At last, it’s all over. One of the worst bowl performances in Florida Gators history is over, and now we’re left to pick up the pieces. So, let’s talk about it. What happened?
Oklahoma was MUCH better prepared for this game than Florida.
I’m not even talking about the opt-outs (although that’s obviously a part of it, because it can’t not be.) Credit Florida for fighting back down 17-0 to turn it into a 17-13 game early in the second quarter. But this team came out of the gates running on emotional fumes and then their engine died of starvation after their little Emory Jones-fueled run. And Oklahoma, for its part, was ready to pounce. The Sooners came out flying with a touchdown pass from Spencer Rattler to Marvin Mims less than two minutes in, and then Tre Norwood picked off Kyle Trask and took it to the house to stake Oklahoma a 14-0 lead thirty seconds later. And Florida couldn’t recover. Simply put, this team used up all its bullets in Atlanta a week and a half ago, and this game was decided well before toe met leather for the first time in Jerry’s Palace.
The missing starters really, really hurt.
I mean, duh. Of course they did. But that just goes to show the problem with the “man down, man up!” or “these guys were all recruited by Florida, so they should all be ready!” attitudes. It’s the same reason that teams with nine starters to replace on one side of the ball from the previous year typically struggle on that side of the ball. That’s not to say guys like Justin Shorter and (insert defensive name, maybe Derek Wingo) won’t one day become stars, but we saw tonight why they haven’t been playing much. And there’s an argument to be made that non-CFP bowl games are more about getting reps for your future starters than they are about winning, in which case, hey, we made a relatively risk-free investment. But since we’re talking about the context of the game tonight? At the risk of repeating the last line of my first takeaway, thanks in large part to the missing starters and the lack of depth that ensued, Florida was doomed before it ever set foot on the field.
Emory Jones might be the future, but he’s raw.
Putting aside the fact that Jones has more experience with the particular set of receivers who suited up and played than Trask, Jones showed some real potential. The extra ground dimension that he promises was on display early and often, as he cut up the Sooner defense on ten rushes for 60 yards. But he also showed why he hasn’t been given the reins of the offense yet. Some of his throws were right on the money, with pinpoint accuracy that even Trask has to admire. And some other throws were way, way off the mark. Overthrows, one hoppers, behind receivers in the end zone, you name it, he did it. Some of that may have been just an aggregate effect of NOBODY coming ready to play, including an offensive line which couldn’t block for him and a receiver corps that couldn’t catch his passes, but he’s got his work cut out for him this offseason.
Todd Grantham needs to be fired yesterday.
For the second consecutive game, Florida gave up over 600 yards of offense— and tonight, gave up a school record 684 yards. That’s all bad enough. Even worse than the mere numbers was the way in which his defense arrived at these statistics. The Gators were— stop me if you’ve heard this before— frequently out of position, unable to get lined up, helpless in the art of tackling, and simply bullied up front. That’s all the end result of Grantham’s scheme, which he has categorically refused to simplify or tweak at every possible turn, and now Oklahoma has a Cotton Bowl record 435 rushing yards to remember this trip to Dallas for. And then there are the personnel decisions. Maybe fans are right and Donovan Stiner shouldn’t be playing Division I football, but if that’s really the case, why is he continually out there? Why did it take Marco Wilson opting out to get him off the field? And so on. Oh, sure, Grantham wasn’t the only coach who didn’t do his job for this game, but he’s the one who has consistently failed to do his job all year long. And this has to be the final straw.
The verdict: this offseason will seal Mullen’s fate
The short sighted will see this result and say it was a meaningless bowl game that Florida fans shouldn’t care about losing because a third of the team was missing. Those who care to understand college football are well aware of why this 55-20 curb-stomping is just a symptom of greater problems— and then there’s the deeper problem of why stepping on a field with a blue blood opponent in one of college football’s most tradition-rich bowl games isn’t motivation enough, but we’ll save that for later. This loss was a fitting end to a season that began showing cracks in the foundation against Vanderbilt and began really spiraling out of control when a so-called “senior leader” penalized his team to a loss in a rivalry game. Florida wasted three of the best offensive players it’s ever going to get this season (Trask, Pitts and Toney), and in a game without two of them, we saw just how frightening things can get. The question is where Mullen goes from here. We know he’s going to have to rebuild, as Toney and Pitts and Trevon Grimes are all gone— and Trask probably is too. As he rebuilds, does he adapt, place his defense in the hands of someone more competent, learn to make personnel changes when an abundance of game tape suggests that he should, and use this failure as a springboard for the future? For either better or worse, we’ll soon find out. Because if he thinks what happened on the field in the last several games really is “The Gator Standard,” he isn’t going to survive here.