Due to the overwhelming news coverage surrounding the Gators football team at this time I will not be able to discuss the basketball team's loss at the hands of the Seminoles on Sunday, thanks to a great performance by FSU's Al Thornton. The Gators tried to coast through the entire game, not showing any signs of life until the 10 minutes, and it came back to bite them. Right now they just look like a team with no depth, and have a lot of work to do if they plan on looking like the National Champions of last season..
The SEC title game was the last chance for the Gators to prove any kind of deserving to play in Glendale on January 8th for the national title against the Buckeyes. They needed to put on a show that would impress voters enough to help them jump the Michigan Wolverines, something that would only really matter if the USC Trojans were to lose to UCLA. Seeing that USC was heavy favorites against their rivals from down the road, any hope for a shot at the Buckeyes was slim.
This, of course, was a similar scenario to what occurred in 1996...The Gators were a one loss team and needed an underdog Texas team to beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big 12 Championship game, along with a win the SEC title game, to earn a spot in the National Title game. The rest is history and the Longhorns used a late 4th down conversion to guide them to a shocking win over the Huskers, giving the Gators something to really play for other than the SEC Crown.
Just like Texas in '96, the UCLA Bruins used a gritty defensive effort to shut down the Trojans and win the very close game 13-9 in front of the home crowd. All USC had to do was win and they were most definitely in, and based on the way that the Trojans had played in the games following their loss to Oregon State, a win was a very probably outcome. The Bruins had other plans, though.
As reports of the final score echoed through the crowd at the Georgia Dome you could tell that many Gators fans had Glendale on their mind. I, on the other hand, still felt that the USC loss was the best news for Wolverines fans, who for sure were going to be the team headed to face the Buckeyes for the second straight time and get a shot at the BCS title in the end.
With that being said in all of this, the Gators still had the Arkansas Razorbacks standing in their way of the SEC crown. Based on the performances of these two teams during the regular season I was expecting this game to be one in which the Gators' offense would be scoring little and the defense would step up and somehow have a monumental effort to stop the likes of Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Marcus Monk. To tell the truth, I was not very confident that the defense could overcome the offensive struggles, but knew that the Gators could win if the cards fell right. After the game I realized that I was totally wrong in my assumptions, and I was very content with that. This was probably the most exciting Gators game I've seen all season, and that includes great ones at Tennessee and at home against South Carolina.
Here's my basic rundown of the game, which should in a way summarize the action (hopefully):
- First of all, Darren McFadden is deserving of all the compliments he has received from college football fans this season. Despite the fact that he was not consistently amazing on Saturday night similar to some of the other games he has had this season, McFadden still demands a whole lot of respect for the many things that he does for the Razorbacks. He ran the ball pretty well on Saturday night, threw a touchdown pass (and, unfortunately for the Hogs, an interception) and demanded enough attention from the Gators defense to make way for a Marcus Monk TD pass in the second quarter and some timely Casey Dick completions to keep them in the game late.
- On that note, Percy Harvin did not look at all injured on Saturday Night, en route to a 2 touchdown performance. Harvin was struck with a high ankle sprain in the Tennessee game, an injury that seem to flare up every game, and was carried off on a stretcher last weekend in Tallahassee. Apparently neither of these injuries had any effect on him against Arkansas, because he looked much faster than the Hogs defense almost every time he touched the ball. In the end Percy had a 67-yard run, a 37-yard touchdown reception and had 167 all purpose yards on the day, leading to the game's MVP.
- Chris Hetland made a FG and converted all of his PAT's. Yippee.
- The early lead is something that I've gotten used to, and just like almost every other game this season, I felt that the Gators should have had a bigger lead going into halftime. Obviously the Monk TD catch made the score a lot closer going into the half, but it still felt like the Gators should have had more points, oddly. Something about the way these games are unfolding tricks us into thinking we should have two more touchdowns than we actually do...and, of course two more scores would always help in the 3rd quarter when Dan Mullen and his offense going into their weekly sleepwalk-mode.
- Speaking of bad offense, the terrible offensive drive (you know which one I'm talking about) was perhaps the worst Gators offensive drive I've ever seen, ever. Yet somehow they got 7 points out of it and kept the defense off the field for quite some time...odd. The Gators offense was reeling, coming off of two straight interceptions and a resulting 14 straight points for the Hogs, and the momentum was leaning towards Arkansas to a point where it felt like we were Auburn once again. That was until Reggie Fish made what could be called a miscue trying to catch an Eric Wilbur punt over his shoulder, resulting in a fumble and a Gators go-ahead TD. After an offensive drive in which the Gators need a crazy fake punt play and the last of their second half timeouts they ended up with 7 points and the much-needed momentum.
- This was just a crazy offensive game: Three non-quarterbacks threw touchdown passes in this one: Arkansas' Darren McFadden & Cedric Washington and the Gators' Andre Caldwell all produced scores through the air on semi-trick plays (it's "semi" because the McFadden pass looked like a simple shotgun pass play).