As always, the Sunday Rundown is intentionally written with first-take thoughts on a Florida game, and without a second look at tape. For Florida's 27-3 win over Georgia, I watched the game on my TV at my apartment, in a pair of Gators basketball shorts that I never wear. I might have to put those on again for other games.
How Florida Won
Solving for X
It's funny: Florida winning with ravenous defense, a good-but-not-great running game, and just enough from an overmatched quarterback feels a lot different than Florida losing with most of those variables being present in almost the exact same equations over the last couple of years.
Maybe that's because Treon Harris circa 2015 is slightly better and slightly more trusted than the one that Will Muschamp and Kurt Roper had hand off throughout the 2014 Florida-Georgia game. Maybe it's because this defense is slightly better at forcing turnovers than its predecessors.
Clearly, Florida's been able to avoid turnovers in 2015 like it hasn't since 2012. Certainly, adding Antonio Callaway and forcing defenses to deal with more than just Demarcus Robinson on the outside seems to have improved Florida's passing game, as has the addition of multiple tight ends — and the return to health of Jake McGee. And the big plays on special teams are truly big this year, with Nick Washington making two touchdowns happen over Florida's last two outings. Plus, Florida's apparent lack of anything resembling consistency in its field goal unit when Jorge Powell isn't a part of it is a glaring flaw that really hasn't cost the Gators yet.
But what we've seen from Florida in 2015, with the exception of about four consecutive quarters spanning an incredible fourth-quarter comeback against Tennessee and three periods of dominance against Mississippi, has largely been the best possible version of the Gators that Muschamp built. So far, Jim McElwain's novelties have mostly been minor, especially in terms of personnel; what McElwain has done, though, is refine the formula from the days of Muschamp, and extract stretches or flashes of quarterback play that Muschamp and his offensive coordinators rarely got.
Mostly, that was the thing Muschamp's teams lacked: Consistently good quarterback play. And while it's only one thing, it is quite literally the most important thing in football as played at this moment in time.
It would be foolish to say that McElwain has solved all of Florida's problems at QB for now and forever. The Gators are one hit away from Josh Grady at QB at the moment, and their future is cloudy, thanks to Harris being uneven in recent weeks and Will Grier's suspension looming as a thunderhead. But he's solved enough of the equation — if X is quarterback play, and X + Y + Z = a winning level of play, and you know the levels of Y and Z, your job is simply to find X — to make Florida good enough to win blowouts again, and he's done that with what was already on hand.
The equation will change over time. So will the variables at play. But I think I trust Jim McElwain to keep doing the algebra and calculus necessary to make the Gators great.
Steal your watch and tell you what time it is
I thought I had used that Jay Rock bar from Kendrick Lamar's "Money Trees" before, in talking about how Florida beating Florida State in 2012 was an inversion of the expectations people had for those teams in 2012. But if it was appropriate then, it's certainly appropriate now, and for Georgia: The Gators have two three-score victories over Georgia teams favored to win the SEC East in as many years, and have won them with their putative backup quarterback playing (and poorly) in each game. (And, yes, Georgia's been without its best running back in those two meetings, but Todd Gurley was not worth 18 points more than Nick Chubb in 2014, and Chubb was not worth 24 more points than Sony Michel in 2015.)
The SEC — not just the East — should really have been Georgia's to rule over the last half-decade. Florida fell from its perch at the national mountaintop rather swiftly, and almost gracelessly; if Georgia is the counterpart to Florida that some believe it is, it should probably have been well-positioned to step into the vacuum that Florida left in the SEC East and the SEC and compete for national titles.
Since 2010, Georgia is 51-24, with as many losing seasons (one) and SEC titles (zero) as Florida, fewer BCS bowl berths, and a 3-3 record against the Gators. That's a long way removed from Georgia's 34-6 mark in the Ron Zook era, during which time the Dawgs won Mark Richt's only SEC title, got one of his two BCS bowl wins ... and still posted a losing record against Florida.
This isn't meant as a slight or obnoxious triumphalism, I swear, but the story of the last three decades of SEC football suggests very strongly that there's only one lasting national powerhouse in the SEC East — Florida. Any incursions on the Gators' turf seem to come during their interregnums, or down years in the midst of dynastic reigns. And when the Gators decide they want to be back, they just are, all of a sudden.
Florida will steal your watch and tell you what time it is. It's disrespectful, sure.
It's also just what the Gators do.
Antonio F. Callaway, again
The coolest and best thing about Antonio Callaway is how easy he makes all of it look.
That 66-yard touchdown pass Harris lofted to him? He underthrew it by at least five yards. It could've been well out in front of Callaway; if it was, he could have caught it in stride and raced to the end zone without ever being touched on the play. Instead, Harris short-armed it, and Callaway was forced to slow down just enough to make the safe catch and allow a Georgia defender to dive at him.
But Callaway was looking back at Harris from almost the moment he (effortlessly) got by that defender, just five yards downfield — and he knew exactly how much he had to slow up. He didn't jump to try to high-point the ball, because he knew he didn't have to; he didn't lay out for the same reason. He just slowed up, made the catch, skillfully shifted to minimize contact, and regained his balance while tip-toeing down the sideline.
Plays like these are becoming commonplace for Callaway. He's made at least one spectacular play in every Florida game since the Gators' trip to Kentucky other than their snoozer of a win at Missouri — and, well, maybe that was part of the reason why that game was such a snoozer for Florida's offense.
Callaway's getting a lot of "best _______ since Percy Harvin" buzz, too. And despite Harvin being a superior athlete in virtually every respect and bigger, Harvin's much more significant presence in Florida's running game throughout his career, and Callaway's emergence on a team with fewer playmakers, it's fair in one important respect.
No Gator has made it look this easy and this often since Percy.
But no Florida receiver has ever had more 100-yard games as a true freshman wideout than Callaway's three, and few Florida receivers have back-to-back 100-yard games (Harvin had three consecutive 100-yard games in 2007, and none apart from that stretch) in their careers; no rational Florida fan forecast this sort of season for Callaway. In some ways, the Harvin comparisons are actually almost insulting: Callaway is doing things even Florida's best and most precocious receivers never did.
And he's eight games into his first season at Florida. How easy can it get?
The immovable feasters
Two weeks after LSU's offense got 28 points (and whatever else it wanted) in the second quarter against Florida, the Gators allowed Georgia to gain 74 yards in the first half.
Georgia went 1-for-7 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth down in the first half, with Faton Bauta throwing two interceptions; Georgia went 1-for-5 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth down in the second half, with Faton Bauta throwing two more interceptions.
The Bulldogs' longest drive — and their only one of more than 32 yards, and one of just two on the day that crossed midfield — covered 86 yards and ended with an interception.
Georgia was given a gift on a Harris fumble that set the Dawgs up on the Florida 25 in the second half, and came away from that drive with just three points — which was probably more than they deserved, given that Bauta seemingly targeted Jarrad Davis on one pass on that drive, only for Davis to be so surprised by the interception opportunity that he bobbled and dropped it.
And, yes, a fair bit of those last few paragraphs has far more to do with Georgia being suddenly woeful on offense after losing Nick Chubb, with a terrible case of the drops, the inexplicable use of Bauta on Saturday, and some questionable play-calling from Brian Schottenheimer all seeming more like self-inflicted wounds. But Florida made Georgia regret those drops, and punished Bauta's bad throws and Schottenheimer's bad play-calling by making plays to make them look like especially poor decisions.
When a team collects five turnovers and could have feasibly had a couple more, that team is playing well, and doing things beyond merely capitalizing on good luck and poor play. And given that this Florida defense is a proud pack of hunters that hates to let prey slip away, those missed chances will burn about as much as the great plays will hearten..
Don't leave your baby around these Gators. They're hungry. And they eat.
The person who laid the voodoo curse on Vernon Hargreaves III that has left him unable to score a defensive touchdown, no matter what he does
I mean, seriously. VH3 just barely stepped out at Miami in 2013. His only subsequent pick in 2013, and two more in 2014, came in the opponent's end zone. He has had four picks in 2015, has returned each of them for at least 20 yards, and has brought three into the opponent's red zone, but has never gotten closer to a touchdown than he did on Saturday, when he wound his way to the Georgia 5. (He's never started closer to a touchdown on a return than he did on Saturday, either.)
It has to be a curse, right? The only rational explanation for this would be a long streak of incalculably poor luck, and that never happens.
Treon Harris didn't despair
Look: That 2-for-10 start was basura. It was really, really bad. I'm planning on getting back on the horse in re: grading Florida's QB play this week, and should get to Harris against Georgia on Friday; I'm almost certain the only stretch of 10 throws worse than his first 10 in this game by a Florida QB all season will be some stretch of 10 from the fourth quarter at LSU.
But: Harris finished the day by going 6-for-9 on the rest of his throws, and his major mistake after the first quarter was one made as a runner, not a passer. I think it's pretty obvious at this point that Will Grier's a superior quarterback, especially for what McElwain and Doug Nussmeier prefer to do, but I'm not sure if Grier could scramble to set up Callaway's touchdown like Harris did or make that sort of throw on the run (Grier struggled at throwing on the run all year); the same goes for the other Harris-to-Callaway hookup, which featured an even better play and throw by Harris.
Treon Harris is not, from what we've seen, currently good enough at throwing the ball to believe that Florida can win a game against a "good" team by relying on him throwing the ball. But guess what? Florida only plays one more "good" team in this regular season, and the rest of the Gators' 70-odd players seem to be good enough to avoid situations in which Harris will be forced to throw.
My guess is that McElwain and Nussmeier have at least as good a read on what Harris can and can't do as I do, and that we'll see more and more playing to his strengths in the coming weeks, with Florida likely to have significant margins for error against its next three foes. (I do think that using Harris sparingly as a runner is likely to continue, and I'll get back to that, but it's clear, if odd, that these coaches don't yet trust him to make reads on option runs, and I think there's an argument for the value in keeping him healthy and keeping an option run game under wraps than there would be in adding it to the playbook on Saturdays, at least for the very near future.)
The polar ideas I've seen, though? The "theory" (really, more of a complaint) that Treon Harris is awful and can't do anything right, and the argument (based on three quarters of play at LSU) that he is so good that Florida's QB competition ended with a choice based on preference rather than performance? Those are both more wrong than right, and the truth is somewhere in the middle.
So what we fans have to hope for is that Harris improves. He's got three relatively low-stress games to do that before the big boys show up again, and he's got coaches we all seem to trust pretty implicitly to teach him.
Why worry, instead of sitting back and watching?
The Gators gallop again
Kelvin Taylor had 121 yards and two touchdowns despite not breaking a run of more than 23 yards. Jordan Scarlett's cameo in this game netted him 96 yards on just nine carries. Harris ran for 39 yards despite losing eight yards on sacks. And Florida didn't even get much from Brandon Powell (one carry, one yard) or any of its other options in this game.
All that yammering about Florida's running game being terrible from this past week, largely an artifact of the Gators playing two teams that allow fewer than 3.5 yards per carry in back-to-back road games and still possessing a young offensive line that has struggled with run-blocking all year: Do you really think it's going to continue after Florida trampled Georgia for 258 yards on 48 carries?
I doubt it.
I have nothing bad to say about the refs
Yes, I know some Florida fans are mad about Jordan Cronkrite's block in the second half being ruled targeting and confirmed as such on replay, when the clarity of that rule rivals that of the St. Johns as seen from the Landing on the Friday night before this game.
But I don't think that was an egregiously bad call, not by the standards of egregiously bad calls in Florida games, and certainly not by the standard set by my viewing of the fourth quarter of Miami's win over Duke, which had me perplexed by a drive full of bad calls against Miami even before the dubious officiating of Miami's miraculous return.
This much, I think, is obvious: To avoid being called for targeting in a football game in 2015, you must be completely adherent to the letter of the rule and also manage to have good refs calling your game. If you're not lucky enough to have both factors in your favor, you might get unlucky. I think Cronkrite's error was a violation of the former category more than the latter, I'm sure Florida will be fine without him for a half against Vanderbilt, and I bet that nothing lingers from that call other than pointless frustration with referees.
Pointless frustration with referees is a good thing, mind you.
Both Good and Bad
Georgia is not very good
Obviously, I'm not mad about Georgia being bad; Dawg Sports is very mad about this, and you'll enjoy reading the recap that you get to by clicking those blue words.
But Georgia is bad, and was bad enough on offense on Saturday to border on the farce that Florida's offense sometimes was in the darker days under Muschamp. I think most of the critiques leveled in that recap are valid (especially the ones about the cloak-and-dagger routine about who would start at QB that served mainly to embarrass all involved; can you imagine being Greyson Lambert over the last 48 hours?), and I honestly think I might have been more sanguine about being a Florida fan at this moment in 2013 than Georgia fans are right now
Here's the essential problem with Georgia: The answers really aren't obvious. For Florida in 2013, the blindingly obvious problem was that everyone was hurt, and that the team (and especially the offense) on the field wasn't good enough to overcome injuries. You solve that problem by getting healthy, adding depth, and maybe changing assistant coaches; if that doesn't work, you fire the head coach. Florida did (or tried to do) all that. It seems like Florida has fixed itself up nicely as a result.
For Georgia in 2015, the biggest problem is no longer having Nick Chubb, obviously — but the Dawgs did manage to click off better than seven yards per play at Tennessee despite losing Chubb on the first play from scrimmage. Schottenheimer was lampooned by many as an NFL import, but he had done really good things with Lambert at points in this season. The Georgia defense isn't very good, but it's young; Georgia's special teams are just maddeningly inconsistent, not bad.
The answer, for Georgia, might just be staying the course, either by going back to Lambert and living with his deficiencies or by developing Bauta into a quarterback who can do in reality what the Bauta of Georgia fans' imaginations was doing in their dreams all week. It might be preparing for Chubb getting back, or for recruits (Jacob Eason is highly-touted, and adding tight end Isaac Nauta would give the Dawgs a weapon) to bring an infusion of talent.
But the answer might also be that Mark Richt has run his course as an effective coach at Georgia. It might just be true that Georgia's banged his head against his ceiling a few times, and fallen back to a more comfortable rung of the ladder. And while the more ornery corners of the dens of Dawgs that exist are mad at Richt, many more still have fond feelings for the guy they call CMR, and will be fine with some imagined ideal of "winning right" being the reason that Georgia couldn't beat Florida in 2002 and vault from SEC title contention to national title contention, or the reason that Georgia couldn't win the SEC with Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno on one roster, or the explanation for Georgia casting off half its secondary to start anew under Jeremy Pruitt.
Georgia not being very good makes the Florida-Georgia rivalry less compelling, even if a blowout is only slightly less satisfying than a hard-fought victory. It makes it harder for Florida to use the Dawgs as a measuring stick, too. But it definitely helps Florida overall, and I won't mind it if Georgia muddles around for a while.
I think there's one very simple way to make Treon Harris a more effective quarterback: Prune his decision tree.
Too often, it seems, Harris sits in a pocket that collapses around him until he can no longer throw out of it (with taller players obscuring his vision and waiting to bat down his passes) while waiting for complex routes to come open. That's a show of the trust Florida's coaches have in both their line's ability to protect Harris and his own ability to see the field and deliver passes, I think, and that's all well and good ... but it's not what Harris does best.
Treon Harris is best when he's running around and buying time for his receivers to make plays. He can be excruciatingly deliberate when he's doing that, but he has an uncanny sense for escape angles and the differential between his athleticism and a pass-rusher's, and we saw both worst-case scenarios on Harris scrambles — a fumble, and a wild deep throw that was more dangerous than a throwaway — against Georgia.
I can live with those potential mistakes when the potential upside of the scrambles (plays like his two deep throws to Callaway) is as great as it is, especially because Harris lingering in the pocket seems to have very little upside and and many of the same potential risks. (He didn't throw that should've-been-a-pick-six on the hoof.)
And if McElwain and Nussmeier want to say that they tailor Florida's offense to their players' strengths, that's fine — but they ought to back that up by committing to doing that for Harris like they did for Grier, rather than (as I suspect we've seen in two games) trying half measures designed to keep Harris healthy and avoid the emergency scenario of a converted wide receiver at QB.
Slough off some of the boughs of the decision tree that don't make sense for Harris. Streamline his decision-making on pass plays by running decoy routes or using more blockers. Encourage him to break the pocket, or use designed QB runs to make his designed scrambles more threatening. This stuff isn't really hard.
If they're not going to do that, I'd appreciate them at least copping to the difficulty of balancing maximizing Harris's skill set with doing so when he's the option under center.
Kick 'im out?
I had someone tell me earlier this year that he really wanted Austin Hardin to lose his scholarship. I've never thought that about a Florida player for reasons related to performance on the field, and I hope I never do.
That said: It would be fine by me, and likely fine by the majority of Florida's fan base, if Hardin never kicked again. His missed field goal was bad, and while Florida having multiple kicks blocked this year really isn't his fault, the association is strong. Plus, we all watched Hardin shade his extra points to the left on Saturday. If there's a reason — other than "The other guys are, believe it or not, worse" — that Hardin's toe should meet leather during Florida games except for on kickoffs, it escapes me at this point.
Let Neil MacInnes kick. Let Dallas Stubbs or Brooks Abbott kick. Magick Jorge Powell's body back to life with the blood-flow restriction techniques, or something. Go make sure that you land Eddy Pineiro on the recruiting trail. Do something.
Just don't make Florida fans suffer through more of the Austin Hardin experience.
Georgia tried the most obvious fake of all time, and it did exactly what the most obvious fake of all time really should
Okay, so: Florida was pretty understandably aware of Georgia playing multiple quarterbacks in practice this week; that was widely reported. Florida was also probably aware that Georgia's punter on Saturday was Brice Ramsey, who is listed as a quarterback on Georgia's roster; certainly, it would defy all belief for the Gators to not know that by the middle of the fourth quarter, after Ramsey had punted all five times he would punt in the contest.
And Florida should also have been on high alert for fakes on special teams, given that a) it had been burned by one in the fourth quarter of its last game and b) it should not have been lost on anyone that Florida's 2014 win in this series turned on a well-executed fake.
Given all that — and Georgia trailing 20-3, and the fourth down in question coming at Georgia's 48 — there was zero element of surprise when Georgia ran a fake punt in which Ramsey threw a pass. And while Florida was so ready that it covered it like a pass play, Georgia's execution was horrific: Ramsey made no attempt to disguise the play, and didn't even deliver an accurate throw.
I thought I'd seen a new low bar set for bad trick play thinking this year, when Florida ran the same trick play that Tennessee used for a touchdown mere minutes later, and got a dying quail incompletion out of it. I thought I'd seen something almost as bad when Florida had Johnny Townsend try to run a fake field goal at Missouri.
But Georgia apparently spent a fortnight of practice putting together a QB rotation that made a quarterback punting made sense, only to totally eschew the element of surprise that could come with an immediate fake and give Florida ample time to prepare for the possibility of a fake.
Georgia still ran it, long after it would matter, and didn't even do it properly.
That's act — I'm not even mad! That's amazing!