Sun sports columnist Pat Dooley grades the overall performance of the Florida football team in 2019.
It’s difficult to give an “A” grade to a team that is 107th in rushing yards with a handful of games left in the college football season. And that’s after the Gators got a bump from the Orange Bowl.
It was no secret Florida struggled to run the ball and had to count on the passing game with Kyle Trask and four senior receivers. But here’s a stat for you — Florida gained 10 or more yards on 24.5 percent of it plays this year. Playoff team and formidable offensive power Ohio State did so on 24.7 percent of its plays.
The Gators are 29th in scoring (again, there won’t be much movement with so few games remaining) and 45th in total offense. Those wouldn’t be good numbers in the Steve Spurrier Era, but this was 108th in scoring and 110th in total offense.
Florida actually had a slight dip from a year ago in both statistics, in part because UF went from a plus-12 in turnover margin to a plus-5.
In Florida’s three biggest games of the season — Auburn, LSU and Georgia — the Gators defense had one great game and two lousy ones.
Statistically, Florida had a great year. The Gators were seventh in scoring defense, which is the most important stat, and ninth in total defense.
The stats were skewed a bit by shutouts against Towson, UT-Martin and Vanderbilt, but don’t forget the Tennessee team everyone is patting on the back now scored three points in The Swamp and Missouri scored six points at home.
This year was the return of the sack, as Florida jumped its total by 12 from a year ago. The Gators also had 16 more tackles for loss than they did in 2018.
But, oh, those third downs.
UF was 52nd in the nation in allowing third-down conversions despite being 15th in opponents long scrimmage plays.
This was not an elite defense. It was at times, but to be truly elite you have to play at a high level all the time, not just some of the time.
We saw it again in the Orange Bowl. Virginia’s offense finished 82nd in the country and yet Florida allowed 28 points and 323 passing yards to Bryce Perkins.
SPECIAL TEAMS B
Florida didn’t generate a lot of big plays on special teams, but didn’t allow them either.
First, Evan McPherson had another strong year making 17 of his 19 field goal attempts. He also was asked to kick more balls deep on kickoffs and only had 51 touchbacks on 80 kickoffs.
(Also, no kickoffs out of bounds which may not seem like that big a deal, but there were 69 FBS kickers with at least two).
Tommy Townsend was solid as well averaging 44.0 yards per punt.
The Gators only returned eight kickoffs all season and only 15 punts. They had no punt returns of more than 20 yard and only three kickoff returns of more than 30.
But they also did not allow any long punt returns and only two kickoff returns of more than 30 yards. For the season. Florida allowed only nine total yards in punt returns.
For Dan Mullen to get this roster that was constantly dealing with injuries to 11 wins was remarkable.
Florida started 19 different defensive players because of injuries and the Gators were down to the mid-60s in available scholarship players late in the season.
That Florida was even in the discussion for a College Football Playoff berth in late October was amazing.
Still, UF fell short of winning the division and will finish behind the two teams that beat the Gators — LSU and Georgia — when the final polls are released Jan. 14.
At the same time, it was certainly a successful season with a sweep in The Swamp and three more road wins giving Mullen a 7-1 record in true road games over two seasons.
It was hardly perfect and the most critical of fans will find fault even in the victories. But 2019 was another step in getting Florida to elite status as a program.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.