There are two plays from Saturday’s loss to Georgia that not only sum up Florida’s afternoon, but also encapsulate the Gators’ frustrating season. Perhaps not coincidentally, they each happened with less than two minutes to play in each half.
Though it happened second chronologically, let’s first discuss the Gators’ final penalty of the game. Having driven to its opponents 25-yard line, and clinging to a three-point lead, Georgia faced a 3rd-and-5 with 1:20 remaining in the game. A stop by Florida, and a likely field goal by Georgia, would give the Gators the ball with little time. Considering Florida’s offensive woes, chances of victory were slim. However, they still would have gotten a chance, and at least ended the game with the ball in their hands.
A personal foul penalty on Darious Cummings ensured that the Gators would not get the ball back. Rather than give itself a chance at the end of the game, Florida ended any hope of a comeback. It’s only fitting that on a day where Florida collected seven yellow flags, the afternoon ended on a penalty.
Since Will Muschamp took the reigns, penalties have been an issue with the Gators. In his first two seasons, the team had 105 and 100 penalties on the year (that includes bowl games). The Gators already have 62 this season, which forecasts out to 101 for the year, should Florida make a bowl game.
Alabama has been the nation’s best team over the past two and a half seasons. Considering Florida fans expect their team to contend for championships yearly, let’s compare the Gators to college football’s preeminent program. In 2011 and 2012, Alabama recorded 49 and 54 penalties, respectively (including conference and national championship games). This year, Alabama has 40 penalties, which extrapolates to 70 total after an SEC title game and bowl game.
In regards to penalties, Florida records far more than the sport’s elite team. Many of the Gators’ penalties come from silly acts after the play (Solomon Patton’s personal foul while standing right next to the referee in the UGA game), or on questionable hits (Cody Riggs targeting penalty/ejection against Missouri). There appears to be little discipline in the way of on-field actions.
Judging by his on-field demeanor and defensive intensity, one has to wonder if Muschamp cares more about the big hit and bluster more than the potential fallout. Does he explain the negative aspects of blowing players up and talking trash, or does he lead the parade? There is a fine line between intensity and foolishness, of which the Gators are often on the wrong side.
The second play of the Georgia game that reflects the Gators’ season was Florida’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-10 from the Georgia 40-yardline, with 1:18 remaining in the first half. With Georgia holding no timeouts, Florida could have punted the ball and given the Bulldogs a long field with a minute to play. Given that they had no timeouts, and that the Gators’ defense was starting to wake up, it’s conceivable to think that Mark Richt would’ve either played conservatively, or taken a knee to end the half. Florida didn’t convert, and Aaron Murray drove a short field for a field goal, which proved to be the game’s decisive score.
Florida was outcoached in the first half against Georgia. Todd Gurley’s 73-yard touchdown was not a case of blown assignments, but rather Georgia calling a perfect play against Florida’s defense. However, no play showcased Florida’s coaching deficiencies better than the failed fourth-down conversion.
Florida had not moved the ball well all game, Georgia had no timeouts, and the Gators were set to receive the ball to open the second half. There was absolutely no reason for Florida to go for it in this position. It was a case of the coaching staff not understanding the game situation, or the abilities of their personnel. Teams with consistent offenses can afford to be aggressive and gamble. With its current makeup, and the way they played in the opening half, Florida absolutely had to kick the ball away. The coaches panicked, overplayed their hand, and ended up costing the team three points.
It is the job of coaches, as with any management position, to put their people in the best position to succeed. As injuries have plagued the Gators, coaches have failed to recognize the team’s shortcomings. They have not adjusted the team’s overall philosophy as younger players have been forced into action.
To Muschamp’s credit, Florida played much better in the second half. The team’s game plan was better, and they capitalized on Georgia’s errors. Had Florida not left six points on the board, they would have snapped the skid in Jacksonville. Regardless of the outcome, though, Florida’s coaching is not yet at an elite level.
Will Muschamp and his staff must get a better handle on their team. Excessive penalties are inexcusable. So is poor in-game strategy. Despite good coaching in the second half against Georgia, the team could not overcome its staff’s first-half deficiencies. Coaches often talk of players maturing during a season. For this season not to be a complete waste, Florida’s coaches must do the same.