Happy End of the Year everyone! What a year it has been. Please join me in saying SAYONARA 2013!!!
Before the year officially ends, I wanted to write an article that explains my thoughts on the present and future of this football team. I’ve noticed that I don’t do a great job of getting my point across in some comments because my thoughts aren’t always well organized on the subject. THIS IS NOT A FIRE WILL MUSCHAMP ARTICLE!!! It’s simply me organizing my thoughts so that maybe I’m not seen as a raving lunatic. So here it goes...
2013 was the worst display of football from a team perspective I can ever remember as a football fan, including my days as an Auburn fan (pre-2003). There was a failure on all levels, from the players to the head coach. Specifically, the following are issues I felt contributed to this season’s failure (in no particular order because their importance depends on your perspective of why the team failed):
Our defensive recruiting is among the best in the country. We routinely get guys that most teams covet. There is no doubting, in my mind, that Will Muschamp is one of the best defensive coaches and recruiters in the country.
However, offensive recruiting is an entirely different story. The lack of offensive line recruits the last few years is appalling. Considering our coaches have placed an added emphasis on the importance of winning the line of scrimmage, it’s truly baffling how we could be so bad at recruiting this position. Another major area of concern is offensive playmakers. We seem to be in the picture for every major offensive skill player yet seem to miss on them all (we will see this play out again at 7 pm EST tonight with Dalvin Cook, according to reports, and it’s looking less likely that Ermon Lane will be coming either). We’ve missed on other players who have already made impacts on their respective teams, including Diggs, Agholor, Collins, etc. It’s a terrible pattern to be in and does not look like it will be resolved anytime soon.
Going forward, there’s just no telling if the offensive playmaker recruiting will get better without major changes. It is apparent that Muschamp and staff have recognized the folly of their offensive line recruiting and have begun trying to fix the damage that’s been done. No one has any idea how well Roper will be as a recruiter but we have to hope he’s good. His best recruiting pitch will be make itself for him if he can get our offense back on track.
PLAYER DEVELOPMENT/TALENT EVALUATION
A major weak point over the last few years, particularly on offense. One of the major strengths of the SEC is how strong the depth is and how most teams don’t lose a step when a 2nd string player has to play. But as has been pointed out ad nauseum, our second and third string players do not look ready to play when they come in.
On the other hand, when certain can’t miss prospects are waiting in the stables, very few get the chance to see the field. Kelvin Taylor and VH3 come to mind. Both players were only given additional or any playing time because of injuries and both shined. It was clearly a miss on the coaches and baffled fans and broadcasters alike.
Like recruiting, it’s difficult to know if this will improve going forward. The majority of the development and evaluation issues appeared to be on the offensive side of the ball and it’s entirely possible Roper may be able to come in and fix this.
A major concern and factor this year. No sane fan would think the season has the same outcome with the amount of injuries suffered. It’s difficult to figure how many games were lost because of injuries. Depending on your point of view, injuries were either the major cause of the team’s issues or just a symptom of two larger problems: player development and strength and conditioning.
Next year will provide a lot of answers to both. If we experience another spate of major ankle/knee ligament issues, Jeff Dillman’s program will need a serious review. If not, maybe it was just severely bad luck. Player development will be harder to judge, especially if the injuries regress, but if starters aren’t showing any signs of progress in the most basic football fundamentals then we will have that answer as well.
A major point of contention amongst fans. Many fans, myself included, hate Muschamp’s stated vision from the past. Names such as "Big Dumb Will Muschamp Football" have been floated by many, from anonymous commenters to more recognizable personalities like Spencer Hall. Respected TV announcers and analysts have consistently stated they are baffled by our offense. The lack of aggression when it makes sense (play action passes from mid field) and over aggression when it doesn’t (see a vast array of examples from the red zone the last 2 years) infuriate many.
But there is hope, finally. Muschamp has admitted in several interviews that his philosophy on offense was at least partially responsible for our terrible display of offense the last 3 years and has discussed a willingness to change. Hiring a coach who incorporates spread concepts, takes chances down field, and has stated in many interviews that he designs his offense around the players he has, not trying to change players to fit his offense, is a breath of fresh air. Even pessimists like myself have to admit this is an exciting change to this program even if we aren’t sold on Muschamp. I say congrats to Muschamp on at least trying to address a major flaw of his even if it may be too little too late.
An underrated issue on both sides of the ball. The instances are many of games lost because of a failure to finish on some level. This is a coaching issue primarily but should also be a pride issue for the players. Missed tackles allowing big plays, defensive breakdowns at the worst possible moment, failures to drive the field in the 4th, etc need to be addressed in the worst way if we want to get back to winning.
D.J. Durkin earned his shot at defensive coordinator and did a good job in general. He does not appear to be as talented as Dan Quinn but losing a talent like Quinn to the NFL is expected at programs that have consistently excellent defenses, especially if the coach is a career NFL guy. But the step back at defensive coordinator wasn’t nearly as detrimental to the team as the step back at special teams coordinator.
Durkin was a mastermind for the special teams and it showed at all levels. Losing his expertise was immediately apparent. Special teams regressed from a team strength to a house of horrors almost overnight. Punting, kicking, field goals, coverage, etc. were awful. We showed flashes with a few excellent returns and blocks but it’s my opinion that those are the likely the result of talent and not coaching.
But like the offense, there is hope here. Muschamp wisely brought back Coleman Hutzler, a name familiar to Gator fans. He was an assistant in 2010 and 2011, years that saw excellent special teams. He went to coach New Mexico State’s special teams and linebackers the last two season, seeing success with both. Hutzler is another reason for the pessimistic Gator fan to be excited moving forward.
But for all the excitement new coaches bring, one thing is for sure: coaching turnover because of firings and resignations is not the sign of a healthy program. It affects everything within a program, most notably recruiting and player development. And even though I agree with these past few moves, it’s troubling that they have to be made in the first place. Moving forward, the only cure for coaching turnover is winning consistently.
Ultimately, the head coach is responsible for everything within a program and all its successes and failures. I think it’s pretty clear at this point that Muschamp was not ready to be a head coach at a major college football program as evidenced by his continued failure to produce an offense. Muschamp likely would’ve benefitted greatly from leading a lower tier team first but that’s not something we can worry about anymore.
Our administration believes he can learn from his past inadequacies and has graced him with another year to figure it out. It’s a gamble by Foley but I hope it works out. He’s an excellent AD and even another disastrous year with Muschamp will not endanger his job. It will, however, prove a point many people believe: Steve Spurrier is the true architect of our football program and Foley has struggled to keep it at the consistently elite level it was under Spurrier. Meyer was a great hire at the time and he rewarded UF fans with 2 national championships. He also kept us on a roller coaster that ultimately crashed. Zook was average, at best. Muschamp is to be determined, but early returns are much closer to Zook than Meyer or Spurrier. Long story short, we have to hope Foley is right about Muschamp and next year works out much better. I doubt there is a win total that keeps or loses Muschamp but I’d imagine Foley will want to see significant progress on the offensive side of the ball.
Hopefully that cleared the air some. I don’t plan on harping on any of this much going forward. I may make a comment or two out of frustration, but, at the end of the day, I feel like the above explains my perspective on what caused the failure this year and provides some hope for the future.
That said… DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE! It’s not worth it and cops will be out looking for people, especially tonight. Stay safe. Lastly, the thing we’ve all been waiting to say this year….
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!