Dooley: Gators were out of sorts from beginning

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Florida running back Lamical Perine picks up tough yards Saturday against Georgia at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. [Matt Pendleton/Correspondent]
JACKSONVILLE — As Georgia celebrated and half the fans in the stadium cheered wildly and woofed it up, Florida’s players were left to trudge off the field with a strange “what if” question Saturday night.
What if the Gators showed up at the start of the game?
What if they didn’t wait until the fourth quarter to start clicking on offense?
What if the defense wasn’t eating nachos in the stands every time there was a big third down in the first half?
OK, I made that last part up, but this was a game where a Florida team that prides itself on the little things had a whole lot of little mistakes (and one big one) add up to one big mess.
The game was won at the end with another clutch third-down pass from Jake Fromm, who showed chirping fans he still has something special. But it was lost in the beginning.
I mean, when you’re goal is to play from ahead, starting the game with two timeouts on the first drive, an incomplete pass on fourth-and-1 because YOU CANNOT RUN THE BALL, a big penalty and a defense that seemed to be beat consistently on passing plays, well, boys and girls, that’s not exactly a recipe for winning a game of this magnitude.
“You never want to come out and start a game like that,” said center Nick Buchanan.
Maybe the off week actually hurt Florida, sapped the Gators of some of their momentum.
But that’s just an excuse. Georgia had the week off, too.
A team with a ton on the line played like the weight was too heavy.
“The only people we can be disappointed in is ourselves,” said quarterback Kyke Trask.
Trask did a lot of good things in the game, 257 passing yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
But he took a couple of bad sacks and made some less than ideal throws. Certainly, nobody is going to heap blame on a quarterback who had no running game and whose coach abandoned the running game for awhile.
“We didn’t call too many running plays after we fell behind,” said Dan Mullen.
That was the thing about the way this game unfolded. It couldn’t have gone much worse in terms of the Gator game plan. Play from ahead, make the Bulldogs panic.
Instead, Florida’s awful first quarter let Georgia and the No. 1 defense in the SEC and a quarterback who knows what it means to be in games like this be perfect frontrunners.
We’ve seen this Florida team at different times this year. The one with a secondary that looks overrated and an offense that is one-dimensional and a defense that can’t get off the field.
“We kind of found our identity,” said Trask. “It took us three quarters.”
Yeah and that’s something you can’t do in a game like this. You have to be sharp from the opening kickoff and — for some reason — this team was painfully dull.
I know that a lot of breaks went against the Gators, but you have to deal with bad breaks and bad calls. What you can’t be dealing with is self-inflicted bad breaks.
“That’s us. We gotta coach better,” Mullen said.
Yep. And these guys have to play better. It’s not over in the East and this never felt like a College Football Playoff team. It can still be a real good season, but only if this team plays at a different level.
I think that level is attainable.
But if they learned one thing it’s that you can get away with starts like that at South Carolina. But in the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”, you better bring your puddin’ snacks at the start of the game, through the half, out of the gate in the second half and all the way through the fourth quarter.
There were a lot of angry and disappointed people wearing orange and blue leaving TIAA Bank Field on Saturday night.
One of them was Mullen, who blew up on receivers coach Billy Gonzales after one personnel mistake and at defensive coordinator Todd Granthan after, like the 300th Georgia third-down conversion.
“We don’t control our own destiny any more,” he said, “and that’s frustrating to us.”
Join the club, said every Gator fan who does not enjoy three straight losses to a hated rival.
The frustration will be a wave of white noise all week. Maybe for months. Maybe until next year.
“We’re still a good team,” said receiver Freddie Swain. “I’m not letting this loss define us.”
Ok, but it’s a part of the definition.
A big part.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

12 COMMENTS

  1. The thing is, on the 4th-and-1 incompletion, the Gators didn’t yet know they couldn’t run the ball. They were lined up to run it with Trask under center a play earlier when it was 3rd-and-1 before a false start. Why not try to make an early statement and line up under center again and try to power your way for two feet and the first down?

    Also wonder where the option pitch was in this game. It’s been a nice play a number of times this season.

    • Yeah I thought the same although I couldn’t see clearly because I had to have one of my cousins Facetime the whole game for me (hahahahahahahahah) But the first drive (I believe it was) when Lamichel’s run was moved back, should have tried to sneaked both.

  2. Speaking of the offense not showing up at the start of the game, the first play was a 14 yard completion to Pitts. The second play was an 11 yard completion to Pitts. So far, so good. Then there was an apparent 3rd down conversion on a completion to Perine and it looked like everything was ok. But wait!!! The replay booth said he didn’t make it, and the the 4th-and-1 happened.

    Is there another team in college football this season that’s had two 3rd down conversions overturned by replay and then failed to convert on 4th-and-1 both times? Doesn’t really matter I guess, but everything went downhill from there.

  3. Clearly the bye-week did not help us and it helped Georgia immensely. We were somewhat lost in the first half looking like we hadn’t practiced any plays and didn’t know how to line up. Many, many mistakes. The defense has been shaky all year giving up big third down plays and lately, getting gashed in the run game. Offense continues to struggle with the run. The coaching staff needs to call plays that they know this personnel can execute. We don’t have the players to be a power house nor do we have the players to attack (offensive line) the way a lot of teams do. It looks like Mcelwain’s seniors will leave without a championship. It will be Mullen’s players inheriting the team next year. With three games left including a chance to beat FSU and avenge the loss to Missouri, let’s hope that the players play angry and hungry the rest of the year. They didn’t look hungry enough yesterday. Go Gators!

  4. Excellent column Pat. You pretty much captured all the reasons our Gators are NOT YET a playoff caliber team.

    In fairness to CDM and his staff, back in August nobody in Gator Nation sincerely expected this edition of the Florida Gators to realistically compete for a playoff spot in 2019. We ALL looked at the deficiencies of this team (OL, QB and lack of DL depth) and just knew they would be fortunate to split the two tough games vs. the SEC West. And NOBODY thought they’d beat UGA back then!

    Well, the Gators found themselves a QB, split the two games vs. the SEC West and lost to UGA, just as expected back in August, because the OL is (STILL) a dumpster fire! THAT deficiency is a recruiting failure of the previous coaching staff that won’t be overcome until the Gators can boast to have recruited and trained SEC caliber big uglies.

    The 2019 edition of the Florida Gators can STILL show us they’ve improved over the 2018 edition by NOT losing their focus after yesterday’s disappointingly close UGA loss, finish this season with 3 manageable wins and then win their bowl game.

    GO GATORS!!!

    • All great points, StL. As the season progressed and the Gators improved, we got our hopes up that the Gators could have a shot at the playoffs. Well, they were in the conversation, at least for a while, and they did compete with Ga. They closed the gap on the Dawgs, at least on the scoreboard. In the end, they lost the game, just like most of us thought prior to the start of the season. It’s disappointing, but not a sign of regression. CDM will need some time to correct the OL deficiencies, but in the meantime an excellent season is still within reach. Go Gators!

      • You’re right Joe. Progress from last season is evident in several ways. The Gators have won ALL the games they were favored to win, beat Auburn as an underdog and lost two games they were supposed to lose right at the Vegas line and competitive well into the 4th quarter. Win the next three games, where they’ll be favored to win, and the Gators will also improve on last year’s regular season record too.

        The passing game they found in the 4th quarter of the UK game would have gotten them past Georgia and maybe LSU too IF the OL had gotten its run blocking act together the way last year’s OL did. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Last year’s OL featured 2 NFL draft picks (one 1st rounder) while I’m confident this year’s OL features none.