The Gators survived … again.
No. 8 Florida (10-1) avoided the upset to defeat Florida Atlantic 20-14 in overtime on Saturday in the Swamp. But as 31-point favorites, the Gators’ performance was underwhelming.
What did we learn from the win over the Owls?
1. Gators don’t have championship-caliber offense: This is clear. It’s going to be tough for Florida to win an SEC championship and obviously a national championship with its current offense. It’s amazing Florida is even 10-1. That’s just a testament to the Gators’ dominant defense. FAU entered ranked 91st nationally in total defense and held the Gators to 14 points during regulation. Even after Florida started four drives in Owls territory, only one ended with points. The offensive line’s play was dismal and Florida quarterback Treon Harris was shaky at best. Being held to nine points by a Vanderbilt defense that’s ranked 16th nationally is one thing. But being shut down by FAU this late in the season is a bad sign. Good luck against Florida State (24th nationally in total defense) and maybe Alabama (fourth nationally in total defense) over the next two weeks.
2. Jalen Tabor is the real deal: OK, this might be a knee-jerk reaction. But I’m standing behind this statement — Jalen Tabor is the best Gators cornerback this season. Even better than All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. Just take a look at the numbers. After five more pass breakups and an interception against FAU on Saturday, Tabor leads the team with 14 pass breakups and is tied with Hargreaves for the team lead in interceptions with four this season. Also, Tabor is just a sophomore. Let’s compare his numbers to Hargreaves’ sophomore season. Hargreaves finished with 13 pass breakups and three picks as a sophomore. Tabor has already surpassed those numbers with at least three games to go. Pretty impressive.
3. Jim McElwain is having a historic season: It might have been ugly some weeks, but the Gators are 10-1. Think about that. Florida is 10-1 after posting an 11-13 record over the past two seasons. McElwain is the 10th head coach in SEC history to win 10 games in his first season and one of only six to do it after inheriting a team that won less than nine games the year prior to his arrival. Oh, and McElwain is also the first coach in Florida football history to win 10 games in his first season. Big names like Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier won nine games in their first season as the Gators head coach. McElwain hasn’t been in Gainesville long, but he’s already won over a lot of people.
“Really what these players have committed to is a higher standard,” McElwain said following the win over FAU. “That is pretty cool, and when you understand about what a standard is and commit yourself to it, then that’s pretty good.”
McElwain set that standard when he arrived.
4. Kicking is still a huge problem: Thought the issue was resolved after Austin Hardin made two consecutive field goals over the past two weeks? Wrong. Hardin missed two field goals and a crucial extra point in overtime against FAU on Saturday.
“You know the guy’s a good kicker,” McElwain said. “He really is. Yet for some reason, he keeps thinking too much rather than just go kick it. I mean you see his leg, right?”
We do see his leg, but we don’t see his accuracy. Hardin has now made 5 of 11 field goals this season. Over his collegiate career, he has made 16 of 33 field goals. If it continues, the Gators are going to have a tough time beating good teams in close games. The kicking struggles haven’t come back to bite Florida yet, but it’s bound to at some point.
5. FSU week is going to be fun: There aren’t many college football rivalries better than Florida-Florida State when both programs are relevant. The Gators enter next week’s rivalry game with their College Football Playoff hopes intact. The Seminoles aren’t in the College Football Playoff picture with two losses, but they are No. 14 in the rankings and would love to ruin Florida’s championship dreams. The Seminoles have won four of their past five meetings against the Gators. But Florida is hoping to turn things around in the Swamp on Saturday.
“Nothing needs to be said in our locker room,” Tabor said. “Those guys up the road, we don’t like them and they don’t like us. We feel like we’re the best team in the state, they feel like they’re the best team in the state.”
Man, this is going to be fun.