The Back Nine: Gators not quite at ’Dogs level

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Florida coach Dan Mullen, left, and Georgia coach Kirby Smart greet each other at midfield after Saturday's game in Jacksonville. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
The Back Nine comes at you after another Florida-Georgia weekend that included my wife and daughter sitting behind a guy who was passed out during the first three quarters of the game. He probably thought Florida won.
10. The feeling in the Gator Nation this week seems to be a combination of disappointment and anger. The anger is typical after a loss and the email viciousness never fails to amuse me. The disappointment is strong with Gator fans, because they wanted to believe the Gators were back. And they found out Saturday that they are not quite back. This is still a good football team, but you saw that it’s not where Georgia is right now. I don’t happen to think Georgia is where LSU or Alabama is now, but we’ll find out more about that. A lot of the emails I received were about recruiting and I will simply send you back to the column I wrote in July about how far ahead Georgia is of Florida. Part of that is because Kirby Smart walked in the door already with relationships with the kinds of players Alabama was recruiting. Dan Mullen had to start those relationships, because he was recruiting to Mississippi State. And, let’s be honest, Smart is better at it than Mullen is right now. We’ll see if that changes when Florida gets its football building. Anyway, I understand your disappointment, Gator fans. I thought this team was better than it played Saturday.
11. The third-down conversions? I have no idea why Florida was so ineffective on both sides of the ball (especially because half of the 12 conversions for Georgia had at least six yards to go). I think a little bit of it was that the return of the defensive ends was not as big of a factor as we thought it might be. You have to remember two things — Georgia’s offensive line has allowed only four sacks all season and those ends were still not close to 100 percent and their condition was not where it needed to be because of so much time off. Still, the Gator defensive backs did not play like anyone should be talking about DBU. It’s become a trend that Florida doesn’t get a lot of possessions in games where the defense doesn’t get stops. UF had only three in the second half Saturday. Two went for touchdowns and one was stopped because of a poor decision by Kyle Trask to take a 19-yard sack on first down from the Georgia 38.
12. So this may sting a bit — two of the biggest plays of the game were made by a former Miami Hurricane and a former Tennessee Volunteer. Receiver Lawrence Cager is a grad transfer from Miami who had a career day, including the 52-yard catch against a busted coverage. Tight end Eli Wolf is a grad transfer from Tennessee who caught the game-clincher. It’s funny that with the big deal we were making over Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga, the biggest story was Georgia getting Cager back from a shoulder injury. "I was dead,” Cager said. “I haven’t practiced or played in like two and a half weeks. Got to rise from the dead sometimes.” And this came from Greenard — “I was terrible. I was ass today.”
13. Again, I get the disappointment and the anger. (I usually don’t reply to emails after a loss, because there are so many. But I will address some on the Tuesday podcast.) Mullen was right when he said there is a lot to play for. If Florida wins out (against three unranked teams with a combined record of 11-14, two of them at home) there is this:
• The Gators will finish the regular season as a top-10 team with a shot at winning a bowl game and having a better record than a year ago.
• Florida will be a serious contender for a New Year’s Six bowl game for the second year in a row. Shoot, if the SEC gets two teams into the playoff, they are almost a lock.
• UF will have won its first state title since 2008 (don’t @ me UCF).
So there’s that.
14. It was an overall bad weekend for the Gators, because not only did they lose, Willie Taggart got fired. You simply cannot have a coach at a place like FSU with a floor that is lower than you could have ever imagined. The biggest difference between Taggart and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt — with identical 9-12 records — is twofold. You see improvement in Tennessee that you never did with FSU and Vols fans have seen things get this bad before. I don’t see any point in rehashing the reasons Taggart got fired, because most of them were obvious to even the casual observer. The question is where does FSU go now? You are going to hear some crazy names out there and I would imagine the Seminole brass will do everything it can to keep things quiet for as long as it can, because the last thing it needs is a search like Tennessee had and it looks like you hired your eighth choice.
15. Maybe it’s none of my business, but wasn’t it just this summer when FSU was blaming Jimbo Fisher for leaving a broken program? I’ll always wonder what would have happened if Taggart had landed Justin Fields or Jalen Hurts. Of course, I think they are happy where they are. Instead, he got Alex Hornibrook.
16. The SEC may fall short of eligible teams to fill all of the bowl games it has ties to (there are 10 outside the playoff) especially if two teams make the final four. We know that at least half of the teams have already qualified and Arkansas has been mercifully eliminated, but it could be dicey for some of the teams to reach bowl eligibility. As the late Jim Lange used to say on The Dating Game, “And heeeere they are.”
• Missouri (5 wins): After the Georgia-Florida daily double, the Tigers get Tennessee and Arkansas. But they also have to win their appeal on their bowl ban.
• South Carolina (4 wins): Not seeing it. Even if it beats Appy State, which just fell out of the rankings, it still has to win at Texas A&M or beat Clemson.
• Tennessee (4 wins): The Vols could get two more wins with Kentucky, Missouri and Vandy on the schedule. But those first two games are on the road.
• Kentucky (4 wins): We could call Kentucky-Tennessee this week “The Bowl Bowl.” The Wildcats still have Vandy and Tennessee-Martin, plus Louisville at the end of the season so they likely will make some bowl.
• Miss. State (4 wins): It likely will come down to the Egg Bowl for the Bulldogs.
• Mississippi (3 wins): Rebels have to win out and one of the games is against LSU. Not happening.
• Vanderbilt (2 wins): Technically, the Commodores could win out. And pigs might fly.
17. The Tweet of the Week goes to whoever is posting for the XFL — “Congratulations to the Miami Dolphins for their first victory of the season. We’d say something snarky about the Jets, but some of those guys may be playing for us in a few months.” Ouch, that stings a little if you are a Jets fan, but you probably couldn’t disagree.
18. I have a birthday coming up next week and I have but one birthday wish — that everyone at least gives one of my songs on this playlist a listen. No? OK, I’ll take some cake.
Lifeguard by Nahko and Medicine for the People.
• “Still in Motion” by Turnover (of which there were none in Saturday’s game, which is kind of amazing).
• “Release” by Grace Potter.
• “Imaginary Friend” by Marie Miller.
• This is kind of an oldie even though the recording was just made last year. But I was mesmerized by the documentary “Echo in the Canyon” and decided to go with something from that. So, “Goin’ Back”, the version of the great Byrds song by Jakob Dylan and Beck.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent point about the recruiting difference that still exists between the Gators and Dawgs Pat.

    There’s also the fact that Smart got championship level talent at the line of scrimmage from Richt, like Meyer got from Zuck back in ‘05. Mullen got a dumpster fire at the line of scrimmage from McElwayne and it showed very clearly in the play of BOTH offensive lines last Saturday. Four of the Gators’ five starters were McElwayne recruits and Gouraige is a red-shirt freshman.

    That recruiting gap will close as Mullen’s recruits get SEC ready over the next year or two. Alas, rare is the offensive lineman that comes out of high school ready to play against SEC defensive lines.

    • Last year’s OL was pretty good so I wouldn’t call it a dumpster fire and place all the blame on the last regime. It is what it is. Unless you are the Alabama’s and OSU’s that have recruited to the top 5 rankings every year, you are going to have weaknesses in some position groups each year. Last year’s OL was experienced and developed after having played a bunch as freshmen and underclassmen because Muschamp left literally only a handful scholarship bodies on the OL. I agree McElwain didn’t recruit as well as the other bluebloods, for various reasons that I will not get into. Plus he probably took a few he otherwise might have passed just to fill the roster with depth. The silver lining was it yielded a pretty good crop full of experienced upper classmen OL last year after having taken their lumps the previous three years. Most, if not all of last year’s starters, are gone now. Going into this year, the forecast has been that this year’s OL would be a big question mark, if not struggle, because they are inexperienced. As it turned out, the forecast was spot on. Now Mullen hasn’t recruited much better than McElwain either, as measured by star ratings, for similar reasons. I do believe, however, it should improve going forward as the program regains its prominence among the elites.

      • “Dumpster fire,” when referring to the chaff McElwayne left Mullen at OL, was a carefully chosen term. It fits the long-term situation CDM inherited in 2018.

        When you’re not an elite program and you have to settle for mostly 3* recruits, you MUST make up with numbers so some will pan out. Mac landed 1 elite OL recruit (Martez Ivey) and just 12 others in 3 recruiting classes!

        Mac’s 2015 class had 5 OLs (1-5*, 4-3*) and only 1 is left in the 2-deep lineup vs. Vandy this Saturday. Mac’s 2016 class had just 4 OLs (3-3* and a walk-on!) Only 2 are left in the 2-deep lineup and 1 of them is the WO!!! Mac’s 2017 and last class had 4 OLs (4-4* and 1 was an August transfer from Texas!) Only 2 from that class are left in the 2-deep lineup Saturday.

        That means HALF of the Gators’ 2-deep OL lineup Saturday will be made up of CDM recruited true or red-shirt freshmen! Good luck running the ball vs. top SEC front 7s with THAT!!!

        Next year’s OL will be better because more of CDM’s recruits will have bulked up to the point they can be effective run blockers.

        • All I can say in response to two very excellent minds is, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Well, maybe Rome, Georgia was, but that’s beside the point. Mullen is here for the long haul, and if we know these “facts” I suspect he does too. Sure, he puts his boots on one at a time and as a human being is vulnerable to boneheaded moves like we all are — still a pretty smart guy just the same. Lots of people right now are impatient to the max, and supposing to tell him what the order of battle should be, where to store magazines, and how to move to contact — but it’s still only Year 2. That fact helps me be a little more patient, absent him suddenly being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound like we’re told Kirby Smart can.

          If this sounds like a lecture, it wasn’t intended to be. Especially from the likes of me! Keep the faith anyway.

          • I’m with you 6. Rome wasn’t built in a day, even Rome, GA! 😉

            I just get a bit annoyed with folks who should know better expecting mediocre Mac OL recruits and CDM freshman OL recruits to push around experienced LSU and UGA front 7’s. And when the kids inevitably fail, lumping both coaches together and labeling them BOTH mediocre recruiters!

            Give CDM time. His plan to win will get the Gators to the top of the mountain… FINALLY!!!

  2. A ”1o win reg. season” is very possible, and there’s this, too… ‘IF’ I were UGA, I’d be thinking ”we barely beat Florida and this is ONLY Coach Mullen’s 2nd year.” So while ”the gap” is there at the line of scrimmage, the Gators are coming to the top of the SEC soon. They’re rising to the surface! Go Gators!

  3. Sucks we lost; sucks I flew to Jax to see it. However, I’m still really bullish on CDM and the way he’s got this program going. I’m still bullish on this team. A chance to go 11-2…that would be one of the top 20 UF teams ever. Think about that. Plus a chance to sweep UM and FSU. If you go 11-2 and those two losses are via a combined 21 points to teams that are ranked in the top 6, you are doing pretty good.

    Lifeguard is Ok; maybe 2 or 3 stars out of 5. Not a fan of the vocal style.
    Still in Motion is a song going through the motions. Just there. Not terrible but also not great. 3 out of 5.
    Release is a bit better…vocals are superior to the first two. Girl can sing. Give this one 3.5 out of 5.
    Imaginary Friend…kind of lame. Xanax music…you got to be on Xanax to dig that. 2 out of 5.