2008 doesn't open well for UF

Published: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 9:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 9:04 p.m.

ORLANDO — This wasn't about Lloyd Carr going out a winner.

It wasn't about the Heisman jinx or the fact that Tim Tebow threw what should have been two touchdowns on one possession and ended up with no points.

It wasn't about those last two non-drives that went nowhere or Florida depending too much on Percy Harvin.

What Tuesday's Capital One Bowl was about more than anything was expectations for next season at Florida.

And those expectations should be that you can't include Florida in any conversations about a national championship next year because of its defense.

We thought we had seen improvement as the year went along but any improvement, any high hopes for next season were quashed by a defense that looked inept against a Michigan team that scored three points in its final regular-season game.

“I don't think we tackled well and we certainly didn't cover well,” Urban Meyer said after the game.

Instead, Michigan made Florida look like the worst fears for Gator fans as this season approached — that the defense would be a problem.

You can say this is a young defense, but in game 13 it shouldn't be this bad.

Not 28 first downs bad.

Not 10-for-15 on third-down conversions bad (and that included a kneel down at the end of the game).

Not 524 yards bad.

And certainly not 41 points bad.

But it was bad.

I asked Meyer after the game if he was especially disappointed that his defense would play this poorly this deep into the season.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The combination of a lack of pressure and loose coverage killed us.”

Chad Henne, the Michigan quarterback, had all day to throw. And when he did, there were usually Michigan receivers open.

“We had some messed-up coverages,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “And when we messed up, the quarterback did a good job of finding receivers.”

Henne threw for 373 yards against Florida's secondary. If not for a pair of Mike Hart fumbles at the goal line, the Wolverines would have put half-a-hundred on the Gator defense.

“We've got a lot of growing up to do,” linebacker Brandon Spikes said.

Yeah, but the question that we've had throughout the season isn't going away now that it's over — can Florida get better on defense?

The cornerbacks looked terrible on Tuesday. Will a year under their belts really help? Certainly, 12 games of experience did not.

“Our cornerbacks have to play better than that,” receiver Percy Harvin said.

And if Derrick Harvey turns pro as expected, what about the pass rush? It was an issue all season and was a huge issue on Tuesday.

If this game was supposed to be a launching point for the 2008 season, you wonder where getting shredded will send this defense.

Meyer put some of the blame on his coaches but these were the same coaches who did such an outstanding job last year. I don't think it was a coincidence that Meyer brought up recruiting when he talked about the problems his team had in this game.

Speaking of his defensive backs, Meyer said, “That's an area where we are sub-par right now.”

This wasn't the offense's best game, either. The offensive line couldn't block Michigan and Tebow threw for a season-low in yards. The Wolverines took his running game away for the most part and put him in a situation where the Heisman winner has not excelled this season — coming from behind late in a game. UF's third-down conversions were a dismal 2-of-11.

But Florida still scored 35 points — even after botching a second-quarter red zone trip — which should have been enough.

“It's very disappointing,” Spikes said. “I thought we had something going in the last four games of the season. This opened our eyes that we didn't. It let us know we have a lot of work to do in the offseason.”

But after watching that defensive performance on Tuesday, you wonder if this defense can improve enough to make Florida a contender next season because it is a giant leap that is required.

I've said during the weeks leading up to this game that if Florida can be average on defense in 2008, the Gators could be playing for a national title.

But 2008 did not get off to an average start for the defense. It was bad.

Real bad.

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