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Florida Gators

Gators and FSU know what lies ahead

Matt Zemek

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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It is true that the Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles do not inhabit the same worlds of expectations, ceilings, and postseason possibilities.

Florida can realistically win nine games, as flawed as it is.

Florida State has too many warts – and too many losses already (two) – to have a real chance at 9-3. Clemson will beat the Noles. Florida will be a problem. Another game is bound to slip away. FSU is fighting just to go to a bowl and avoid a humiliating two-year stretch without a postseason game.

A 9-3 record could get Florida a “New Year’s Six” bowl. It did last year. Teams in the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 are playing themselves out of the NY6, to the SEC could get four NY6 teams… as it did last year with Florida, LSU, Georgia, and Alabama. The same four teams could be New Year’s Six teams this winter.

Having established that the Gators and Seminoles are not playing for the same prizes with the same levels of pressure, they do share one basic point of commonality after four weeks of college football: They are not going to have an easy time of it over the next two months.

That statement might seem obvious, and plenty of people will recognize it for what it is. I am making the point that if FSU and UF fans are emotionally unprepared for an uninterrupted string of messy, nerve-wracking, exasperating games… well, you need to adjust and face reality.

This is simply how it’s going to be. Accept it.

You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to approve of it. You do need to come to terms with it in a fundamental way.

Florida State was all over Louisville, 21-0, before anyone could blink in Tallahassee. “Surely they won’t collapse in the second half AGAIN.”

Well, they did for 20 minutes of the second half before rescuing themselves thanks to a bad Louisville interception thrown deep in Seminole territory. The idea that Florida State is suddenly going to snap into focus and play immaculate second halves this season – when the track record is so unspeakably horrible – seems unrealistic There are too many warts on this team (and too much chaos in the ACC) to think that Florida State will morph into a responsible, steady team.

That kind of team isn’t about to emerge. Talent, coaching and outside factors all have to improve markedly for Florida State to reach a much higher standard. That standard isn’t visible on the distant horizon. It is impossible to see right now.

It is simply going to be – and remain – that kind of year, with every weekend a struggle and a journey into a dark world of uncertainty.

For Florida, the larger nature of the season might not be nearly as grim as it currently is in Tallahassee, but the ugliness of each gameday appears to be a fact of life. Now and in the next two months, Florida is not going to provide aesthetically pleasing, consistent football. It is just not going to happen.

Florida made tons of mistakes against Tennessee. The mistakes weren’t unacceptable; Kyle Trask is a backup-level quarterback for a reason. Dan Mullen can – and does, and will – scheme open receivers on several occasions each game, but over 60 minutes, Trask is going to make inadequate decisions.

This is not a knock on him; this is merely a reflection of his status as a backup quarterback.

Trask is doing the best he can. Yet, if he struggled against Tennessee, imagine what will happen against Auburn and LSU and Georgia.

Not only WILL Florida games be ugly the rest of the way in 2019; the Gators will actually WANT games to be ugly.

If LSU and Georgia play rhythmic, fluid offense, Florida will get crushed. The Gators need to play the “10-7 rock fight” Notre Dame needed to play to win against Georgia on Saturday night. Notre Dame played that game for two and a half quarters, but it was all Georgia in the final one and a half quarters.

Florida will have to find a way to “ugly it up” for four full quarters against UGA and LSU to have any remote hope of winning.

Just relax. Loosen those shoulder muscles. Grab a cold beverage.

Accept the reality that in Tallahassee and Gainesville, it’s going to be that kind of season: not with the same win-loss record, but with ugly and uneven football for two more months.

Take all the precautions you need… but you can’t outrun or ignore reality even when it is unpleasant.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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Florida Gators

Gators QB Trask shows more growth in key win Saturday

Matt Zemek

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Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

It was messy. It wasn’t the immaculate performance Kyle Trask delivered for the first two and a half quarters against LSU the week before.

This game against South Carolina on Saturday felt like a return to reality for Trask, who is a capable quarterback but doesn’t have as many tools in the toolbox as the man he replaced, the injured Feleipe Franks.

We have seen many examples over the years of college football programs – even those led by elite coaches – not picking the right quarterback for opening day of the season. These programs and coaches stumbled onto the superior quarterback after benching the Day 1 starter or watching an injury force their hand.

Nick Saban picked Blake Barnett over Jalen Hurts at Alabama a few years ago

Clay Helton of USC picked Max Browne over a man named Sam Darnold.

In 2005, West Virginia started the season with an average quarterback named Adam Bednarik. He got hurt… and Pat White entered to completely change Rich Rodriguez’s career and the direction of the West Virginia program.

Yes, it is sometimes true in college football that the original starting quarterback wasn’t the best quarterback for the team.

It is not true with Florida.

Franks did not play well in this year’s opener against Miami, but Franks – at full health, able to expand the field with his scrambling and give the Gators’ offense more options for moving the ball – still offered more upside than Trask. This is not a criticism of Trask; at the very least, you don’t have to interpret it that way.

One can simply acknowledge that Franks was the starter for a reason. Trask was thrown into a very uncomfortable spot.

He handled it well, but he still had to live with his limitations. So did Florida.

This marked a prefect prelude to Saturday, on the road, in a roaring Williams-Brice Stadium. This was a microcosm of Trask’s 2019 season.

He was thrown into an uncomfortable position. Not everything was working well for him. Yet, his team needed him. He had to somehow find an answer in the midst of a challenging situation.

Down 20-17 in the fourth quarter, facing third-down pressure against an upset-minded opponent, what would Trask do? How would he respond?

The answer could not have been better for him, Dan Mullen, or the Gators.

Trask threw strikes in the fourth quarter. He threw them on the equivalent of a 3-2 count with runners in scoring position and two out… after racking up a high pitch count and having hitters work counts against him all game long.

Trask made so many bad reads through the first three quarters of this game. Dan Mullen was barking at him. The Gators’ offense sputtered against an in-form South Carolina defense which had made winning plays against Georgia and was rightly feeling confident that it could make those same plays one week later versus Florida.

The challenge wasn’t simply for Trask to play better; it was to block out the negativity from the first three quarters and provide the calm leadership of a team in dire need of stability.

Trask obviously needed to improve his reads and responses, but just as important was the need to provide a strong presence which would radiate through the huddle, anchoring Florida in a time of trial.

Trask answered the bell. It was in many ways a better outcome for Florida than if everything had gone swimmingly from opening kickoff to final gun.

THIS kind of win, not a drama-free joyride, truly prepares the Gators for the “Cocktail Party” against Georgia.

THAT is the game in which a smooth ride would be greatly appreciated by Gator fans… but they needed a triumph over difficult circumstances first.

They got it on Saturday. Kyle Trask conquered his doubts and his flaws, not just the Gamecocks.

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Florida Gators

Gators latest reunion with Muschamp defining one

Matt Zemek

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The one time the Florida Gators maxed out on the gridiron this decade did not come from Urban Meyer in the 2010 season, his last in Gainesville.

It did not come from Jim McElwain, despite the fact that Mac is the only UF coach this decade to win the SEC East.

It did not come from Dan Mullen, even though Florida’s only New Year’s Six bowl win this decade (formerly known as a BCS bowl) was produced by Mullen last season against Michigan.

No, the best Florida football season this decade was authored by Will Muschamp, the man the Gators will face on Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina.

Yes, it is true that Muschamp’s tenure at Florida was generally a failure because of the rock-bottom nature of his other three seasons on the job. Yet, in 2012, everything fell into place for Muschamp. He not only crafted an 11-1 regular season which was accompanied by a top-five finish in the pre-bowl polls; he won in a manner Will Muschamp likes to win: with defense.

It figures, then, that Muschamp’s biggest win at South Carolina – knocking off No. 3 Georgia, Muschamp’s alma mater, Between the Hedges in Athens – was built by a defense which continued to make one big play after another.

The Gamecocks continued to bother Jake Fromm, and when a Georgia receiver bobbled a pass, South Carolina was there to pluck the interception and change the flow of the game.

It was a Muschamp masterpiece, forged in the face of all sorts of limitations, chiefly the injury to quarterback Ryan Hilinski. South Carolina had to survive on offense, avoiding a huge mistake, and then hope that its defense could continue to stand on its head and carry the team home.

That is exactly what happened.

South Carolina won without scoring a touchdown in overtime. It won in spite of a missed 33-yard field goal which would have won the game. It won despite the offense getting shut out in the second half of regulation.

It was the ugly kind of win which was common for Florida in 2012.

Muschamp is aiming for the best two-week sequence of his tenure as the Gamecocks’ head coach. Beating his alma mater, Georgia, and his former employer, Florida, in consecutive games would give Muschamp a set of memories to last a lifetime.

Winning these two games might also be enough to save his job.

Standing in the way are the Gators, who might be thinking about the plays they didn’t make against LSU, or dreaming about beating Georgia in a few weeks.

Florida can’t worry about what it failed to do, and it can’t win a game which hasn’t yet arrived on the schedule.

This game might define Will Muschamp’s future. It definitely defines Florida’s present-day reality.

The past several Florida teams – mostly under McElwain but also last year under Mullen – were prone to letdowns against one or two beatable teams on the schedule. If Florida is to return to the 2012 heights established by Muschamp, and to the high standard consistently set by Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, this is the game Dan Mullen has to win.

Sure, everyone will focus on Georgia, a game whose importance requires no explanation. However, the difference between a decent 9-3 season and an excellent 11-1 season is built not just on beating Georgia, but on winning games such as this one.

Florida’s defense – smoked by Joe Burrow and LSU – now faces a much more manageable opponent when it lines up against the South Carolina offense Some teams are too good. LSU and Burrow are playing at an elite level The Gators just need to tip the cap to the Tigers. It happens.

That loss isn’t a bad loss, but it will be a much bigger problem if the Gators don’t learn from it. This South Carolina game will show of Florida can adjust and mentally reset, or if old demons are still haunting Gator football.

This game is defining for former Florida coach Will Muschamp. It will also define where the Gators stand, how well they carry themselves, and what they are capable of achieving this year.

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