A Gator stinker to end season
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 1:14 a.m.
NEW ORLEANS — Now I get it.
Now I understand why so many of you in Gator Nation chose to stay home rather than invest in a trip to the Big Easy to watch your team play.
You wanted to be able to turn the game off and go to bed.
You were the smart ones.
On a night that was a testament to why the BCS doesn't work (the stadium wasn't half-full) and why bowl games can be tricky, Florida was awful. It wasn't just the worst game they have played all season, it might have been the worst in three seasons.
Penalties and turnovers and missed tackles and blown coverages. The game had it all for the mighty Gators.
Instead of looking like a team that came within one game of a spot in the national title game, it looked like a team that had won one game.
Sure, the late rally made the score more respectable. Not really.
This was a complete beatdown by the Big East co-champs, who pulled the biggest point-spread upset in the history of BCS bowls.
I can't really explain it. I just know that SEC commissioner Mike Slive and all of the Gator greats who were in attendance probably wanted to sneak out in the middle of the third quarter.
All week, we were assured Florida was taking this game seriously. Meanwhile, Charlie Strong was hoping his team didn't get blown out. And all week, this felt like the last time the Gators were here when they blew out Cincinnati. Turns out it was like that game … except Florida played the part of Cincinnati for most of the game.
Funny things happen in bowl games when you have more than a month to prepare. That doesn't explain why Florida's defensive backs suddenly couldn't cover anybody.
Give credit to Teddy Bridgewater. The guy can spin it. And to Strong. The guy can coach.
It's easy to say Florida came out flat and wasn't ready to play and didn't take Louisville seriously. But I think more than anything, that first play of the game was the whole game.
Jeff Driskel's pass was thrown behind Andre Debose and bounced off his hands into the air. Louisville's Terrell Floyd caught it and ran it in for the score. Just like that, Louisville's belief that it could win this game was tripled.
“We had the whole game ahead of us so you can't let it affect us,” Driskel said. “We just didn't make enough plays.”
But the real clincher, the play that let you know this was going to be a bad night to be a Gator, was the opening kickoff of the second half. By deciding to go with an onside kick, Florida coach Will Muschamp was taking a big risk. Not only did Louisville recover it, but Florida received two personal foul penalties and had a player — Chris Johnson — ejected.
Any momentum that had been gained by a late first-half scoring drive was out the window. When Bridgewater threw another perfect touchdown pass it was as good as over.
There was concern among the Gator faithful that Florida would play down to an opponent the way it had all season. If only the Gators had played at Louisville's level.
It wasn't a good game for anybody wearing those awful orange pants. Or a coach's shirt.
This loss doesn't ruin this season, but it certainly changes it.
Instead of capping off Muschamp's second season in style, the Gators laid a smelly egg. And it's going to be hard to talk about the win over LSU or the win over South Carolina or the win over the Heisman Trophy winner without talking about the way this season ended.
“It's an unfortunate setback,” said Muschamp. “We're very disappointed with the outcome today. … We apologize to our fans. But it was a great year.”
All of Florida's flaws — and some we didn't know it had — were exposed in living color in this game.
I've never been a big believer that the winning team wanted it more than the losing team. But it sure looked that way Wednesday night.
One team played with discipline and passion. The other didn't come close.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.