Dooley: Gators will have to reach another level

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Florida running back Dameon Pierce runs in for a 37-yard touchdown Saturday against Towson at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Matt Pendleton/Correspondent]

It was a long time ago on a Saturday night when I approached a wise man and told him, “You guys couldn’t have beaten Tennessee today.”

(I told you it was a long time ago).

And he said, “We weren’t playing Tennessee today.”

That has always stayed with me and I repeated the story to UF’s president Dr. Kent Fuchs on the field last night when he asked me if these Gators are ready for what’s coming.

Florida wasn’t playing Auburn yesterday or LSU or Georgia. They were playing the team in front of them and rolled to a less-than overwhelming shutout win.

Then, they started getting ready for the biggest week of the year so far.

It’s not just Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on CBS that matters. It’s everything leading up to it.

“If we’re looking for another gear,” said center Nick Buchanan, “it has to come from practice.”

That gear. Oh, that gear.

Does this team have one?

Or is this simply what these Gators are?

“We’re certainly going to find out next week, aren’t we?” Dan Mullen said. “We’ve taken care of business so far. Whatever the situation — good or bad — we’ve taken care of business to this point.

“It’s going to go to a whole new level.”

Can Florida go with it?

Certainly, there is a chunk of the fanbase who thinks this is their team, a bunch of guys who have to overcome as many missed assignments and missed tackles to find a way to win.

These Gators so far have had the sex appeal of vanilla ice cream without the sprinkles. There is good and there is bad and then there is winning with both and a side of ugly.

And the narrative is going to be the same all week — the team that went unbeaten in September could be in for a rough October.

But these guys and their coach aren’t hiding from anything.

They know that they need to find another level.

“I know we still have something left in the tank,” said linebacker Jon Greenard, who had a pick on a deflection Saturday.

That’s the thing — these guys understand that September’s performances won’t cut it in October. But they were still optimistic Saturday night, mainly because they are ready to welcome back some major pieces that have been missing.

Guys like CJ Henderson and Jabari Zuniga, all-SEC types who could have played Saturday if Florida wasn’t playing Towson. But because the Gators were, the two defensive stalwarts got an extra game off.

“We get everybody back like we had in camp and we can be pretty good,” Greenard said.

Look, this is Gator Nation where you can shut out an opponent and still hear, “yeah, but …” ringing into the night.

Shoot, Towson didn’t even bring a band and the Gators were giving up chunks of yardage at times. (No, these two things have nothing to do with each other but stay with me.)

Florida may not be impressing anyone on the national level and you can almost hear the naysayers climbing over each other to pick Auburn next week.

But, again, it depends on whether you believe the team you have seen since late August is the team that will show up for the next stretch of games.

It has been five uncomfortable wins. It’s a pretty healthy sample size.

Are these your Gators?

Or do they have a turbo button?

“Sometimes we can play down to the competition,” Greenard said. “Next week, we’re going to have to play up.”

Way up.

You, too.

“We’re going to have to play better,” Mullen said, “and the fans are going to have to be louder.”

I have no doubt that part of the equation will happen. But I’m still not convinced this is a team that has greatness in its DNA.

On the bright side, I’ve been wrong before.

“We all know what we can do,” said receiver Trevon Grimes. “When it comes to big-time games, we always step up. We’re going to do good.”

As Mullen said, we’re about to find out.

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

25 COMMENTS

  1. “These Gators so far have had the sex appeal of vanilla ice cream without the sprinkles.”

    Good one Pat. I look forward to the off-the-wall analogies every week. It amazes me how creative you can get. BTW, I guess I don’t like sexy ice cream. I never add sprinkles. Ice cream is good enough with all the stuff like chocolate chunks, peanut butter, mint, etc. already mixed in.

  2. A shutout win is a shutout win and I’ll take it. However, a performance like this on both sides of the ball will lose the game next week to Auburn.

    With no effective running game and giving up three sacks to Towson, I’m not very confident this Gator offense will be able to consistently move the ball vs. that monster Auburn defense.

    On the other side of the ball, giving up yardage in chunks to Towson means the Auburn offense could have a field day vs. the Gator D, at least between the 20’s. And Auburn will punch it in for scores more often than not.

    Here’s to hoping the Gators find that other gear Pat mentions in practice this week. They’ll need it next Saturday.

    GO GATORS!!!

    • Here’s a thought, StL, based on what you said in another comment. I know it was against Towson, but with Pitts catching two TD passes from less than 10 yards out, it may be a good omen that UF will be able to score in the red zone. If the K2K connection can still hook up in that compressed area, then maybe the Gators can come away with some TD’s, even if they can’t run it very well. I know Auburn isn’t Towson, but until the glass gets knocked over, I prefer to see it as half full. Go Gators!!

      • Joe, the only cause for red zone offensive optimism I have going into this game is what the change at QB has meant for the Gators’ short passing game to the TE. To the degree that Trask can continue to find Pitts open over the middle, he’ll force the Auburn D to spread out, taking LB’s and safeties away from the LOS. That is bound to help the running game in those situations.

      • Nope. The Sun is going to have to update the mobile device version of their website. Even the Gatorsports app fails to bring up the login window when using my iPhone. The strange thing is it works fine on my iPad, which is an IOS device, just like the iPhone.

  3. Dooley the Doubter – if we need someone to be CRITICAL, it will be Dooley. Okay, so I will SUPPORT the Gators and state that Towson’s QB has NFL potential (just like his BROTHER). So YES, we gavve up some yards, BUT, we SHUT THEM OUT. After I complete my current career at the Orange County Property Appraiser’s office, I am going to TAKE Dooley’s job – LMAO!!! GO GATORS – FIND THE NEXT GEAR, STEP IT UP AND BEAT AUBURN!!!

  4. Auburn looked great on Saturday night. We need the Swamp to be electric. This is the most winnable of the three upcoming games vs SEC elite (Auburn, LSU and UGA) because we are at home and playing against a freshman QB who still at times takes too long in the pocket to know where he is going. However, Trask needs to be able to get rid of the ball quickly because Auburn can get pressure at the drop of a hat.

  5. I recall last year especially after the loss to Kentucky at home. We were all thinking that Miss. State and LSU were going to be embarrassing losses. Florida found something or revealed something that got the wins. They showed confidence and plenty of fight. It also helps that Dan Mullen has gone up against Auburn and LSU every year for nine years before coming back to Florida. I have to believe that he and Grantham know how they are going to attack Auburn next week. I think the big question is do we have the players that can carry out that attack. If we do, next week at this time we will be smiling mightily. If not, we will be back to looking to South Carolina for our next win or even past Georgia. Here’s to a great and focused week of practice and here’s to the fans showing up early this time and getting loud. I get tired of being one of two people in my entire section that cheers at every play. Let’s hear you fans! Go Gators!

  6. This game has the same feeling as when McElwain limped us into the SEC Championship against Alabama. We knew they were on another level, yet we whistled pass the graveyard building ourselves up that we were the SEC East Champions and we had done this and that, when deep inside, we knew it was a weak SEC East, not a strong UF. We know how that ended. This game is eerily the same.

    Here are the facts.

    1. We are two years removed from the worst team Florida has ever fielded, led by the worst coach we’ve ever hired. (In my 53 years)
    2. We are a much better team than then.
    3. We are not as good as Auburn is right now. Not our Oline, not our Dline or our QB.
    4. We could still win, but it is highly unlikely.
    5. A “win” can be a close lost, where we gain some much needed experience that we get to bring into the LSU and UGA games.
    6. Mullen is the right coach, and he will get us back to the premier football team we used to be.
    7. It probably will not be this year.
    8. Dogging our players, coaches and other fans will not help.
    9. I hope I’m 100% wrong, and I accept all of the jabs that will be fired at me if I am.
    10. I’m not wrong.

    • Well, I’m pretty sure you’re wrong about Auburn having the better QB. I’ll take Trask over Nix every day. I don’t think Nix, at this early stage in his career, is going to be able to beat you with his arm. The question is whether the Gators can stop the run and force Auburn to throw. On the other hand, I think Trask, with an excellent stable of receivers, is capable of winning the game with his arm. I hope CDM will tailor the gameplan around Trask’s passing skills and not trying to depend extensively on EJ’s legs to diversify the run game.

      • I would say that you are in the minority in your thoughts about Trask vs Nix. Trask has shown very little mobility in the pocket and has made some really bad errors when the pocket collapses. I do prefer Trask to Jones, for his passing ability and the quickness that he checks down. However, our running game is one dimensional with Trask. With Jones we appear to be much more capable at running the ball.

        As far as Nix vs Trask, if they were being recruited for next season, which QB would you want the most? If you’re being honest, I believe you’d say Nix.

        • Not to be disrespectful, because you make some great points, but not a chance. I’ll take the guy that can deliver the football downfield to the right guy, accurately and on time. Nix looked good against MSU when the receivers were wide open or he could simply lob the ball up and have his guy out jump the DB, but I’m not convinced yet that he’s a great passer.

          Eventually, a running QB will quite likely end up hurt (see Franks, Fitzgerald, etc., etc.) Unless you have a generational dual threat QB who’s also an excellent pocket passer, you can win games (OU with Mayfield and Murray, Oregon with Mariotta) but not championships (UF with Tebow, Auburn with Newton, Clemson with Watson, Bama with Tua). Those guys are hard to find, and for the record, I’ll take Wuerfell over Tebow.

          To be fair, though, as Nix develops I may change my mind. I like a mobile QB who can move in the pocket and extend the play for the purpose of finding a receiver and then run as a last resort if needed. If he’s just trying to extend the play to get the D spread out so he can make a big play with his legs, then a disciplined D can shut him down. Nix certainly should have a good football mind, and he does look to have a good arm. If the UF D can’t stay with the Tigers’ receivers, then it’ll be a long afternoon. But, in the Swamp with a loud crowd, I think the Gator D can make it uncomfortable for Nix.

          Thanks for responding, though, because that’s what makes these comment sections interesting. If we all thought alike it would be boring and not worth reading. I’m sure we agree on Go Gators!

    • Hey Freshup — who gives a fig if you’re wrong? Nobody’s going to call you disloyal for being honest and calling it like you see it, especially when it pains you to see it that way. Me, I don’t know what to say about this weekend other than I’m not “feeling” too good about it, and I’d sure “feel” better if the Gators would play for 60 minutes with the intensity and focus they’re capable of but haven’t shown thus far. That’s because I do think we’re a better team than Auburn, but will remain a lesser team to them unless we find that ingredient right quick and muy pronto and forthwith and post haste too while I’m at it.

      Your #1 and #6 above are especially worth remembering, and I’m glad you reminded us. #7 too, regardless of the euphoria over last year, this is still a work in progress.

      I agree with Joe, however — you’re full of bean when it comes to Nix being better than Trask. I would have said, “beans”, but you make too many other good points to go that far. 😉

      • Very clever with the “bean” reference! That’s why you’re the leader of the pack. Wait a minute…what do you call a group of Gators, anyway…herd, flock, gaggle, troop, pod, drove, colony, cackle, conspiracy, shrewdness, embarrassment, celebration, stubbornness, wisdom, or dazzle? Google says “congregation”, but that’s not very “sexy”, so I pick “dazzle” in honor of our friend and fellow Gator, daz wazzle. Google says that’s a group of zebras, but whadda they know?

        We can hope, but Freshup is probably right with #7. I’m with him on #8, hope he’s right about #9, and like his confidence in #10, but refer back to #9. Go Gators!