Florida Football: 5 Biggest Developments Following Week 8 Loss
Targeting penalties, untimely injuries and patchwork offensive play are just a few issues that have plagued the Florida Gators (4-3) through seven games.
With seven players sidelined for the remainder of the season due to injury, including five starters, Will Muschamp, with an offense that ranks 13th in the SEC, has a tough road ahead of him.
And with the likes of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State on the schedule the next five weeks, Florida's road to Atlanta becomes that much more difficult.
We've comprised a list of Florida's biggest developments through seven games, with each selection based on most tangible impact.
Let's take a look.
Florida's Offensive Line Cannot Protect
When Florida traveled to Baton Rouge, La., to face LSU, it forgot to bring its offensive line.
The Gators saw their quarterback sacked four times and hurried on four additional occasions. And versus Missouri on Saturday, Florida's woeful offensive line produced the same results.
Tyler Murphy was sacked a season-high six times and hurried on six separate occasions, as the Gators failed to produce any offense en route to a 36-17 loss to the Tigers at Faurot Field.
UF's pass protection is atrocious. Murphy is going to get killed with the Gators having to play from behind.— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) October 19, 2013
Florida's offense scored one touchdown and Murphy was held to a season-low, meager 92 yards on 15-of-29 passing.
Phil Heilman of the Independent Florida Alligator cites Florida's offensive line woes as one of Will Muschamp's biggest concerns.
For Florida’s third-year coach, the failures of the offensive line are especially frustrating. Since taking over prior to the 2011 season, he has looked to renovate the unit he once called soft into a foundation for a successful power offense.
Despite returning three key cogs from last year’s unit—Jon Halapio, D.J. Humphries and center Jon Harrison—while adding transfers Tyler Moore and Max Garcia, the Gators remain without continuity.
Versus Missouri, defensive lineman Michael Sam collected three of the team’s six sacks as the Tigers limited the Gators to 151 yards of total offense, the fewest by a UF offense since 1999.
And if Florida is going to become bowl eligible, it'll need a stronger showing from its defeated offensive line.
The Injury Bug Continues to Bite Florida
The long list of Florida's injuries continues to get longer by the week.
Seven Gators, including five starters, have been lost for the season, including the likes of Matt Jones and Dominique Easley. In the span of eight weeks, Florida has lost its entire backfield, with both Jones and Jeff Driskel lost to injury.
Not coincidentally, production at such positions has been minimal with exception of the play from Tyler Murphy.
As Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army notes, players subbing in at key positions, including running back and defensive tackle, have failed to make a substantial impact.
Tyler Murphy's good play has improbably made Driskel's loss the least painful of the bunch so far, but Easley has been sorely missed, and was especially sorely missed against LSU. And Jones's absence may force a revamp of Florida's offensive approach, given that his talents as an all-around back were singular on Florida's roster.
In the last two games, Florida's yards per carry (2.34) has dipped well below its 2013 season average (3.70), and the Gators have failed to produce a 100-yard rusher since Jones eclipsed the century mark versus Kentucky on Sept. 28.
Defensively, Florida has played without Ronald Powell, Damien Jacobs, Marcus Roberson and Dominique Easley. In Saturday's loss, safety Cody Riggs was ejected for a targeting penalty on the first drive of the game.
On Saturday, Missouri torched Florida's defense, throwing for 295 yards and tacking on 205 rushing yards.
Florida's Offense Continues to Disappoint Its Defense
The Gators have an elite defense despite losing defensive tackle Dominique Easley (ranked fourth nationally, allowing 273.1 yards per game), but when it needed help in its losses to Miami, LSU and Missouri, the offense has failed to provide support.
Gators coach Will Muschamp: "I’m just very disappointed that we haven’t made more positive strides offensively this season."— Jason Lieser (@PBPjasonlieser) October 19, 2013
Florida has surrendered 20 or more points just twice this season. But in its three losses, its offense has failed to score more than 24 points, and it has only scored 30 points or more twice.
Not coincidentally, Florida ranks 13th in the SEC in yards per game (336.9) and points (21.1).
As Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com notes, Florida's biggest issue has been offensive consistency.
The Gators have more of a passing game this season, but offensive consistency is still an issue. In the 21-16 loss to Miami, Florida had a season-high 291 passing yards, but turned the ball over five times, including three times in the red zone. In last week's loss to LSU, Florida managed just 240 yards of offense with a season-low 3.5 yards per play, and the run game averaged 2.8 yards per carry for the third time this season.
It's no secret Florida's defense consistently puts its offense in manageable situations. But capitalizing on turnovers and good field position has been missing from Florida's offense. And if the Gators are to get to Atlanta, the offense will have to start carrying its own weight.
Dominique Easley's Injury Hurts the Most
Florida entered Saturday's game versus Missouri first in the SEC in total defense, yards per play, rushing defense, passing defense, pass-efficiency defense and first downs allowed.
But the Gators defense post-Dominique Easley has been noticeably different in weeks past.
Consider this: Florida's defense had allowed one play of 40 yards or more through six games. Versus Missouri, however, the defense surrendered three such plays.
While much of that can be attributed to multiple injuries on Florida's defensive line and secondary, the odds of the defense giving up these kind of explosive plays with Easley in the rotation are slim to none.
The performance of Florida's defense the past two weeks erases any lingering doubt over who the biggest loss of the season was.— Phillip Heilman (@phillip_heilman) October 19, 2013
Easley was third on the team in quarterback hurries before his injury, despite facing multiple double-teams. As a Gator, Easley has played all along the line of scrimmage and has impressed with front versatility, playing at multiple interior positions, including 0-technique, 1-technique and 3-technique.
And his absence has been sorely missed.
The loss of Easley has been compounded by recent injuries to an already-thin defensive line. Leon Orr missed time versus Tennessee and Damien Jacobs sat out versus Missouri on Saturday. In its last two games, Florida's defense has surrendered 380 rushing yards. Florida has allowed back-to-back 100-yard rushers the last two games after not doing so all season.
Place-Kickers Plaguing Special Teams
In lesser news, Florida's kicking game remains in shambles.
Will Muschamp has turned to walk-on kicker Francisco Velez after recycling both Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips through six games.
The Gators are second worst in the SEC with four misses, and the problem doesn't appear to be getting any better.
Hardin missed a 39-yard field goal versus Toledo and a 41-yard attempt versus Tennessee. Versus Arkansas, Hardin punched his ticket to the bench after kicking a 48-yard attempt low enough to be blocked.
Counterpart Brad Phillips didn't even travel with the team to Baton Rouge, La.
As Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post discusses, Florida's offense has been directly affected by the constant change.
With field goals no longer a sure thing, the Gators are rethinking fourth-down calls when they enter what used to be considered scoring territory.