Florida is a losing football team. They have a chance to get back to even in the Backup Bowl next week, but as of now it’s true. And it’s not just true for this season, but also Billy Napier’s tenure as a whole. Beyond experience and talent level, the biggest difference between losing teams and winning teams is that winning teams make winning plays.
Winning plays are not only the big plays you see every week, but also the little things. You have to be good on the margins and situationally. Winning plays also involve taking advantage when your opponent gives you an opportunity. The winning teams punish opponent mistakes while losing teams compound their own.
In a close game where points mattered greatly, Florida made too many losing plays to come away with the win. Let’s take a look at a few of those in chronological order.
When you’re on the road against the top 10 team as a double digit underdog, you have to take advantage of any opportunity the opponent gives you. In the third quarter Florida has a chance to get off the field in the red zone without giving up any points.On second and goal, Florida flushed Brady Cook out of the pocket. Cook threw up a desperation pass.
Jaydon Hill came off of the receiver he was covering and put himself in position to intercept this throw.
Instead the ball went through his hands, bounced up in the air and was nearly caught for a touchdown .The play was ruled an incomplete pass and Florida got off the field on third down giving up only a field goal. These points could have been wiped away completely if Florida took advantage of the gift Cook tried to give them.
In the fourth quarter, Florida gave Missouri a gift of their own. On 2nd and 13 from the 15 yard line, the Gators called a safe pass for backup quarterback Max Brown. It was one of Florida’s base boot plays and would give Brown an easy throw or an opportunity to run.
Unfortunately, as Brown went to make his fake the ball hit off the back’s elbow causing it to come out. Missouri was selling out against the run and Brown would have had a couple open options to choose from in the passing game.
However, the ball was on the turf and Missouri recovered, wiping at least 3 points off the board for the Gators.
Later in the 4th quarter, Florida was putting together a drive to take the lead. At the same time Florida was also trying to leave as little time on the clock for Missouri as possible. With a 3rd and 12 coming up, Billy Napier was faced with a choice. A first down basically wins the game for you at the point. A throw on third down would be your best bet to convert, but the risk of an incomplete pass stopping the clock probably takes that off the table. While making that decision you think that the clock is going to stop regardless after the play, via an incompletion or a timeout. But the advantage you gain by making Missouri burn their final timeout of the game makes the run the smarter play.Right?
Florida decided to run a wide zone play on 3rd down. It’s a good call in that situation in two ways. First the play has a chance to convert. How many times have we seen a vertical seam open up and the Florida back hit it in there against the flow of the defense for a big gain? Secondly, it will likely burn a few more seconds than a duo play or another inside run. The handoff is a little wonky but clean and the back bounces the run out. As he approaches the sideline all he has to do is get vertical, pick up a couple of extra yards and keep the clock rolling.
Instead, he ducks out of bounds and Florida basically gets the worst of both worlds. They ran on 3rd and 12 AND let Missouri keep their timeout. Not a winning play.
Even with all those missed opportunities, Florida has a golden chance to win the game on Missouri’s next drive. The Gators defense forces Missouri into a 4th and 17 and the Tigers are scrambling. For reference, the conversion rate for 3rd and 17 is around 15%. Fortunately for them, they have a timeout and decide to use it before this pivotal play.
Missouri draws up a look with trips to the right and the back and single receiver to the left. The outside receivers are going vertical but the play is mostly designed for the #2 and #3 receivers to the trips side. The number 3 receiver is going to run a deep crosser and either get the ball or clear out space for the #2 receiver. The second receiver is going to run a deep dig, hopefully into space vacated to chase the crosser. Florida calls a Cover 3 look with the weakside safety rotating down. It’s not a bad call against this look from Missouri. The rotating safety takes out the crosser and now you have 4 defenders for two Missouri receivers. Florida also runs a game up front.
I don’t think the Gators had on a perfect call for the situation, but if Florida executed the call as it’s drawn above, they likely win the game. The backer to the tree receiver side doesn’t appear to get enough depth as he has no threat in front of him and can probably carry #2 vertically. IF that backer is 3-5 yards deeper the ball is either never thrown or intercepted.
These plays coupled with the silly procedural penalties are not winning football. You can’t go on the road and pull an upset with all these mistakes. Winning is a learned skill and sometimes you have to learn the hard way.
I’d imagine these situations are drilled and coached up all week. The first two plays we talked about involve things that are simply enough that they are involved in warmups. You can coach it all you want but sometimes failure is the best teacher. The first head coach I worked under, Dave Marino, was about as meticulous as they come. Our Thursday practices were all about situational football. We would rep two minute drill and four minute drill, which we called being in “Milk It Mode”. We wanted to make sure that we would be prepared if we got into a situation where we needed to milk the clock.
All season every Thursday we would rep milk it mode. We’d tell the players to lay on the ground until the ref asked them to get up…twice. We’d rep slowly handing the ball to the ref or maybe tossing it at his feet to waste a few more seconds. And most importantly we would stress two hands on the ball at all times. In week eight of our first season at the school, we were playing a district opponent. A loss would likely knock us out of the playoffs. It was a back and forth game, but we were leading with about 5 minutes left in the game with the ball. We went into milk it mode. A couple plays into the drive, our back tries to work for a few more yards, takes a hand off the ball and fumbles. They take the ball down and score to take the lead. We were able to come back and win on a last minute touchdown, but it was much harder than it needed to be.
The very next week, we were faced with the exact same situation. On the road at a district opponent and the loser stays home for the playoffs. We had a late lead again and went into milk it mode. This time our back executed everything perfectly. He laid on the ground until the refs made him get up, he held the ball until the refs made him hand it over AND he kept two hands on the ball at ALL times. We iced the game and made the playoffs.
You always hope as a coach that if you rep things enough your guys will automatically go out and execute. But that isn’t always the case. Failure is a great teacher, and unfortunately, Florida has a lot of players that are still learning lessons.