Sitting in the Swamp this past Saturday night it was apparent that the orange and blue faithful have not taken to first-year quarterback John Brantley. "Fans" booed when he walked on the field, shouting out expletives and phrases which weren't exactly encouraging.
I know here at the University of Florida we are spoiled. We just got finished with a four-year run of unbridled success as the all-holy Tim Tebow carried us on his back. But damn was it embarrassing on Saturday night listening to fellow students curse and holler at the junior quarterback. If you plan on chewing out an unpaid college athlete, at least have a little bit of an idea what you are talking about.
Is it true that Brantley has not exactly lived up to the lofty expectations we set for him? Well yeah, he isn't in the Heisman running, but neither are 99 percent of the quarterbacks in the nation. No, he isn't on pace to break any UF or SEC records, but when our past quarterbacks consist of the likes of Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel, that shouldn't be surprising.
Does he miss a couple of throws every game? Of course, but who wouldn't after sitting out for two-plus years after backing up Mr. Tebow?
It's a famous adage that quarterbacks get way too much credit when their teams win and way too much hate when the team struggles, and it holds impeccably true under these circumstances as well. The fact that Brantley isn't putting up Tim Tebow or Chris Leak-like numbers has nothing to do with the Florida Gators' current 6-4 record.
The problems run much deeper than simply the man under center. If fans want to point fingers at UF's disappointing record thus far, point them towards the play calling, the offensive line and the receivers.
Let's say you own a Hummer which you love and you take off-roading every single weekend. Over time the Hummer wears down and you realize that you are going to have to move on to a new car. You shop around and talk to local dealers and try and get them to convince you to buy their model.
You finally settle on a Ferrari, which you are very happy with as you take it home from the dealership. The weekend rolls around and you take that Ferrari out off-roading like you use to with your previous car and become extremely disappointed when things go horribly. Well that's basically what Steve Addazio did with John Brantley.
Now I'm not totally against the constant dive plays and receiver screens called by the mastermind Addazio, but his play calling needs to change if he expects Brantley to succeed. John Brantley is a drop-back, prototypical quarterback. He is someone who would love to see the field spread out with five receivers across as he takes a snap out of shotgun and whips the ball around the field. What he does not want is to hear "Hey John, run the option!"
And that's exactly what Brantley hears. For some reason the offensive coordinators of the Gators insist on using Brantley as a running quarterback. And if that doesn't sound terrible enough if you're Brantley, you then have to worry about getting hit every time you drop back to pass.
Countless times on Saturday I overheard Brantley getting ripped a new one for taking a sack. Well it's kind of hard to avoid them when you have approximately 0.87 seconds to recognize a defense and find an open receiver. The simple fact is that the offensive line has not given the junior quarterback the protection that he needs.
We could have Peyton Manning throwing the ball and we would still be 6-4 if he had the same amount of time Brantley does. I lost count how often a South Carolina defender made it to Brantley without even being so much as looked at by a lineman.
The lineman make it even harder on Brantley when they fail to provide adequate blocking on running plays. The consistent lack of a running game is obviously complicated by multiple factors, like Jeff Demps' lingering injuries, Steve Addazio stubbornly calling dive play after dive play, and the fact that Emmanuel Moody has had fumble issues, but at the end of the day the line just isn't getting the job done.
Without a running game why would any defense plan for anything outside of the pass? If you can put four lineman down and have an added three linebackers in the box and stop every run for two-three yards, why would you even bother to cover it in weekly practices? The lack of a running game has contributed heavily to Brantley's lack of success so far.
Further making matters worse is the sudden downturn in the skill of receivers at the University of Florida. Again we have been ridiculously spoiled by the likes of future NFL players Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Aaron Hernandez, and Riley Cooper, so in comparison Deonte Thompson, Omarius Hines, and Carl Moore seem kind of lackluster.
Of course that's kind of like complaining about an Acura after trading in your Ferrari. Thompson, Hines, and Moore simply lack the big play ability of Harvin and Murphy. None of them have the blinding speed, the sure hands, or the impeccable route running of the former UF crop of receivers.
All of this adds to another huge problem facing the Florida offense this year. When Brantley drops back to pass, the fans are inclined to watch him in the pocket as he takes a sack after having adequate protection, and they begin to yell and scream.
However they missed the fact that no receiver was open. Where would you like Brantley to throw that pass? Out of bounds for an unintentional grounding penalty? Try to force it into a tight space, inevitably throw an interception and be booed louder? It really astonishes me what fans fail to notice when watching a game.
Now imagine you are a journalist. You sit down to write your story and start off kind of rocky trying to nail that opening lead. You finish that and get into a rhythm. The words are flowing out of you as you bang out sentence after sentence.
Then out of nowhere your boss calls you off the story and inserts your coworker Johnson to work on it. He comes in and writes maybe three or four sentences and you are sent back in to finish the job. That would screw up everything right? The momentum you had before is totally gone and you basically start from scratch.
That sounds exactly like what John Brantley has to go through every single Saturday when he gets yanked around in favor of Trey Burton and Jordan Reed. Urban Meyer doesn't let him get into an semblance of a rhythm.
My personal favorite, though, is when fans rant and rave about Burton or Reed, both of whom have been great additions to the team. They have added great wrinkles to a stagnant offense and injected some much-needed mojo into the lineup with their running-centric style.
However there is an obvious reason they have yet to wrangle the starting spot from the incumbent. Reed is a mere 14-26 on the year, with 19 of those attempts coming in the blowout against Vanderbilt, while Burton is only 4-5 for the season. To hand the entire offense over to someone with that kind experience something drastic would need to happen. Remember that the next time you want to shoo John Brantley off the field.
My favorite play Saturday was when Brantley threw a pick that bounced off of Thompson's hands and landed perfectly into a Gamecock's. As soon as the play ended some student yelled out that Brantley is so bad even the receivers don't know where he is throwing it.
If the ball hits you in the hands you need to catch it. But I guess that's a little too fundamental for most fans to understand. If you want to criticize someone, don't criticize Brantley. Until our line shores up and our receivers demonstrate that they can consistently catch the ball, don't pass judgment on the junior.
I mean someone who broke almost every high school record set by Tim Tebow has to be good, right?