On Saturday, Florida started with tentative hope and sneaking pessimism.
Jeff Driskel and Mike Gillislee led the offense on a few solid, encouraging drives to start the game, but disappointingly netted only three points for those efforts, thanks in part to an instance of Brent Pease Getting Cute. You'll recall BPGC: It reared its head against Georgia on the unnecessarily complicated fourth-and-1 call for a sweep to Solomon Patton. When it shows up, it's bad, m'kay? But, for the most part, Pease called a solid game that, to quote Lee Corso from the last eight editions of NCAA Football, "[took] advantage of what the defense is giving you."
But, as I repeated countless times yesterday, you cannot continue asking the defense to get stops and force turnovers that lead to gift-wrapped points. After three or four turnovers, it's time for the offense to do its part, or the whole thing is gonna come crashing down. Dominant as the Gators were in the first half, offensive inability to cash all the way in and a cheap field goal conceded on defense worked out to a more-fragile-than-it-appeared 10 point lead at the half. It was the result of critical failure to capitalize on the opponent's miscues, the exact opposite of the Sakerlina game.
That made me uneasier than anything else. The Gators were on the road, with an uncertain offense, and we'd shown no inclination to give ourselves any sort of cushion. What happens when FSU starts completing those missed passes, when the ball stops dropping into Gators defenders' hands? Asking for one big stop or turnover is fine. So is hope for two.
But once you hit four or five, you cannot continue expecting it. You've gotten more than your fair share.
The answer to that worried what-if came promptly in the third quarter, when FSU's offense did just what I feared: They quit blowing it, and started blowing us up. TD. TD. FG. And there you go, down 20-13 on the road, with an uncertain offense fumbling about and an officiating crew that continued finding new and astounding ways to penalize Florida stinging again and again. (A quick note about that: The officials were bad, but certainly did not rise to conspiracy levels. This was no Swindle in the Swamp.)
And then the fourth quarter brought the heel-to-windpipe shot that should've come far sooner.
Gilly got free, Driskel got time, and, suddenly, terse grunts spurred by frayed nerves gave way to relaxed, chuckle-infused chatter. 17 points in the course of about six game minutes turned a grinding affair into a late coast toward sweet victory, and allowed for the schadenfreude of watching sad Seminole fans (at least those that didn't immediately leave once things started turning sour).
It's fine to say this: The key to this game offensively was trick plays. Specifically, the plays where the O-line blocked. A team can't spend much time preparing for that sort of gadgetry, which is why it was so effective. With time to throw, Driskel was able to take a few shots downfield, which goes a long way to opening up the running game and underneath routes for the likes of Quinton Dunbar and Frankie Hammond.
After a more encouraging performance, it's tempting to wish we were going to Atlanta, with a chance to tangle with Saban for conference supremacy and a ticket to Miami. I stick by the belief that 'Bama would manhandle us, and leave a needlessly painful bruise on the season.
It's better to focus on this: This team is no flash in the pan. The toughness is real, the defensive ferocity is real, the potential of Driskel and some receiving talent combining for something special under Pease's tutelage is real. It's gonna be okay, folks. We're gonna be okay.
We beat the crap out of those damn Seminoles. It's okay to enjoy that.