Posted: 12:32 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
Florida fell to Missouri, 36-17, on Saturday. You can relive the game through our Game Thread, but you may need prescription-strength medication to do that. The Rapid Recap is our comprehensive first look before a second full viewing of each Gators game. It will usually run within 24 hours of the game's end. Usually.
Florida failed and flailed against Missouri on Saturday, delivering the most frustrating, embarrassing loss of the Will Muschamp Era in the middle of a season that may well go down as the most frustrating, embarrassing season of Florida football in my lifetime. And there are a lot of people very upset about that.
I'm not among them. This Florida team is where it is because it started hotter than it had any right to on defense, and has been robbed of virtually all of its explosiveness on both sides of the ball by ruinous injuries. This 2013 season is going to be a bitter pill to swallow, but it feels like the cursed flip side to a 2012 that had a fair bit of luck go the Gators' way. And Florida's just not good enough to overcome curses of this strength.
"I thought he was going to intercept it," Muschamp said of the pass that sailed about a foot over the outstretched hand of Vernon Hargreaves III on the first play from scrimmage of the day on Saturday. Instead, it fell into the arms of Missouri's L'Damian Washington, who was hit by Cody Riggs in a way that was targeting by rule alone. One play later, Missouri targeted Florida's weak spot in pass defense — coverage in the slot — and scored the touchdown that would give it a lead it would never relinquish.
The rest was just window dressing, though a big play from Solomon Patton and a drive that produced nearly half of Florida's offensive yards on the day kept Florida in a game it had no business whatsoever of winning into the fourth quarter. Missouri thoroughly earned its victory, the most dominant win over Florida since the Gators went to Baton Rouge with a true freshman quarterback in 2011.
Patton's by far Florida's most dangerous player. He's replaced what we came over time to expect from Andre Debose, and his 105-yard kickoff return touchdown — listed as a 100-yard kickoff return in Florida's official box score, and mentioned as a 109-yard kickoff return on Twitter despite Patton clearly fielding the ball five yards deep — was the best special teams play Florida's made all year: The kick return team simply created a big hole for him to run through, and no one was going to touch him.
That said: Patton can't do what he does as a receiver, wiggling out of tackles and turning catches in space into explosive plays, without getting the ball with room to work, and though he had six catches for 46 yards, he also made two of those catches on Florida's fruitless final drive. His first three offensive touches went for 12, 11, and 17 yards — and came in the first, second, and third quarters, respectively.
After being convinced last week that Kelvin Taylor is Florida's best runner, I'm now convinced that he's Florida's best running back, period, though Matt Jones's injury certainly helps me make that claim. Taylor had 12 carries for 74 yards, and ran all over Missouri (five carries, 53 yards) on the Gators' lone touchdown drive on the day, including a 20-yard scamper for the score. (The only play on that six-play, 70-yard drive that wasn't a Taylor carry was a give to Patton on a sweep.)
Taylor's still not a good pass blocker, and he's not great at running up the middle when that's the obvious play, as he's still a little too small to push a pile. But pull a guard and get Taylor going off tackle, and good things happen: I've seen that against Toledo, LSU, and Missouri, and though I'm not exactly awed by him doing it against those defenses, it's more than enough for him to be Florida's starter and get at least 65 percent of the carries on any given day, especially given that the alternatives are the serviceable but decidedly not explosive Mack Brown, the very small former walk-on Mark Herndon, and converted defensive back Valdez Showers, who hasn't looked the same since an ankle injury.
Feed Kelvin, too.
After Taylor scored his touchdown, Florida had been outgained 367 to 119, scored just one offensive touchdown, given up six drives of 40 or more yards, given away two turnovers ... and still trailed by just six points. That doesn't matter all that much, given the final score, but the Gators fought like hell to keep it close, and did, on a day when doing even just that was sort of an accomplishment.
I'll remember that, but, then, I watched the entirety of this game with hope, not pessimism.
Missouri could have fallen apart without James Franklin, something many Missouri players will even admit they did last year when the injury bug bit hard and repeatedly. Didn't happen: The Tigers came out swinging, connected, and kept landing combinations throughout the game.
Florida got staggered and then floored by those flurries, but this wasn't a bad team beating up on a worse team; it was a very good team doing what it wanted with a team that is not nearly as good. And that inferior team was still in it until late. I wouldn't be surprised to see Missouri beat South Carolina this week and Texas A&M in November, and enter the SEC Championship Game undefeated; the Tigers are almost mortal locks to play in that SEC title game with or without wins over Carolina and A&M, too, and would have to collapse not to win 10 games this season.
Don't be misled by MIssouri's lack of SEC pedigree and/or name recognition: The Tigers are legit.
You can see this in Hargreaves' play all year if you look closely enough at the film, but he will routinely give up position as a way of baiting quarterbacks to throw at him and give him a chance to make a play. This hadn't burned him until that first play, when being incrementally off allowed Washington to make a big play, and helped get Riggs ejected. (Does Riggs pull up a bit if he sees Hargreaves deflect the ball? Yes.)
That trait is probably a good thing on whole, with Hargreaves' magnificent talents (quickness, ball skills, instincts) allowing him to gamble successfully more often than not. But even the best gamblers suffer bad beats.
He also punted a lot. It's better if you don't have to learn that you have a good punter many times over in one game.
A week after his previous worst game as a Gator, Murphy found a new low, thanks in large part to his offensive line. But Murphy's inability to move or react to rushes that he had to know were coming fast enough to avoid sacks, reminiscent of Jeff Driskel's performance at Texas A&M last year, is a frustrating part of his game that I noticed watching him in practice after practice over the years, if not in his first three live-action games this season.
Murphy got away with waiting too long to scramble against Tennessee and Kentucky and Arkansas, but those teams all lack pass rushers on par with LSU's, or Missouri's Michael Sam, who was fantastic on Saturday, and it has showed over the last couple of games, as Murphy has gotten ragdolled and rushed throws repeatedly. He's not breaking the pocket and scrambling for big plays, either, because he's just not quick or fast enough to burn top SEC defensive linemen.
Murphy was also frustratingly inaccurate at times, and generally not good against Missouri, posting a horrific 3.0 QBR according to ESPN. But his quick-twitch deficiencies have always been what I worried about most with him, and they have never been so obvious or deleterious as they were on Saturday. Murphy deserves to compete for the starting job in 2014, I believe, but if he fails to win it, as I also believe he will, it's probably going to be because of this slowness in decision-making.
Florida's offense has been hamstrung by key injuries this year, as we all know. Florida's defense, though, really, really missed its injured and ejected players on Saturday. Dominique Easley's push would've been the perfect complement to Dante Fowler, Jr.'s impressive pass-rushing in the first half. Ronald Powell's speed off the edge was sorely missed. Damien Jacobs's head injury left Florida woefully undermanned at defensive tackle. Darrin Kitchens, who didn't play because of "chronic shoulder problems," would probably have helped set the edge on some run plays. And Riggs, excellent in run support all year, might have cleaned up some runs before they got to the corner.
Florida's defense was elite at the beginning of this year because it got enough pressure to force quick throws at a secondary with few holes, put teams in obvious passing situations repeatedly with good rush defense, and made plays when it could. It's still got some of those capabilities, but the loss of Easley keeps getting more and more painful with every running game that works well against Florida, and having three other starters out definitely did not help against Missouri.
But there are options available if Florida wants to strip redshirts off its talented freshmen. Jay-nard Bostwick could be a big body up front, Daniel McMillian could provide athleticism that's missing in the linebacking corps, Jarrad Davis (who played on Saturday, and isn't even redshirting) deserves more snaps, and there are other freshmen who might be better-served and better serve Florida by getting live game experience than by watching.
If Florida gets healthy between now and Georgia, this might be a moot point, but playing more players would seem to be a potential solution to what ails the Gators' defense, and yet numbers were not called against Missouri.
I complained about Florida going pass-pass-pass on a three-and-out right after its Taylor-fueled touchdown drive, but what I didn't realize in the flow of the game on Saturday was that the touchdown drive came in between two pass-pass-pass three-and-outs.
I realize Florida fans want to see Pease open the playbook up and throw the ball, but that should virtually never mean throwing three passes to open a drive with this offensive line. And that's an especially bad idea when the other team is getting home with four-man rushes, and when the Gators really can't afford three-and-outs, especially ones that produce no yardage or take no time off the clock, with a defense that is as overworked and depth-challenged as this one is.
Pease must find balance and try to keep defenses off-balance, and he must do it with a papier-mâché line, backups at his two most important positions, tight ends who can't catch passes, and so on. His is a tremendously hard job at this point in time.
But running the ball one in three times with this Florida offense is not that hard.
This deserves ALL CAPS, so: FLORIDA'S OFFENSIVE LINE IS NOT AN IMPROVED VERSION OF THE 2012 UNIT THAT WE WERE ALL LED TO BELIEVE IT WOULD BE. D.J. HUMPRHIES HAS BEEN LITTLE BETTER THAN XAVIER NIXON IN PASS PROTECTION, AND HAS REPEATEDLY LOST ONE-ON-ONES, TO THE POINT THAT HE DID NOT START AGAINST MISSOURI; MAX GARCIA IS PROBABLY OUT OF POSITION AT LEFT GUARD, AND IS PRONE TO BEING WIPED OUT; JONOTTHAN HARRISON IS FLORIDA'S BEST OFFENSIVE LINEMAN, BUT HE'S A CENTER, AND HE STILL MANAGED TO GET HIMSELF KICKED OUT OF A GAME FOR A FOOLISH INTERACTION WITH A REF; JON HALAPIO HAS ONE FULLY FUNCTIONAL ARM; TYLER MOORE IS SO SLOW THAT HE MIGHT STRUGGLE TO BLOCK A DRIP OF MOLASSES IN QUEBEC IN JANUARY.
Now that that's out of my system: This is a bad offensive line, and my confidence in it has dwindled to "It pulls blockers on outside runs well, and will reliably produce pressure that Murphy can't deal with." It seems to find a new way to struggle on a weekly basis now — last week, that was holding the line in the middle on pass plays; against Missouri, it was just "pass blocking" — and it is infinitely frustrating to see a unit that was maligned in 2012 despite being good enough for 11 wins regress because of injuries and a lack of development. (The only player I think is demonstrably better than he was last year is Harrison: Halapio might have been, had he not been hurt, Humphries is basically the same as he was, and everyone else is more or less new.)
Florida didn't do its five-man line too many favors on Saturday, going to empty sets far too often for my liking, swinging from passing to running without much rhyme or reason in the third quarter, and frequently getting into passing situations by third down that opened Missouri's entire defensive playbook, but that line was complicit in some of that favor failure, and I don't have a lot of confidence that Florida would actually be better in six-man protections, because I've seen four-man rushes beat the ones Florida uses this year. But if Florida's not going to use its tight ends as pass-catchers, it may as well use them as pass-blockers, and if it doesn't have a reliable pass-blocker among its halfbacks, why not use fullbacks in shotgun formations?
This is the unit where the most soul-searching and restructuring needs to be done over the next two weeks, and I do, at least, have faith that Florida will try something to make things work — things are too dire to keep the status quo, even if Florida's likely to keep its coaching staff in place until the end of the season at least.
I wrote above about Missouri being pretty good, and I believe that: This next paragraph isn't about how I feel. But there's a sense after this loss that Florida suffered a shameful defeat on Saturday.
Missouri was one of the games most Florida fans chalked up as a win coming into this season, and probably chalked up as a win as recently as the dawn of October 12, when Missouri hadn't upset Georgia (and, thus, hadn't beaten a team better than Vanderbilt) and Florida hadn't fallen to LSU. Missouri is the perceived interloper in the SEC, a Big 12 refugee with a fancy, showy spread offense and no defense — though that's actually a better description of Texas A&M's time in the SEC, especially this year — and did nothing in a bad, injury-plagued 2012 campaign to convince skeptics that it belonged. Florida losing to Missouri, even on the road, in the cold, and in a game that started before noon according to their internal clocks, looks like a blue-blood on the wrong end of a coup, and losing as convincingly as Florida did looks even worse.
That's going to stick with the Gators, and Muschamp, for a while, even if I would argue very strenuously that Georgia (which lost to a .500 Vanderbilt team thanks in part to horrific special teams), South Carolina (which lost to a .500 Tennessee team thanks in part to bad coaching from Steve Spurrier), and Texas A&M (which lost to Auburn at home despite really needing just one more stop than it got) all suffered worse losses on Saturday than Florida (which lost to the 2013 SEC East champions-to-be on the road with 10 preseason starters on offense and defense out), and I could argue that LSU's road loss to a good Mississippi team was a worse loss, too, even if it was the prototypical letdown game.
Muschamp has a chance to win back the fan base with a win over Georgia, which would kill at least one monkey on his back, and I think it's pretty obvious that there's enough time left in this season to salvage it. But it feels to many, many fans like the season is already irredeemable — and that's a problem for Muschamp and Florida.
That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments all day.