Dooley: Gators have a knack under Mac for dramatic wins

Tyrie Cleveland, Derrick Baity, Mike Edwards
Florida wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland reaches for the goal line in front of Kentucky cornerback Derrick Baity, left, and safety Mike Edwards to score a touchdown during the first half of the game in Lexington, Ky., last year. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The ball landed short, so short it was never a threat to history and instead prolonged it. Imagine the bedlam if it had sailed through the uprights instead of spinning harmlessly in the end zone.

Or don’t.

Almost in disbelief that they had pulled it off, Florida’s players began running around the field with their arms outstretched, a kind of a “Not tonight” swagger that helped pulled them through a game that somehow happened.

The streak looked as if it were headed the way of the dodo bird, harmlessly vanishing like a puff of smoke from a cheap magician. Instead, it lives on, like a snarling, nasty demon that keeps waking Kentucky fans in the middle of the night from their restless sleeps.

They — they being Kentucky — had this won so many times, but team Cardiac Mac showed again it has a knack. No matter who is throwing the ball or catching the ball or running the ball or making the biggest plays on defense, Jim McElwain’s team is 2-1 when it could easily be on the bagel train.

This was a night when Florida scored twice because Kentucky failed to cover one of its receivers.

How Kentucky is that?

It was a night when the biggest tackle that tackle Taven Bryan made was getting tackled by a Kentucky lineman. As a rule, 57 yards is a lot more difficult than a 42-yarder to win the game.

It was a night of revival for Luke Del Rio and another hard lesson in humility for Feleipe Franks.

So the goalposts came down at Kroger Field on Saturday night just like they hoped they would. But this was standard operating procedure at the stadium where the administration already has seen a pair of celebration fines.

The only fans who wanted to tear down these goalposts were the Gator fans who gutted it out, who hung in there when the streak looked as if it were toast.

McElwain went to 9-1 in one-possession games but if they are all going to be like the last two games Gator fans are going to need to spend the week in oxygen tents.

Do you have any breath left?

Somehow, Florida survived this game when all of the juice in America seemed to be running through this stadium through these Kentucky fans and into these Kentucky players.

There was so much energy in the stands that a couple of times you could feel the floor of the press box moving, which was only slightly unnerving.

They were ready to celebrate and it looked like it was a foregone conclusion. Kentucky was the better team for three quarters, but if we know anything from the 2017 season it’s definitely a four-quarter game.

Even on a night when the defensive coaches were patching together their linebacking corps with duct tape and Flex Seal, they found a way.

Even when they couldn’t cover anyone in the third quarter, they were the ones celebrating at the end.

Even when last week’s hero Franks was swept into the dust bin for Del Rio and Del Rio’s first series of the season ended in a forced interception that felt like it clinched things, it didn’t.

Even when Florida was facing those fourth-down situations on the winning drive. Even when they got a mind-numbing roughing the passer penalty to give Kentucky 15 free yards. Even when nothing seemed to go right.

It eventually did.

Because it always does against these guys.

Chris Doering gets behind the defense. The clock goes to zero and the Gators get a crucial play off. Jared Lorenzen throws the ball up for grabs.

Something always happens.

The stunned fans who finally filed out of this stadium with gnawed fingernails and defeated looks must wonder if the streak will never end.

But Saturday night was not about the streak.

It was about this one — two in a row.

It was about winning a game it should have lost and, for the second week in a row, keeping a season heading in the right direction.

Nobody is saying this is a great team. Nobody is denying this is a very fortunate team.

Here’s all we’re saying — it’s sure more fun to win a game that looked lost than the other way around.

And that Malik Davis showed he’s worthy of 20-carry nights. And Kadarius Toney is fun to watch. And that Del Rio may not have been a difference-maker on the field, but he clearly brought something in the huddle to a team in trouble.

Nobody knows where this team is headed. All we know is that it has something. That something is difficult to define. Guts, grit, gas when it’s needed.

It flew home early this morning with a streak intact and another set of lifetime memories. It’s not how, but how many, right?

Deal with these guys and their flaws and warts and shortcomings. They’ve let us know they won’t go away.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. Have to agree with most of what Dooley stated. I know we had two lucky TDs but I think we might have scored on both of those possessions. I saw the future of the Gators tonight. And I think it is bright, young talent. Franks will wait a year but we have some play makers. Tonight was a lucky win but I saw hope tonight.

  2. Looks like this is a run first team with a game manager at qb… Hopefully mac sees that because his qbs can’t win the game but we can gash opponents running the ball.
    Off topic, does Mac give the most awkward interviews of any fbs coach?

  3. Great win last night.
    LDR knows the offense. It is second nature to him. Feleipe played slow last night. Too much thinking. When are we gonna get some players back? Need LBs badly. Yep, Mac is quirky. No need to hate him peeps. He may not be an elite coach but we could do much worse.

  4. Listen, I’m not fired up about the win because of the chronic problems on offense and defense. And, I have not been a supporter of Del Rio, but he did make a few big plays when we needed them. He wasn’t just serviceable. The throw off his back foot with a defender closing in to loft it to Cleveland(I think) and the across his body throw on 4th down to Thompson were big time qb plays. Yes, he threw the interception and failed to throw Cleveland open down the field on the deep pass, but I saw a way different team when he was in. It feels kind of like wandering in the deep dark forrest and seeing what you think was a glimmer of light way off in the distance.

  5. To Pat Dooley – an extremely well written article! To Coach Mac and the Florida Gators – I had to go to a local bar to see the game. I could not believe what I saw – such tenacity – gutting it out – I love this team for its very big heart. It does not matter how you win, but not giving up and believing in yourselves that you are able to pull out yet another tough win has impressed me greatly. As a 61 year old Gator fan who saw his first game when he was 13, I have never been more proud of the Florida Gators than I am right now – GOD BLESS YOU!!!

  6. You covered it Pat….I didn’t go to bed early because with a 13 point lead, we still had a chance. Told my wife, if UK scores again, then I go to bed…..bottom line: (1) UK’s defense was not good enough to prevent our comeback (2) Del Rio did provide a spark with his presents, not his arm (3) we some how started running the ball, wearing them out in the 4th qtr…that was different (4) Of the two un-covered plays, only the first was huge and saved our comeback…I believe we would have scored anyway if the 2nd one hadn’t happen, then UK would of had no time left. You are right, we all have to take this season for what it is, a foundation building process. This is MORE entertaining than ANY thing else, light years better than boring NFL games…what will happen next? WOW…enjoy this season for what it is Gators! You could be a Hole or Vol this morning…he he he

  7. Sure when you play like crap sometimes you win in this matter. Better to win like Bama did to Vandy. Play great physical football on all aspects of the game and get many of your players game experience. We are so far from that it is discouraging.

  8. I thought we were doomed but then I remembered Jim Carey’s Dumb and Dumber famous line when the girl told him he only had a one in a million chane of ending up with her one day “So you,re telling me I have a chance” Two weeks in a row when we were outplayed most of the game but not giving up when we looked like we were doomed. Excellent play calling and execution in the 4th quarter. Found a way to win. Gotta love it. Go Gators!

  9. Go Gators great adjustment recognizing we needed a general with command and leadership to bring us back – Franks needs to learn from seeing the intangibles of leadership in taking a team over the hill and needs the rest of the year to learn the playbook and the reads from the sidelines. If offense becomes accountable and reliable under Del Rio the defense and the whole team will respond and get back to being what we expect to see. The defense has been strapped by an unreliable offense til now.

  10. I’m not sold Del Riomchanged anything in the huddle or sparked some kind of mystical confidence in the team. From what I saw, our offense was sparked by a change in play calling and the fact that because of the situation we started going for it on fourth down. We went back to running the wildcat more when del rio came in and even threw out of the wildcat. And we went for it on fourth down twice on the final drive where , if this had been a second qtr drive, we would have punted the ball and the drive would have ended. I think Del rio came in and did his job but I think the difference he made is being overblown. It was a change in playcalling and a sense of desperation in the whole team that made the difference.

    • You think maybe the change in play calling had anything to do with the coaches having more confidence in DR’s understanding of the offense? Don’t downplay the importance of what that change brought about. Franks looked scared and confused in the pocket. He was scrambling around as if 5 players were barreling down on him when he had a clean pocket. He was missing reads all over the place and making the OL look bad. With the exception of the boneheaded int, DR looked much more confident in the pocket and had plenty of time to throw and as a result the defense had to start respecting the pass, which opened up the running game. They don’t score again and lose easily if Franks stays in that game.

    • Terrible analysis, LT. Do you think it’s a coincidence that the O-line started to block better when LDR entered the game? Do you think the players got better or maybe it was LDR actually coaching them up while he was on the field, something Franks isn’t capable of doing. Look at the 9 yard run on 3rd and 3. That was a run left. The O-line was loaded left and Del Rio saw the defense creeping to that side. He checked to a misdirection where Malik Davis would scoot to the right and it wound up a 9 yard gain. Franks never makes that call and that play would’ve again looked like a weak O-line not generating a push as it would’ve wound up a 1 yard loss most likely. There’s a reason that Mac’s best years came with Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron playing QB. Those guys weren’t 4-5 star level athletes like Franks is, but they made the right reads, they made their teammates better, and for the most part they avoided glaring mistakes. LDR needs to avoid mistakes like the interception he threw, but it’s also not like he’s a seasoned veteran either. He’s only started 6 games.

      • You hit the nail on the head CDS. Being there Saturday night, I turned to my buddy and asked, “Is it me or has there been a visible change in the offense since Del Rio came in?” The offense looked crisp, they were quick to the line and managed to put together successful play after successful play. To your point, Del Rio clearly had a better command of the field as he audibled often at the line putting UK’s defense back on their heels. Well said. Hopefully we’ll see more of Del Rio in coming games.

  11. Anyone else surprised by how stiff Felipe is? Was told he was more mobile than what I see. Kid’s got an arm though, just needs to be coached up on reading defenses. Not sure he will get that Mac and Nuss. Want to see these guys be successful. Hard to complain about wins and SEC East titles. But this just doesn’t have the feel of going in the right direction. Hope I’m wrong….

  12. There’s a lot to learn from Saturday’s game; some encouraging, and some realizations. Encouraging: there is some very young, raw, and outstanding talent on this football team. There are young play makers who have heart and desire to play for Florida. Realizations: there are a lot of wasted scholarships on this team. Swain, Hammond,Massey, 70% of the offensive line, and our quarterback situation will not improve until Jake Allen and the kid from California start going at it in practice. The coaching staff made a decision to start putting the ball in the hands of play makers, no matter their young age. They may not be able to salvage the season (see Georgia), and they’re not championship caliber yet (see Alabama), but they will make this year interesting to watch, and something to build on for next year.

  13. Seems to be a lot of coaches on this website. Put in your application and change things! But I agree with Dooley. It’s not how, it’s how many. There are no ‘lucky’ wins. You either win or lose. Woulda, shoulda, coulda doesn’t count in the wins and losses.

    • All passionate fans are coaches. Get over it. OK – start every play with Powell or Toney running or faking the jet sweep. Throw to Cleveland or Hammond long 8 times a game. Reduce the bubble screen calls by 75 percent. How’s that for starters. Where do I pick up my paycheck.

  14. Great character on this team, we’re getting by so far……….I think we beat Vandy as long as somebody reminds the defense that they’re not playing touch football…….I think we beat S. Carolina and same for Mizz. I think we can beat Georgia and I think we can beat LSU. Lots of work to do though. Much still has to happen, and it needs to happen pretty soon.

    • You do realize it’s 2017 and last year was 2016 right? Do dogs and LSU stand for different teams then what everyone else knows them as? Are the dogs a different team than the Dawgs? Last I checked the Gators beat both of those teams and haven’t lost to the Dawgs in the last 3 years.

    • Gator Steve–I’m saying we CAN, not that we will, based upon whether or not the coaches instill some sense of urgency now, and our chances to turn this thing around and not rely on last minute heroics more than solid, traditional Gator football. A lot of Florida teams over the years have won games c less talent than sits on this team in 2017, and somehow, someway, we’ve got a few short weeks to find that passion and drive again. Despite Georgia being the perfumed princes of the media these days, I wasn’t surprised that they beat MSU down and I certainly wasn’t impressed by their win over Notre Dame (who the writers probably would want to include in the Top-25 even if they were 1-5). As for LSU, there are a lot of reasons I’ve seen thus far why they’d be smugly overconfident coming into the swamp, and their exposure by MSU said an awful lot. But the main reason I think we can? Because, like you, I’m a life long Gator and I’m tired of being pessimisstic all the damn time for the last several years, and really being in the dust bin of irrelevance since Urban prematurely left.

  15. We were there, we stayed, we enjoyed the salty tears.

    Enduring three-plus quarters of smack talking, including the boos as my buddy and I locked arms and sang “We Are the Boys from Old Florida” among a sea of blue and white, was completely worth it to see that mediocre team falter as only they can do.

    Here was UK’s biggest problem (including their fans)…they’d already won the game in their minds before kick-off. They didn’t take the Gators seriously, they played not to lose in the 4th Qtr and no matter how many times you play it Kentucky, at the end of the night, there wasn’t a “Party Up in Here”.

    We strolled away from the stadium happy Gators simply chanting “31, 31, 31”

    If you ain’t a Florida Gator then you’re just 31 times Gator bait…

  16. Gator Steve, I saw the 2016 Gator Football team (and without Toney or Davis) BEAT GEORGIA with my own eyes -in person- in J’ville, FL. I also saw later, on T.V., U.F. beat L.S.U. (16-10) with quite possibly the GREATEST ‘D’ stand -EVER- in Florida Football history. So, I’m not sure what games you’re getting confused with, maybe F.S.U. and ‘Bama? And, yea, that’s the teams I wanna’ see get beaten (any way they can) by this gritty Florida team! Go Gators!

    • Sorry nobody caught the joke. It was just last year when nobody really gave us much of a chance to beat either – yet we beat both.

      It is hard to believe (though glorious) that we have beaten the Dogs three in a row. And yes we of course “can” do it again even though they are now the professed worldbeaters.