GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It was just UAB. But for a team struggling at 3-6, a win over UAB was an important step.
It was an important step because even after scoring only 7 points against Florida, UAB is still averaging over 28 points per game against FBS opponents. Aside from a 74-yard touchdown allowed early in the fourth quarter, Florida only allowed 106 yards in the entire game. The defense dominated so significantly that Florida had a ridiculous 24 minutes time-of-possession advantage.
It was an important step because QB Feleipe Franks took another step forward in his development that he began to show last week against South Carolina. Franks passed for a rather pedestrian 152 yards, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Multiple open receivers were hit right in the hands and dropped passes that would have pushed that total well over 200. But more importantly, gone was the panic when pressure came.
Franks stepped up in the pocket multiple times and found an open receiver. And his 13-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Goolsby to put the game away at 26-0 came on a play where Goolsby was clearly his third read. That isn’t a play Franks could execute a month ago, and it shows progress that Florida fans have been clamoring for all season long.
It was an important step just to give the players some time to breathe. With the close losses to LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina, as well as the uninspired showings against Georgia and Missouri, the last two months have been predominantly negative. That could really be said for the whole season, what with the suspensions to start the season followed by the Week 1 loss to Michigan.
These players — particularly the seniors — are prideful. It can’t be fun to walk around campus as the butt of jokes, especially those made by the official Florida twitter feed. This win provides some relief. For one week at least, the players won’t have to answer questions about who deserves to be fired or why they aren’t playing better.
But again, it was UAB. Let’s not pretend like this was a win over a top-tier SEC team, or even a lower-tier one. The truth is that even with all the injuries and suspensions, Florida’s roster still had much more talent. The Blazers may be bowl eligible, but that is mostly because they haven’t played anyone of consequence. That’s part of why the advanced numbers didn’t really know what to make of the game going in.
Florida again struggled on offense overall, regardless of the final score. Multiple times the Gators were forced to settle for field goals when a better team would have punched the ball in. The runs on second down continued. There were lots of drops. Franks played better but showed inaccuracy and missed some of those receivers when they were open.
But a team that is now 4-6 can’t take anyone lightly, and Florida did not. It was clear the Gators were the better team from the opening kickoff. And it was clear that they wanted to be there. For a team that had its effort questioned internally after the Missouri game, that was an important thing to see.
And let’s remember that football is a game of confidence. There’s no doubt that as the losses mounted, the players had to start doubting their coaches, their teammates and even themselves.
The win against UAB may have restored some of that confidence, which is important with Florida State coming to town next week. The Seminoles are struggling mightily too, and this game may be inconsequential to many outside the state. But both Florida State and Florida know that it may be critical to the recruiting battles that will be coming in December and February.
So yes, Florida is supposed to beat the Blazers even in a down year, and it did. It doesn’t erase the past two months, but it is a step in the right direction toward rebuilding this program.
And for the coaches, players and their families, this win provides something positive and a respite from the endless barrage of criticism. It gives the fans something to smile about. It provides the one thing that has been missing around Gainesville since the losses started mounting.