First, I would like to begin this post by congratulating Billy Donovan on win number 400. That is a huge accomplishment that was due in large part to his back to back national championship teams.
2011 was supposed to be a new era for Gator football, and it was. But not exactly the way we thought it would be. We saw our offense struggle once again, in particular our offensive line, our defense couldn’t come up with turnovers, and we drew enough penalty flags to form a new continent.
Some things improved from last year, while others got worse. One thing that declined was our record, which was due to our stunning inability to win tight games. Will Muschamp was right: it’s unacceptable. So he has taken some of the blame.
Which is good, since he is the head coach and his Gators repeatedly got flagged for the most uncalled for penalties imaginable, often directly leading to a score for the opponent and occasionally even changing the momentum of the entire game. This is definitely his fault, to have his team be so undisciplined that they lead the nation in penalties. That’s on the coach, no doubt. Obviously, it’s the players’ fault for committing them, and occasionally the referee will make a mistake, but Muschamp’s job is to install discipline into his players so that they don’t do stupid things.
The hustle penalties- late hits, pass interference, roughing the passer- are tolerable, because it shows fire in a player, and as hard as it is to cool a player down sometimes, it’s much harder to do the reverse- plant the fire in them. But the Gators’ penalties were mostly unacceptable ones, either pre-snap or post-whistle. Opponent has a third and four at midfield? Encroachment Gators. First down, frive continues. Opponent has a third and goal at the 3? Unnecessary roughness, Florida. First and goal at the one. We have a third and 2 at midfield? False start, Florida, now it’s third and seven and our offensive line breaks down for a sack.
That segues nicely into the next big problem we had. Our offensive line couldn’t protect Brantley to save their lives, leading to sacks, bad decisions which turned into picks or at least an incompletion and fumbles. This falls partly on them, but mostly on Weis for not toughening them up, injuries for decimating them and youth. Steve Addazio can also be blamed, since he recruited the offensive line and attempted, unsuccessfully, to coach them. Help is on the way, however, with a trio of top 15 linemen in the nation- Jessamen Dunker, Omari Phillips and DJ Humphires. But youth will likely cause some of the same results and blocking failures next year. Hopefully, they will learn and improve as the season goes on.
Speaking of improvement and learning, that’s something the Gators did the opposite of on the offensive side of the ball. The problems started against FAU, though they were not nearly as prominent as they became as the season progressed. Nor did they happen as frequently. Through the first four games, they didn’t matter, since Florida dispatched four bowl-less teams by a combined 125 points.
But after that, starting in Game 5 against Alabama, the problems all got worse. They continued the downward slide against LSU. Neither of those games bothered me, since those teams will likely play for the BCS Championship. What bothered me was that Auburn, who surrendered 38 points and 449 yards to Chuckie Keeton and Utah State, completely shut down our offense. We couldn’t even get in the end zone once. It just got worse from there- Georgia busted coverages a few times but overcame them to win, Vanderbilt let Demps get loose, SC completely shut us down, Furman nearly pulled off an upset and FSU shut us down as well.
Each and every game got worse. Against Alabama, we gained 222 total yards of offense, and 65 of them came on the opening play of the game. Of course, we cannot discount it, but still. LSU allowed us 213 yards of total offense. Then, Auburn allowed just 168 yards of offense. Georgia allowed 226 yards- but once they got their starters back in the second half, Florida’s offense completely stopped. The Gators lost 19 yards on the ground the whole game. Credit the offensive line for this, as we know what Demps and Rainey could do with good blocking and even a small hole.
The blame for that can be placed on Muschamp. A head coach must do three things in his first year: make sure his team improves from week 1, hold on and at least partially save the departing coach’s last recruiting class and make sure his team plays with discipline. Muschamp saved Meyer’s final class, but failed to do the other two. Not that it’s really all his fault, though.
So now let’s add one more piece of this blame puzzle: Urban Meyer.
Over time, my feelings toward him have gradually changed. I am becoming more and more appreciative of the good he did for us. However, there were so many better ways he could have orchestrated this. Raiding our current coaching staff, including fantastic strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marrotti, is not something that sits well with me. Yes, it is a business, but it’s wrong to steal assistants unless the assistant calls Meyer and asks for a job. It’s the same with recruits- if they call Meyer asking to play for OSU, it’s different than if Meyer snags them on his own. There’s still a lot to be determined regarding Urban Meyer’s legacy at UF, and how he puts together his staff at OSU will pretty much determine it, at least for me.
Coach Meyer, I’m sorry, and I really respect what you did in Gainesville, but I would like to say that the mess we are in now is all your fault. All of it. You simply handed off what you even admitted to Muschamp was “a broken program” and left. Whatever the reason, that does not look good on your part. You must understand that.
You also could have been a little more honest about the whole thing: for instance, you said in your introductory press conference that you were first offered the job on “last Sunday”, which was November 20th. You were quoted on November 23rd saying that you had not received an offer, and just wanted to spend Thanksgiving with your family. Then there was your quote about being totally committed to fixing the program after the 2010 FSU game. Not even two weeks later, you retire. Come on, man.
And I have no idea how to prove it, but somehow, someway, former Gator running back coach Stan Drayton was involved in this. If he wasn’t, it’s the single freakiest coincidence I have ever seen. As soon as Drayton left Florida for Ohio State- sorry Buckeyes fans, but that’s a lateral move at best and a major downgrade at worst- the red (or more accurately, scarlet) flag went up. I cannot explain how the NCAA’s sanctions or Jim Tressel or even Luke Fickell were involved in this- but SOMETHING IS WRONG HERE.
It’s all just too shady to believe everything fed to us by the media. It just doesn’t jive. Something is missing, or wrong.
Whatever it is, though, it doesn’t matter. The fact is that Urban Meyer handed over a broken program to Will Muschamp- and then got away before he could take the blame. Sorry, coach. You still have to accept it. These are your players, or at least Addazio’s players and please do not make me go through all of Addazio’s deficiencies AGAIN. We all know why he was the opposite of a fan favorite. Anyway, his problems were your problems, since you directly employed him and refused to terminate said employment.
Basically, whatever was Addazio’s fault was Meyer’s fault for the simple reason that Meyer refused to fire him. And everything was Meyer’s fault to a major degree, since these were all his players and it was clear as day that John Brantley was just as comfortable in the spread as a Mormon is getting a lap dance. The transition from a spread to a pro offense is a difficult one, and I’m not blaming Meyer or Muschamp or Weis for that. That’s part of the game- new coaches often implement their own schemes of preference, and you can’t blame them- that’s just the way they coach.
What can be pinned on Meyer was that he left behind players that got into trouble (see Janoris Jenkins, Dee Finley, etc.), didn’t want to be part of the program (see Robert Clark, Mike Blakely, Javares McRay, Chris Dunkley, etc.), or just simply never broke out the way they were expected to (see John Brantley and Deonte Thompson). There is an alarming number of players that I did not mention that fit in any of those three categories, because thinking about it makes me want to commit assault on inanimate objects foolish enough to get in our way.
Let’s get this straight: this is not uncommon. Meyer began weeding out players after the LSU loss in 2005 that just didn’t seem to belong on his team for whatever reason. Some transferred. Others quit. Still others just got buried on the bench.
It’s Muschamp’s turn to do that, and he is still in the process of it. His players, in turn, are still in the process of deciding whether or not to stick with Will Muschamp as the man that they want to guide them to the NFL. At least, some are. Others have made up their mind one way or another in the past couple of days. Jelani Jenkins and James Wilson have taken to twitter to announce that Muschamp is their guy. Josh Shaw and Lynden Trail, on the other hand, have decided to part ways with the Gator football program.
It’s all a necessary process that takes place, so don’t freak out. That’s for opposing offenses to do next year when they face our defense.
Where’s the love for our defense been all year? It’s been silently phenomenal, allowing 20.6 points per game. Throw out Alabama and LSU and it’s 16.8 points per game. Then remember all the times the Gators’ offense either kept going three and out or directly handed the opposition free touchdowns on turnovers. The only knock against it has been the lack of turnovers forced. It is a big problem, but luckily, it’s the only problem. Muschamp can hammer away at it in bowl practices, spring practices and summer practices. The idea is to get the defensive players so sick of doing strip/pick/tip drills that they’ll force them. Hopefully, it works.
Our recruiting class appears to be an entire new offense in its own, minus the QB position: the aforementioned top 15 linemen trio, the running back tandem of Mike Davis and Matt Jones, two much bigger, more powerful running backs than Demps and Rainey, LaTroy Pittman, a speed demon at receiver, and hopefully, Stefon Diggs will join us. Signs are pointing him to Gainesville, and while they are hard to ignore, nothing is set until he signs.
The point is, this has been all Muschamp’s doing. The defense in 2010 was the opposite- it had an eerily effective way of forcing turnovers but also gave up big plays by the truckload. I’d much rather prefer it this way, with fewer yards and less takeaways, but I’d obviously like it if we could have both. The recruiting is all Muschamp and his assistants, as Meyer had only a couple of guys onboard. The count is now 17, including 7 ESPNU Top 150 players. Credit Muschamp for that.
Talent wise alone, we could have been 10-2. We were in every game except LSU, and you have to credit Alabama for putting us away in the fourth quarter. If we beat Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and FSU- games we lost by a combined 34 points- we would be in the SEC Championship Game and likely in the Capital One Bowl, which is much better than the Gator Bowl, even if we get another chance to beat Ohio State before Meyer takes the reins there.
To sum it all up: Meyer left us broken, which is fine with me. If his heart issues and family issues were what he said they were, he wasn’t the right man to lead us anyway. Who wants a coach with heart illnesses to be the guy to try to pull you out of a hole? If Meyer was a downright liar, as many believe him to be, then fine, he’s a traitor, we wouldn’t want somebody who doesn’t want us to lead us.
Wouldn’t you rather have a coach with tremendous intensity that improves your defense immediately (and defense wins championships, right?) to be your guy?
Even if Muschamp fails- and I don’t think he will- at least he’s got the heart to stick with us until the end.
We’ve made some strides, and fallen back at the same time in Year 1. But if Muschamp and Weis are half of their reputations, they will have the Gators back in the BCS Championship hunt before the current freshmen graduate.