Apologies for taking until midweek to get this piece up, as taking a week and a half trip from my home in New Jersey down to the Sunshine State (in large part to be in attendance for the Towson and Auburn games) took a lot out of me. But anyway: Florida beat Auburn 24-13, and here are the five things I took away from the win:
1: Dan Mullen officially has the Gators back to being a national powerhouse. We’re done pretending that Dan Mullen is a one year wonder, right haters? No longer do those who try to discredit him have any credence to their claims. If one (LSU last year) is a fluke, and two (Michigan last year) is a coincidence, then three (Auburn) makes a pattern. That’s three wins over top seven teams in his first two years, and Mullen has two chances to adjust that number upwards in the next month alone. The kicker? This team isn’t even close to full strength right now- and most of the current starters were Jim McElwain signees.
2: Emory Jones is ready. Look, I’m not here to beat my chest about being proven right, because I miss on as many predictions as anybody. But I’ve long stated that Jones would be a monumental upgrade over Feleipe Franks even a fraction of Franks’ game experience, and when Trask went down with a sprained MCL and Jones was suddenly thrown into the fire against a top ten opponent, he took the opportunity and ran with it. Following an Auburn touchdown to completely change the tenor of the game, Franks weathered the emotional storm and calmly guided the Gators down for a field goal at the end of the first half with some nice throws and one determined run. I’m somewhat mixed on my feelings about Kyle Trask vs. Jones- I can see going with Trask if Mullen thinks he provides the best chance to win games right now, in a season where the annual preseason goal of winning it all is alive and well halfway through the season- but I now believe as strongly as ever that in 2020 and beyond, this is Emory’s team.
3: Todd Grantham called a near perfect game. I get irritated just like everyone else when Florida gets torched on third and twelve or more, but I think it’s now safe to say that the pros of his unit’s truculence outweigh the cons of Third And Grantham. This defense was everywhere it needed to be throughout the game, picking off Bo Nix three times and sacking him twice. And more impressively than that, they made the big plays when they needed to most, rather than just on a random second and two near midfield. Grantham has this defense improving every week, even without Jabari Zuniga, and I can’t wait to see it keep going that way as the year progresses.
4: James Houston IV is growing into something special. I love David Reese. I love his range, I love his “I’ll run through a brick wall for you or at least give it my best shot” attitude, I love his consistency in terms of making tackles, and I love his ability and willingness to mentor younger linebackers like Houston IV and Ventrell Miller. And I will be heartbroken to see him leave. But Houston IV is poised to fill his shoes and then some at the MLB position next year. We knew about his athletic ability, and his intelligence, and now we also know he can use them for a big play in the big moment- like, say, sacking Bo Nix to guillotine what Auburn hoped would be a huge response drive midway through the fourth quarter. Don’t be one of those who gets suckered into thinking Florida will drop off at the LB position when Reese departs, because another dependable piece is waiting his turn.
5: The Swamp was ROCKING. Plain and simple, the crowd won this game for Florida. The Gators and Tigers are two evenly matched teams, and the Swamp tipped the scales in favor of the good guys. Three different times, Auburn got flagged for false starts because they couldn’t hear the snap count, and on a fourth occasion, Gus Malzahn had to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty for that same reason. So the crowd altered the game four different times, and that’s not even counting the two pass interference calls that the officials finally made after a chorus of boos monsooned upon the playing field right following a pair of badly missed calls. So the crowd- particularly the student section- gets an A+, a 100% on this test. Now: can we match this for Vanderbilt, please? (Or at least come reasonably close?)