The look on the face of injured Florida linebacker and defensive captain, Brandon Spikes, spoke volumes.
Confined to the sideline with a game ending groin pull, Spikes was biting his lip as he looked at the replay of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett’s 75 yard scoring pass that gave the Hogs in the lead with less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
Among other things, his look personified the statistical Achilles tendon for the Gators—that they rarely win games when they are behind in the fourth quarter.
To the Gator Nation, it looked as if yet another upstart team from the SEC west was going to derail Florida’s hope of a perfect season.
But in the end, the last nine minutes to be more precise, the Gator offensive line finally figured out how to crack the stacked Arkansas front.
With some well timed aid from the officiating staff, Tim Tebow, Jeffrey Demps, and the rest of the Florida offense assembled two mistake free drives.
A Demps rushing touchdown with 7:27 remaining and a Caleb Sturgis field goal with nine seconds left on the clock sealed the victory for the Gators in what could be described as Florida’s most amateurish outing in years.
As players, coaches, pundits, and fans scratch their heads in relief, or disbelief, the question remains…was this game a miracle, mulligan, or omen of things to come for the top-ranked Gators?
The Case for a Miracle
Miracle is actually too strong of a word to use—the term “gift” seems more appropriate here.
In a game where there were three missed field goals, over 100 yards in penalties, four fumbles, two touchdown passes over 70 yards, and dozens of missed tackles there’s a strong case that the college football gods intervened on the home team’s behalf.
And it looked like they did so at the 51 minute mark for the Gators.
Up until then, neither team performed as expected. The Gators looked cursed and the Razorbacks looked determined.
It was with nine minutes left that everything changed. Florida looked like a championship team again and Arkansas finally looked frustrated.
Maybe the great prognosticator in the sky, sitting in a golden recliner with a universal function remote, decided that it would be best to keep hopes in Florida alive for one more week.
Perhaps this is the year that the Florida Gators will go undefeated…regardless if they want to or not!
The Case for a Mulligan
Maybe Florida’s performance against Arkansas was nothing more than one giant brain hiccup.
If you look at the record books you will find that almost every team that won a national championship in college football had at least one “scare” on the schedule.
A regular season game that was so close it took a great last minute play to win or was influenced by a huge mistake or a timely call by the officials.
Think of Florida blocking a South Carolina field goal in 2006, the Gators missing a field goal in overtime against Tennessee in 1998, or Nebraska’s overtime win against Missouri in 1997.
And there are plenty more.
With a 12 game regular schedule it’s hard to stay focused week end and week out especially when your quarterback is a celebrity, your competition has it out for you, and your offense is being criticized.
And on top of all that, The Gators have a history of underwhelming an SEC west opponent in the middle of the season anyway so why should this year be any different.
Maybe the fact that they did pull of a victory against the upstart Razorbacks instead of collapsing when behind is proof that this team has the mojo to complete the season undefeated.
Or maybe it would be best to simply hit the “do-over” button and start preparing for the Bulldogs.
The Case for an Omen of Things to Come
Was Saturday a bad day for the Gators or is this a sign of the direction the team is headed…
A review of the game stats shows that neither team had anything close to a good day on the field.
For Arkansas, this game boiled down to a number of “what-ifs.”
For Florida, this game could be best summarized by “what where we thinking.”
Of all the issues concerning the performance of the Gator offense, defense, and special team squads on Saturday, four are most disturbing since they could indicate a trend in future play.
First, even thought Arkansas brought a great defensive plan to the Swamp, it took the Gator offense over three quarters to figure it out.
Florida’s offensive line was challenged on most every play and the blocking of the wide outs, at times, looked less than Gator-like.
The bad news is that even though the Gators finally overcame this defensive effort the Hogs showed the rest of the SEC how to stop Florida’s rushing game—even if for only three quarters.
Second, Charlie Strong’s defense looked great at times but they also had huge problems with tackling technique and coverage assignments.
Yes, the pressure put on Hog quarterback Ryan Mallett was instrumental in preventing him from accurately throwing to several wide open receivers. However, the mere fact that the Gator defensive backfield allowed so many open opportunities showed that a competent passing game may be a real threat in future contests.
This game also confirmed that Spike’s defensive presence on the field is every bit as important as Tebow’s on the offense.
Third, turnover margin is a key benchmark in any championship team and right now the Gators are failing in that category.
Against Arkansas, the Florida offense coughed up the ball four times and the Gator defense didn’t force a single turnover.
So far this season, Florida is -2 on the year in turnovers.
Meyer needs to tighten the belt when it comes to training his offense to hold on to the ball. He can’t rely on luck and his defense to cover the mistakes of his ball carriers.
Fourth, you can’t drop passes in the SEC.
If you take the Kentucky game out of the figures Florida’s winning SEC margin is less than ten points.
For the Gators, scoring is no longer a tool used to impress voters it’s a means to survival.
Against Arkansas, the Gator wide out corps looked brilliant on occasion but lackluster at times too.
Meyer needs his receivers to be perceived as a threat on every down. That means that they have to execute their routes perfectly and hold on to as many balls as humanly possible.
It sounds simple but the Gator route runners are, at times, making it look hard.
Florida absolutely needs a deep passing game to survive the balance of the season. Deonte Thompson’s 77 yard touchdown reception against Arkansas is similar to what the Gators need to each week.