There are two ways to look at the Florida Gators. One way is to see them as a rebuilding program, coming off a disappointing 4-7 season, who have a new coach who has history with the program. Some, like Barry Odom, may draw parallels to their own situation of rebuilding a program you care deeply about and taking over a dream job. Against a common opponent like Georgia, both teams were clearly inferior and have a long way to go to return to the top of the SEC East. The other way to look at Florida is to see the number 13 team in the country whose rebuild is happening faster than expected, led by a proven coach and loaded with four and five star recruits. I choose to see the later.
Florida is loaded with athletes on both sides of the ball. On the offense, four different players have scored rushing touchdowns, led by RBs Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett. QB Feleipe Franks is a true dual threat QB yet he does not excel at anything. He has thrown for 1500 yards, rushed for 156, thrown 16 touchdowns and rushed for two. I am sure coach Dan Mullen will eventually get his man to run the offense, but he is making due with the poor man’s version of Dak Prescott. WR Feddie Swain leads the team with 263 yards receiving and five TDs while Van Jefferson leads the team with 19 receptions.
Defensively, the Gators make plays. They average 2.1 takeaways per game, led by DB Brad Stewart who has 2 INTs and one forced fumble. However, the heart of their defense rests with dominant DE Jachail Polite, who has seven sacks and four forced fumbles. LB Vosean Joseph leads the team with 57 total tackles and has four sacks, three passes deflected and one fumble recovered.
When looking at a game against the Gators on the road in Gainesville, it is impossible to avoid viewing the Tigers through the lens of heartbreak and disappointment that follows a game like Kentucky. Simply put, the Tigers wasted their best opportunity to make a statement win against a ranked team. Several times this season, I have written that the game that week presented Odom, Lock, and the Tigers with the opportunity to change the narrative and regain national relevance with a victory. Each time the Tigers have come up short in a comically disappointing fashion. One week the defense fails to make a stop. Another, the offense fails to convert an important and possibly game clinching third down conversion. Each week the special teams finds a way to make a bone-headed play and leave points on the board or fail to pick up a rusher on a punt.
The cliché goes “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Well, we have reached the insanity portion of the season. Each week we expect Odom, Lock, and the Tigers to make the necessary adjustments, step up, and win a game that can change the narrative for the Tigers, build momentum for the program, and finally break through with a statement win. So, since we are all insane, the game against the Gators presents this opportunity once again, right? Crazy things have happened for the Tigers down in Gainesville including the 2014 game where the Tigers only managed 119 total yards on offense but embarrassed the Gators 42-13.
Not so fast my friend. Until the Tigers prove otherwise, we should expect the exact same thing to happen this week. Outmatched by a superior coaching staff and better athletes, pressure will once again be too much for Lock to overcome. We can expect WRs to get behind the Mizzou secondary and create big plays. The O-line will get overpowered by a top-level DE and force Lock to fumble the ball. Special teams will once again make the wrong play and lead to bad field position or a costly turnover. Finally, there will be shoot yourself in the foot penalties that will cost the Tigers.
I said this would be a dark path, and until the Tigers show us something different, we should not expect this game against the Gators to turn out any differently than others have. Yes, there is a path for Mizzou to win this game. 2014 provided the blueprint. But this is not the 2014 Tigers.
I want to be wrong about this and will gladly eat crow if the Tigers can put together a perfect game and upset Florida. In fact, nothing would make me happier than to hear Gator fans complain about a loss to Mizzou. But, I refuse to continue to do the same thing repeatedly and expect a different result. I am not insane…I think.