Florida didn’t need to play a perfect game to beat Florida State, but they did need to play one of their more complete games of the season. The Gators would have to rid themselves of the self-inflicted errors, take advantage of every opportunity and not make any silly mistakes if they wanted to beat their rival. Instead of a complete game it felt like we got a “Now That’s What I Call Florida Football : 2023 Greatest Hits” album.
The game was basically a microcosm of the 2023 season and highlights what has made this team particularly frustrating for Florida fans. There were extended periods of competence, great designs, and great individual plays followed by head scratching decisions, silly penalties and poor execution.
Florida started the game hot but even in that period of great play you couldn’t take advantage of your opportunities. A missed down block on a 3rd and 3 on the opening drive turned a likely 1st and 10 inside the redzone into a missed field goal on 4th and 13. Florida was trying to run a jet sweep to the bunch into the boundary. They were going back to a pin-pull scheme which involves down blocking and pulling.
The key block here is the down block by the tight end. If the defensive end wins across face, he can kill the play. Unfortunately for Florida, that’s exactly what happened.
Hindsight is obviously 20/20 but it certainly seems Florida would have been better off just zoning this one off. The down block looks great on the board but Florida State’s defensive ends are fast upfield. The tight end could have taken better steps here, but that is a tough block to make.
Florida had a chance to really put the game away after forcing a safety in the 2nd quarter to go up 12-0. The Gators got the ball back in great field position and tried a trick play for the kill shot. Unfortunately, as has seemingly been the case most of the year, the trick play backfired and resulted in a big loss. Florida seemed to be in a rhythm running the ball and a good drive there to get points could have taken you into the locker room with a double digit lead and a lot of doubt in Florida State’s mind.
It’s easy to second guess these types of decisions when they don’t work. We don’t have the same amount of information that the coaches do on opponent tendencies and we also aren’t in the meeting room telling the players that we’re going to play aggressive and unload the clip. Criticisms can be made within the vacuum of Twitter, but it doesn’t always mean they aren’t valid at times. I would guess this is one call Napier would like back.
Regardless, that decision did not lose the game. To say otherwise is not reality. You end up punting the ball back to Florida State and they start a drive at their own 10. On their previous drive they had the ball on their own 9 when you forced a safety. A winning team picks up their coach, gets off the field and gives their offense another chance to score before the half. Instead we saw the Florida defense revert back to bad habits giving up explosive plays and silly penalties allowing Florida State back in the game.
Florida had opportunities to win this game but failed to do so in the end. It’s the same thing we talked about after Missouri. Winning teams make winning plays and winning is a learned skill. As much as Florida fans don’t want to hear it, this Florida State team has learned how to win. This Florida team has yet to do so.
This is one of the worst four year stretches of Florida football in my lifetime. This is the first four year stretch without at least nine wins in a season since 1986-1989. This is also the first three year stretch that Florida will not finish ranked in the final AP poll since 1986-1989. As fun as the 2020 season felt at times, Florida only won 8 games. Florida desperately needs an infusion of winners.
Winning is learned so it may be all those young guys that alternated making great plays and taking their lumps. You saw plenty of young players learning on the job this year.Those guys fought all year and had to learn some lessons the hard way. I expect them to take big steps forward. It may be new coaches on staff to help bring new ideas and ways to teach concepts. It may be players from the transfer portal that can come in and help immediately. It should also be from this year’s recruiting class. I think you can feel good about the future if your class ranking matches or betters your win total.
Whoever or wherever it comes from, Billy Napier needs to find it quickly. I like Billy and think he’s a solid coach, but this is a results oriented business. He knows that and I imagine he will do everything he can to rectify the situation that the program is in. If he can’t find those guys to make or call the winning plays next season, it’s going to get loud in Gainesville.