Since 2009, the Florida Gators have played 14 games against SEC teams. In those games, Florida has gained more than 400 yards twice. Tonight, was not one of those games.
In a game that should finally spare Steve Addazio from further asskickings from former Sun Belt Conference defensive coordinators, the Gators lost 10-7 to the Mississippi State Bulldogs. UF gained 361 yards compared to 245 for Miss State. The Gators had a chance to tie late, but Chas Henry's 42-yard field goal attempt was wide right. Incredibly, at 2-3 in the SEC and 4-3 overall, UF still controls their own destiny for winning the SEC East. Florida may not deserve that chance, as they have lost three consecutive games for the first time since 1988.
Addazio should not be around for that chance after another display of pass routes that only go seven yards, option football with non-option quarterbacks, and watching the Florida offensive line get destroyed again. Players need to make plays, but ultimately the responsibility lies with Addazio and the man who committed the mistake of thinking Addazio had the ability to be coordinator, Urban Meyer.
The Gators defense continues to be "two steps forward, one step back" but they have nothing to be ashamed of. Against one of the better rushing attacks in the nation, UF allowed only 10 points. The Bulldogs, behind Vick Ballard's 98 yards and Chris Relf's 82 yards, gained 212 on the ground, one better than their season average. After allowing 10 points in the opening quarter, Miss State would challenge but ultimately punt. The only State drive in the second half that didn't end with a punt was when they missed a 40-yard field goal, when the drive started at the 50.
Florida's line was blown back, but made enough plays to keep the Gators in it. Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens won't make any highlight films, but they were able to contain on the edges, allowing Florida's defensive backs to step into the play. After Jelani Jenkins' injury, Brandon Hicks played well with A.J. Jones and Jon Bostic. Ronald Powell also got time. Florida's secondary was never challenged as State threw the ball nine times, but Ahmad Black and Janoris Jenkins were key to limiting the Bulldogs. State looked to be unstoppable at some points, but was 6-14 on third downs.
The biggest problem for the defense was not forcing any turnovers or scoring points themselves. It became apparent as Florida struggled with blitz pickups and choosing short yardage passes that the Gators needed Miss State to struggle for UF to score. But that didn't happen. Miss State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, formerly of Middle Tennessee State, dialed the pressure all night. Sometimes, John Brantley would be overwhelmed by a seven-man rush, other times a four-man rush worked as the fourth man delayed behind a three-man line. At one point during the game, ESPN analyst Chris Spielman noted how he asked Addazio if there was a problem with Florida's blitz pickups. Addazio told them they were fine, to which Spielman said after one of the three times Brantley was sacked, "The blitz pickups are not fine."
Brantley was under pressure all night, which again led to Florida using the option game. When it became obvious again that Brantley cannot be an option QB, the Gators put Trey Burton on the field. The freshman had eight carries for 43 yards. This opened up Omarius Hines, who got six carries for 58 yards and was Florida's leading rusher. Jeff Demps returned for five carries for 36 yards and three catches for 7 yards. Demps also had a crippling fumble in the red zone.
The Gators did throw, with Brantley going 24/39 with 210 yards and nine players recording a catch. But on UF's final drive, the limited passing game was exposed. UF could not go downfield. The Gators would spread the field, but never send any deep or into the deep middle to find a soft spot in the zone. Too many times, Gators receivers would make a catch five-yards in front of the sticks. Brantley was right to take what the defense gives him, but Florida never forced the Bulldogs to make a play in the secondary until the final drive.
You can blame Brantley for not being an option QB, but we saw tonight how Florida does not call enough plays downfield. You can blame the offensive line for blocking, but we saw too many times that Miss State had more rushers than UF had linemen. Brother Hines finally got some touches, but not even our favorite offensive Gator could get more than seven points.
That ultimately is the problem with the Gators. This week's bye week will heal a lot of bruises, but the stain remains Meyer's decision to use Addazio as offensive coordinator. Addazio, like Baghdad Bob announcing the Americans are not at the airport, has maintained that he is not bothered by the onslaught from Gators fans. But tonight, we finally saw the insecure man expose his hand. While UF was moving the ball in the fourth quarter, ESPN showed Meyer with his hands on his knees and probably fighting off nausea. Addazio, instead of worrying about the play, looked at Meyer, apparently looking for some sort of confirmation. This is not a man who is qualified to call plays in the SEC. Especially when he is being outsmarted at every turn. To be fair, the Bulldogs are 22nd in scoring defense nationally, but seven points is an embarrassment. The bigger embarrassment has been Meyer's decision to keep Addazio around for 14 conference games. Maybe Saturday night was the end of that.