Losing stings, especially in a sport with only 12 precious regular-season games, 12 unique opportunities to prove one’s worth and make a statement of significance. The Florida Gators’ 42-28 loss to the LSU Tigers on Saturday night surely contained its frustrating components for Dan Mullen and his team.
This game didn’t have to end the way it did.
Without a pivotal holding penalty in a 28-28 tie in the third quarter, Florida might have remained in the hunt to the very end, possibly with an outright advantage. The Gators played the Tigers dead-even up to that point, matching LSU’s loaded offense every step of the way.
After roughly 40 minutes of thrillingly close combat, Florida finally made the mistakes which had been commonplace through the previous six weeks of the season, the mistakes which figured to be more prevalent on Saturday night, but had been pushed to the side by an improved Gator offense.
Where was THIS, many Gator fans surely wondered over those first 40 minutes Where was the Kyle Trask who got rid of the ball quickly and yet still managed to throw deep-intermediate passes for surgical 20-yard gains? That guy wasn’t on the field against Auburn, but he was against LSU.
Where were the wide receivers and tight ends before Saturday night in Baton Rouge? They also played their best game of the season on Saturday, finding seams in the LSU back seven and offering yet more evidence of Dan Mullen’s marvelous ability to scheme players open in the structure of his offense.
This offense was so good through two and a half quarters that the Gators began to offer legitimate reason that they could actually win outright as a double-digit underdog in Death Valley. It didn’t seem like wishful thinking. The offense kept proving itself with long touchdown marches. LSU’s defense remained toothless.
The holding penalty which changed the game was so influential because it wiped out a gain of nearly 30 yards by Florida. The UF offense was on the rampage yet again before the music finally stopped and the visitors’ momentum abruptly left Tiger Stadium, a hasty exit which ought to be a source of agony.
Florida didn’t play a complete 60-minute game. Only LSU did. Everyone in the Florida locker room will carry that wound, that failure, into the rest of the season.
Losing is not without consequence or pain. We can acknowledge this.
We can also acknowledge that some losses carry a pain which is more permanent than others. This loss won’t leave a permanent mark on the Gators. It sets the stage for next week’s important test at South Carolina, which upset Georgia on the road. It also leads to the biggest game the Gators will play this year, the Cocktail Party against Georgia in three weeks.
If part of the story of this LSU loss was that the Gators didn’t finish the game, the other part is that Florida gained a lot of belief that it can beat the Dawgs in Jacksonville when that moment arrives.
One day did a lot to change the way the SEC East is viewed.
Sure, it could be the case that Georgia was just “off” against South Carolina, but the Dawgs were 20-point favorites. South Carolina was playing with a quarterback who was No. 2 on the depth chart on opening day, and HE – Ryan Hilinski – got injured. The Gamecocks ultimately beat Georgia in Athens with their third-stringer relative to the start of the season.
Under no circumstances should Georgia lose that game. Given that the Bulldogs failed to trounce Notre Dame (a team which struggled to put away USC on Saturday), and played a sloppy first half at Tennessee a week ago, maybe Kirby Smart’s team isn’t as formidable as many people thought before the season, or even two weeks ago.
Maybe Georgia is not the colossus who towers over the rest of the SEC East.
Florida’s ability to not merely compete with LSU on the road (better than Georgia did at LSU last year, it should be noted), but to display a high-level offensive performance, offers proof that the Gators can truly play with Georgia on even terms.
This hardly guarantees that they will, but one has to admit that if Georgia seemed several tiers above Florida heading into Week 7, these teams seem to be on much more even footing heading into Week 8.
Yes, Florida lost, and the outcome is not free of consequence. The loss shrinks UF’s margins and forces the Gators to take care of business against South Carolina and Missouri. Yet, the quality of the offense and the performance of Kyle Trask in particular give Dan Mullen legitimate reason for optimism when the Gators meet Georgia.
The SEC East title seems more attainable, not less. If a loss can do that, it is clear that as long as the Gators keep improving, this season could still be as successful as the Gator Nation hoped back in late August.
Gators down stretch look very familiar
It sounds like an insult, but it’s not: Gators are McElwain 2.0
It does seem like an insult to say that the 2019 Florida Gators, under Dan Mullen, are a better version of Jim McElwain’s SEC East champion Florida teams. McElwain was not a beloved coach. He didn’t enjoy coaching at Florida. He didn’t handle the prominence or the pressure of the job very well.
Dan Mullen enjoys coaching the Gators. He relishes pressure. He has performed well in the SEC for a long time, as a head coach and offensive coordinator. He is so many of the things McElwain wasn’t.
Few men in college football scheme receivers open better than Dan Mullen. He has a gift for play calling, and he squeezed a lot out of his Mississippi State teams. One can very reasonably say that he took the Bulldogs as high as they could fly, as far as they could go.
That is pretty much what Mullen has done with this 2019 team.
He has had a backup quarterback for most of the year, not Feleipe Franks. He has had a below-average offensive line which simply cannot facilitate a consistent or especially productive running game.
He has had Jabari Zuniga, arguably his best defensive player, healthy for a tiny fraction of the season. Jon Greenard has been injured for multiple games as well.
Everywhere you look, Florida has been limited. Everywhere you look, Florida has not had the ideal players it would want to face Georgia and LSU.
Speaking of Georgia and LSU, Florida had to play those two teams this year. It also had to play Auburn and Miami and still has Florida State on the slate.
If you were to tell Mullen that he would have his best players within the context of an injury-free season, this 2019 course of events (in terms of wins and losses and style of play) would have been noticeably disappointing. Yet, given the injuries and the limitations, Florida being 6-2 in the SEC and 9-2 overall is pretty damn good.
Adjusted for circumstances, Florida has done as much as it realistically could have been expected to do. LSU is the best team in college football this regular season. Florida gave the Tigers a good test for three quarters and were outplayed in the fourth. There isn’t much more one could have asked from UF in that game.
The Georgia game was certainly a disappointment, but if you’re going to say that Florida and Georgia have the same levels of talent, please turn in your college football analyst card at the door.
That is not a credible assertion.
We can talk about recruiting in a separate conversation or column, but in 2019, Dan Mullen has coaxed a 9-2 record – likely to become 10-2 with a win over Florida State – from a limited roster with a lot of backups playing extended snaps at hugely important positions.
Florida is winning games without style points. It is managing situations and handling challenges.
Sound familiar? These were the two SEC East-winning seasons under McElwain, the only two seasons in this decade (which is about to end) when Florida went to Atlanta.
The 2019 Gators share the ragged, uneven quality of McElwain’s teams, but the coaching and adaptability are better. The number of losses is lower. The ceiling for the program is higher.
McElwain 2.0 feels like an insult, until you look below the surface and see what is truly being compared.
Georgia clinched SEC East- eliminated Gators Saturday night
Any hope the Florida Gators had of working their way back to Atlanta and the SEC Title game, through a potential backdoor, ended Saturday night. That’s when, the Georgia Bulldogs outfought their rival Auburn, 21 – 14 giving them a 6 – 1 record and the SEC East title for the third consecutive year.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Gators had done their part to set up a possible late season rally to win the division by smothering the Missouri Tigers on the road 23 – 6. That improved Florida to their final SEC record of 6 – 2. However, because they lost head-to-head 2 weeks ago to the Dawgs in Jacksonville, it meant the Gators had to have Georgia lose both of their remaining games, including next week at home with Texas A&M.
Georgia made sure that didn’t happen, as D’Andre Swift ran for 106 yards and Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm threw three touchdown passes. That included the eventual game-winner to tighten Eli Wolf from 5 yards out that put Georgia up 21 – 0 after three periods.
Auburn put together a tremendous rally behind freshman quarterback Bo Nix, who threw for 245 yards and a touchdown and ran for another TD to pull the Tigers within 21 – 14 with seven minutes to go.
Auburn got the ball back two times with chances to go and get a tying touchdown and both times, the Bulldogs held them on downs. The last one coming in the final minute of the game when Nix was sacked on fourth down inside his own 15-yard line to clinch the win and title for Georgia..
The Bulldogs, who were ranked fourth in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings still controls their own destiny to the playoff by winning out and winning the SEC title game. Of course, likely standing in their way is that top-ranked LSU, who is unbeaten heading into play Saturday night and will be the other team trying to make the final four.
The best case scenario now for the Gators is to win their remaining game with rival FSU at the Swamp in two weeks and then look to be in a possible “New Year Six” game, most likely the Cotton Bowl.
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