I'm not writing this to excuse Florida's closer-than-expected come-from-behind 54-32 win over Furman last Saturday. Some of the expectations Florida fans have for Will Muschamp's Gators are a bit out of line with what the talent on his team can do, but expecting a swift and painless dispatching of a clearly inferior team is not one of them.
But the Gators actually played fairly well when it wasn't the first quarter.
Here's the first quarter on offense and defense:
- Florida offense: 19 plays, 95 yards (5.00 yards per play), seven points, one safety
- Florida defense: 17 plays, 196 yards (11.53 yards per play), 15 points
I shouldn't have to tell you that 11.53 yards per play is a terrible, terrible average for a defense; Florida's (pretty good!) defense was allowing 4.65 yards per play entering the game. Kansas has the nation's worst defense on a per-play basis, and is only giving up 7.34 yards per play. The Jayhawks' only game worse than Florida's first quarter against Furman was a 66-24 pummeling at the hands of Georgia Tech, in which the Yellow Jackets ran for 604 yards.
And the national leader in the offensive flavor of the category, Houston, is averaging 8.12 yards per play. The Cougars haven't topped 11 yards per play for a game this season.
But Florida's offense wasn't that far off its seasonal pace in the quarter. Florida came into Saturday's game averaging 5.49 yards per play, and 5.00 yards per play isn't that worst. Take out the bad snap that resulted in a safety, and Florida would have averaged 6.06 yards per play in the quarter.
So: The offense was good in the first quarter, but the defense was abysmal. Let's look at the other three quarters as an aggregate.
- Florida offense: 40 plays, 358 yards (8.95 yards per play), 33 points
- Florida defense: 55 plays, 250 yards (4.55 yards per play), 10 points allowed, 14 points scored
Florida's offense did its job after settling in, and posted what would have been its best per-play numbers of the season after falling behind 22-7. For the game, the Gators averaged 7.68 yards per play, their second-best mark of the season behind an 8.13 yards-per-play mark against Kentucky that was fueled by a rushing performance for the record books.
And Florida's defense played far better against Furman once that shocking first quarter was done, with better per-play numbers than it averaged during the season despite a 77-yard run in the third quarter. Strip that play out, and Florida's defense would have given up a miserly 3.20 yards per play to the Paladins. Oh, and the Gators produced two pick-sixes in the final three quarters, outscoring the Furman offense.
Alabama's defense, the best in the nation on a per-play basis, gives up 3.47 yards per play. Florida's defense was almost better than the best in the country for a stretch against Furman ... and decidedly worse than the worst in the country for a stretch against Furman.
This is the problem with small sample sizes, and with playing a cupcake with teeth late in the season: If that team gets lucky over a short period, bad things can happen. It's probably a good idea to realize that the bad thing that happened here was far from the worst thing that can happen in a similar set of circumstances and that the Florida defense gave up big plays to a foreign scheme and then more or less figured it out and locked it down.
Also, in honor of #FSUHateWeek: Remember when Florida State struggled to beat Jacksonville State? I do.