Despite the suffocating defensive performances and efficient offensive play, the possibility of a 2011 redux was always looming for Florida. In Jacksonville, we got it: an offense machine-gunning itself in the foot left the defense with its back constantly against the wall.
I always say this: It's not the losing that bothers me, but the losing when you should have won. When the other team didn't win so much as happen to end up with more points. When the referees aren't helping, but your side is overshadowing their miscues with gaffes of their own. When you can look at a few plays, and see that those plays didn't need to be successful, they just needed to not be crippling errors.
For Florida, the growing noise of The Conversation was rising from a murmur to a dull buzz, threatening to become a din. Win this one, and Atlanta was secured for the Gators; who knows what else would follow? Saturday showed this team isn't ready for that. It's leaps and bounds improved from last year, and the future's bright, but they're not ready for the biggest limelight just yet.
They'll get there, but not right now.
Much has already been said about Jeff Driskel's game, so I'll look elsewhere, like Jordan Reed. You have to feel for the guy. It was not hard to tell how distraught he was over that fumble. For him, though, that play begs a question for his entire playing style: why have we not put magnets in his shoes and under the field to keep him from jumping?
He leaps into the air, then has to reach down to catch passes. He soared forward with a hope and prayer, seemingly seeking to glide through the air into paydirt. What was preventing him from lowering his shoulder and allowing momentum and his large frame to carry him in? At worst, that would have given the Gators first and goal with plenty of time to score and still recover an onside kick if necessary.
Instead, the ball popped out as a result of Jarvis Jones' final moment of menace, and dribbled away, taking with it the last best shot to keep hopes alive. The game wasn't lost there, but it hurts to know that despite all the mistakes, Florida still could've had it.
The post-mortem of this loss has been gloomy, so it's worth enumerating the positives. After last year's never-ending debacles, it took six turnovers and poor officiating for Florida to not be 8-0 right now. We're 7-1, and can take solace in knowing that we didn't get beat in that one; rather, we lost the game, fumbling away a game that could have been ours. The Gators' defense played tough and well, but we cannot keep asking them to force turnovers and win it for you. At some point they have to get help.
Barring Georgia somehow gagging against Ole Miss or Auburn, we'll be playing the role of mid-'90s Tennessee in 2012: We may only lose one game, but that game may cost us a shot at any hardware. We're still pretty darn good, and a Sugar Bowl berth is very realistic. This game was a bitter horse pill, but let's take our lumps and then get ready for the first-ever conference matchup with Missouri.
Go Gators. Even on this gloomy Monday, go Gators.