Hopefully, we are far enough out from the SEC Championship Game that we can take an level headed look at the 2009 Gators. As fans, we have seen a team that either was destroying people or not meeting our expectations. Considering the history of college football, 14-0 was a challenge unlikely to be met, especially with the bonus of three outright championships in four seasons. But we thought our boys could do it. Here's some things that I thought were never addressed or fixed and ultimately led to the Gators' fall. As always, tell us where we're wrong. Let's get the hard one out of the way first;
Tim Tebow: In each of his first three seasons, Tebow improved as a player. The problem was that as a senior, he was the same as the year before. Every team he faced knew exactly what he was doing. You saw the strategy Alabama used of daring Tebow to throw to receivers he never trusted behind a line that nearly killed him. Against Tennessee you saw how an NFL-style scheme (even without the talent to do it) could confuse Tebow. There are two reasons for this; either Tebow plateaued as a player or the loss of Dan Mullen impacted Tebow's preparation and chemistry with the offense.
Tebow was pulled in more directions this season. He wasn't just Tim Tebow, quarterback, Florida. He was a missionary, preacher, charity leader, university representative, oh and this was his senior year of college. Everyone is stretched thin in their senior year of school either because of school demands, the pressure of post-graduation or relationships. Tebow had all of that plus everything listed above. The problem is that Tebow wouldn't have it any other way. This season, I have a hard time thinking that everything else surrounding him didn't contribute to his actions on the field. He was still a college senior and no senior ever has a perfect year. Here's hoping that at least he doesn't knock a brick off Century Tower. (If you don't get that, look at the last urban legend listed here.)
Lack of a Go-To-Guy: Tebow needed a running mate this season and no one stepped up to fill that role. Aaron Hernandez had uneven performances and Riley Cooper could never get open before Tebow got in trouble. Cooper might have been the most well-rounded player on offense, but even he got the drops. Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey still struggle catching the ball and Brandon James was never going to be the solution at the Harvin position. Emmanuel Moody lived in Urban Meyer's doghouse all season. Carl Moore and Andre Debose never saw the field. That Florida ran the same offense as 2008, without a go-to-guy, is a failure of the coaching staff. Like Donald Rumsfled said, "You go to war with the Army you have. Not the Army you might want or wish to have." Meyer and Steve Addazio knew what they had in front of them and treated them like Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy with Jason Watkins and Phil Trautwein at the tackles. Which brings us to our next point...
Never figuring out the passing game: If yards and rushing yards stay relatively flat, how do touchdowns scored go from 75, 82 in 2008, to 56 this season? I pin the blame on not having a secure 3rd and 4th receiver and not securing the offensive tackle spots. I thought Xavier Nixon and Marcus Gilbert got it together, but it was late in the season before that lineup change was made. I don't blame the line for the 36 sacks (only 2 more than last season) because too often they had to face 5 and 6 man rushes. Teams could afford those blitzes because Florida's receiving options were Cooper, Hernandez and a bunch of nobodies. David Nelson had his best game against Alabama (4 catches, 53 yards, TD). That's nice, but Nelson was supposed to be a number 3 guy behind Cooper and Hernandez, but his output was no better than 2008 (23 catches, 254 yds, 2 TD in 2009; 12 catches, 228 yds, 5 TD in 2008). Deonte Thompson was supposed to explode this season, yet nearly had the exact same numbers. Demps still thinks run first, catch ball second. Rainey is skinner than I am and James was getting too many touches as a returner (62) to be fit enough to be a permanent player (20 rushes, 24 catches). We trusted that Meyer, Addazio and Billy Gonzales would see any red flags and immediately turn the Gators into Georgia Tech South. But they kept calling plays like they had four reliable receivers and two experienced tackles.
Steve Addazio, Offensive Coordinator and Offensive Line Coach: It does not matter if you liked Addazio's play calling or not. The fact is that he cannot do both jobs and I would be surprised if anyone could be o-line and coordinator. Offensive line is hands on, requiring the coach to be on the sidelines. Offensive coordinator is a mad genius, sitting in his box and designing plays like a chess player thinking three moves ahead. It didn't help that Florida's play calling by committee was like cooks spoiling the broth. Last year, the offense went through Mullen. You never knew who it went through this season.
A light defensive line: Just the presence of Terrence Cody kept UF away from the precious dive play. UF does not have a monster run stuffer like that (Omar Hunter may get there one day). Plus, Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap are long and lean. They can run around you, but not through you. Were it not for Brandon Spikes, A.J. Jones and Ryan Stamper, UF would have been screwed at the front. The Gators got by like this until they ran into an old-school big ugly offensive line at Alabama. Like any great defense that relies on speed, a big line can always win. There wasn't much UF could have done here, aside from eight in the box, and Greg McElroy was too good for that.
The Fans: No one is escaping this. Every college team has good and bad fans, unemployed fans who stalk message boards all day, and the locker room stooges who get off on revealing who was tanked on Monday night and who has the girlfriend sleeping with half the defense. Every college team has jackasses who write blogs, guys who have only played video game football and claim they know what they are talking about, and old men trying to live vicariously through college kids. But we wore the crown, so we fall the hardest. It doesn't help either that we seemingly lost the ability to lose with class. I include myself in this because while this seems very mature and composed, during the game I was screaming obscenities at Nick Saban, my friends, Mark Ingram, "Sweet Home Alabama" (song, not the Reese Witherspoon movie), Tim Tebow, and the band Alabama. I was also figuring out how UF could win in the fourth quarter, when a rational person would have turned off the game and waited for Texas-Nebraska.
We've been spoiled the past four years and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we have some realistic expectations for the Gators. Eventually, Tennessee, FSU and Georgia will get good. Florida may actually lose consecutive games to these teams. Losing these games, if it happens, should not require you to threaten the lives of anyone or throw the Gators under the bus, via your facebook status or twitter. However, all bets are off if Urban Meyer becomes Ron Zook, but I don't see that happening. We need to be rational again, but mediocrity can never be tolerated.
The Confidence and Complacency of Champions: When the Yankees were losing Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS to the Red Sox, Aaron Boone asked Derek Jeter why he was so calm. Jeter said, "The ghosts will come eventually." The ghosts did show up and Boone hit a game winning home run to send the Yanks to the World Series. The next season, the Yanks blew a 3-0 ALCS lead, and the Red Sox won the World Series, defeating the Curse of The Bambino in the process.
When you are defending champion, even if you are not considered to be the best team in your league the next season, there is a certain level of confidence in your team and what they can do. The Gators had won the SEC and National Championship twice in the last three seasons. There was no reason to doubt that they couldn't do it again. With that confidence also comes enough of a lack of drive that it can impact you negatively. You don't want to take those extra reps or spend 15 more minutes running routes. Sure, you can go to the party/Bible session/hookup with that chick from Plants, Plagues and People class, you'll just end your film study five minutes early. What's a few minutes anyway?
It all adds up eventually and for the Gators, it was 19 points in Atlanta. 19 points does not happen in one week of preparation, but over the course of the entire season. It's the reason why guys take extra sprints in August or lift more weights in April. Over the course of 11 months, the Gators were confident they could win no matter what and complacent enough to not put in more time. As for the party that ended Carlos Dunlap's season that included other teammates, let he who never took the edge off an upcoming test by drinking or fooling around with a lady cast the first stone. As for me, I think you got me confused for a better man.
Besides, Alabama played a perfect game. They had one penalty, were 11 of 15 on 3rd down, Bama held the ball for nearly 40 minutes, McElroy was 12 of 18 passing, and Marquis Maze's five catches for 96 yards made up for Julio Jones two catches for 28 yards. Florida could have spent the week in the football complex and St. Augustine's Church and they still would have lost. Give Alabama some credit.
As we said on Saturday, everything sucks now, but this still your team. You have to take the good with the bad and accept that sometimes, the other guy is better and you are not good enough. Time to look forward to next season and put your faith and trust in Urban Meyer. Especially that he finds a new defense and offensive coordinator. And say a prayer that John Brantley and Omarius Hines become the next great duo in Gainesville.