The Back Nine: Enjoy ride while UF team grows

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Florida coach Jim McElwain is in a building process. [Cyndi Chambers/ Gainesville Sun/Correspondent]

The Back Nine comes at you with a stunner of a stat to lead it off. You know which team is 127th in total offense? Not Florida (No. 122, woo-hoo), Florida State. Of course, the Semis have only played one game. Against Alabama. Maybe it’s not such a great stat.

10. Once the euphoria of the magical moment in The Swamp began to die down and the serious complaining started to build back up Sunday, there was one thing that I think we all have to realize. All of the stumping in the summer about what a good team this should be is out the window. Those suspensions took a big slice out of this team and the truth is that Florida feels more like a team that is rebuilding rather than a team set to contend for the Top 10. Jim McElwain’s 2017 class is showing that it was as good as the rankings and the 2016 class just produced one of the greatest plays in Gator history. Florida may have some big things down the road. Look, I don’t think anybody has any aspirations any longer for this being an SEC champion or in a major bowl. The two-game sample size is enough for us to get that the Gators have a quarterback who has played a total of 84 plays in his college life with the bullets flying and that his best weapons are all underclassmen. The secondary eats off the kids meal menu. This isn’t the team McElwain was selling at SEC Media Days and it’s not the team anyone thought it would be on the morning of July 19 right before Marcell Harris blew out his Achilles and all the bad stuff started happening. But you can see how this team might get better as the season progresses and that the future is promising. Try to enjoy the growing process. If you can.

11. Well, because that was a fairly positive spin, I guess I had better go negative so people don’t think I’m going soft on the coaches, who still received a bad Rotten Tomatoes review after the game. Seriously, 80 percent of the responses to me on social media in the 24 hours after the game were negative. Anyway, I have looked at the last few seconds of the game several times and here are the mistakes that were made (not including Tennessee letting Tyrie Cleveland get behind the defense after a timeout). Feleipe Franks scrambled near a first down at the 34-plus yard line. There were 36 seconds to go. McElwain mistakenly thought there would be a measurement or that the clock would stop on a first down. Seconds ticked off as he waited for one. But the ball was clearly marked by the linesman short of the 35. The trouble was that the official who actually placed the ball down marked it a foot past the 35. First down or at least a reason to stop the clock to check. Then, the ball was moved back, but it was still on the 35 which would be a first down. When Florida finally snapped the ball, 22 seconds had passed since the end of the play and Florida still had two timeouts. “That was on me, obviously,” McElwain said. So there were a lot of mistakes made there by the officials and certainly by the head coach. It all worked out in the end.

12. I used to have a friend who would say this when we were on the golf course — no complaining about pars. Even a three-putt par was acceptable or a missed kick-in birdie try. Par is what you are shooting for, right? Another friend (yes, I have more than one friend) used the same analogy Monday when I mentioned the wrath of the fans. “Never cuss a par,” he texted. Florida won the football game Saturday. Florida gave all of its fans a moment that they will treasure for a lifetime. I see the flaws and the problems and I know this team isn’t going to make you forget the Tim Tebow years or the Steve Spurrier years. But can’t you just enjoy the moment? Even for 24 hours? No? Ok.

13. As you all are probably aware, Florida has five interceptions this season and three returned for touchdowns. But because the Gators also have lost five fumbles (plus an interception), the Gators are minus-1 in turnover margin after two games and that puts them 88th in the country. The fumbles are a real concern right now. “It’s an every-day drill,” McElwain said. “My hat’s off to the guy (Tennessee’s Justin Martin who caused Malik Davis’ goal-line fumble). We’ve shown it to our team as an example of what hustle is. You continue to work on it. They have to understand that the play is never over.”

14. In the Jerry World press box — and it feels like a month ago — the internal public address announcer kept referring to Florida’s placekicker as Eddy Pin-yay-do. We kept asking who the heck that was. And when we were watching the CBS replay and Brad Nessler referred to Pineiro the same way, my daughter looked incredulously at the TV and said, “Eddy Who?” I figured something was up. So The Back Nine went investigating and, sure enough, Pineiro came to the Florida sports information staff in the spring to correct them on the proper pronunciation of his name in Spanish. So get it straight, media boys. And no more Panera Bread puns.

15. Florida’s next opponent, Kentucky, handled South Carolina on Saturday night and the Wildcats said they were especially fired up because the Gamecock captains refused to shake hands before the game. “I’ve never seen that,” said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, “They were ready to go at it. We were ready, too.” Except the first play was a 68-yard touchdown pass. Will Muschamp apologized for the snub on Monday. He also lost Deebo Samuel, his best player, for the season. It will be interesting to see where that season goes after such a great start. Here’s one thing that all SEC schools should avoid — blackouts. Between Georgia and South Carolina, they almost always end poorly.

16. Of course, here in the SEC where hot seats are not sold separately. They are part of the standard equipment. Whistle, short sleeve windbreaker, a couple of free cars, nameplate, hot seat. Butch Jones finds himself squarely on one after that debacle of a finish. Gator fans should hope he finishes just strong enough not to win the East, but stay in the job. Meanwhile, one has to think the Barry Odom Experience is winding down at Missouri. I’m just not sure how good that job is. And back at Jerry’s World, Texas A&M and Arkansas play Saturday in what feels like a loser-leaves-town game. Hey, it just means more … buyouts. We already knew we wouldn’t be seeing the same cast of characters in Hoover, Ala., next July because Hugh Freeze won’t be there (unless he’s shopping at the Galleria). But we could possibly see a huge overhaul. And there are going to be some athletic directors with itchy trigger fingers if Chip Kelly indicates he wants back in. Stay tuned.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Danny Wuerffel. You may have heard of him — “Thank the Lord for @18franks. Cause if it were me in there, I couldn’t have thrown it that far :)” I don’t know about that. I’ve seen those commercials.

18. OK, so I tried to pick a playlist that the Gator Nation (the ones who weren’t complaining Sunday) would appreciate. It’s not so much about the music as it is the song titles:

• “Cleveland” by Jewel.

• “Happy Ever After” by the Foo Fighters.

• “Franks” by Infected Mushroom.

• “Happy Alone” by Earlimart.

• And for an old one, “Happy Together” by The Turtles.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Good column! You do your best to be technically fair. Appears fate is forcing Mac to truly build from the ground up. Hoping it will make for a stronger program? I’m trying to enjoy the season’s drama, it’s very entertaining.

  2. This difficult Kentucky game will be critical. Seems like after the egg laid against Michigan, each game seems like a MUST-WIN scenario. That will certainly be the case until Florida develops a predictably good offense.

    • Steve–I think EVERY game from now on will be critical. Nothing has really changed but for one fantastic play….and those don’t grow on trees. Even if we do get through this and somehow get to Atlanta, I can’t see anything yet that changes my mind about the two a** whuppins’ waiting at the end of the year. Unless, that is, something really changes.

      • I thought the offense looked better in the UT game than in the Michigan game. Sure, there’s a lot to improve, but I thought this young team showed improvment from the first game. I would rather be in Atlanta and get an a**whuppin than not be there. Go Gators!

      • What’s the first a** Whuppin at the end of the year, Neal? This is a young team coming together and we should be proud of their improvement and what they accomplished Saturday. We have no idea what this offense is or can be until the suspended players return. With the exception of Alabama, I don’t see anyone at the end of year giving us an a** whuppin; with or without our suspended players.

  3. I am personally just waiting to see the supposed team growth. As Muschamp mused at times, I guess Pat must see things that we do not.

  4. So, we all really “get it” now. The Football Program was talked up to be a Mercedes Benz, and in reality, it’s a rebuilt Ford that runs, and needs major body work to look good. So, as Gator fans, we learn AGAIN, two things: 1) never believe anything a head coach says, especially from March through August. 2) this is again a young team, with a lot of growing up to do. There’s a lot of young talent, and some 3 year and 4 year talent that isn’t very good. So, we’ll make the best of it, and see where the season takes us. We’ll wait till next year, because, that’s what we used to do. We will dream of days past when a post route and a seam route were completed back to back times. And we’ll welcome new talent, new recruits, and possibly fresh coaching ideas on offense next year. Next year will be the tell all year, when they are all McElwain players.

  5. Thank you Pat for #10, Gator fans need a real big reality check! I know that Urban’s last year and Muschamp’s four years were painful years to watch with our offense, but we must forget those and realize they weren’t Mac’s fault. If we can let that aggravation go, we can then truly analyze Mac’s offense solely on his efforts, so let’s do that. Year 1: the season begins with a red-shirt freshman (Grier) as the starting quarterback and the offense looks much better than Muschamps was through six games and then Grier is suspended, eventually transfers and the back up options at QB are not good. None of this is Mac’s doing as he is having to play with Muschamp’s recruits and he surely didn’t tell Grier to take the supplement. Year 2: they start the year with Del Rio at QB, he is hurt and doesn’t play in Tenn. game, plays through the Arkansas game, in which he is hurt and finishes the game but shouldn’t, and then is gone for the year. Back up transfer Appleby plays the remainder of the year and is just okay but remember, he played at Purdue for a reason and Florida took him in a transfer because he was better than Harris. All of this is just tough luck, nothing Mac could have done about the injuries and yes, all teams have injuries, but Mac was only in his second year and really has had only one recruiting class to depend on. It is now year 3 and Mac finally has a chance to start some of the players he has recruited. Most are red-shirt freshmen, which means they have NO COLLEGE EXPERIENCE, including Franks. And then, before the season even starts, the suspensions hit and take out two of your best offensive players. How in the world do you expect him to continually improve an offense, much less a whole team, with all this turmoil? Through out all this, or better “in spite off all this”, the team goes 10-4 and 9-4, wins the division both seasons, and Mac is SEC Coach of the Year his first year. Further perspective, Urban Meyer records in year 1 (9-3, didn’t win division), year 2 (13-1, won Natl. Champ.), year 3 (9-4, didn’t win division) BUT, Urban was blessed to inherit Chris Leak at QB for first two years and won tight recruiting battle for Tebow. The majority of players that Urban had for his 2nd year were Muschamp recruits. Year 2 for Urban was not a norm for most programs, so comparing his Years 1 and 3 with Mac’s first two years and it tells me that Mac has accomplished more, with less, than Meyer did. People, WAKE UP AND GET REAL, we don’t know exactly how this is gonna go with Mac as HC, but it is most likely gonna be tough this year, and not as good record wise as the last two, but we are playing a ton of true freshmen and red-shirt freshmen and they need true game experience. I feel certain that year 4 and 5 with Mac and this coaching staff, if we can keep most of them, is gonna look a whole lot better. You want a truer comparison with another program that has walked this path, one that isn’t named Alabama? Look at Clemson’s record with Dabo Swinney. Mac is building a very similar program. If that is what we have to look forward to in years 5-10, I will take it! So, as I said at the beginning, COME INTO REALITY GATOR FANS and judge Mac solely on what he has done and what he has had to deal with, not combined with his predecessor’s years.

  6. Even with all the negative mojo that has transpired since that morning that Marcell blew his Achilles, the 2 position groups that are going to kill us moving forward (due to depth) are OL and LB. Both of which you were counting on 3 True Freshmen to provide depth (V. Miller, J. Houston and K. Telfort)
    It is the failure in recruiting the last 3 years at those position groups that will come back to bite us in the backside.

  7. same story for 3 years – we are not a good football team – how can anyone not want serious change? Foley could not pick football coaches – hey I am old man I will die soon but I know a bad program and we are right now!

  8. Imagine, just for a moment, that Florida started its year playing the usual cupcakes (and didn’t have Irma hit) and Florida is sitting at 3-0, instead of 1-1. The team would be exactly the same otherwise (suspensions included). What would everyone be saying then? We lose one game against a team that might be in the playoffs this year and it is like the sky is falling. If we beat Kentucky this week (and it is a big IF), we are likely to be favorites for every game up until Georgia, which is a game that will likely decide the East. Win that game (a possibility given recent history) and we are 9-1 when FSU comes to town and SEC East Champions again. Would that be sooo horrible?

  9. Yay!

    A THIRD YEAR of “growth”! Guess next year will be a “growing” year too, then Year #5 as well?

    I said when McElwain hired Doug Nussmeier when he got here that it was a bad hire. I said after least season that Nussmeier needed to go, and I still say it… as long as Nussmeier is UF’s OC, he will hold this program back, and a feel good win over UT doesn’t change that.

    Nussmeier has not coordinator/run a top 100 offense in four years so far. I like Coach mac, but he has to stop hiring pals and buddies and start hiring ruthless, aggressive, and innovative assistants to his staff, starting with offensive coordinator.

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