Yes it was a win, but not too satisfying


Published: Saturday, October 24, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 25, 2009 at 1:07 a.m.

Starkville, Miss.

The fight song played sweetly into the crisp night in a stadium where the Gators haven’t celebrated for a long time. For the first time since 1996 -- and we all know what happened that season -- Florida had won its first seven games of the season.

The nation’s longest winning streak had been extended to 17 games. The teacher had beaten the pupil. The cowbells, thank goodness, had been silenced. The rowdy crowd, so hungry for any kind of success they greeted 2-yard runs like they were touchdowns, had been sent home hoarse and disappointed at the final outcome.

But probably not the final score.

Because Florida is so much better than Mississippi State it’s a joke. Still, Urban Meyer’s team flew home leaving its fans with the same feeling they’ve had most of the year.

Yeah, they won, but ...

There were a lot of buts Saturday night, some the same and some brand new. We’ve never thought of this team as being the kind of team that could make as many bone-headed plays as it did against Mississippi State. The Gators managed to keep this crowd interested for way too long.

Stunningly, Tim Tebow was on the list of decisions that were difficult to explain with his forced throw into the end zone that nearly turned the game around at the end of the half.

Then there was Dustin Doe hot-dogging after he scored what should have been the clinching touchdown and getting the ball knocked out of his hand. Had the play been overturned by replay, Doe might have had to walk home.

Another pick-six was negated by a penalty on Ryan Stamper. And then there was the unbelievably mind-blowing decision to have Tebow throw out of his end zone with a little more than four minutes left in the game and Florida up 16.

Why?

I can’t explain it. I can’t explain why this team is so miserable in the red zone. But at least they heard all of you screaming back in Gainesville to put Tebow under center and it resulted in a touchdown. Until that point Florida had run 16 plays in the red zone in the game and gained 23 yards. Florida is 2-of-15 in the red zone in the last three games.

Predictability, my friends, is not a strength.

“I didn’t coach very well,” Urban Meyer said after running his Florida record to 51-9. “I put them in tough situations in the red zone. Their defense packed it in and we missed some opportunities. It should have been a lot different at halftime.”

I can’t explain why the players made bad decisions.

I can’t explain why this team is hard to watch.

I can’t explain why Florida only throws the ball to two receivers.

I can’t explain why Tebow still takes sacks out of the pocket instead of throwing it away.

I can’t explain how Tebow could score more points for the maroon and white than he did for the orange and blue.

(I also can’t explain how a team can lose its defensive leader and still dominate.)

Before I break into The Who — Got a feeling inside/Can’t explain — maybe we just have to accept that this team is what it is.

And what is it? Unbeaten.

It’s pretty obvious after the results of Saturday’s games around the country that we thought we were tuning in to watch “The Miss America Pageant” and instead we are getting “Survivor.” And Florida was not voted off the island Saturday night.

These coaches and players still have a lot of fixing to do, but it’s easier to try to figure things out when you have zero blemishes even though you have plenty of warts.

Maybe it won’t be figured out. Maybe it can’t be.

But all I know is I had never seen Florida win a game in Starkville, Miss. And that many of the fans who followed them here can cross a line off their bucket lists.

This did not look like a national championship team by any means. But it’s one of the few that still have a chance to win it.

And it moved one step closer to the real goal of this team, which is to win the SEC East.

“The main thing I want to get through to them is that they’re 7-and-0,” Meyer said. “They’re going to be hearing a lot of criticism next week. They have a big rival coming up and they need to focus on that.”

Twice — in 1992 and 2000 — Florida came to this stadium and lost, then went on to win the division.

This time they tried something different.

They won.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or dooleyp@gvillesun.com.

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