I like to be holistic when I examine anything. There’s a reason for everything, I think -- but events are generally not the product of one or two causes or reasons alone. We live in a world of interconnected systems, and there are faulty parts and bad actors and antiquated ideas that can lead to system failures, just like one great visionary alone is generally not the key to a system’s success.
And so it’s really not just quarterback play that has kept Florida’s offense in the cellar for the last seven years.
But, well, it also kind of is.
Under Jim McElwain, there’s a pretty clear line of demarcation for the Gators: When Florida’s passing game posts a passer rating of 125.00 or above, Florida is 9-2; when the Gators’ passer rating is under 125.00, they are just 9-6.
We can go further back to find that that’s not a bad endpoint — if an arbitrary one — for determining Florida’s likelihood of winning a game. It’s nearly perfect in 2010 (7-0 when over 125.00, 1-5 when under), 2011 (6-1 over, 1-5 under), and good, if not exactly close to perfect, in 2012 (7-0 over, 4-2 under). In 2013, Florida went 4-1 over its first five games, all of which featured a team passer rating better than 125.00 — and posted a rating better than that once (against Florida State) in its seven-game slide to end the season.
And 2014 demonstrates an even more dramatic divide between both sides of that endpoint: Florida’s 4-0 record in games with better than a 125.00 rating featured three blowout wins and a receiving record for Demarcus Robinson against Kentucky, while its 3-5 record in games without such a rating included a one-point win at Tennessee, a win while throwing six passes against Georgia, and a bowl win in which Florida’s QBs were 12-for-27 for 85 yards, one touchdown, and one interception outside of Ahmad Fulwood’s 86-yard catch-and-run.
That’s not all on the quarterbacks, of course: Offensive line play, play-calling, receiver play, and opposing defenses have plenty to do with the passer rating a team compiles.
Still, what I take away from those stats is this: Florida has had some really poor passing games over the last seven seasons years — we should note that Florida has 47 games under that 125.00 mark, and just 42 games above it, over those seven seasons, with the 2017 Outback Bowl pending — and yet has had enough else, especially on defense, to be occasionally successful despite that.
With fears of a defensive dropoff in 2017 lodged prominently in the Florida fan base’s collective brain at the moment, the Gators’ “need” to find a way to get better quarterback play to compensate for it is going to be one of the dominant narratives of the offseason. It’s already likely to dominate the next four weeks, with calls to start Feleipe Franks coming from multiple outlets this week. (We’ll have more on that specific thing on Friday.)
But I think that misses the mark slightly — because it’s not about getting better quarterback play to make up for a bad defense that should be Florida’s goal. Marrying that play to a good or great defense is the idea, and the ideal.
And Florida fans know all about how great that can be. From 2006 to 2009, Florida posted team passer ratings under 125.00 in just seven games, going 3-4 in them — and 35-3 in the other 38 games played in that span.
Florida’s loss to Duke on Tuesday revealed a few major weaknesses for the Gators’ men’s basketball team. Defensive rebounding is absolutely one of them. The spotty offensive play of John Egbunu this year is another.
But the biggest one, and the one I noted in that recap, is a lack of talent on par with that of the best teams Florida will see this year.
Florida doesn’t have a player as good as Luke Kennard, or Jayson Tatum, or even Amile Jefferson, who all lit up the Gators on Tuesday. It also doesn’t have a player as good as Greyson Allen, who had a quiet night, limited by a foot injury, or Harry Giles, a five-star recruit that Duke can comfortably bring along at the best pace for him, and not the team. Marques Bolden and Frank Jackson might be better than anyone on Florida’s roster by season’s end; Matt Jones, a role player for this Duke team, was still higher-ranked in his recruiting class than any Gator other than Kasey Hill and Devin Robinson, whose ratings have not translated to superlative careers thus far.
Robinson will probably play NBA basketball, at least briefly, and so should John Egbunu. Hill and KeVaughn Allen might have outside shots at making NBA teams; even if they don’t, both should play professionally somewhere. Canyon Barry might, too.
But that’s a far cry from the Florida teams of the early 2010s, which had Chandler Parsons and Bradley Beal and even future Euroleague rotation player Alex Tyus, and those teams are obviously dwarfed by the Oh-Fours’ trio of 10-year NBA vets — Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer — who were joined in 2006-07 by Marreese Speights, who will be a 10-year NBA vet next season.
Florida, like most teams, is helped somewhat by the accretion of talent in Durham, Lawrence, and Lexington — Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky have signed at least three of the top six players in every national recruiting class since 2013, per the 247Sports Composite, and virtually no teams in America have consistently occupied the level that those three programs play and recruit on this decade, even blue-bloods like Arizona, Indiana, North Carolina, UCLA, and UConn. The Gators will play only a few teams with more talent than they have beyond their against Duke and Kentucky this year.
Florida split two games with teams in that category in Orlando, falling to Gonzaga and topping Miami, and it sees another on Sunday in Tallahassee, when it takes on Florida State, which has future lottery pick Jonathan Isaac, likely NBAer Dwayne Bacon, and possible pros Trent Forrest and Xavier Rathan-Mayes. But I’d be hard-pressed to say any SEC team outside of Kentucky has more talent than Florida, top to bottom, and Oklahoma is the only other non-conference foe left that could compare to the Gators.
That means it’s possible for Florida to be favored in a lot of games this year, and for its success to depend largely on the coaching and development of Mike White and his staff. Florida winning seven games away from home and staying in two others against teams with elite talent — one with super-elite talent — is a sign, I think, that the coaching and development of White et al. are good enough to make this a good team this year.
What happens beyond, in a time without Hill and Robinson (and, later, Egbunu and Allen), is going to be about more than just that, most notably recruiting. But the foundation for playing through an unequivocally successful season is there for this team right now, and I’m excited to see what happens with it.