Over my six years at Alligator Army, I have been accused of being relentlessly positive about the Florida Gators. More pessimistic sorts — and, notably, rival fans — have been frustrated with my ability to find the good in things, and to deal with the thoroughly depressing state of the world, and occasionally my favorite sports teams, by choosing to emphasize and take heart, rather than catastrophize and take up torches.
Those criticisms aren’t entirely fair. But that’s not the point of this new feature, Manic Monday, which I’m going to try to actually make a weekly feature, unlike the scores of failed attempts of years past. (I swear I’d have written a Sunday Brunch yesterday if I had a thought other than “Damn, that was fun,” by the way.)
Being more thorny than rosy isn’t my default state. Still, I think it might be instructive.
So here’s what has me down about the Gators after last week.
The offense is so, so green
Feleipe Franks and Tyrie Cleveland combined on one of the classic plays in Florida history — and, I’d argue, college football history. I don’t know where the tidbit about their 63-yard connection being the longest game-ending play in college football in the last 16 years came from, but that’s one cool factoid.
Florida should not have needed that to win this game.
Florida’s offense failed to capitalize on the early successes of its (likely largely scripted) first drive with a touchdown, and faced first and 20 from inside the red zone after back-to-back penalties. It failed to turn either of the first two picks by the Gators into points; it took C.J. Henderson literally turning the third into points for Florida to score off a turnover. When gifted marvelous field position in the first half, Florida went three-and-out and then drove only to the outskirts of the red zone — where a 15-yard loss on a sack forced a third-down draw call that clearly shows how conservative the overall game approach for the Gators still is.
The same offense didn’t have a five-play drive in the second half until midway through the fourth quarter, a fateful failure to possess the ball that probably helped cause some of the defensive breakdowns late in this game. Its two big runs in the second half both ended with fumbles, and though both of those fumbles were probably more the result of phenomenal defensive plays than errors by the Gators, I have to think that they might have been prevented by the backs responsible for them covering up a little more assiduously when they felt footsteps behind them. (And those backs, Florida’s best two on the ground, can’t be relied upon in pass protection ... just like the third one who got carries on Saturday, who was even worse.)
And apart from Cleveland being a vertical threat and Kadarius Toney being a horizontal one, it’s hard to look at any given aspect of the Florida passing game and think “Yes, that thing is good and sustainble and a source of deep confidence.” There are flashes — Franks has a great arm, Cleveland has a knack for the spectacular, Toney should be able to use his quickness to open bubbles underneath coverage — but flashes are not foundations, and may be far from it.
Franks was not great, save for one play
Obviously, Franks being great on that final play counts for a lot.
But his 27 throws prior to one of the best we’ve ever seen in The Swamp went for 17 completions, 149 yards, one touchdown, and one pick. That is, yes, the best anyone has mustered against Tennessee this year — but Tennessee had previously played pass-allergic Georgia Tech and FCS mediocrity Indiana State, was down two starting safeties on Saturday, and is not exactly the high-water mark for defensive or defensive back play in college football at the moment.
Franks made several good throws, but, without watching again, I’d only put his last one down as great. And he also wasn’t particularly impressive in the other aspects of quarterback play. Florida will probably need more great throws and improved play from him, as this season progresses, if it is to compensate for...
...the defense’s boom-or-bust and bend-don’t-break natures
Florida made a lot of good plays on defense on Saturday. It also gave up big plays by the bushel, and even though the majority of those big plays came as that defense was abandoned by Florida’s offense for much of the second half, those are troubling to me.
And while the Gators ended three drives with picks and have now allowed just one touchdown from seven red zone trips — by Michigan and Tennessee, teams with talent and such — over two games, they’ve also given up seven red zone trips through two games while their offense has generated two.
Florida’s scratched a 1-1 record out of that profile because Tennessee failed to make the field goals that Michigan did and because Florida got more offense in The Swamp than it did in Dallas, but successful teams do not generally allow more red zone trips than they take, much less that many more — and pick-sixes are more good fortune than a practicable skill, I think.
Tennessee might be bad
I still think Michigan is pretty good, if beset by red zone woes that are helping keep games the Wolverines have had in hand artificially close enough on the scoreboard to allow some on Twitter to think that Michigan either lucked into rolling through that game in Dallas or dominated a bad team. We’ll see if that bears out as Jim Harbaugh’s team enters Big Ten play and, perhaps, rediscovers the art of throwing the ball close to the painted part of the field.
Tennessee, on the other hand, narrowly beat Georgia Tech, rolled past a meh FCS team, and then never led against a team that didn’t score an offensive touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter. The Vols have two truly exceptional offensive players, to my eye, and didn’t have any great defenders on the field that I saw. Their offensive coordinator would have been fired at least 10 times by Florida fans had Florida done half of what his charges did near the goal line, and their head coach is prone to live-action recreations of Norbert and Daggett’s finest works.
The manner in which Florida finished this victory was a thrill. The victory itself does not necessarily instill a lot of faith.