Florida lost to Florida State, 21-7, on Saturday night. 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. This one's coming with a different format than usual.
I stayed for the entirety of the worst game I can remember as a Florida fan.
I stayed through John Brantley's three picks, and at least his fourth injury of the last two years. I stayed through Florida's offense stubbornly refusing to take shots deep despite an anemic running game. I stayed through Jacoby Brissett throwing a terrible, terrible interception that is going to weaken my evidence for persuading people that he, and not Jeff Driskel, is the future for Florida at quarterback. I stayed to see Jaye Howard make the sort of play we've wanted this defense to make all year. I stayed to see a great touchdown pass to Quinton Dunbar. I stayed to see Matt Elam throw down a Florida State player and earn Florida's best penalty this season. I stayed to see E.J. Manuel seal the Seminoles' miserable and historic offensive output. I stayed to hear the Seminole War Chant echoing through The Swamp.
I stayed because I believe in "In all kinds of weather, we all stick together" as a mantra that binds Gator Nation's millions of members to each other through thick and thin. And I stayed because I know full well that experiencing the worst of times makes the best of times much, much sweeter.
The worst of times, right now, is whenever Florida is on offense.
Charlie Weis tries to hit a home run on the first play of the game, with mixed results; I swear to you, I said "Oh, God" when Brantley came out under center, and I knew full well that that first play was going to be a bomb. From there, Weis trusts Brantley to run his offense and (perhaps mistakenly) to make throws; Brantley typically does that to the best of his limited ability until his offensive line gets him killed. Then, if necessary, Weis turns to Brissett, gives him one deep throw, and wastes most of his first and second downs with a freshman under center trying to chew up enough yardage to make third down manageable. The problem with that: Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps (who may have had his worst night as a Gator tonight) are small, but not nearly small enough to squirt through the tiny holes the line creates.
All of that makes for truly excruciating offense, and you'll note that I haven't even mentioned Florida's terrible receiving corps (three catches for 40 yards and a touchdown, all by Dunbar), or the continued deployment of Trey Burton (who lost 11 yards on two carries, somehow), or the asinine use of Brantley split wide to disguise the Burton f--kery (sorry, I have no better words), or the inability to do anything in the short passing game. Much of this stems from or is aggravated by a line that is patchwork, thin, and undersized at full health. And that line is not at full health.
Because of this, Florida's offense must rely on its defense to do everything. Tonight, it nearly did. Holding an FBS team to 1.7 yards per play is absurdly great work even if that team is Florida Atlantic or a directional school from the Midwest; holding Florida State to that number is one of the finest defensive performances by a Florida defense in the history of the program. And just think: It could have been better! A lot better!
Here's a few things that could have gone Florida's way on defense, but didn't: the early fumble by Manuel, which I never saw a conclusive replay on; the penalty of a completely dubious nature after that fumble that gave FSU a new set of downs; the possible pick Elam didn't quite break on in the endzone; the pick Elam flat dropped, which would have set Florida up in great field position; the personal foul on Jonathan Bostic that was really not much worse than the constant pushing and shoving from both sides all night. And these are all fully within the control of the defense, which was hung out to dry by an offense that set Florida State up within Florida's 25 twice and punted just as often as Florida State did.
I am not mad, at all, at Florida's defense. I am as proud of it as I have been of any Gators unit after any game in the span of my membership in Gator Nation, and I'm going to come back to this game again and again to make the point that Jeremy Foley made a fantastic hire when he tabbed Will Muschamp as Florida's next head coach. I would also hope that Muschamp points to this game with every recruit he sees until February, and says "If you want to play for a defense that takes pride in breaking an opponent's offense, in making history of the wrong sort for the other team, you want to play for me at Florida."
But I can't be sure that Muschamp's going to do that, just like I can't be sure that a good Florida team will show up for a bowl game (bet on the Gator Bowl against Ohio State) and can't be sure that Nelson Agholor wants to be the next savior of the Florida offense and can't be sure that Florida fans will see Brissett's calm and mobility as assets that give him a justified leg up over Driskel. I have hopes, and I have hunches, and I'm going to devote a lot of the next year to figuring out how to understand football as well as possible and use that understanding to develop knowledge about this Florida team.
But I can't be sure, and that's sports: We can't be sure of anything other than a next game, a next week, a next year. I'm staying with Florida for all of those nexts until the end of my time on Earth, and as long as the Gators play, no matter what, I'll be watching and cheering. In all kinds of weather, you know?