JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The massively failed Faton Bauta experiment Saturday was ill-fated from the beginning.
At the very least, the rumors of a quarterback change that began bubbling earlier this week should throw an opponent into a temporary tizzy. Maybe cause one fitful night for the coordinator, create the slightest hairline crack of doubt in a defensive game plan. You know, make somebody squirm.
But, the Florida D, the strength of the SEC East leader, came to one very early conclusion:
“For the most part once we got that news it was, ‘OK, what are we going to do?’” Gators safety Keanu Neal said after Saturday’s 27-3 victory over Georgia.
“Then Tuesday, we realized it doesn’t matter what they do, we still got to play our ball. We started playing the defense we know. It was up in the air what kind of offense they were going to be in, depending on which quarterback. But once we figured it out and we were settled in, we played together on defense the way we always play.
“We were like, ‘OK it’s another game. They can throw anything at us; we just have to play normally how we play.’”
The thought of hurling an untested quarterback into his first start in a game of Saturday’s magnitude against one very confident unit did not make Florida sweat early in the week.
And it certainly didn’t make the Gators fret as the game unfolded. Their defense feasted on four Bauta interceptions. It held Georgia to its lowest point total in this rivalry since a 1984 shutout. As the road team this year, Florida could leave here claiming it has not allowed a touchdown in three of its four road games this season.
Bauta brought with him the threat – unrealized Saturday – of a running quarterback. Just in case, Gators coach Jim McElwain said the guys were prepared, having worked on that wrinkle through the off week.
“We kind of figured there might be some quarterback runs, that’s something we talked about since Tennessee’s success with their quarterback running the ball against our defense,” McElwain said.
“I think it’s something we have been working on. You work on the things that hurt you during the bye week and that happened to be one of the things we worked on.”
Bauta’s legs were never a factor. And his arm was a Florida ally.
The worst fears of starting Bauta were realized. Florida’s defense was only too happy to make them all come true.
“We wanted to get in (Bauta’s) face fast, we wanted to keep him shaky,” Gators tackle Jon Bullard said. “He hasn’t played a lot and then you’re coming in playing against us – that’s a tough one.
“We wanted to make sure we applied that pressure, make sure we hit him a few times let him know we’re going to be in his face all night. Kind of keep him on edge where he’s not always looking downfield, he’s also taking a glance to see where we’re at also. I think we did a good job with that.”
Florida made this declaration early: “We’re not going to change what we’re going to do. As long as we do what we’re coached to do, we’re going to do fine no matter who’s the quarterback, no matter the situation,” Bullard said.
That sentiment prevailed and the Bauta Experiment was doomed.