The Back Nine: Gators made depleted roster work

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Florida coach Dan Mullen talks to wide receiver Freddie Swain during Saturday's game vs. FSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

The Back Nine comes at you after an eight-day stretch that included Thanksgiving, two Friends-givings, one awesome Saturday brunch and assorted other amazing eating opportunities. I’m full.

  1. This was an odd season for the Florida Gators with the three bye weeks and all, but I harken back to my preseason warning about this team. Remember when I was all concerned about the roster because of all of the defections and injuries? Well, it was an issue that Florida at times this season had an available roster that looked more like an NFL one (in terms of numbers) than a college one. But Dan Mullen and his staff did a masterful job of overcoming the lack of manpower. Next year’s team will be even younger if there are some of the juniors who should stay don’t stay (but, of course, it’s their lives). The thing that will always stand out to me was that those senior receivers made it cool to make tough catches again. As poor as quarterback play was around here during the Will Muschamp-Jim McElwain Era, those guys didn’t get a lot of help from their receivers. This group this year made big play after big play and also basically took on the burden of the running game. Florida’s quarterbacks averaged 300.4 yards a game, the first time Florida has averaged more than 300 yards passing since 2001 (and we all know what happened after the 2001 season). Steve Spurrier had eight of those seasons and the other was in 1969 with the Super Sophs.
  2. It wouldn’t be proper to let Feleipe Franks go without comment. He was polarizing at times, but there was never a doubt how much he loved being a Florida Gator or how much his teammates loved him. (The fan base and Franks were always breaking up and getting back together). He did some great things at UF and there is no crime in not being elite at your position if you try your hardest. It was inevitable that he leave because he wasn’t going to play here. There were some fairly entertaining postgame interviews and one-on-ones that the media enjoyed. He was a good dude to cover. His problem is going to be getting back healthy for spring football wherever he goes and if he can’t then it will be tough to win the job. But we’ll see. Au revoir, Feleipe.
  3. So let me get this straight — I just witnessed a Rivalry Weekend where I saw a game decided by a player mimicking a dog relieving himself and another game where Michigan tried to untie and remove the shoe of an Ohio State running back and grown women getting swallowed up by hedges (at Auburn) and a Michigan State player at Senior Day bringing his dogs on the field because his parents are recently deceased and a nine-point overtime win and you are going to try to tell me there is anything better than college football? Puh-lease. 
  4. There will be some scurrying to the laptops and mini-cams to sound the death knell for Alabama’s dynasty now that the Tide have been (virtually) eliminated from the College Football Playoff for the first time since it started. (I can’t wait to hear Nick Saban’s new slogan at SEC Media Days since he’s already used “I don’t want to waste a failure” and “We need to re-establish the standard”). The latter was his message this summer and he was mostly talking about discipline. Didn’t work. Alabama is 118th in penalties this season and that includes 13 against Auburn. In the previous decade, Alabama’s average ranking was 25.9. Perhaps it is because every year there are so many new coaches on the staff. Maybe it’s because Alabama has become a more wide-open offense. But if you are looking for a stat that tells you where there are definitely cracks in the system, in Alabama’s last four games against Top-10 teams, the Tide had allowed 43 points per game. Again, new coaches, different offensive approach. Both may have something to do with it. But Alabama no longer plays elite defense in big games.
  5. It was definitely a Black Sunday for some college football coaches and the carousel is whirring around so fast there could be more that go flying off. I feel for Charlie Strong because he is such a good guy and a good coach. But his head coaching career has been defined by Teddy Bridgewater. With Bridgewater, Strong was 30-9 at Louisville. Without him, he is 44-44 for his head coaching career. It will be interesting to see where Strong ends up as well as former UF assistant Steve Addazio (fired at Boston College). And remember how one of the themes at SEC Media Days this summer was how every coach was back? We’ll have three new ones to meet and three more (Will Muschamp, Derek Mason and Joe Moorhead) on scorching hot seats entering the season. It’s going to be a wild ride watching all of these jobs get filled and that doesn’t include all of the assistants let go, especially at Texas and South Carolina. And let me publicly acknowledge I was way off on the Greg Schiano to FSU rumor I started. I connected the dots, but apparently I missed a few. Still, it got the press box buzzing pregame.
  6. No, I still don’t know which bowl game Florida will play in because there is still one more crazy weekend to go and all kinds of things could happen. Tonight’s rankings reveal will be important to Florida because not that many teams still have a game to play so they can’t really strengthen or weaken their schedules. The big question will be where Alabama and Penn State are in relation to Florida. Alabama is the really intriguing one because if the Tide is ahead of UF, it’s totally a brand thing. Florida beat Auburn. Alabama’s best wins came against a couple of 7-5 teams. Florida would not mind at all if Baylor and Wisconsin both lost this weekend. 
  7. Sorry that this week’s Back Nine is all about college football, but I could have written 10,000 words on everything that happened over three glorious days and nights. And I am aware Florida’s volleyball team won a share of another SEC crown and certainly coach Mary Wise continues to do a phenomenal job. But this is voting season and I just cast my Biletnikoff ballot and received my Heisman Trophy ballot and have to vote for the AP All-SEC team. So that will take some time, but I am wondering what I do with Lynn Bowden of Kentucky. Would you make him the second-team quarterback ahead of Tua Tagovailoa and Kyle Trask and Jake Fromm? Would you stick him at running back (second in the league in rushing) even though he didn’t play that position? Even though he kind of did. There’s no room at receiver, not in this league. I’ll get back to you on this.
  8. Twitter was alive with the sounds of Rivalry Week, but the Tweet of the Week goes to our friend and former UF kicker Judd Davis — “101 missed FGs by Bama in the last 13 yrs is the most by ANY team in the nation in that span. How that stat is possible, w/Bama’s luxury to attract & sign the top ranked PK’s nationwide every year, is truly mind boggling.” As the great Johnny Carson would say (or was it the Dana Carvey impression of him?), “Ahh, I did not know that.”
  9. It was difficult to find room in my life this week to find a playlist worthy of the readers who appreciate them because it felt like there was always a game on this weekend. But I made the time, much to the chagrin of the readers who think my song lists are stupid:
  • Cheap Trick’s new version of John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.” (Who knew Cheap Trick was still a thing?)
  • Home Tonight” by Paul McCartney (what is this, a 1970s playlist?)
  • Breaking Strings” by Adam Wakefield.
  • Heartbeats” by Jose Gonzalez. (By the way, I received some fine recommendations for songs around a campfire Sunday, but this is a family newspaper.)
  • And for an old one, “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” by the angel named Linda Ronstadt.

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

 

12 COMMENTS

  1. Assuming we’re about to be 11-2, and with all the usual coach firings, the UF fan base need to count our blessing having Dan Mullin and staff. The numbers speak for themselves, +10 wins is rare, which means having a HC and staff which have the understanding and ability to run a big time college football system is a blessing. Yes, Charlie Strong, like many coaches, is a great guy and coach, BUT doesn’t have the faculties to run a big time system. Pat’s bud, Muschamp is also in the Charlie Strong category…he will never win more than 8 games. Sad but true. That’s the reason hiring “good guys” like Zook and Muschamp is so short sighted. AD’s have to answer three questions during the hiring process: (1) Realistically, can our school support and produce a top 10 program (most “no”), (2) Is the guy I’m about to hire capable of hiring staff and running a big time college football system (like Saban, Mullin, etc.) (3) Are they really a great coach? Just my observations.

    • Dewayne, with regard to Strong, I would add to his woes two facts while he was at Texas: (2) a total culture rebuild undertaken, which created some very hard feelings among the wealthy Longhorn boosters — and I do mean wealthy; and, (2) an inherent underground level of racism among said boosters that is seldom so manifest in this day and age. To his credit, he never once pulled the race card himself, although when he showed up in Austin with his wife he was doomed from the start. Surprising since Austin is the San Francisco of Texas, but it wasn’t from the rank and file assorted Marxists, Socialists, Communists and anarchists down there……but from the people who pay for everything with very old Texas money.

      I don’t know what’s going on down at USF, but Strong’s one good season there had very little to do with Willie Taggart, IMO. Regardless, he is indeed one of the good guys and a man many of us obviously think pretty highly of as a coach.

      • With respect to Charlie Strong, Will Muschamp and Ron Zook, there’s also this. Rare indeed is the successful DC that succeeds when promoted to head coach at a major college football program.

        Those that succeed, like Stoops, Saban and Smart, are good CEO’s who hire good OC’s, oversee their hiring of good assistants and recruiting of star QBs, then get out of their way and just check on results. It’s a tricky maneuver and I’m not fully certain that Smart has it down pat… yet.

        The reason for that is great DC’s excel at disrupting an offense. Anyone who has ever built anything complex knows it’s far easier to tear it down than to build it. So, if you hire a demolition expert to run your building construction business, he better be good at hiring good construction foremen, delegating and checking on their results… daily!

        I didn’t observe Strong as HBC, but did the other two. In both cases, they were awful at hiring good OC’s and even worse at staying out of their decisions.

      • 6, I agree will all you said concerning Charlie at Texas, maybe the hardest place to “make it”. It was an appealing opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

        One last Feleipe thought. I believe underlying his physical abilities is the fact he’s a “hard baller” like Nolan Ryan. From the Fun-and-Gun to the present spread (that EVER team runs), you’ve got to have a guy “with touch” as your pitcher (IE. A Trask). Just never saw Feleipe throwing anything but hard stuff.

        68, Bama’s new number to worry about. Saban is 68, when will he finally say “I’ve had enough”?

      • 6…love your insight! I’m sure it’s dead on target. Similarly, I was always told Doug Dickey failed to overcome local Gainesville Booster ole time control politics. Charlie Pell was given control with Galen Hall being the beneficiary until the NCAA police also nailed him. Then OHBC took things from there.

      • Charlie Strong certainly seems to be a good guy and surely didn’t deserve the treatment he got at Texas. Regardless, he is set financially. My concern is for Kerwin Bell, his OC. Despite the fact that some considered him an up and coming “young” coach, he’s now 54 years old. I’m afraid his window of opportunity for landing a coaching spot at a major FBS school is closing fast, if it isn’t closed already. I’ve no doubt that with decent players he could orchestrate an excellent offense at the highest level. I’m in agreement with the many Gator fans who wanted to see him as the OC in Gainesville. It’ll be a great shame if he doesn’t get a shot somewhere.

  2. All the best to Feleipe Franks. He produced much more good than bad for Gator Nation. A third year of seasoning under Mullen just might have gotten him to elite status. It’s not easy playing QB at UF, but he leaves with a winning record. And his heave to Cleve joins Gator lore, big time.
    And while we’re saying goodbyes, here’s a fond farewell for one of the best groups of receivers ever. Like Dooley said, they made some great, clutch catches. Plus, they conducted themselves like grown men.

  3. Best wishes to Mr. Franks. Here’s to hoping that injured ankle doesn’t affect his future mobility.

    I’m dubious that any more playing time at UF would have significantly improved Feleipe’s performance as a QB. For better or worse, what we saw in his first 3 games this season is what we’d have gotten, had he not been hurt.

    Playing QB is like playing chess on a board where all the pieces are moving on every play. Some guys are born with the ability to visualize where the pieces will be as a play develops. It’s like arm strength, you’re either born with it or you’re not.

    Franks doesn’t have the “vision” and Trask does. So, Franks ends up “not seeing“ open receivers, especially over the middle, and forcing passes into double coverage, or dumping them off to outlets way too often.

    Trask doesn’t have Franks’ arm strength, but more than makes up for it by “finding” open receivers in his passing range on most plays, even when the D knows he has no running game.

    Former Gator QBs who had the gift of “vision”: Matthews, Wuerffel and Grossman. Former Gator QBs who didn’t have the gift of “vision”: Dean, Johnson and Driskel. Nobody will argue that the last 3 were far less effective as QBs than the first 3, even though they arguably had more arm strength.

    • And there it is, or was — excellent analysis, StL. “Vision” or “Processing latency”, we are saying the same thing. You do engineering and I do brains (despite lacking one myself, although a lot easier than engineering), but you captured it succinctly right there.