GAINESVILLE, Fla. – “Oh boy.”
That was the immediate reaction of former Florida coach Steve Spurrier in the ESPN booth on Saturday night as Massachusetts quarterback Ross Comis completed a 30-yard pass to wide receiver Andy Isabella against the Florida defense midway through the third quarter of a 3-point game.
I had the same reaction. Not because I was disappointed in the defense, but because this was the exact experience Gators fans have had since Urban Meyer left for his one-year sabbatical at ESPN. The defense isn’t allowed to make one mistake because the offense isn’t capable of making up for it.
Luke Del Rio played pretty well (29 of 44 for 256 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT), but the play-calling left plenty to be desired. In a first half when the Gators only scored 10 points, they threw the ball 29 times while only rushing it 16.
While trying to sound deferential to head coach Jim McElwain during his ESPN spot, Spurrier did let slip the criticism that all Gators fans were shouting at their TVs. “Sometimes I wish they’d run the ball a bit more,” Spurrier said after being asked what could get the Florida offense going.
There were some bright spots. Jordan Scarlet appeared to emerge as the starter at running back in the second half. Eddy Pineiro is only two field goals short of Austin Hardin’s 2015 total. (Note to ESPNs play-by-play announcer Tom Hart: “If he were a cracker, he’d be a Ritz, not a Saltine,” is not a good look.)
We also had the one of the greatest unintentional comedy moments during what seemed like every commercial break as coach McElwain tried to convince SEC Network viewers that if it wasn’t for Belk, he would run around Gainesville wearing the puffy shirt from Seinfeld.
And while the Gators were able to get some separation in the fourth quarter, this 24-7 win is not going to be one that stays on the DVR for long. The previously mentioned pass to Isabella that elicited Spurrier’s dejected reaction gets taken to the house by a better offense. There are going to be times when the Florida defense won’t be able to bail out an inept offense.
Still, the Gators woke up Sunday with a 1-0 record. Auburn, LSU, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and especially Mississippi State are envious of that. And after a less-than-banner weekend for the SEC, the Florida schedule — deemed the easiest in the SEC by ESPN’s Football Power Index — looks like it may be an open path to Atlanta if the offense can just improve to average.
But the Florida fans who were mocking Tennessee after their close call against Appalachian State are now going to have to come to the same realization that Vols fans came to Thursday night.
There’s a lot of work to do.