Florida owns the Sunshine State, but that was far from a 'give us respect' statement
ORLANDO — Florida was about one more egregious pass interference penalty from hearing a chant from the Miami faithful.
But the Gators, who entered Saturday as the No. 8 team in the country, managed to avoid yet another disastrous defensive mistake to prolong Miami’s last-ditch effort. They won a Sunshine State title that it seemed like nobody wanted.
Is that too harsh? After all, it was Week 0. Shorter camp time, shorter practice for young offensive lines, yada, yada, yada. I mean, Manny Diaz referenced “mistakes from both teams” in the second sentence of his postgame opening statement. Shoot, even if you were just following along on your phone, you probably thought that game was drunk.
We had 4th-and-32 passes turned into defensive pass interferences, failed field goal fakes turned into first downs because of late hits and we even had a first down interception thrown by the team leading by 4 points with 4 minutes left.
(Feleipe Franks said he was hit during that play and Dan Mullen took the blame for the play-call, but both deserved blame for that atrocity.)
There were 23 penalties for 225 yards with each team in triple digits in terms of yardage. Broken tackles were like mock “Turnover Chains” in the Miami section Camping World Stadium. As in, you couldn’t count them all.
There was another chant that described the battle that both fan bases probably felt like shouting by the time the drunken, Week 0 debacle came to a close.
“U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi …”
OK, probably not. But you get it.
Florida had a chance to show the world that it owned the state. By the final score, 24-20, it did that. And sure, Florida was in that position for a reason. Todd Grantham’s defense just sent 7 more rushers by the time I finished typing this sentence. C.J. Henderson made a game-saving pass breakup on Jeff Thomas. And as up and down as his night was, Franks did come through when Florida needed a second-half spark.
But as far as the statement Florida was looking to make to the rest of the college football universe — we’re ready to be considered a Playoff threat — Saturday night wasn’t it.
Dare I say, it felt like 2015-16 Florida. You know what I mean. Playing down to a team’s level and making it an unnecessarily tight game just because it wanted to torture a fan base that was eager to fire up the “we’re back” discussion. Obviously Florida didn’t want to torture its fans, but man, didn’t it feel like it?
Mullen joked after the game that when the Gators were racking up all of those late flags, his life clock was moving a thousand times faster than the actual clock. That’s because Mullen is a human being who probably felt exactly like Steve Spurrier did at plenty of key moments of that game:
STEVE SPURRIER IS INCREDULOUS pic.twitter.com/6xG3iDT4px
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) August 25, 2019
Perhaps we were all a bit guilty of convincing ourselves all offseason that Florida was going to show up Saturday night looking like the preseason No. 8 ranking it got. Plenty of people (myself included) argued why that wasn’t enough love considering Michigan — AKA the team Florida beat like a drum the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl 7 months ago — was ranked No. 7.
After Saturday’s showing as the only FBS game on TV, you can bet plenty of voters will take the Gators out of their top 10.
Obviously Florida fans will say “well, it was Week 0. Of course it was sloppy. They’ve got plenty of time to get better.”
That’s true. What’s also true was that a team with even just a bad offensive line — not one that Florida players admitted looked worried from the jump — would have been enough to beat the Gators. A team without a first-time head coach and a redshirt freshman starting quarterback would have rolled that Florida team.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Florida won ugly, which the good teams do. But the great teams don’t play that ugly. They have an untimely turnover, or perhaps a costly missed field goal late. Great teams don’t let their guard down like Florida did Saturday night.
But here’s the thing. That’s how Florida is going to be judged every week. This was Florida’s highest preseason Associated Press Top 25 ranking of the post-Urban Meyer era. It showed.
(By the way, how about Meyer sitting in a suite rocking a Gator polo-like everything was peaches and cream with the university?)
And that’s not my way of referencing Florida’s less-than-stellar offseason, which saw 5 recruits from its 2019 signing class leave before they could even suit up once. I promise it’s not. But if Florida had found a way to fork over Saturday night’s contest, you better believe the “bad offseason continues” narrative would have been all over the college football world.
Now, we’re trying to figure out what to make of Florida. We knew about the inexperienced offensive line, but didn’t it feel like Mullen didn’t trust them to either sustain a drive with Lamical Perine or to give Franks legitimate protection? And we knew about some of the key defensive losses, but did it feel like Florida’s tackling was anywhere near midseason form?
There are two ways to look at the Gators. One is that because it’s Week 0, a team with 3 bye weeks this season has plenty of time to figure it all out (and 10 weeks until Georgia). The other is that they’ll be written off and viewed as a fraud in the win because of how ugly that game was and the fact that a 7-win Miami team with a new coach looked incredibly mediocre.
It’s also OK if you land somewhere in between. That’s where I am after what we saw in Orlando to start the 2019 season.
That wasn’t the perfect game to kick off college football’s 150th season, nor was it the game to show the other 49 states “it’s a different brand of football down here in Florida.” A showcase of the sport’s finest, it was not.
But thankfully for the Gators, their drunken, sweaty night of shenanigans didn’t do any long-term damage.
They got the opportunity to do what the rest of us did after Saturday’s festivities — take a cold shower and take solace in knowing that there will be much, much better football ahead.