It’s not too farfetched a concept: as the talent level of the opposition increases, the number of miscues the Gators make increase as well. But for the third straight week, Florida managed to win anyway.
Thanks to touchdown runs by Kelvin Taylor and Will Grier, plus an early Vernon Hargreaves interception that was returned deep into Kentucky territory to set up the aforementioned Grier touchdown run, Florida knocked off Kentucky for the 29th straight time to start the year at 3-0. It didn’t matter that Florida made a myriad of mistakes, which included a bad decision by Grier deep in UK territory which turned into an interception in the end zone, ten penalties and a blown assignment on defense allowing Patrick Towles to run for 33 yards on third and long.
But a similar set of errors probably will matter as the schedule gets tougher.
Let’s start with Grier. He’s the QB I’ve been advocating for since he exploded at the start of fall camp. Some have criticized my calling for Grier by saying he’s not perfect either, to which I responded with this:
And if and when you name Grier the starting quarterback? He’s probably going to make mistakes as all freshmen do. But his ceiling is higher than Harris’ is, and you need to let him go through those growing pains and stick with him. Sometimes trial by fire is how young quarterbacks become great ones, and the more reps he gets in live game action, the quicker and more fully you will see him develop. And whatever mistakes he does make are guaranteed to be cause fewer problems than continuing to rotate two quarterbacks will.
Well, sure enough, Grier finally did make that costly mistake, and it was a pretty bad one at that. He threw the ball into the corner of the end zone where there was no way his receiver could possibly come down with it. It’s damaging enough to throw an interception in the end zone, but it’s particularly crippling when it’s on first and goal. That was a truly awful decision by Grier. So do we bench him for it? No. We let him learn from it. And given his high football IQ and the sensational offensive minds he’s working with, I’m pretty confident that he will.
Then there were the penalties. All ten of them. I can live with the late hits and face masks because those penalties typically result from hustle plays, but multiple false starts and illegal procedures just don’t happen on good teams. That’s 22 of them in the last two weeks, by the way. Gotta clean that up. Of course, easier said than done, but these sorts of things can’t happen if Florida wants to compete for the things they made clear before the season that they should be competing for.
On the bright side, the defense stepped it up after getting gashed against East Carolina and stymied the Wildcats’ offense all night. As expected, the return of Vernon Hargreaves at corner and Keanu Neal at safety did a lot to stifle Kentucky’s Air Raid offense, which produced just 126 yards through the air. There were moments of weakness, such as Towles breaking free on third and long for a gigantic gain to keep the game going, but overall the defense was outstanding. Between Hargreaves’ interception and long return, Alex McCalister’s two sacks, Jonathan Bullard’s (essentially) game ending sack and Quincy Wilson’s (actually) game ending pick, Geoff Collins’ defense did a fantastic job.
Finally, we as fans should take at least one second to reflect on something. Florida just beat Kentucky for the 29th consecutive time, which means that the Gators are currently in possession of the nation’s longest winning streak over another school. That’s amazing. Where else in organized sports, from Pee Wee football to high school baseball to the NBA and everywhere in between, do you see a streak like that? 29 straight times, Kentucky has taken the field against Florida only to trudge off as losers. The number has become something that’s numbing to Gator fans, as every year now, we see it grow by one- and it’s almost like, oh, cool, who do we play next? Yet as we saw with Vanderbilt in 2013 (thanks Muschamp), no streak lasts forever, so you can’t ever take one for granted. This is something that’s really cool, so let’s cherish it.
But while I felt it was important to throw in a paragraph about the streak, neither the win last night nor the entire streak should be cherished for too long, as now the Gators have another streak they need to get to work on extending. Tennessee pays a visit to the Swamp next week, and they’re a better football team than Kentucky. So while the win and the streak are great, it’s time to get right back to work, or both will be forgotten amidst what could be the beginning of a season defining nosedive.