After 2 weeks of self imposed exile and mourning, due to the horrific loss suffered at the hands of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, I have returned. The Gators lost to Mississippi State at home for the first time in about a half century, in a game where the rotting offense managed to put up a measly touchdown en route to a 10-7 loss, the 3rd consecutive regular season loss this year. That would be the first time that’s happened since 1988. The offense ranks in the bottom 20% in all meaningful categories, nationally mind you and not only at the conference level. Needless to say IT’S PANIC TIME !
But what is to be done? And more importantly, what will be done? Can the season be salvaged? And finally the question in everyone’s mind is; what the hell is going on with the Gators?
I won’t take a shot at the first question because that would require me advocating some people lose their job and to be honest, I simply don’t roll that way (I’ll consider it if we end up losing to UGA and S.C.). As for the second question, apparently nothing drastic will be done, this season at least. No major personnel changes, no system changes have been announced. Then again, Coach Meyer said they have worked on some tweaks to the stagnant offense, but wouldn’t elaborate and what that meant, understandable. All the press conferences of the past 10 days seem to be saying the same thing; the players are not executing the offense correctly, too many mistakes, and the team needs improvement in all areas. Does that mean that Mike Pouncey will remain at center? YES. Does that mean Brantley will be expected to “run” the option? I would certainly hope not. I’ll give our offensive coaches some credit and assume they will use the option QB (Trey Burton) to run the option and finally trash the Brantley option. There has been a huge emphasis on getting better by practicing better. Meyer said recently that his team has generally had poor practices this year and that has resulted in poor execution come gameday. The focus during the off week was to practice at game speed.
In the immortal words of a basketball great, “we talkin bout practice! Not a game, not a game, we talkin bout practice!”
The answer to the 3rd question is actually “yes”, in a comical yet sad way. Comical because despite the 3 consecutive losses, Florida still controls its own destiny to win the SEC (thank you Kentucky). If Florida was to win out against Georgia, Vandy, and the Ol Ball Coach, the Gators would play for the conference championship. Making it to Atlanta would salvage the season for sure; winning in Atlanta would put Florida in a BCS Bowl and allow for forgiveness across the board. Yet it’s also sad that Florida fans can even contemplate such a fate when the reality is that their offense plays at the high school level, a bad high school offense at that. It’s sad to cling to the hope of winning the SEC when it’s more likely that Florida ends up losing another 2 or 3 games.
Finally, everyone is wondering how the Gators fell from grace. What happened to the team that has won 26 games in the last 2 years. The answer to that is multifaceted. The most obvious answer is simply that the Gators lost too many veteran leaders not to take a step down. They lost their leaders on both sides of the ball to graduation (Tebow and Spikes) and another 7 guys to the NFL. That’s A LOT of talent and experience right there. They also lost their defensive coordinator, receivers coach, running back and defensive backs coach. So it’s no wonder some of the coaching staff is struggling right now. But those things happened way back in January and everyone knew that and still expected Florida to compete for the SEC title (really compete, not just be mathematically alive). The main issues have obviously been with the offense. Simply put the offensive line has been a HUGE disappointment this year. With 3 returning starters and 5 veteran linemen, this unit was pegged as one of the best in the country. The results have been nothing short of catastrophic. The running game is abysmal and pass protection is worse.
The main reason for this, it has been revealed by an insider close to team sources, is that the blocking schemes in the passing game are different this year. The change occurred during the offseason and was meant to install a “man” blocking schemes. The idea was to have “man” blocking schemes to go along with the transition to a more traditional offense with QB John Brantley at the helm. Needless to say the OL has not picked up the new schemes and this has resulted breakdowns. Moreover, the line looks lost at times, which is very puzzling because they are so experienced. In other words the veteran players on the O-line have been asked to do too much and have not responded. The “Brantley offense” has been a complete failure so far and the Gators have actually looked better at times when freshman Trey Burton comes in to run the same Spread Read Option that made Tebow famous. This is not an indictment on Brantley’s ability but rather a criticism of the coaches’ inability to prepare this team for a passing quarterback.
The other main reason for the offensive debacle is play-calling. It has long been known that QB coach/ Passing coordination Scot Loeffler and O-line coach/Offensive coordination Steve Addazio are both in charge of calling the plays. This has resulted in a somewhat schizophrenic offense which basically runs two different schemes, depending on who is at QB, and tends to be over predictable and conservative. Addazio thinks that the offense needs to be simplified to allow for better execution and this might be what’s in store for the remainder of the season. The danger inherent in such a solution is to make the offense even more predictable. It has also been suggested that Meyer will continue to oversee the offense, but Coach Addazio will begin to exert greater control of all the play-calling, much to the disbelief of the Gator nation. There’s only so many more dive plays we can endure before we smash our TV sets.
Just to make matters clear in case there is any doubt, there is no QB controversy in Florida and the team is not divided along QB lines. Rather, Florida hoped to have 2 systems installed and be able to execute both, but shortcomings of personnel and preparation have made it more than obvious that Florida cannot run either scheme at a competitive level. The result has been the worst offense I have ever seen at Florida. The Gators have had 2 weeks to make whatever changes they could to save the season. They will be going up against a resurging Georgia team that would like nothing more than to deal a death blow to its most bitter rival. We will see on Saturday what Meyer has concocted in his laboratory during the bye week, he is 13-1 coming off the bye so there is at least 1 reason for Gator fans to be optimistic this weekend.
Coming on Friday: Preview for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, a.k.a Florida vs Georgia.
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Written by The Gator Great