watches American Idol anymore?

We needed something to feel good about. We needed something to talk about. We needed a reason to jump up and down, and scream our heads off again. We just needed something to get our minds off football for a while.

Instead, we got one of the most unforgettable seasons of all time. This rare group of Gators, with four Seniors who exemplified what it meant to be collegiate athletes, delivered us salvation.

30 straight victories…18-0 in the SEC…three victories over Kentucky, the most recent, a scant, one point SEC Tournament Championship victory.

Beating Kentucky at Rupp Arena can usually stand by itself as the shining achievement in a basketball season. Not for this group. Kentucky was just another team on the railroad tracks—and the Gators were the train that didn’t halt for a second to catch its breath, until it reached the Final Four. What a job by Billy Donovan. Never leave, Billy.

Although the storybook ending didn’t play out the way we hoped, just the fact that we had an opportunity at a real storybook ending is something to cherish. One of the most successful classes to ever play in the NCAA tournament finally got over its Elite Eight curse. Be thankful for that, I’m so happy they made the Final Four. Teams like this one don’t come around very often. This team wasn’t like our squad with Noah, Horford, Green, Brewer, and Humphrey. That team was the perfect collection of talent, swagger, chemistry, and grit.

What made this team special was the connection that we as fans could feel every time we saw them. I can’t even really put the words together to describe it, and I’m not saying a connection with the “Oh Fours” was missing. It felt different. I think they fed off it, too. Even more so, these guys loved their university. I’m sure of that. Those four Seniors are lifelong Gators.

It just stinks that one bad night on the court ends it all, but that’s where March gets its Madness. Congrats, Gators. And thanks for making this season the most unforgettable basketball season of my entire life.

 

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I’ve been in Gainesville a lot in the past two months. During one of my visits, on a Sunday hand-crafted for Gainesville in the spring, I got up early in the morning and walked over to The Swamp. It was such a cool moment. There were maybe five or six people I could see other than myself; they were all doing stadiums and running laps.

As for me, I just sad in the North end-zone for about 20 minutes and soaked everything in. I’ve been going to Gator games since I was six. It’s always a special time going to The Swamp, but this time something dawned on me. It’s almost a bit ridiculous how worked up I get over Gator football, but I can’t help it. Anybody who knows me gets it. I sat there thinking,  I can’t believe I’m 21, almost 22, and here I am back at this Cathedral of college football…and I get the exact same feeling in the pit of my gut every time I’m here.

What is it about college football?…

As for The Swamp, I’m happy to say she’s doing fine and looking good. But you can tell she’s dying to rock…she’s dying for a Doug Johnson to Quezzy Green moment. (Where ya at, Mick Hubert!?)

No question, last season was so bad. We all felt every bit of that 4-8 record. But college football works in cycles. We won’t be down long. Soon enough, The Swamp will be rockin’ again.

Until next time.

2013: The Season from the Twilight Zone

In my mind, the Florida Gators’ season of 2013 will always be remembered as the season from the Twilight Zone. I can’t think of a better way to describe it. The countless injuries to key players, the six turnovers at Miami, the losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern, the 0-for-November…all of this happening while Florida State has cruised past its regular season unblemished, with a potential BCS National Championship against Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes coming up.

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Down the road, this 2013 campaign of freak injuries and historic defeats may turn out to be the defining season of the Will Muschamp era in two ways. You hope this is a season that fuels a hungry and determined Gator Nation back to greatness in 2014. You also worry this is the season that showed why Will Muschamp isn’t ready to be a head coach at a school like Florida. For now this is simply the season that Florida finished 4-8, its first losing record since 1979, suffering seven consecutive losses and ending with a 37-7 thumping at the hands of the Florida State Seminoles.

You could say it started with the spring game, but that wouldn’t be totally accurate—there was no spring game, just an awkward televised practice in The Swamp because Florida couldn’t field enough healthy players to actually scrimmage each other.

It would turn out to be a cruel case of foreshadowing for the 2013 Gators.

Fresh off an 11-1 regular season, with realistic aspirations of an SEC Title chase, the Gators instead found themselves unable to field a team healthy enough to become bowl eligible. For the first time in over 25 years, football season in Gainesville has ended in November.

Perhaps the only thing that isn’t unusual about this season is the state of uncertainty in which the Gator fan base has found itself yet again. You felt it after the 2009 season when one of the best Senior classes in school history left shoes that were too big for any team to fill. You felt it after 2010 when Urban Meyer decided he couldn’t coach at Florida anymore. You felt it after 2011 when Will Muschamp’s first season as head coach ended with six losses.

Shoot, you probably thought that was rock bottom. I know I did. Oh, how we wish that was rock bottom.

The season from the Twilight Zone mercilessly took a team and a fan base that was on top of the world after a 37-26 bulldozing of FSU just one year ago, and dropped it off at the rockiest of bottoms. The capital city of the state of rock bottom. 20,000 leagues under rock bottom.

We know how it feels, but what does it mean? Where do we go?

Only the future will tell, but the past can certainly show you. Just take a look at the two teams playing for the SEC Championship this Saturday in Atlanta: Missouri and Auburn, a couple of teams that respectively had its worst season in years, with a combined 2-14 conference record in 2012.

A couple of teams that hit rock bottom just a year ago.

It won’t be easy. It’s never easy when you’re the University of Florida and you have a target on your back everywhere you go, even when you’re 4-8.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier, either. Next year Florida will travel to Knoxville, Tuscaloosa and Tallahasee. Its home opponents include LSU and South Carolina. And of course, there’s that date in Jacksonville against Georgia—a must win for Will Muschamp.

You can’t say for sure how many wins Muschamp will need to keep his job, but Florida will certainly have to be in contention for the SEC Eastern division if he wants to stay for 2015. The East will be as open as it ever has been—Georgia loses Aaron Murray, South Carolina loses Connor Shaw, and Missouri loses James Franklin.

Florida will return Jeff Driskel, who will have to battle for his job with Tyler Murphy and North Carolina High School phenom Will Grier, who was recently named North Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year for the second straight time.

Grier will be among another outstanding class of recruits headed to UF—a class that could be elite if Florida can hang onto Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane. Cook, while still a UF commit, has stated that FSU is now his first choice.

One thing to keep in mind about the future of Florida football is the standard set by its predecessors. Players don’t come to Florida to go 4-8. They go to compete for championships. Know this, there is no question that Will Muschamp absolutely still believes in his locker room. It was apparent in the first half of the FSU game that this team will still give everything they have for Muschamp.

There will be many scores to settle next year. I believe a healthy Florida team with a revamped offense will right the wrongs of 2013.

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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!