GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators wipes his face during a game against the UAB Blazers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 10, 2011 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Florida defeated Furman, 54-32, on Saturday afternoon. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, which reacts to the game in full before a second viewing, comes first.
What. Just. Happened.
How Florida Won
This win wasn't fully sealed until De'Ante Saunders' pick-six in the fourth quarter that pushed the margin to a comfortable 15 points, but Florida didn't trail after John Brantley's go-ahead touchdown pass to Quinton Dunbar in the second quarter.
Andre Debose, baby! Sure, that was Furman on the other side of the ball, but no one seems as good at stretching the field for these Gators as Debose, who rung up 151 yards and two touchdowns, both career highs, on just three catches. There's really no nuance to Debose's big-play potential, given that all four of his touchdown catches this year have come on the exact same go route/nine route/streak route/"Andre, you run; I'll throw it" gambit. But I enjoy big plays.
We just watched the best game Brantley will play in a Gators uniform. He threw for 329 yards and four touchdowns, both career highs, and made a few of the finest throws he has ever made in leading Florida back from an early deficit caused in part by his misfires. He made a couple of bad throws, but threw no picks, and looked downfield repeatedly, with none of his touchdown passes covering fewer than 14 yards. There's something less great about this game coming against Furman in his senior year, but I'll let that slide for now.
Turnovers and touchdowns? On the same play? TWICE!? Saunders' pick-six is the second in as many weeks; that makes me think he could have an Ahmad Black-type career. But Jelani Jenkins' pick-six is the culmination of a season of frustration for Florida's best cover linebacker, and I'm as happy for him as I am for the team that he finally made a big play happen instead of having the ball bounce off his hands.
Florida blocked a punt. Remember when it seemed like these Gators would be able to do that on a routine basis?
Florida took three haymakers to the chin in the first quarter against a team it was almost certainly overlooking an underrating, and trailed 22-7 at the end of the quarter because a good team decided to take chances against the Florida defense and made them work. But the Gators outscored the Paladins 47-10 over the rest of the game, and though that stretch included some of the same defensive struggles that got them into their massive hole, they played markedly better on both sides of the ball once that nightmare ended. If you're going to blame coaching for the first quarter, credit it for the turnaround; if you're saying the players weren't awake at the beginning of the game, note that they woke up. This isn't a result to brag about, by any means, but Florida averted disaster and came away with a three-touchdown win. There's a lot less shame in that than there would have been had this one remained close, or turned into a full-fledged meltdown.
That said: WHAT THE HELL, GATORS!? That was the sort of sleep-walking that mediocre teams only get away with against teams with significant talent deficiencies, and the introduction of Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC in 2012 all but assures that games like this are going away. Will Muschamp is probably aware of that, but it would be nice if he could impress the important of playing like it on all of his players.
I understand that neither Chris Rainey nor Jeff Demps is fully healthy, but that they are Florida's best running backs. But I refuse to believe that either one, diminished, is so much better than Mike Gillislee that they deserve to take 95% of the snaps at running back. If the problem with Gillislee is that he can't pass block, don't put him in on passing downs. This isn't hard, just bold, and inserting Gillislee (7.5 yards per carry on Saturday) for Demps (2.5) or Rainey (6.0, though it would be 3.8 without a 37-yard scamper) is at the very least a way to keep the better backs fresh. You're finally wearing Nike, Charlie Weis: Why can't you just do it?
Florida got its young team an extra week or two of practice by qualifying for a bowl. (There's maybe a 2% chance that it won't be the Gator Bowl.) But by trailing early and not putting away Furman until very, very late, the Gators burned their best remaining chance to give Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel meaningful reps in game action against non-lethal defenses. That's the peril of not completely devouring your cupcakes.
I don't think it's really fair to put a guy who hit a 55-yard field goal in Embarrassing, so we'll just leave Caleb Sturgis, who missed two shorter kicks, in Needs Improvement.
That was the worst first quarter I can remember in the span of my Florida fanhood. I will be going back and trying to figure out if Florida's ever given up 22 points in a first quarter to an FCS/I-AA opponent, but I somehow doubt that's ever happened before, and yet it was somehow worse than the score indicated, considering Florida's defensive indifference and the insanity of Furman's play-calling. If that never happens again, it'll be too soon.
Florida's defensive line should be ashamed of itself. Yes, those highly-touted Gators did eventually get their collective act together, but an FCS running back posted 133 yards on them, and the Paladins averaged 5.2 yards per carry; take away Jerodis Williams' 77-yard torching of the defense in the second half, and that average drops to 3.5 yards per rush, but even that's still not a good average against an overmatched foe.
Muschamp's reasoning for Florida's early defensive struggles was that Furman hadn't run a double-slot receiver option all year, and so the coaching staff didn't have it on film. I get that seeing something completely new can take a team aback, but it doesn't explain the halfback option pass to a wide open receiver; blown coverage does. And that unfamiliarity doesn't explain nearly a full quarter of futility on defense, unless this defense needs a full quarter to make any sort of structural change. This doesn't reflect well on Muschamp, maybe more than any other game this season, because the defense is supposed to be his signature. And while I've defended that defense as a fairly underrated one all year, this performance is nearly indefensible.
I reserve the right to add more in this section when I remember more. Frustration is blinding.