As disappointing as Saturday’s 36-17 defeat at the hands of rival Georgia was, there’s no time to let it linger.
Having gone 3-1 over a brutal four-game stretch that included the Cocktail Party loss, a victorious trip to Starkville and Miss State, and a statement-making win over LSU, it would be tempting to think the grind of Florida’s schedule is behind them. It’s even more tempting when you consider that the Gators’ November looks far more manageable now than it did back in Media Days, when everyone knew everything.
Some of that has to do with the opposition.
Missouri, the school that invented Homecoming, will arrive in Gainesville for Florida’s version coming off a gut-wrenching loss. Missouri lost to Kentucky on the game’s final play, which was an untimed down that came thanks to a silly pass-interference penalty on what should have been the game’s final play.
Just to be in position to lose, Missouri had to squander an 11-point lead, which it did by playing some of the most mind-numbingly bad offensive football in recent program history.
Missouri had 8 second half possessions against Kentucky. It went 3 and out all 8 times. pic.twitter.com/ksw2ksQ8uO
— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) October 27, 2018
South Carolina comes after Mizzou, and the preseason media darlings have failed to live up to the hype. The Gamecocks may get by a lousy Ole Miss team in Oxford next weekend, but at best, they’ll enter The Swamp a 5-3 outfit that starts games slow and is uncharacteristically average on defense for a Will Muschamp team.
Idaho follows that game and then the Gators visit rival Florida State Thanksgiving Saturday. To call the Seminoles a dumpster fire does a disservice to the often-controlled burning of dumpster fires. If Florida can’t end its program-record five-game losing streak to Florida State this season, it deserves to lose the game another five years.
In other words, Florida should be favored in every contest in its four-game closing stretch, starting Saturday in The Swamp against Missouri.
It’s nice that in one pleasantly surprising half-season, Florida has reset expectations to where it is consistently favored to win games, including against Florida State.
It’s also not an accomplishment that means anything if Florida fails to finish.
To finish, Florida must play better, because as we learned Saturday, the Gators’ margin for error is tissue-thin.
Florida’s loss to Georgia was, as Dan Mullen said afterward, a collective failure and an exercise in poor execution and sloppy football.
It wasn’t that the Gators didn’t want to win. They most certainly did, as the seven-play goal line stand late in the third quarter demonstrated.
But wanting to win isn’t enough.
“The biggest difference was they executed for four quarters,” Mullen told the media afterward. “We didn’t, and everyone will be disappointed when they see this film.”
What should be more concerning to Gators fans is that this is now a two-game trend where Florida has failed to execute for four quarters.
Against Georgia and Vanderbilt, Florida has lost the turnover battle 6-1, digging two-score deficits for itself in each football game. Against Vanderbilt, the Gators were good enough to power their way out. Against the reigning SEC Champions, Florida wasn’t.
It isn’t just turnovers.
Florida should have staked itself to a 7-3 lead after one offensive play Saturday. Instead, Feleipe Franks failed to execute a play the Gators doubtlessly practiced repeatedly. That play was just one of many Saturday where Florida’s quarterback, who has shown so much improvement under the new coaching staff, regressed to the frighteningly mediocre mean. If the Gators want to finish the regular season 10-2, compete for a New Year’s 6 bowl game and record only the 15th 10-win season in 112 years of Florida football, Franks will need to show improvement in November. If he plays the way he did Saturday in Jacksonville, only the Idaho game seems likely to be a Florida victory.
It isn’t just the quarterback.
Florida’s defense, especially on two critical series against Georgia, was downright porous.
There’s no excuse for letting Isaac Nauta get open four consecutive plays at the end of the first half, and the 66-yards Fromm and the Bulldogs gained in those 30 seconds helped Georgia steal three points at the end of a second quarter Florida dominated. If the Gators want to be a great team, they can’t let people off the mat like that.
Florida’s defense after taking a 14-13 lead early in the third quarter was equally shameful. Georgia’s 72-yard drive to reclaim the lead immediately was entirely too easy and the Gators’ vaunted defensive front, which entered the game with a favorable matchup against a youthful Georgia offensive line, nowhere to be found.
Gators fans will quickly point to injuries in the secondary and that’s a fair consideration, and certainly a reason Mullen and Todd Grantham need to heat up on the recruiting trail. But great teams offset their weaknesses by playing to their strengths, and Florida’s pass rush failed to help its depleted secondary Saturday.
There’s no shame in losing to Georgia.
The Bulldogs are the SEC champions, were nearly the national champions, have recruited at a championship level for the entirety of this decade and have one of the game’s best young head coaches in Kirby Smart, who isn’t going anywhere and is a problem Florida will have to contend with for years to come.
That Florida isn’t good enough to beat Georgia when they turn the ball over three times and fail to execute on both sides of the ball shouldn’t surprise anyone.
What Florida needs to understand is their margin for error isn’t big enough to beat many other teams when they play poorly either.
Florida secured narrow victories at Miss State and against LSU by executing better on both sides of the football.
If they don’t get back to that starting Saturday against Missouri, there will be more disappointing Saturdays in November.