Florida-Georgia is phase one of Will Muschamp’s last stand

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I’ll break down the x’s and o’s of Florida-Georgia tomorrow (we also have a podcast previewing the game I’m currently working to put up late tonight), but first, I wanted to share my thoughts on Will Muschamp’s job security one more time. Not what I want to happen, mind you, but what I believe will happen.

Everybody agrees with one thing. There’s no more hiding the fact, no more ducking questions about it, no more skirting around the subject with his family, and no more pretending he doesn’t pay any attention to it.

One of the game’s biggest rivalries will be on display at 3:30 on CBS this Saturday. And if embattled coach Will Muschamp doesn’t finally taste victory in it, I doubt he even makes it to the Vanderbilt game without at least being told in private that he won’t be back in 2015.

I totally get that you’ve seen this exact type of article before. I said precisely the same thing before the Missouri game, too (thanks so much for that brilliant performance for all the proud UF alumni to witness in person on homecoming, by the way, Muschamp). Yet despite the abhorrent performance by Muschamp’s Gators, he still has a job. But the stakes this week feel different. I’ll be honest; I can’t really offer a solid explanation as to why losing to a top ten Georgia team on a neutral field would get Muschamp axed on the spot while getting annihilated in the Swamp by an unranked Missouri team didn’t… except for one thing. This is the rivalry game in the SEC. And in three years, Muschamp’s ineptitude has erased two decades of unbelievable Gator dominance (thanks for that too).

Does a win in Jacksonville save Muschamp’s job? No. At least, not by itself. He’s still clinging to a splintering board; a win basically means the board doesn’t snap in half. Nothing happens to his job security on Sunday if the Gators win on Saturday. But should he run the table- and that includes a bowl game- he very well may be back in 2015. And so he has to realize that thanks to Jeremy Foley’s unbelievable level of stubbornness, he still has a chance to coach his way back to Gainesville next year.

The thing is, winning out is very doable if the Gators play their best game each of the next five weeks. The other thing is, the Gators almost never do play their best game when they need to under Muschamp. In any case, if Florida can get past Georgia, the rest of the remaining games (@Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and @Florida State) looks surprisingly soft. The only game after Saturday I have a bad feeling about is against a 7-0 FSU team that reeks of suspicion to me. The Noles’ best win on the year was over a Notre Dame team that scored the winning touchdown only to have it erased on a 50/50 call that’s almost always ignored by referees. Their next best win was over Big 12 also-ran Oklahoma State (5-3 right now). I don’t think beating them is impossible.

If the Gators can win this game on Saturday, a lot of doors open up. Suddenly, 9-3 (including a bowl win) seems very plausible. Considering how much Foley loves Muschamp, that would certainly bring him back. Personally, I’d be appalled to see him back regardless of what happens. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to deal with one more year of Muschampian screw ups, but the bottom line is that I’m almost certain he’d get that year because I don’t make these decisions, and the man who does trusts him more than anybody.

Then we’d get into the discussion (that I desperately want to avoid) about whether or not we’d want him back (and you know my thoughts; absolutely not, because it’s not the win loss record, it’s the deplorable style of football he employs). That would be one hell of a debate throughout the offseason, and one I’d try my hardest to stay out of.

So here we go. The system for Muschamp is something like twelve million strikes and you’re out, and he’s got 11,999,999 right now (slight exaggeration, but you get the point). Beating Georgia doesn’t erase the strikes he’s accumulated. It merely gives him a pass until next week.

What’s it gonna be, Muschamp? 1-7 in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party sound good to you?

Source: Dante Fowler to enter 2015 NFL Draft

A source has told me that Florida’s star defensive end, Dante Fowler, will leave Gainesville after this season and take his talents to the NFL.

If this headline shocks you… don’t let it. This did not come as a surprise to me to hear. Most Florida fans didn’t expect to see him back in 2015 because he’s a freak of nature and could have an instant impact in the NFL. The consensus among the NFL Draft experts is that Fowler would be a first round pick, and he’d be one of the first two or three defensive ends off the board. He is an elite pass rusher with a special set of skills that few are blessed with, and with the Florida program currently in shambles- meaning the coach who recruited him is just about guaranteed not to come back- there’s really no reason for him to not make the leap now and earn some money.

Still, it’s going to hurt Florida next season. It was pretty much expected, but it’s going to difficult to replace him. I suggest we all just enjoy watching him while he can, focus on one of the few shining stars that exists on a dull, bleak team and see if he can make some memorable plays in the few games he has left as a Gator. And of course, I wish him nothing but the best going forward. Once a Gator, always a Gator.

The Key to Competing Against Georgia: The Battle in the Trenches

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As we head into the week of preparation for the annual Florida Georgia game in Jacksonville, there are a multitude of distractions that could possibly be hindering the unproven Florida Gators. From the head coaching mess to the possible reinstatement of Todd Gurley (Georgia has appealed the date of reinstatement), the team has a lot on their minds as their pride and dignity hangs in the balance before taking Everbank Field this Saturday.

With all of these distractions, however, it is imperative that the team, now led by true freshman Treon Harris, stays focused on the game itself. Having said that, Harris isn’t going to determine the game’s outcome by himself. With both teams so heavily reliant on their run games, the battle in the trenches will go a long way towards deciding the outcome of the game this Saturday.

As of right now, the starting running back for Georgia is still freshman Nick Chubb, who has more than filled the shoes of Heisman hopeful Todd Gurley during his suspension. Between the rout of Missouri and the similarly impressive blowout over Arkansas, Chubb has produced some significant numbers. Averaging almost 5.2 yards per carry in his last two games, the Florida defensive front has a tall order this weekend.

But here’s where it gets interesting. By merely looking at the score of the Missouri game, it seems as if Florida’s defense has gone downhill. However, upon closer investigation you can actually see that 28 of Missouri’s 42 points weren’t scored against the defense, and the other points put up on the starters were due in part to the outstanding field position that Jeff Driskel & co. decided to put on a silver platter for the Tigers. The defense only gave up 119 yards and seven first downs in that 42-13 loss. These facts show that Saturday’s game against Georgia is the offense’s game to lose. The defense has done their part for most of the season despite what the final scores say.

Led by junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., the defense MUST stop or at least slow down Georgia’s running game or things could get ugly. We already know that Georgia isn’t going to want to pass the ball; why should they? A sub-par passing game (112th in the FBS) along with Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor prowling in the backfield ready to pounce on Hutson Mason’s slightest error is not an encouraging combination for Georgia.

This is exactly why the performance of the defensive line is going to be the key to the game. Georgia’s offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s play calling has been successfully running the ball all over defenses this year. With an arsenal including the speed and strength of Nick Chubb, Bobo is known for calling off tackle runs for big yardage. The simplest way to contain Georgia’s running game is to keep Chubb in between the tackles. Defensive tackle Leon Orr and nose tackle Darious Cummings have both done exceptionally well in protecting the middle of the field from long runs all season. With that in mind, Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard both must contain the edges of the field in order to turn Chubb towards the center, where Orr and Cummings can finish him off. If the defensive front can manhandle Georgia’s O-line like they’ve been doing for much of the season, this game may be closer than everyone expects. Unless, of course, the offense and special teams find a way to mess things up again.

On the other side of the ball, Florida’s offensive line has some serious work to do this week. After a season of dismal play, allowing the quarterback to be sacked and hurried a little too often, the O-line is still a sore spot for the Gators. However, Treon Harris has shown the ability to break out of a collapsing pocket, and with Harris FINALLY starting against Georgia, we may be able to see his talent flesh itself out a little bit.

At the same time, though, we know not to rely on the passing game, between dropped passes and missed assignments. The first half of the season has taught us that. Harris’s scrambling and ability to throw on the run may give Florida a few nice gains here and there, but once again, it is going to come down to how successfully the Gators run the ball on plays that are designed to run the ball (meaning not counting QB scrambles on designed pass plays).

Matt Jones has been the primary running back throughout the season, showing his power by charging over potential tacklers to gain more yardage. That may not happen so much against Georgia, however, as the Bulldog’s run defense is ranked 11th in the country. Hopefully we’ll get to see a little bit of Kelvin Taylor, too. Taylor has proven to be quite useful this season with his breakout speed, vision, and sharp cuts. The different styles of running from Jones and Taylor may be just enough to throw off the Bulldog’s defense and pick up yardage in chunks. That is, if the offensive line can block well enough…

Simply put, the war in the trenches is everything. On both sides of the ball.

With two teams so heavily reliant on the run game, this weekend’s battle in Jacksonville will be won on the ground. As long as the Florida defense can do what they have been doing for much of the season- eliminate the opponent’s offense- it will be up to Treon Harris and the Gator offense to not screw things up in order to win the game. If the offense can prevent turnovers and the special teams can find a way to actually tackle the guy with the ball, the game will be a lot closer than many expect.

But, with that being said, this is Florida. Florida turns the ball over. Florida shoots itself in the foot. Florida beats Florida (particularly against Georgia; see 2012). If the Gators go into the game determined not to beat themselves, and dominate the line of scrimmage, they are a legitimate threat to wreck Georgia’s season by pulling the upset.

Todd Gurley will not play against Florida

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I had thought for sure that the NCAA would have cleared Georgia RB Todd Gurley by this point, but I was wrong.

The NCAA ruled that Todd Gurley will be eligible to play again on November 15 against Auburn. That means he will not play in the rivalry game against Florida, which is a major blow for Georgia. UGA is appealing the ruling in an effort to try to get him back immediately.

Personally, I’m not totally stunned. Accepting 3,000 bucks in cash payments is illegal, and Gurley knew it. It’s a stupid rule, but it’s a rule. And while I feel bad for Gurley on a somewhat personal level, I can’t help but think that what the NCAA did was not that surprising. They have a rule in place, somebody broke it, and they are punishing him.

In terms of the impact this has on the Florida-Georgia game, well, it’s huge. Yes, backup running back Nick Chubb is really, really good. But it’s always better to have two running backs of star quality than one. Without Gurley available, UGA may be forced to turn to Sony Michel if something happens to Chubb. Don’t let anybody tell you different; it is a major blow for Georgia.

Coaching for pride: Determined Muschamp takes last stand against Georgia

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Pride.

It’s a powerful incentive, perhaps more so than tangible objects, like paychecks or trophies. Everybody in the world wants money, and everybody who plays sports or competes in some way wants treasure to add beside their name.

But it’s pride that separates those who win the prizes and those who dream of winning them.

Pride is giving all you’ve got regardless of the stakes. It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing for a national championship, for 3rd place, for second to last place, or even with no tangible reward on the line at all. Pride is what drives professional and college players to play their hardest. The players want to win every game just for personal satisfaction. If any of you have played sports long enough, you’ve undoubtedly been on a losing team. The reason you continue to play the remainder of your games, even after being eliminated from whatever the top prize is in your league- playoffs, first place, etc.- is for pride.

And believe it or not, it’s Will Muschamp who understands this most. Yes, his win/loss record is abhorrent. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is a proud man.

Let’s go back in time a few decades to when Muschamp was a kid. As a junior in high school, he played left field for his high school baseball team. In the middle of his chase for a fly ball, Muschamp collided with his shortstop and shattered his leg- badly. It ended his football career, doctors said. They had to insert a metal rod into his leg merely to hold the bones together. Almost overnight, all his offers to play college football went out the window. That included any interest that then Gator coach Steve Spurrier had in him, which crushed Muschamp- Florida was his favorite school growing up, since he was raised in Gainesville. So without any scholarship offers, he was forced to walk on at Georgia.

Yet, despite the negative effects that play had on his life, Muschamp is quick to point out one thing- he caught that fly ball. That’s pride. That’s an introduction to Will Muschamp as a human being.

Looking around at his new Dawg teammates, Muschamp’s competitive spirit burned inside him. He was well aware that the majority of his fellow Bulldogs were there on scholarship, and he wasn’t. They were all being paid their college tuition just to play football, while Muschamp was no different than any other non athlete who applied to UGA undergrad. If you play college football as a walk on, it means you’re a hard worker, and good for you… but it’s as certain a sign as there is that you’re not playing professional football. It means that college sports is the highest level you will ever compete in. The NFL is a tiny window, but everybody who gets a scholarship to play for an SEC school- even Vanderbilt- has at least the faintest glimmer of hope that his career will continue professionally.

Muschamp did not care that he would not play in the NFL. He knew his football career would soon be over, but that didn’t stop him from playing with all he had. He played in every game at Georgia from 1991-1994; by the time he was a senior at UGA, he was a team captain. Quite a jump from being a walk on, but that’s what happens when you give it your all, literally every day, for years. And lots of people can read that and shrug and say, “good, he played with all he had. Big deal.” But anybody who has ever played football knows that it really is a big deal.

Playing with all the energy and effort you have when the door to an NFL future has been tauntingly closed on you is pride. Merely playing as a walk on is pride. Leading the secondary of a 6-4-1 Georgia team in tackles his senior year is pride. Finishing fifth on the team in interceptions is pride. Muschamp played his entire career at the University of Georgia for pride, bottom line.

Fast forward 17 years. Muschamp accepted the head coaching job at Florida, and once he got settled into Gainesville, he set about decorating his office. One of the first things to go up, nicely concealed in a glass case, was that steel rod doctors inserted into his leg in the spring of 1990. It’s a reminder of adversity, Muschamp says. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, he continues. He’s faced adversity all his life, most recently the last two years of his coaching career. Sometimes, the adversity was too much to overcome, whether it be on the field like against South Carolina (kidding) or in real life off the field, like not getting any scholarship offers to play college football.

That’s one of the bad parts of life. Sometimes, the situations you are dealt cannot possibly be overcome in the way you’d like. It sucks, but it’s true. But if you are able to erase the original goal you were shooting for and just give it everything you’ve got without thinking about a tangible reward for your effort- i.e. do the best you can just because- good things may happen that you don’t expect.

Yes, I strongly believe that he is a dead man walking in Gainesville, and no, I don’t think there’s anything he can do to save his job. And unless Georgia hires him as a defensive coordinator (which won’t happen as long as they’ve got Jeremy Pruitt), he will never get another chance to get a win in the Florida-Georgia rivalry- an event he has been on the losing side of all seven times he participated in.

But he has one more shot now.

There’s chance shot in hell Muschamp is returning to Gainesville in 2015; he knows what will not happen next year. But he doesn’t know what will happen next year. So he can’t think about the future, because it’s not looking very bright. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for Muschamp as the Florida coach. There’s no SEC Championship he can still win, not even a trip to Atlanta to play for. There’s no contract extension awaiting him. Like everyday people playing a game of pickup, Muschamp has no tangible reward to hope for, no trophy or title to shoot for.

All he has left is his pride. And now, the proud native of Gainesville has to summon it once again, the way he did at Georgia to go from a walk on to a team captain, in order to save face and salvage something from a forgettable four year tenure at Florida.

Cocktail Party Chronicles: The ten best Florida-Georgia games of all time

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The history of the Florida-Georgia rivalry is a long one. To be precise, Florida and Georgia have played 91 times. Yes, Georgia fans, 91, not 92. Florida did not play football in 1904, and it’s pathetic that Georgia tries to claim a win in a season in which Florida did not even field a team. The point is that there have been quite a few memorable games between these two teams.

But whittling the list down to the ten most memorable is tough. Here’s my attempt to do so.

#10 2008: Timeout, Florida (Florida 49, Georgia 10)

Recap

No, this game isn’t a memorable one simply because of the final score. Obliterating Mark Richt’s Bulldogs 49-10 is always nice, but what made this special was the little dance off Georgia staged in the end zone the year before (more on that later) and the fact that Gator fans and players were particularly steamed coming into the game. It started out innocently enough- the Gators led 14-3 midway through the third quarter- but then Joe Haden picked off Matt Stafford and took it 88 yards down to the Georgia 1 yard line. Tim Tebow scored on the ensuing play and the party was on.

But perhaps it was Urban Meyer’s efforts to make the aforementioned party last even longer than it should have by calling all his remaining timeouts in the game’s waning seconds that made it memorable. All Georgia players and coaches wanted to do was sprint to the locker room and put the 49-10 drubbing behind them, but Urban Meyer made them sit there and take it that much longer. Most Gator fans probably still think it’s hilarious. Most Bulldog fans probably still want to lynch him for it.

Effect

We know this rivalry goes in runs- more on that later in the week- but Georgia’s 42-30 win the year before suggested to some that perhaps it was time for a nice Georgia run in the series. After all, Florida had won 15 of the previous 17. But the 49-10 stomping showed that the Gators still controlled the series for another three years- and controlled the SEC East in this year, knocking the Bulldogs out of contention. Also, the end zone dance the previous year reinforced the stereotype that Georgia hates Florida. The timeouts reinforced the stereotype that Florida hates Georgia.

#9 1976: Fourth And Dumb (Georgia 41, Florida 27)

Recap

There’s a reason Florida doesn’t control the all time series lead against Georgia, and that reason is that over the decades, they have blown numerous games against the Dawgs that they should have won. This is one of them.

Florida totally dominated the early stages of this game, leading 27-13 at halftime. Georgia then scored early in the third quarter to trim the lead to 27-20. On the ensuing drive, Georgia forced a Florida punt. Or what should have been a Florida punt. Instead, Gator coach Doug Dickey chose to go for it on 4th and 1 inside his own 30 yard line. Gator tailback Earl Carr was stuffed, and Georgia QB Ray Goff led Georgia to three straight touchdowns to shock the Gators 41-27.

Effect

The 70’s did not treat the Gators kindly in this rivalry. Two devastating defeats in the previous two years had the Florida players clamoring for blood, and then they got their hearts broken for a third straight time in ’76. Georgia was in the middle of a ~20 year run of dominance (we can relate; see 1990-2010) and Florida found every way imaginable to lose games. Though the Gators would win the following year, Georgia would break Gator hearts even more over the next several years. This one just set the table, and cost the Gators the SEC Championship.

#8 1966: Spurrier’s Season Wrecked By Georgia (Georgia 27, Florida 10)

Recap

Steve Spurrier was more than a great Gator coach. He was also a great Gator QB (and actually won the Heisman in 1966). But you’d never know that by the way he played in this game. Georgia picked him off three times and sacked him several more, as the Gator offense never really got off the ground. Georgia won 27-10, ruining Florida’s chances at winning the SEC.

Effect

If Georgia fans could go back in time and change history in any way, I think they’d try to reverse the outcome of this game and make it so Florida won (I’m only half kidding, that’s the thing). Because the loss set off some sort of explosive Incredible Hulk type reaction inside of Spurrier. He would remember this loss, oh yes he would, when he returned to Gainesville as the head coach. His first order of business was to install a hatred for the Dawgs and a refusal to lose/sadistic pleasure in winning in Jacksonville. Oops! Didn’t mean to push that button! Only once in Spurrier’s 12 years at the helm did Florida lose to Georgia, and the 11 wins were quite ugly. Scores like 47-7, 52-14, 52-17, and 45-13 rained down on the Bulldogs. It’s Georgia’s fault, really. They should have known they were in trouble when Spurrier’s first taste of the rivalry ended with a 38-7 thumping. The Bulldogs fought back once and beat the Gators 37-17, but that was a mistake; Spurrier’s Gators laid a second 38-7 stomping on them the following year.

Really, Georgia fans just want to forget about Spurrier. He continues to beat on them to this day; his Gamecocks have beaten Georgia four out of the last five years. So yeah, I think with hindsight at their disposal, Georgia fans at least somewhat regret embarrassing Spurrier before most of them were born. The tradeoff heavily favors Florida.

#7 1984: Bell to Nattiel (Florida 27, Georgia 0)

Recap

In the midst of a 20 year run of Bulldog dominance came this wonderful Gator oasis. The slightly favored Bulldogs could not get their offense going no matter what they tried, and the Gators built a 17-0 lead. But Georgia finally orchestrated a nice, long drive that got them inside the Florida three yard line. Then something happened to Georgia that frequently happened to Florida throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Four straight times the Bulldogs pounded the ball up the middle. Four straight times they were turned away.

That gave the Gators the ball at their own two yard line. After two cautious play calls that got the ball out to the four yard line, Gator QB Kerwin Bell suddenly dropped back and launched a bomb to Ricky Nattiel, who caught it in stride and high stepped the last several yards to the end zone. That was the kill shot, and clinched the Gators’ first win over Georgia since 1977.

Effect

Don’t give me any BS about how Florida didn’t win the SEC in 1984. I know the title has been stricken from the record books (thanks to Georgia voting to eradicate the title) but the players still have the rings. The Gators most certainly did win the SEC Championship in 1984, and this win was the one that wrapped it up for them. Yes, the Gators subsequently vacated the title, but it was a proud moment in Gator history nonetheless, and it was all because Florida beat Georgia.

#6 1995: Half A Hundred Between The Hedges (Florida 52, Georgia 17)

Recap

Since 1933, this game has been played in Jacksonville every single year- except twice in 1994 and 1995. The city of Jacksonville wanted to improve on their stadium for the new expansion team, so while renovations were ongoing, the game was moved to Gainesville in 1994 and to Athens in 1995. This gave Steve Spurrier a once in a lifetime opportunity to exact his aforementioned revenge in front of the Bulldogs’ home fans.

As expected, the Gators blew the Dawgs away. Danny Wuerffel guided Florida to a 28-0 lead, and from that point on, it was cruise control. That is, until the very end of the game. Florida had won the game by midway through the second quarter, so with a 45-17 lead late in the fourth, what more was there to gain? Here’s what: scoring 50 points on the Bulldogs in Sanford Stadium, something that had never been done before. A truly evil flea flicker call by Spurrier picked up some big yards, and on the next play, Eric Kresser hit Travis McGriff for the touchdown- and half a hundred. To this day, the 52 points still stands as the most points ever scored by an opponent in Athens.

Effect

This particular drubbing silenced the scores of Georgia fans who claimed that playing the game in Jacksonville was the reason why they couldn’t win. To a degree, it still does. Every time Georgia fans while about the location of the game, it’s an easy counterargument. Each team gets half the tickets. Play the game.

#5 1992: The Curse is Real (Florida 26, Georgia 24)

Recap

This one has to hurt Georgia fans to even think about. What was easily Ray Goff’s best team during his coaching tenure at Georgia went out and lost to what was probably Steve Spurrier’s worst. Georgia’s Frank Harvey escaped for an 80 yard touchdown run early, but then the Gators blocked a punt and it all went downhill from there. Florida grabbed a 23-7 lead thanks to Shane Matthews’ three touchdown passes and held onto it. To the Bulldogs’ credit, they did engineer an impressive comeback. But Florida’s offense ended the game the same way Georgia’s did in 2011 and 2013- they melted the clock away with a few huge first downs.

Effect

It just goes to show how time dictates this rivalry. Every 20 or so years Florida dominates, and every other 20 or so years Georgia dominates. Everything was set up right for Georgia to win on this day. But it just didn’t happen, and it was Florida who went on to participate in the SEC’s first ever championship game.

#4 2007: Dunce Dunce Revolution (Georgia 42, Florida 30)

Recap

Florida had won 15 out of the last 17 coming into this game. Mark Richt was well aware of that fact, didn’t like it one bit and set out to help fix that. His idea to help change the culture of the rivalry: ordering the entire 50+ Georgia roster to storm the field and jump around like goons following the Bulldogs’ first touchdown. Which they did.

But what people forget is that Florida shrugged that off and engaged in a competitive shootout. Tim Tebow led Florida right back and threw a touchdown to Louis Murphy, and the Gators actually had the lead late in the first half. That little dance had no effect on the game’s outcome. Knowshon Moreno tallied 188 yards on the day, and only three on that run. Georgia simply made stops when they had to, and Florida could not. Perhaps the dagger was the bomb to Mikey Henderson that put UGA up 35-24 with 11 minutes to go, but when Moreno powered in on the Dawgs’ next drive, the game was out of reach.

Effect

This win actually didn’t really help Georgia at all in terms of the SEC, a rarity in this rivalry. Their 35-14 loss to Tennessee kept them out of the SEC Championship Game. But it did land them a berth in the Sugar Bowl, and they took advantage, crushing Colt Brennan and Hawaii en route to a #2 final ranking.

But let’s be real, none of that is what this game is remembered for. All people think about regarding the 2007 game is Georgia’s little dance off after Moreno’s first touchdown, and for good reason. Never before have I seen anything like that in my life, and never have I since. And I hope to never have to again. Despite the recent success of FSU, this is why I hate the Bulldogs even more than the Seminoles (though this ongoing scandal is starting to change that).

#3 1993: Timeout Saves The Day (Florida 33, Georgia 26)

Recap

Florida and Georgia played in a wet one on this day, very similar to the downpour the Gators were involved in against FSU in 2008. It didn’t stop the two offenses, though. The Gators (led by Terry Dean) and Bulldogs (led by Eric Zeier) went back and forth, with each team holding multiple leads at different points in the game. As the game wound down, though, Florida held a 33-26 lead, and Georgia had the ball with one final chance.

Zeier drove Georgia down to the shadow of the goal line with time running out. He threw what he thought was the game tying touchdown… except Gator defensive back Anthone Lott had called a timeout right before the snap. So Zeier had to do it again. His second attempt was incomplete, and the Gators won the game. But wait. Lott was called for pass interference, and Georgia lined up for a third consecutive try. Zeier went over the middle to Jeff Thomas, but the ball was batted down and Florida hung on, this time for real, 33-26.

Effect

The win catapulted the Gators into first place in the SEC East, leaving them with no tough tests remaining. Florida cruised past their remaining SEC opponents and went on to defeat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Chalk up another win for Spurrier over Georgia, this time in a 50/50 game either side could have won.

#2 2010: Overtime (Florida 34, Georgia 31)

Recap

Both teams entered this game in bad situations. Florida had lost three straight, while Georgia was recovering from a nightmarish start to the season. Anyway, Florida grabbed a 21-7 lead at halftime, forcing Georgia to have to come back. Which they did, slowly. Aaron Murray guided them all the way back to a 24-24 tie. Trey Burton gave the Gators the lead again with a 51 yard TD run, only to watch Murray tie it right back up with a touchdown pass to AJ Green and send the game into overtime.

On the Dawgs’ first possession, Aaron Murray threw an ill advised pass over the middle that was tipped by Jelani Jenkins and picked by Will Hill, who took it all the way back to the Georgia 1. Unfortunately, the rules are such that the Gators had to start from the 25, not the one. So Florida had to finesse its way inside the 20 to set up a field goal for Chas Henry, the punter who had struggled kicking field goals since replacing the injured Caleb Sturgis. But the Gators’ Ray Guy Award winning punter came through when he was needed most, booting home a 37 yard field goal to give Florida its 18th win in the last 21 games over Georgia.

Effect

Not much, except for the fact that Georgia’s season turned into even more of a nightmare than it looked to be at first. The Bulldogs went on to have a losing season, while the Gators finished with a meh 8-5 record. But if nothing else, I will always remember Henry’s game winning field goal. Good things happen to good people who work hard.

#1 1980: Run Lindsay! (Georgia 26, Florida 21)

Recap

Easily the most heartbreaking defeat for Florida in a series filled with them, it epitomized the 1970’s and 80’s and still has the genuine power to shock some elder Gator fans. How Florida lost this game is beyond me; even though it happened 15 years before I was born, I still can’t believe what happened each time I see it.

2nd ranked Georgia was heavily favored coming into the game, but the Gators played inspired football and held onto a 21-20 lead with under a minute remaining. The Bulldogs were pinned deep in their own territory and faced a third and 10. UGA QB Buck Belue didn’t complete many passes on that day (7-16 on the day), but he completed the big one, a short dump to Lindsay Scott, who raced… all… the… way… 93… yards… for the touchdown. Upset averted, Sugar Bowl berth saved, and a few months later, Georgia had their second ever national championship (and their most recent).

Effect

Florida had a chance to ruin Herschel Walker’s Heisman Trophy chances and Georgia’s national championship trophies in the same day, but their failure to play defense on the biggest play of the game cost them both. (Now Florida only leads Georgia 3-2 in national championships, and in Heisman Trophy winners.) Make no mistake, this game directly led to a national championship. The Dawgs first had to survive Auburn and Georgia Tech, and then Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, but this was their best chance to lose, and the Gators couldn’t pull it off.

Former Gators star Patric Young makes Pelicans’ 15 man roster

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Amid an avalanche of misery for the Gators’ football team comes a ray of promise from one of Florida fans’ favorite Gators.

Patric Young, the motor of the Gators’ baasketball team the last few years, was selected to the New Orleans Pelicans’ 15 man roster. The Pelicans could still technically release Young at any time if they want to, but 15 is the regular season limit. So it seems like a safe bet that he will be a Pelican going forward.

It’s fantastic to see Young continuing to fight through the odds like this. All throughout last year, people were saying that he wouldn’t even get drafted. And he didn’t. But after New Orleans signed him, he immediately went to work for the Pelicans. The clincher may have been last night, when he put down the game clinching dunk to beat the Mavericks. Roughly 20 hours following that slam dunk, the Pelicans trimmed their roster down to the regular season limit of 15 and announced that Young was one of them.

It’s that never say die attitude, proving everybody wrong and doing all he possibly can to represent the name on the front of his jersey, that makes me proud to call Young a Gator. Best of luck to you, Pat. Gator Nation is behind you 100%.

How “Our backs are against the wall” mentality could help propel Gators past Georgia

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All the talk the last few days has been about coaching replacements for Will Muschamp, not IF he gets fired, but WHEN he gets fired. What has been lost in all of it is how this team will respond to what seems to be another lost season on the brink of becoming a train wreck.

We thought it could not get any worse than 2013. We thought with the health and the new offense, this was the “redemption season”. We thought that Muschamp would correct his mistakes (just like any good coach would). But we all thought wrong.

With Muschamp all but being carried to the stake to be burned by the villagers with shovels and pitchforks, he somehow has one last shot to make a case. For most it will not even matter. But for the powers that are in charge, it will matter. Jeremy Foley is not ready to move on just yet, President Machen already has one foot out the door towards retirement, and the boosters seem to be silent in all of this.

I did notice one interesting thing on Saturday night as I was preparing to vacate the premises of a nearly empty Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. I looked up at the Bull Gator Deck, which resides just underneath the press boxes and suites. I could count the people that were still in their seats on two hands. That amount of silence is surely deafening. The area of the stadium where the money comes during an SEC East matchup at night looked as empty as it does during the Gators annual Orange and Blue Spring game. THAT is not a good sign.

With all that being said, we must ask ourselves one question… Will this team fold up their tents and pack it in the remainder of the season like last year?

We will know the answer to that question around 3:50pm on November 1st. We will know by the body language of the players in the early parts of the game. Will Coach Muschamp be punching chalkboards or get into arguments with fans again? Will the play calling be as bland as saltine crackers again?

Teams in this situation go one of two ways, north or south. Last years team was so disorganized and depressed, they went south in a hurry. This years team has a chance to show that it has the mental makeup to overcome the adversities it has faced once again this season. This game will show if there is any Gator Pride left in the hearts of this team. The old saying, “a team takes on the character of its head coach” is very true. And right now Will Muschamp looks like he is mentally defeated on every level. Jeff Driskel looks like he just went 12 rounds with Ivan Drago and the trainers won’t throw in the towel to save him. Surprisingly, the defense still has some life. It’s really the only bright spot on this team currently, and they are pulling the entire bus and everyone inside.

Florida has a chance to salvage a season on the brink of destruction, save their head coach from punching chalkboards, and save their pride. Oh yeah, and in the process, ruin Georgia’s bid for a SEC Championship. This team needs to cancel the noise, stand up, wipe the tears away and go take care of business. They need to have the “backs against the wall” mentality. They need to believe everyone in the world is against them. They need to understand that the disrespect they have been getting has been deserved based on their performance on the field, and that the only way to erase it is to just go out and play their best game. This is no longer a season about getting to Atlanta. This a one-game season. Each week is your season. Your goal should not be winning 8 games anymore. Your goal needs to be beating Georgia and showing the world, and yourselves that you will not go away quietly. Florida is still Florida. Bad or good, this team is still a premier program with talent at every position.

Will Muschamp is a stubborn man. He clearly doesn’t like listening to advice from other people. But he needs to. And if there was one piece of advice I could give him on this day, it would be this: go win a damn game. Say, next weekend maybe? Against your alma mater, perhaps? The team that you’re 0-3 against?

Yeah, that one works. Go win that one.

It’s Over, Foley: Cut Your Losses, Stop The Bleeding and Give Roper a Shot

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If you think the current state of the Florida Gator program is bad right now, you may have to lower your expectations even more.

Part of what has bailed Will Muschamp out enough to get him to this point- merely having a job for a fourth year- has been recruiting like a gangbuster. He does a pretty solid job scooping up a good amount of the talent from the talent-rich state of Florida, and does a decent job raiding nearby Georgia for some top prospects every now and then. Point blank, he recruits well enough to survive, and up until now, could hide behind the sheer talent he pulled in and the sky high recruiting rankings that followed as losses piled up like autumn leaves.

Imagine, then, how God-awful this program would be on the field if we didn’t have that type of talent, if we had a modestly talented team that actually had to rely on decent coaching to win games.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly where this team is heading. Last night, prized linebacker Jerome Baker decommitted from Florida and switched to sort-of rival Ohio State. And when being objective and honest, can you blame him? In all kinds of weather, we all stick together is a motto I try to live my life by- I’ll never turn my back on the Gators’ athletic program- but that phrase doesn’t apply to him because he’s just a high school kid looking for the best school for him to succeed personally and be on a team that succeeds. Look in the mirror and ask yourself: in our current state, with our current coaches, do you really believe Florida is a better program than Ohio State? No, right? You can’t possibly think it is. And even though deep down, I believe it soon will be again, can you see why top prospects think otherwise?

When recruiting- Muschamp’s last ace in the hole- starts to crumble, you know he’s done. We all know at this point that I wanted him gone after being humiliated by Vanderbilt last season, but the frustrating thing is, I’m not the one who decides this type of stuff. And as long as the man who does- Jeremy Foley- allows him to remain on staff, the program is going to continue to fall. I’m not saying Foley’s an idiot. He’s a lot smarter than any of us think. I’m sure he has some sort of plan for a new coach developing in his mind, if it’s not fully developed already. But the fact that it took him this long to even start to realize it is a problem.

That’s why I’m so irritated that Foley hasn’t said anything publicly. No matter what he tells a handful of recruits privately, the public perception of Florida- right now- is that the AD tolerates a losing culture. Going 3-10 over the last 13 games is bad by Vanderbilt standards; it’s completely unacceptable at Florida. To not even give any public indication that this sort of record is not acceptable scares recruits away. Don’t believe me? Look at Baker. Foley has the opportunity to do something to right the wrong of hiring Muschamp this very second- like FIRING MUSCHAMP- that could show recruits that losing in not acceptable at Florida. And his refusal to do so, even under the guise that he’s going to do it after the season, is agitating as hell. We know at this point that Muschamp isn’t beating Georgia next Saturday. He hasn’t in three tries; why is number four the lucky one? To make matters worse, this is probably the best Georgia team he’s faced in four years, and he’s going in to face the Dawgs with either his weakest or his second weakest team in his four years. I don’t care what firing him midseason “could do to recruiting”. That’s bullshit. It can’t possibly be any worse than what the on field results are currently doing to recruiting, and if anything, it will help.

So, OK. We know I want Muschamp fired now, and not even be allowed to coach another game. What’s the answer for the rest of the season, then?

DJ Durkin isn’t a bad defensive coordinator by any means. But he’s not a defensive genius the way Dan Quinn or even Muschamp is, either, and I don’t want him running the program for the rest of the year. I want an offensive minded guy to take control against Georgia. Florida’s going to need some points, and they won’t get them with Muschamp (or Durkin, because that’s how Muschamp taught him) slapping the cuffs on Roper’s play calling the way he did with Charlie Weis, Brent Pease and now Roper himself. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, if he does a good enough job on an interim basis and then finds success as a head coach at a smaller school… and Foley’s next hire doesn’t pan out either… three years later… who knows? If he has success now at Florida on an interim basis, he has to at least be considered in the future as the next Gator coach (for good) if he continues to be successful elsewhere. Meaning at a less prestigious school. Like the one he came from.

At Duke, you can’t recruit star players. You just can’t. You can recruit decent players, and with the right coaching, turn them into above average college football players. This is what Roper did, and guided a basketball school to an ACC Championship Game- in football. This is a Duke team that hadn’t made a bowl game prior to his arrival since 1995, and he came along to make the offense explode in 2013. In 11 of the Devils’ 13 games, Duke scored 27 or more points; in eight of those games, they scored 35+. In short, Roper does more with less, while Muschamp does precisely the opposite. But now that Roper actually has more to work with, why not give him the reins and see what he can do with it?

It’s not like Roper was a one trick pony at Duke, either. He has had success pretty much everywhere he’s gone as an assistant coach. He successfully developed Eli Manning at Ole Miss, Andre Woodson at Kentucky, Arian Foster at Tennessee and Anthony Boone at Duke. He’s a well rounded guy who knows the ins and outs of various positions, not just the QB. And with the talent that Florida has on offense, I’d love to see him try his hand at developing it, albeit in just half a season. I’d also love to see what he’s capable of doing with his play calling without Will Muschamp forcing him to dumb it down and be as predictable as Addazio, albeit in just half a season. Most importantly, I’d like to see how he leads a program, albeit in half a season.

But half a season to judge his merit is better than just a bowl game (if Florida even gets to one). You need a large enough sample size to evaluate him. Like the last five games of the season, two of which are rivalry games against teams I cannot stand losing to. If he fails, and the Gators lose both games big, then hey, at least we tried something different, which is what I alluded to earlier. That’s the worst that can happen. We tried something new because the old thing didn’t work for three and a half years, and we lost as expected. I’d take that over continuing to give Muschamp chance after chance and shrug my shoulders and say “I told you so” when he gets blown away by Georgia and FSU. I won’t even be mad. I’ll just roll my eyes like I would when somebody says something dumb when they’re drunk. I know it’s coming- not think, but know- and so when it happens, the emotions I express will be far less explosive.

Make no mistake, there’s still plenty for Florida to play for. Our chances at the SEC East are gone (thank you so much Will Muschamp for that egg you laid against Missouri) but we still have a chance to wreck the seasons of two of our rivals. A win against Georgia hands control of the East back over to Missouri, who has a decidedly easier remaining schedule than Georgia (Mizzou plays Vanderbilt, Kentucky, at Texas A&M, at Tennessee and Arkansas while Georgia plays at Kentucky and Auburn). Despite Every True Son’s unhealthy obsession with doing the Gator Chomp, I’d much rather see Missouri win the East than Georgia. And beating FSU in Tallahassee is guaranteed to knock them out of the national championship talk.

Neither of those things will happen with Muschamp. He is 1-5 against Georgia and FSU, a proven loser over a three year period. He’s also 17-19 against BCS level competition. That’s been my point all week, and I’ll keep repeating it until I’m blue in the face: we know Muschamp is incapable of winning big games. How do we know Kurt Roper will be any better, you might ask? We don’t. But the complete unknown is more enticing than what we know will fail. That’s what I’d love to hammer into Foley’s brilliant but stubborn brain- we don’t know what he’s capable of doing as the head of our program. Is it possible that he’d flop and the Gators would lose three more games? Can I promise that he’ll be worlds better than Muschamp at leading the team (nice job checking on your injured wide receiver against LSU and getting your players to sing the alma mater, by the way), not just in football, but all around? Yes, it’s possible, and no, I can’t promise that.

Last week, I wrote that Muschamp had crippled the Florida program. Well, I was wrong, or maybe just not strong enough. He is killing it. This program is dying right now, the way the Tennessee program died by giving Derek Dooley a third year after an ugly 5-7 season in 2011. Look at the state of the Vols’ program now. It’s a mess, and that’s being nice. Go ahead and blame some of that on Lane Kiffin if you want, but note that Kiffin actually made them better, taking the Vols from 5-7 in Fulmer’s last year to 7-5 and being notably more competitive in a lot of losses.

When the coach of a historically powerful football program fails to take them to a bowl game after he’s been there for at least one year prior, it’s a sign that you need to let him go. Foley has not seen that sign yet, and he needs to. And I’m sure he will soon, but soon isn’t good enough. It needs to be now. As in, before the sun sets tonight in Gainesville. This program is bleeding out right now, and it’s your job to stop it or at least put a band aid on it. Admit in public that you screwed up big time by hiring Muschamp, and give Kurt Roper the head coaching job on an interim basis.

It’s OK to admit you’re wrong. I’m wrong on plenty of things.

Now it’s your turn, Foley.

Treon Harris To Start Against Georgia

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Is anybody really surprised that Treon Harris will start against Georgia over Jeff Driskel?

OK, so I did tweet out that Harris was going to start two days ago. But when thinking about it, can you really tell me you’re shocked?

More than anything, this appears to be a last ditch effort by Will Muschamp to save a job of his that’s probably already lost. He probably went to Jeremy Foley and said, “look, I know things are bad, but I’m going in a new direction here. I’m going to try the freshman Treon Harris over the tried and true failure Jeff Driskel.” To which Foley probably just rolled his eyes and walked away.

If I know this team well enough, though, it’s not going to matter. The pass protection is a mess, as we saw against Missouri, the receiving corps fluctuates weekly from mediocre to horrendous and the play calling from Kurt Roper via Will Muschamp- yes, that’s Muschamp handcuffing the offense- has been downright hilarious. Running a 165 pound back straight up the middle of the line is something Steve Addazio would do. And we all know my thoughts about him. That’s not a particularly kind comparison to make, but it’s the truth.

Let’s face it, this game is going to come down to a lot more than the Gators’ QB. It’s important to play the better QB, yes, but that’s the absolute least of our problems right now. If the defense doesn’t play its best and the line doesn’t protect, Drew Brees wouldn’t be able to save this team against Georgia.