Florida staged one of the greatest escapes in program history against Louisiana on Saturday.
Florida beat Louisiana, 27-20, on Saturday. It happened. Really. You can relive the game through our Game Thread. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, our first look before a second viewing, comes first.
With maybe 80,000 people in attendance for a noon game, Florida fans matched their Gators' propensity for underwhelming play on Saturday. But big-play defense and just enough offense were the difference for the Gators on this Saturday, as they have been on so many others this fall.
How Florida Won
Jelani Jenkins. Jenkins won the game by being in the right place at the right time on a play that made being there less skill than luck, but he did more than that. Jenkins had seven tackles, all solo, to lead the Gators, and was flowing right at the ball carrier all day. This was not a performance the defense will want to remember, though it wasn't terrible (remember that Louisiana only scored 13 points on offense), but Jenkins will remember it as his best at Florida whether he decides to come back for 2013 or not, and I'll remember it just as fondly, and for his fire helping to keep the defense in the game.
Loucheiz Purifoy. Joe Haden was back in town on Saturday, and Reggie Nelson's name came up in conversation in the stands. Purifoy combines bits of both players and hellhound-shaming tenacity on special teams into something I am sure Florida has had before, long before my time. I've racked my brain and I just can't come up with someone else who is those things and pure fun to watch, too; Purifoy clearly relishes madman's dashes on special teams, and he relishes playing for Florida and in The Swamp, making sure to ask the crowd for noise at every opportunity. He's my favorite Gator of this fall, and it's not close.
The rush. Florida teams of the post-Spurrier period should never, ever be down 20-13 to Louisiana on Homecoming. But the tense fourth quarter set up the Gators for one of the best finishes we will ever see as a fan base. Chop this one to the last six minutes of this, nothing more, and it's pure joy; watch just the Shock Block (c'mon, catch on), and it's the best single play to finish a game in The Swamp since the 'Cock Block. I'll never forget that, and neither will the "86,482" who saw it.
Louisiana. That's how you come into a hostile environment and play against a better team. The Ragin' Cajuns could have folded after that first fumble and allowed a touchdown, or gone into the locker room dejected after that second quarter touchdown, or lost contact at 13-3, but they never gave up, and gave everyone in attendance a scare for the annals. Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana's coach, is 80-29 as a college football head coach, and 13-8 with the Cajuns with just one of those eight losses coming at home. He's not going to be Louisiana's coach for very long.
Jordan Reed. Reed's line was his best ever as a receiver: Five catches, 85 yards. He made the two big catches to set up touchdowns by going deep and hauling passes in over the middle. He's the best offensive option Florida has, because Mike Gillislee is horrifically hamstrung by his line, and he's the only consistent one Florida has. Please continue throwing the ball to him, whoever is the quarterback next week.
Depth. You know that D.J. Humphries played his second full game at left tackle this Saturday? He's a true freshman, and a great one, but he was at left tackle and not spelled (to my eye, anyway) for the duration on Saturday, and he played well. Jacoby Brissett is going to appear elsewhere in this piece, but he did enough to get Florida a win. The defensive line rotates nine players and keeps the good ones fresh enough to get late stops. These are little things, with the exception of Brissett's crucial performance (can you imagine having to turn to Skyler Mornhinweg if Brissett had transferred by now?), but they are also things Florida could not have dreamed of doing last year.
The Swamp rose. That attendance figure above is official from the GatorZone box score, and it is downright laughable: There were never 75,000 people at this game, much less 86,000+, and though I stopped looking around at empty seats in the fourth quarter, I would have been surprised if a count with eight minutes to go found more than 70,000 in the stands. But it sounded like a wasp's nest for much of that fourth quarter, a smallish, committed bunch of nuts trying to yell loud enough to make up for the thousands who weren't there and the thousands of alumni back in town who sat and stayed quiet. (The guy next to me, there with his wife, remained sitting for almost the whole game. I did not talk to him much.) Kudos to you if you were yelling with me; if you weren't, or weren't there, I feel bad for you.
Omarius Hines. Hines still shouldn't be on returns, not unless he can field kicks cleanly, but he was dynamite for Florida on Saturday: three carries for 37 yards, three catches for 29 yards, two kick returns for 42 yards. There is no excuse for not finding him more touches over the next two weeks.
Kyle Christy. After a couple games of underwhelming punting, Christy got back in the swing of things with five punts downed inside the 20. The block was also not his fault, not when he got smothered by a rusher on the play. He could still be an All-America punter, and should be one of the finalists for the Ray Guy. It is nice to have him kicking the ball.
Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis was true from 38 and 21 yards, and great on kickoffs. It is nice to have him kicking the ball, too.
Both Good and Bad
Jeff Driskel. Driskel ran for 76 yards on 12 carries, and looked very much like a great zone read quarterback; he completed 13 of 16 passes and threw a nice ball on the lone touchdown pass. But Driskel also threw for just 98 yards, and took three sacks, including two on third downs. And after a season that has been remarkably injury-free for a guy whose shoulder injury blew up the Internet for a day, Driskel tweaked his ankle, at the very least, and missed much of the late goings, making Florida's offense even more limited than it usually is. If Driskel can't go against Jacksonville State, that's fine; Brissett's got that handled. If Driskel can't go against Florida State, I am absolutely certain the Gators will lose that game.
Florida's linebackers. Jenkins had seven tackles; other Florida linebackers combined had seven tackles. And, Jenkins aside, they did a miserable job of holding the edge against a series of sweeps by the Ragin' Cajuns, who were doing more or less the same thing that Missouri did in the running game. I still like Jon Bostic, but Lerentee McCray is out of gas at the Buck position at a time when Dante Fowler is coming on, and there's nothing to recommend any other linebacker as more than average at this point.
Brent Pease's conservatism. I said a couple of times in the first half that I think I can predict whether Florida will run or pass with about 80% accuracy given down and distance and personnel. Some players are really clear clues, like Hunter Joyer and Clay Burton (Tevin Westbrook is about the clearest one for runs), or Hines; some formations, like the pistol, are giveaways. I'll probably rewatch every game before Florida State and have some better numbers on that, but if I have this suspicion and only watch games when I can, what are the coaches whose jobs it is to do that, and whose tape is way better than what I have, picking up on?
Receivers. And they're only here and not in Embarrassing because Quinton Dunbar played well and made a couple of really good catches (one while climbing the ladder, the other on the tying touchdown). You know the laundry list of issues: There's no separation, the routes aren't sharp enough, and there's no fear factor for any of them. There's no fix available, either, not with Andre Debose sidelined/doghoused and Solomon Patton broken. Michael McNeely played several snaps at wideout on Saturday, and no one knows who he is. This is a problem, and I damn sure hope that better players can solve it.
Jacoby Brissett. So y'all get that Driskel's the starter because he is Florida's best option with the personnel on hand, now, don't you? Brissett's arm is fine, and his confidence is good, but he's worse than Driskel at making decisions when faced with pressure, and does not possess the speed or elusiveness to make things happen while running for his life. He also threw one of the worst passes I've seen this year, a should-have-been-picked ball forced across his body for no reason. I suspect that Brissett would have looked a little better than he did with better protection, or even more seasoning this year, but he ain't at game speed yet.
Offensive line. Mike Gillislee runs very hard on every play that he is given the ball, but he's run through about three holes, total, in the past month. Driskel is nimble and capable as a runner, and good at taking a hit but he has to be; otherwise, he would have been severely injured by now. This line is not what we thought Florida had after it wore Texas A&M down or when it made LSU quit, but is it what we spent the offseason fearing would be the Gators' Achilles heel.
And I think the best defensive line Florida's going to face this year is still waiting in Tallahassee. The 'Noles are probably licking their lips to get free runs at whatever guy is under center for Florida ... and they should be.
Sleepwalking. Hey, Will Muschamp?
You might want to make sure your players know that games that start at noonish times count the same in the standings as the ones at 3:30. Either that, or you need to yank all the guys who make little mental errors early to wake them up.
There's one more of these games to go, at least, so doing this soonish would be good.
My fellow students. Nah, y'all got nothing for me this week. I was in Jacksonville at about midnight last night, got home at 1:30, went to bed, woke up and wrote, and made it from the golf course to The Swamp in 20 minutes on no food in time to see the first play from scrimmage from the stands. And I yelled very hard, probably exacerbating the cough I've had this week, but I don't regret a bit of it.
"Remember, when you complain about the changes that are eventually made, that they were justified by days like this one" is your refrain for the rest of the year, until Florida raises student ticket prices, ties every season ticket to a specific ID, and makes you ineligible to buy tickets next year after you miss a game or fail to return your ticket to a general pool. And when that makes The Swamp even quieter, it'll be your fault when no alumni hire you.
That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments all day.