With two full days to soak in the memories of Florida scoring a rare win over Miami in the intermittent rivalry, it’s time to start looking at things from a more academic standpoint. There is, after all, an entire season still to play, and the Gators have a lot of things to clean up if they want to be a real player in the SEC East.
So, here are my five biggest takeaways from the game.
1: Florida’s defense needs to work on shedding blocks.
The Gators’ inability to tackle anybody once they crossed the line of scrimmage was the storyline on defense (oddly enough, they had no problems tackling people behind the line of scrimmage, registering ten sacks), and believe me, I’ll get to that in a minute. But the back two levels of Florida’s defense- a statement that surprisingly includes potential first round draft pick cornerbacks Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson- really struggled to disengage from blockers and get to the ball carriers on screens and quick slants. In fact, two of the Canes’ first four plays of the game were screen passes that went for 15+ yards, and that was merely the beginning of a long night for the defense.
2: Florida’s defense REALLY needs to work on tackling.
Among the more alarming missed tackles on the night were Deejay Dallas slipping through four Gators en route to a 50 yard touchdown run and Brevin Jordan bouncing off Jeawon Taylor like a pinball on his 25 yard touchdown catch. But those were just two forgettable moments on a night filled with them for Todd Grantham’s defense, and Florida really isn’t likely to survive too many more games where they tackle at the level that they did against Miami. Now, Florida looked pretty bad in the tackling department against Kentucky last year, too, so I’m fairly confident that it will get fixed soon enough, but the Gators have nowhere to go but up in that department.
3: James Houston is a budding star at LB
Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga are going to get all the ink on defense- and they deserve it, because those two absolutely wreaked havoc in the trenches. But Houston quietly enjoyed a fine evening in his first game in a larger role. He did miss a tackle on the long touchdown run by Dallas, and he did get flagged for a late hit out of bounds, but also registered a skull rattling sack on Jarren Williams and slipped an attempted block to wrap up Cam’Ron Harris in the open field on a third and seventeen draw play. The redshirt sophomore still has room to grow, and sure, Miami’s offensive line is atrocious, but it’s become clear from watching him on tape that he’s taken a monster step forward this offseason. Keep an eye on him as the season progresses.
4: Florida did everything it could to lose the game, and still won… this time.
Four turnovers, including one inside Miami’s ten yard line. Nine penalties for a hundred yards on the nose, including one on a 4th and 34. Anywhere from thirty to forty missed tackles depending on how stingy you are with officially applying that label, including four that led to one touchdown and a fifth that led to another. And still the Gators won, doing just enough on offense and taking advantage of one critical Miami error- a muffed punt by Jeff Thomas- to survive. Luckily, they have three weeks to clean all that up before their rematch with the Kentucky team that exposed those same issues last year. And clean it up they’d better, because it’s worth repeating for those overly optimistic fans who can’t see the bigger picture: Florida is really not likely to win too many more games if they play that sloppily.
5: Feleipe Franks is who he is- not great, not terrible, but a dead average quarterback.
Let’s be brutally honest with ourselves. All that offseason Heisman talk was nothing short of ridiculous. Feleipe Franks is not an elite quarterback and he’s never going to be. He’s a tough kid and that definitely counts for something, but at this point, in his fourth year of college football, Franks still cannot be trusted to not make the kind of boneheaded mistakes that he made so routinely as a freshman. His first interception of the game was tolerable alone- it was too high for Freddie Swain and too low for Tyrie Cleveland but ultimately a pill I could swallow- but he followed that up by panicking against a Miami defensive stunt and flinging a wobbling one-winged turkey into triple coverage immediately after Florida had seemingly gotten a game clinching stop to hand the Canes a lifeline back into the contest. Sure, there was no reason for Florida to be throwing the ball there to begin with, but Franks compounded that tactical error with one of his own and made a bad situation worse. Then again- he did do some positive things, like escaping a sure sack and turning it into a twelve yard run, lofting a 65 yard bomb to Josh Hammond, and buying time on a 4th and 5 play before converting it to Trevon Grimes. And that’s who he is, and always will be- a quarterback who’s equally capable of providing excellent and terrible play at any given moment. He is bipolar, and the sum of a bipolar quarterback’s output is smack in the middle of the Tom Brady-Treon Harris QB spectrum- completely average. We’ve just got to realize that watching him is the football fan equivalent of boarding the front car of a roller coaster, take the good with the bad, publicly hope for the best and privately prepare for the worst.
Verdict: well, what did you expect? It was a season opening game against an old rival with lots of hype and emotions at play. Florida didn’t play very well, committing nine penalties and turning it over four times, and has a lot of work to do between now and their road trip to Kentucky in three weeks. But if last year was any indication, they’re more than capable of making those improvements. And of course, it’s always better to learn, grow and develop after a win over a rival than a loss.