Gators can’t get out of early hole


Georgia running back Todd Gurley breaks free for a touchdown during the first half against Florida on Saturday at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.

Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 1:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 1:26 p.m.

The thought process earlier in the season was that Florida could survive its notoriously slow offensive starts because the defense would stay strong, hold opposing offenses down and keep the score and the game manageable.

The Gators could always rely on their defense.

Well, that edge is gone now. Long gone.

During Florida’s current three-game losing streak, it has been the slow-starting defense that has put the Gators in an early hole that dictated the negative tempo in each of the three games.

"It's certainly impacted the games as far as how we have relied on our defense in some obvious situations,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “You don't put your finger on one thing and say it's this.”

Whatever it is, the defense, which looked so strong and so sound just a few weeks ago, is getting lit up in a big way early in games.

At Missouri three weeks ago, the Tigers needed only two plays to put the Gators in a 7-0 hole.

Last Saturday in Jacksonville, the Gators found themselves down 14-0 less than six minutes into the game thanks to a porous performance by the defense that included giving up a 73-yard touchdown by Todd Gurley on a middle screen pass.

Couple the early defensive meltdowns with the usual slow start by the offense, and the Gators have not led in a game since giving up a touchdown to LSU on the first play of the second quarter on Oct. 12.

The Gators have been playing behind ever since. And, as everyone knows (especially UF’s opponents), this is not an offense that is built to play from behind.

“We've just got to go back and put our guys in better situations to play,” Muschamp said. “And that's on us as coaches. We've got to put our guys in better situations to feel more comfortable and react as opposed to think in some situations.

“That's the best way I can summarize it because in every game it's been a little something different, whether it's on the front end getting cut out of a gap or the back end, not coverage in the right leverage, thinking about the Missouri game. We just need to coach better."

The scary thing is the defense has gotten progressively worse early in games. Giving up a lightning-quick touchdown to Missouri is one thing. Giving up two to Georgia in only a matter of minutes is too much for this fragile team to overcome.

“The way we started the game was not how we wanted to start,” senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins said. “We dug ourselves a hole.”

Like everyone else, Watkins has had a hard time explaining why the defense is giving up so many plays — many of them big plays — in the game’s opening minutes.

“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you why,” Watkins said. “It’s definitely something we have to work on for the next four or five games, or however many we’ve got. If we do that, we can win some games around here.”

Muschamp said a lot of it has to do with being consistent. The Gators had a good defensive call on for Gurley’s long touchdown, Muschamp said, but one blown assignment left Gurley wide open in the middle of the field for the easy score.

“Defensively, just way too inconsistent giving up 14 points on the first two drives,” Muschamp said. “When you look back, starting fast comes back to putting our players in better situations to be successful as far as our looks are concerned and the things we are carrying into the game.

“Very erratic on third down. Played better in the second half and made some things happen in the game to create some momentum for our team. Just way too inconsistent.”

And way too late.

By the time the defense settled down in the second half, the Gators were down 23-3. UF made a nice comeback, but the deficit was too much to overcome.

Now, the Gators are so concerned about their slow-starting defense that the offense is starting to press to make plays and sustain drives in an attempt to protect the defense and keep UF in games early.

“We’re going to have to pick up the urgency, put pressure on ourselves to make things happen in the first quarter,” quarterback Tyler Murphy said. "That way we can avoid getting into holes like we did on Saturday. We’re going to find out what we need to do better in the first quarter. Hopefully we can carry some of the momentum that we had last week over and play better."

It’s a strange role reversal in what has been a strange season for the 4-4 Gators.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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