The Back Nine: Gators may have to grind it out

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Florida running back Lamical Perine picks up yards against LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in last year's game. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

The Back Nine comes at you after a bye week that included watching a lot of football with my Dad, hitting a perfect dive bar in St. Augustine and mainly just decompressing. Let’s go, it’s Florida-Georgia week.

10. If you are looking for one of those hidden stats that might give you a clue about Saturday’s game, here’s a juicy one for you — if Florida is going to beat Georgia, the Gators most likely are going to have to grind it out. Georgia leads the nation in allowing the fewest plays of 20 or more yards. Florida has shown the ability to move the chains, but what the Gators can’t do is get into one of those games where they keep going three-and-out. Or is that too Captain Obvious for you? Here is something even more obvious — Florida can’t fall behind 21-0 in the first 7:28 of the game like it did last year. The game was literally over at that point even though the defense did not allow another score for 15-plus minutes of playing time as Georgia went into the deep freeze. If you remember, Jake Fromm only completed four passes in the game, only one to a receiver. But these are different teams this year. Georgia doesn’t run like it did in 2017 with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, but has a not-so-secret weapon in backup quarterback Justin Fields. And, of course, everything about Florida is different.

11. You never know how a team will respond to an open week, but both teams had them so it really shouldn’t make much difference. I guess the biggest difference is Georgia is coming off a loss and Florida off five straight wins. While there are some who will tell you LSU gave the rest of Georgia’s opponents a blueprint for how to beat the Bulldogs, I’ve always believed that a loss like that also gives that team a blueprint on how it needs to improve. And that’s something we will see Saturday, which blueprint works. When you have it going like Florida has had it going, the bye week can be good or bad. “I get that question every year,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “Does a bye week help or hurt? I’ll tell you Saturday at about 7:15.” I don’t think there is any question that this team really needed a mental break, but the physical break didn’t hurt either. “It got our legs back,” said linebacker Rayshad Jackson. “It was a good time (to have a bye). We needed to get our bodies back.”

12. It feels like this football season has a little March Madness survive and advance feel to it. Sometimes being off on a weekend can be the best thing that can happen to you. Florida somehow leapfrogged UCF in the AP poll even though the Gators were eating cheeseburgers while UCF was winning with its backup quarterback. I can’t really explain it (I had Florida 11th on my ballot) except that I think there is a reluctance by a lot of voters to elevate UCF much higher than 10th because of who they play. I admire what the Knights have done over the last two seasons, but don’t give me the argument that they would be ranked higher if it said SEC on their shoulder patches. If they were undefeated with an SEC schedule, yes. It’s just different. And the UCF streak is, or should be irrelevant. What last year’s team did has nothing to do with this season.

13. Boy, did Twitter have a field day with Urban Meyer after that embarrassing performance against Purdue. The Boilermakers’ story was the highlight of an otherwise blase Saturday, especially Tyler Trent. He’s the Purdue superfan who made it to the game despite an ongoing battle with bone cancer. You take that story and the national dislike of Meyer and it felt like 99 percent of the nation was rooting against the Buckeyes. Twitter went to Cheap Shot City after the game, wondering if Meyer would remember the loss or whether he would delete it from his phone or whether he would end up in the hospital. Cruel. Meyer has brought some of it on himself, but I worry about the man’s health. The thing I can’t help but wonder is whether all of the drama — from Meyer’s faux suspension to Nick Bosa bailing — has had some of effect on the team. The Bucks may be missing some leadership from the top down. But they are not my problem.

14. Closer to home, it’s becoming as agonizing to watch Nick Fitzgerald play the quarterback position as it has been mesmerizing to watch Tua Tagovailoa play it. Look, Tua (I’m not going to try to spell it twice) is going to win the Heisman Trophy and he is a special talent. But I wonder what Feleipe Franks or even better Drew Lock could do with all the time he has to throw and all of those receivers. It’s a bit of a perfect storm offensively. On the other hand, I give you Fitzgerald, who was 8 of 24 for 59 yards with four interceptions against LSU. Now, LSU’s defense will get after you (Franks was 12 of 27 for 161 and a pick against Dave Aranda’s group) and I can’t wait to see what is going to happen in two weeks when that secondary goes head-to-head with the Alabama juggernaut. But I wonder how much Fitzgerald misses Mullen. The Bulldogs’ season is quickly slipping away with three losses in its last four games and Texas A&M and Alabama still to play.

15. By the way, here were the Vegas over/unders for the SEC before the year. If you bet, hopefully it was on LSU.

• Alabama 10.5 (looking good).

• Georgia 10.5 (still in doubt).

• Auburn 8.5 (doubtful).

• Mississippi State 8.5 (questionable).

• Florida 7.5 (good bet).

• Texas A&M 7.5 (ditto).

• South Carolina 7.5 (be very nervous).

• Tennessee 6.5 (six would be a stretch).

• LSU 6.5 (nobody saw this coming).

• Mississippi 6.5 (got a chance).

• Missouri 6.5 (shaky).

• Kentucky 5.5 (already cashed in).

• Arkansas 5.5 (not likely).

• Vanderbilt 4.5 (gonna be close).

16. Well, at least the Cleveland games are exciting. Then there is the fact that coach Hue Jackson is 2-10-1 in games decided by three points or less. “Hard Knocks” got my family into the Browns to the point we almost went to Tampa to watch Sunday’s game. We could have seen what may be the two dumbest teams in America play. Anyway, I’ve run out of holes so let me finish with these quick hitters:

• Dartmouth won again to go to 6-0. Why do you care? The coach is former Gator assistant and a good friend Buddy Teevens and the placekicker is Connor Davis, son of Gator legend Judd Davis. Harvard this week, then the big showdown with Princeton.

• Valdosta State overcame The Back Nine jinx to win 44-21 Saturday and Kerwin Bell’s team is 8-0 with a bye week this week.

• Some people believe you can’t have two favorite teams in one sport. I disagree. Go Sawx!

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from ESPN Insider Brad Edwards — “Ohio State’s last 4 losses have all been by more than 14 points. In 12 seasons at Alabama, Nick Saban has never lost a game by more than 14.” That says a lot about both programs.

18. It was a great few days getting away from it all and recharging the batteries to get ready for the stretch run. These next five weeks, you’re back on the treadmill. This playlist should help:

• “False Confidence: by Noah Kahan.

• “5 Dollars” by Christine and the Queens.

• “Fool” by the Villagers.

• “Keep Lying” by Donna Missal.

• And for an oldie, in celebration of this weekend’s celebration, “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me)” by Thomas Earl Petty and his Heartbreakers.

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

59 COMMENTS

  1. This game is why College Football is best: DRAMA…we all know what could happen, but which will it be:
    (1) Gators play tough D, solid kicking game and generate just enough points for a win or
    (2) Same as (1) but lose a close one or
    (3) Franks and O are exposed with pressure INTs for an embarrassing lose or
    (4) UGA is exposed and shutdown for a solid Gator win?

    Either way it goes, I believe it will define our season as either Great or Good with a “bad season” now off the table (short of a collapse the rest of the way, very unlikely). We now have proven performances that leave no excuse to not have either a good or great effort, with no reason for a bad one!

      • At 7 games played, the team is 6-1 with one of those wins over the #5 team in the country, actually #4 now, as opposed to being 3-4 like they were last season. They’re sitting at #66 in total offense, as opposed to #109. They’re at #22 in total defense as opposed to #69. The team is dominating second halves this season instead of wilting and getting manhandled. There aren’t 15 starters injured or suspended. Fans are going into games excited and expecting to win as opposed to saying what else can I do instead of watch the Gators lose. What exactly is questionable about what Pooky said?

          • No, I don’t think he’s saying that at all — just give him some room to explain. It’s not like he’s some crack pot or troll, and he’s definitely not “clueless” all of a sudden. (Neither are you, for that matter)

          • Not that Sly needs my help, but he’s probably suggesting that a simple comparison of records from last season to this season isn’t an “apples to apples” comparison, and, therefore, not a valid criterion for comparing coaching success. Many of Mac’s critics (not necessarily including Pooky in that group) seem to ignore the “perfect storm” of problems, many that were not Mac’s fault, that led to the dismal 4-7 record last season. I think everyone is aware of those problems without me listing them, so I’ll save the space. I don’t think Sly is discounting the job Mullen has done this season, and neither am I. Mac created plenty of problems for himself last season, but to ignore the many problems that were not of his own making is intellectually dishonest and, perhaps, “clueless” as well.

          • Thanks Doc and John Shiver for having my back. I’m not saying Mullen is a bad coach or that he isn’t better than McElwain for that matter. I’m just questioning the logic used to arrive at the conclusion.

            Using similar logic as Pooky:
            1. Premise 1: A student fails second grade while missing 9 school days do to an illness. He had Mrs. Smith for a teacher.
            2. Premise 2: Next year, the same student repeats second grade and passes with high marks while he is one year older and more experienced and did not miss any school days. He had Mrs. Jones for a teacher.
            3. Conclusion: Therefore, Mrs. Jones is a better teacher than Mrs. Smith. (Questionable)

            While the conclusion could be true, the logic used to reach it is questionable.

            I’ve explained my thoughts a couple of times in previous threads recently. Coaching over the short term (7 games is relatively short term), while an important variable in a winning equation, doesn’t make as big a difference as most Gator fans like to believe. If we can agree that Mullen, Chip Kelly, and Scott Frost are all good coaches based on them being on the short list to fill the UF vacancy, then Nebraska and UCLA would be having a better season than they are currently if good coaching is the difference. You could put Saban and Meyer at UCLA and Nebraska, and I believe they would still be struggling to win games season.

      • Sly, I’m no brain surgeon or football expert, but here is the ” logic ” that I can see. Mrs Smith ran the most predictable and uncreative offense imaginable that was apparently so complicated, the coaches themselves couldn’t understand how to make it work, she also had zero clock management skills, fielded the worst special teams units other than the specialist that our school has seen in decades. She was known as a “quarterback whisperer ” AND YET couldn’t manage to develop flippy beyond high school level in the year + that she worked with him. Any damage that she could manage to inflict on an opponent was done on the 1st drive and it was all downhill after that. On top of all that, she apparently forgot to brush her teeth every morning. ( now what kind of example is that setting for the kiddies ? ) Meanwhile, Mrs Jones has taken the same class of students, ingrained true grit into them, injected imagination and surprise into the offense, turned the special teams into a strength of the team and the team itself into a gritty warrior mentality that gets better as the game goes on instead of fading down the stretch. She also has turned the class dunce into a honor roll student in the 9 months or so that she’s had to work with him and his grades are now in the upper half of his peer’s. I think Mrs Jones has earned ” teacher of the year” award no matter what the outcome is at this weekends cocktail party.. GO GATORS !

        • I knew what BC said before he said it, because its the truth, he has it right. Its amazing it could be so clear yet people like Sly cant see it. Ive seen this same story over and over again in football and all sports teams. Its just a simple fact, and it’s unbelievable anyone cant see it. In fact I thought Pooky’s comments were from someone very young since he was amazed at the obvious!

        • BC, If we cast our memory back, we can offer a reverse scenario/outcome (which reinforces the importance/influence of good v. bad coaching).

          Let’s return to the Salad Days of Steve Spurrier’s tenure as HBC. He got Rex Grossman (Rex Grossman!) into a seat at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Now I’ll argue that Rex had more arm talent than any QB SS had to work with. But, c’mon – Rex Grossman? SS jumps to the NFL. In comes Kozo the Clown and Ed Zaunsucker who promptly turn the Heisman Finalist into a scuffling piker throwing 2 yd. outs (with a corresponding diminishing win total).

          Coaching matters – especially with the teaching that goes on at the college level. Player development matters just as much as recruitment (Kozo and Muschump were good recruiters). Dan Mullen is WAY better than Mac. Go Gators.

  2. ”LSU 6.5 (nobody saw this coming).”
    Well, L.S.U. and Miss. State had only ‘1’ T.D. in the entire game between them both. And L.S.U. was the benefactor of that touchdown. Whereas Florida vs. Miss. State had, well, more than ‘1’ T.D. between them.
    What does that mean? Every game is different, but I still think Florida, ironically, has more offense than both Miss. State and L.S.U. So how does that apply to the ”World’s Largest Outdoor Coacktail Party”?
    I haven’t a clue! But this I do know: ‘IF’ Florida can ”grind out” some 1st downs, but still have enough explosive plays in the game to keep U.G.A. on their heels, instead of their toes, well, Florida can win this big SEC Eastern Division rivalry in J’ville, FL. Go Gators! Work those ugly Dawgs over! Chomp-Chomp!

    • Hey GI — you just nailed it. “If Florida can grind out some first downs, but still have enough explosive plays to keep UGA on their heels instead of their toes……”.

      I think the “3 & Out” that Pat is referring to is what I have affectionately termed “Gator 3 & Out Purgatory”. That’s where the Gators consistently keep going 3 & Out, but even worse, don’t seem to realize that the clock is still ticking, thus only showing signs of life in the final few minutes of the game by which time it’s far too late. Now frankly, I haven’t seen that curse in a very long time — at least since Dan Mullen has been here. So part and parcel to our success this year has been the gumption….the pluck….the drive…..and yes, the character….to not only grind out first downs, but to score when we need to. That’s exactly what has brung us to this dance, and we need to keep on being “that team”. If so, we win in a character driven slug fest by a tight margin, and shock the hell out of everybody except for Gator fans. If we don’t win, but still have played the same game, we walk away proud just the same and it still speaks volumes about this year’s team under Dan Mullen regardless of being our “biggest rivalry game”.

  3. Grind it out is exactly what this football team has been doing! With an average of just under 200 yards per game, you nickname the offense ground and pound. The passing average is just over 200, so it’s balanced. But again, this is the Dan Mullen offense. There are no fireworks, no deep threats, and no wide receivers that put fear into the opponent of “what happens if we don’t double cover him?” No no, this is the offense of run, bubble screen, wide receiver screen, jet sweep, ect….. with the goal of getting a player into space for yards after catch. Dan Mullen’s offense is predicated on a big play for 65 yard touchdown coming off at 5 yard screen pass.
    And yet, here we are with a 6-1 record and a huge game in front of us to determine if we are still in the running for the SEC Eastern Division. Kentucky may be the Cinderella story this year, but I only picked them to beat Florida on the law of averages you can’t beat a team every year. If Florida can find a way to win Saturday, then Georgia becomes our best friend. (can I get a go dogs sick em?! thought not) Anyway, this game means quite a bit to this season, and to see where Florida measures up.
    Finally, can we please talk seriously about moving the game from Jacksonville. What is it about that city that has a stranglehold on this series. (those of you screaming tradishin at the top of your lungs need to be able to spell the word correctly) Without this game Jacksonville has nothing. Both schools have better facilities. Both schools have better atmospheres. Both schools are college campus facilities!! So we’ll go to the teal stadium and once again have a 50/50 split so the crowd noise and the atmosphere is lame. Oh, and one more thing, if you’re a Gator fan, and you’re taking your kids to the game, teach them the words to “To Hell with Georgia” THE WHOLE SONG NOT JUST THE CHORUS. It’s embarrassing to have to teach teenagers and even young adults the song their parents should have taught them. Bonus points though to Gator Grandpas teaching their 5-7 year old kids the song! You’re the few keeping it going.

    • Before taking into consideration the fact that it’s a tradition to play in Jacksonville, I’ve said it before it’s all about money. The teams recently signed a 5 year contract to keep the game in Jacksonville till 2021. That contract pays each school $2.75 million for travel and expenses, while UGA gets an additional $350,000 for air travel. We all know they’re pocketing a lot of that money as traveling and expenses won’t cost nearly that much. Add on the fact that each team also splits the gate or ticket revenues and it gets to be a large amount of money for each team If they were to play a normal home and home series, each team makes about $2.3 million per home game, which means they get that every other year. By playing in Jacksonville and splitting the gate and ticket revenue, each team pockets an additional $1.8 million give or take every season. So instead of making $2.3 million every other season, each team gets about $4.5 million a year to play there. It’d be pretty stupid for the schools to give that up. The Game has been played on a neutral field since 1933 and based on all that money, it’s safe to say that will continue. It’ll more than likely stay in Jacksonville as I’m guessing the city won’t want to give up the $35 million or so the game generates for them.

    • Grump , the only offense you are describing was the MSU game. Every other game we have scored after a deep pass during the game. That’s why the scores were much higher than the MSU game(which was done to negate their supposed great pass rush)(the screens produced short yards but long drives and we dont score well in the red zone, best from outside it).
      Joe’s explanation of why Jax, blows you away!

  4. “Cruel?” Urban Meyer is a bad guy. It’s nice to nuance your take on Meyer, but he wrecked the Gators for almost a decade, and has shown himself to be an unethical manipulator of any and all. I’ll cheer against the OSU Blackeyes with everything as long as that creep is their leader, along with his phony memory loss and his naked phone deletes. Keep excusing this as “health” Dooley, but you don’t believe it either.

    • Man, I swear I saw 2010 Meyer on OSU’s sideline during that Purdue game. I would be surprised if he didn’t leave coaching in the next couple of years. He seems to be really stressed and at least once a year OSU gets blown out.

    • Meyer “wrecked” the Gators? 2 National Championships, “wrecked” the Gators? A coach leaving “wrecks” a team? Coaches leave teams all the time, its up to the AD’s to pick a great coach to replace him. The AD’s pick “wrecks” a team! But it really hard to get a great coach in football, they dont grow on trees and they arent a dime a dozen, they are really rare! Fate “wrecked” the gators and fate has saved them! We only had to wait 9 years, bama had to wait DECADES(25 yrs)! From Bear Bryant to Nick Saban!

  5. I’m going minimum on the exotic-o-meter here. I’m looking at penalties as the key to the game. Kinda boring, huh? Grind it out? Please do. And help yourself by letting Dawg Scum win the “penalty battle”. Heck, I’ll go ahead and challenge the Dawgies to at least double up the Gators in penalty yards. Early in the season I was praising the Gators for reducing the stupid, numbing, crippling penalties that were such a key element of the Muschump and McElfail game day experience. This game more than any – with all the raging emotion of facing your biggest rival – will be a test of the control and discipline the coaching staff has over the team. Play hard, Gators. Play smart. Stay in your shoes. No “targeting” penalties. Don’t give Dawg Scum any free yards. Chomp down – with EXTREME prejudice. Go Gators.

  6. As the old rivalry game adage goes, here’s a match-up where you away the stats. There is a perceptual difference between these two teams that was forged a year ago: Georgia, the “new” Alabama, and Florida, a broken program without an offensive line or a worthy quarterback. The measurable advantages this Georgia team possesses, in fact, may be more due to a schedule of soft opponents. The only common opponent, LSU, took a solid beating from the Gators and delivered a humbling beat down of the Bulldogs. Perception rather than performance has UGA ranked ahead of the Gators, but Florida has done more. I’m picking UF.

    • Yea, if we had more than 1 game to rely on i might agree with you. Soft schedule, yes, but so have the Gators and the dawgs have won theirs more convincingly. If the gators win convincingly, then you were right, but its a guess, with only 1 game to rely on. BTW I did bet on LSU, the last game and cleaned up. I might put just 100 on the gators but it will be a throwaway and since i would be throwing it away, I’d use the moneyline, since they are the underdogs because it will pay out big and I’d just toss the points , since I’d consider it lost money anyway.

    • More than perception has Dawg Scum ranked ahead of the Gators. They’ve kind of retro-earned it – kind of momentum/residual glory. UGA DID accomplish a LOT last season. Yeah, I know. There’s no “mo” from season to season. But human nature says there is. Until they prove to be frauds, they get the benefit of the doubt from poll makers. “Common opponent” is a tricky criteria. Va. Tech thumped the Nolies and then promptly lost to Old Dominion. Does anybody really think ODU is better than FSU? O.K., bad example. It’s super tempting to say LSU beat UGA and UF beat LSU, therefore it’s all Gators all the time on Saturday. Maybe. Hopefully. Allegedly. Mostly the Gators have had long term “mo” in this series since Steve Spurrier changed the mindset/culture from sad sack, lovable losers to MIGHTY GATORS! Vince Dooley and Hershel Walker will ALWAYS be the monsters under my bed. But neither of those guys will be setting foot on that field. Go Gators.

    • Yeah. I wrote the UF athletic dept, probably in the 90’s when we had the home and home with UGA, asking that they keep it home and home, and I got a letter back that just had a lot of blah, blah, blah. Reading between the lines I concluded that it was about the money and that the venue wasn’t going to change. What I have never, ever seen or read about is how much more money UF gets from the Jax game than they do from all the advantages and money we get from when we have the home game.

    • Money makes the world go round, besides I love the game being in Jax.! Its ALWAYS on broadcast TV so everyone can see it. No ESPN which 40% of households dont have or SEC network which even less households have! I became a gator fan as a boyscout, ushering at the Fla/Ga game!

  7. Is calling out Urban Meyer’s hypocrisy taking a cheap shot?

    Pat, is covering the college football team you love such a difficult gig? You make it sound like you’re going into a coal mine for 14 hours a day. Anyway, I’m glad you’re refreshed and hoping you’ll pick Georgia this week.

  8. Meyer brought it upon himself bottom line; he is responsible for his actions. Dooley has been just fine with bashing the Gators over the past years. Even going as so far to say this current Gator Football team; was a 2-10 team after Kentucky. Defending Meyer is comical at best.

  9. I called the MSU and LSU wins if we executed well, at the line of scrimmage, and we did.

    Vandy took us the first quarter to wake up after the LSU game, but the rest of that game the offense went nuts and put up nearly 600 yards and 37 points, and we left about 14 on the field.

    Add to that the atrocious, one-sided, home town officiating UF had to overcome in Nashville, I was pretty proud of our guys.

    Against UGA, theres four primary things we have to do to win this game…

    1) Tackle well on defense (tackle on first contact),

    2) Block well on offense,

    3) Win the battle of first downs (stuff their offense into 2nd and 3rd down and longs, and get AT LEAST four yards on most first downs),

    4) Play sold special teams.

    Its not going to be anything more complicated than that. Play good, solid fundamental assignment football.

  10. channel 13 weatherman paul delagatto says that the weather in jax will be cooler, breezy and drying on saturday. thats suited for grinding it out, of course a few good passes will help. expect both teams to have plenty in the tank at the end even if it goes to overtime. but my wife, normally a sceptic, thinks it may well be gators 30 to nothing for georgia by the third quarters and made some plans so i will have to listen to the end on the radio.