Monday, December 02, 2013

The Merciful End

Well Gators, in spite of what I said a few weeks ago I figured it was time to come back to try and put a bow on the season that shall going forward simply be known as "Yuck". As I write this, it was announced about 2 hours ago that Offensive Coordinator Brent Pease and Offensive Line Coach Tim Davis were fired. Based on the comments I've seen so far in cyberspace, some Gators are rejoicing at these firings, others wish that all of the coaches were let go. I'm hopeful that our offense gets better, but I'm not going to celebrate people getting fired.

Before writing today I read the first Report of this season. In it, I said that this year's offense was wholly dependent on the growth of Jeff Driskel. We all know what happened there. God bless Skyler Mornhinweg and all of the offensive linemen who played the latter half of this season, but I don't care if we had Steve Spurrier or any other offensive genius calling plays, those cats just aren't prime time players. Our offensive game plan for FSU apparently relied on Trey Burton taking roughly half the snaps. I thought our entire year was appropriately encapsulated by the fact that he got hurt on our best play from scrimmage all day.  

On defense, I said that the linebacker corps was paper thin and that any injuries there or along the front line would be catastrophic. Again, this was the worst year I can remember in terms of injuries. On special teams, I said Kyle Christy was an outstanding punter (in my defense, he was in 2012) but that I expected a significant step back at placekicker. I had no idea we'd actually struggle punting AND miss 10 field goals while auditioning three separate kickers. In short, everything that could go wrong this year did and the result was predictable.  If you didn't see the stat in Sunday's Gainesville Sun I think it is worth sharing again- Against FSU only 6 of the starting 22 players from the Sugar Bowl were available on Saturday. Unfreakingbelievable.

All that being said, there was no excuse for us to get embarrassed by Vandy. No matter who was injured, there is no excuse for Florida to ever lose to Georgia Southern. We didn't show up to play in either game and I lay that entirely at the feet of the coaching staff and the seniors. Going forward, that leaves a very big question in my mind about how successful we can be in 2014 and beyond. I think there are 5 major steps we have to take between now and the August 30 debut against Idaho-

1. Hire an offensive coordinator quickly. My vote is for Kerwin Bell. The Throwin Mayoin has been successful everywhere he's been and I think it is high time to bring Kerwin home. We simply have to start throwing the ball down field again and there is no excuse for the University of Florida to have an offense ranked in the 100's.  I believe completely in Muschamp's ability to put an elite defense on the field and I give him credit for our effort against an outstanding FSU offense on Saturday. If we could manage the 50th best offense in the country I think we win 9 games next year and possibly more. But we've got to get someone in place soon so we can have a great offensive recruiting class. 

2. Land an elite recruiting class. I don't care about rankings, I just want to see us sign the QB of the future and skill players to help him out. It also appears that we need to go find ourselves a placekicker. The coaches should have no trouble out-hustling the competition in the time they have remaining in December while the other staffs are preparing for bowl games. We MUST sign and develop some quality receiver talent, something I've been saying for 3 years now. I think Jameis Winston is an amazing quarterback, but he is greatly improved by having the luxury of throwing to guys like Kelvin Benjamin, who hopefully elects to leave early for the NFL. Based on what I saw Saturday, that kid is ready to play on Sundays.

3. Re-connect with the fan base. This includes opening practices, making an effort to do a few more booster events and generally being more accessible to the fans. From the fans' perspective, we need to get over 4-8 immediately and collectively remove our heads from our asses. I distinctly remember last year in Tallahassee where several FSU fans told me they didn't think Jimbo Fisher was the right guy in Tallahassee, which is just another validation of the fact that fans for the most part are idiots (me included). It was disgusting to see the amount of FSU fans sitting in the Florida sections of The Swamp. That should never happen. Going back in history, we ran Spurrier off when he thought that 10 wins a year wasn't appreciated anymore. We almost killed Urban Meyer after he won two national titles for us. Bottom line, maybe we need to ease up as a fan base a bit. And if Jeremy Foley says he believes in Muschamp's ability to turn this around, then we need to support that as well. Believe it or not, I don't think we're that far away assuming we can at least have an average offensive unit.

4. Get healthy and stay eligible. We need a very clean off season in terms of rehabilitation of injured players, new injuries, and staying out of legal trouble. We have to get healthy across the offensive front if we have any chance of getting back to respectability on offense next year.

5. Restore Discipline. Next to injuries, I thought stupid penalties were the biggest reason this team didn't win more games this year. That starts with discipline. We also need a new set of leaders to emerge. Easley is gone and we had no offensive leadership after Driskel went down. Due to the limited amount of interaction with the team in the off season, coaches are pretty limited as to the impact they can have in this arena. Guys have to step up and take ownership of this program if we're going to get better quickly.

Assuming all of the above take place, I honestly think the over-under next year on wins should be 9. I'm writing off the trips to Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee (presuming Jameis is exonerated from his current legal issues). Georgia will be rebuilding at QB, we get South Carolina, Mizzou and LSU at home, and I'd be surprised if James Franklin is still coaching at Vandy. We should be 3-1 heading into the bye week before Tennessee and if we can win at Knoxville I like our chances to be 6-1 or 5-2 at worst going into Georgia. Georgia is THE litmus test (big surprise) for me next year. If Boom drops another one to the Doggies I think he's going to lose me forever.  But if we can get it done there, Atlanta is not out of the question and then all this noise in the system will be behind us.  So stay positive, Gators, I truly think we have better days ahead.

Before signing off for the year, I did want to mention a few other happenings in the world of college football-

Heisman Trophy- Again, assuming that Jameis isn't charged in the next 2 weeks, I think he wins the Heisman. The guy is crazy accurate and I love the aggressive way he attacks down field. I think AJ McCarron was his only serious competitor and the loss at Auburn torpedoed his chances completely.

Stetson- The Hatters finished 2-9. Word out of DeLand is they have no plans of firing anyone and expect big things for 2014. Their opener at Warner is going to be a tough one. Mrs. Report and I were married less than 3 miles from that stadium and can tell you that you just don't roll into Crooked Lake and easily emerge a winner.

National Title- The SEC's run of national titles comes to an end the only way it could, by our not having a representative in the title game. I think Auburn beats Mizzou even though Mizzou is probably the better team. After the Georgia and Bama finishes, you just can't pick against the War Eagle Tigers this year. In spite of that, I don't see any way they jump either FSU or Ohio State assuming both win their conference championship games (and I don't think the Noles will have trouble against the Dukies). Unfortunately for the SEC, the 4 team playoff format is coming one year too late. Neither FSU or Ohio State played anybody all year (and yes, I'm counting Clemson). That said, if Ohio State gave up 41 to Michigan, I think the Noles could score 60. FSU 52-Ohio State 27.

Bama- How would you like to be the poor bastards who draw Bama as a bowl matchup? It won't be pretty. That said, what fan base is more devastated than Bama's right now? They went from being discussed as the greatest dynasty ever to being a footnote on the 2013 season. And to have lost in the manner that they did to their hated in-state rivals I bet it is a long off season in Tusky. 

Well, that's about it Gators. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and an enjoyable off season. I know 2013 was a bitter run, but it is only made worse by the knowledge that we have 9 whole months to wait for things to turn in the right direction. Here's hoping they do.

Go Gators!


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jumping The Shark (Editor's Note: Not Appropriate for Minors)

"Happy Days" was the most beloved show on television right up until that infamous episode where Fonzie jumped over a shark on water skis (naturally wearing his leather jacket). That episode serves as the quintessential "the beginning of the end" moment in television history and gave rise to the phrase, "jumping the shark."  Well friends, the once storied Gator football program jumped the fucking shark on Saturday.

In 10 short months we've gone from an up and coming 11 win season and Top 10 preseason ranking to 5th place in the East. Look at yourself in the mirror and try to be convincing when you say that Muschamp can come back from a season where we lost to Vandy on Homecoming and missed out on a bowl for the first time since 1989. Good luck with that.

Obviously injuries have aided this unmitigated disaster, but what I saw Saturday against Vanderbilt (a team that we'd to beat in Gainesville since World War II) had more to do with heart than injuries. And by that, I mean a complete lack of it. This coaching staff lost this team when time expired in Jacksonville last week and let me tell you, Bubba, it ain't coming back. So barring a miraculous turn of events, this is the last Report of the season. After all, if the team isn't going to show up why should I? This weekly self-flagellation is simply no fun. I literally cannot remember a team as bad as this one in my lifetime.

My sister in law is getting married Georgia Southern weekend, so while I'll be at the South Carolina and FSU games I don't hold any hope that I will see another Gator victory in 2013. This team won't manage a bowl game and, no matter the injuries, that is purely unacceptable at Florida. Vanderbilt pasted Florida on Saturday with lesser talent but was clearly the better coached team. I'm hopeful that Jeremy Foley got James Franklin's cell number before he flew out of town. Vandy has won 14 out of its last 20 games including wins over UF, Georgia, Auburn, Ole Miss, NC State and Tennessee. Vanderbilt is a better program than we are right now.

Here's what I expect to see the rest of the way out-

South Carolina- I'm sure the Cocks will remember the beating they took in Gainesville last year and unless Spurrier turns nostalgic in favor of his alma mater, this will get ugly in a hurry. We couldn't block Vandy's front line, what is Clowney and Co. going to do to us? Answer: Anything they want. We couldn't stop Vandy's running back, so the SEC's leading rusher, Mike Davis, and Connor Shaw will probably rush for 300 yards Saturday.  South Carolina 45-Florida 10.

Georgia Southern- I think we win, but I also think less than 30,000 people will be there. Which brings up a quick sidebar I want to discuss. Specifically, I don't think we deserve to call the stadium "The Swamp" anymore. Our student section is embarrassing. By the start of the fourth quarter it was less than 20% occupied. I can remember days when the stadium's energy helped us win games. When I was in school, we had to sneak people in to sit in our block on the student side. Now the lack of energy and attendance helps us lose and we've got more students crammed into dorm rooms playing "Call of Duty" than we do at Florida Field. For a team with a fragile psyche and lack of leadership, running out of the tunnel to 30,000 empty seats does nothing to get you fired up. I'm sure the recruits we're trying to land notice as well. "In all kinds of weather, we all stick together" my ass. Florida 27-Georgia Southern 17.

Florida State- I'm sure all of our postgame comments last year about making FSU quit as a result of our physical style are going to resurface in Tallahassee and bite us. There will be no quarter given in this one and the Noles are going to pound us on their way to playing for a national title. I said at the beginning of the year that with this defense at least we knew we'd never get routed. I was wrong. FSU 48-UF 9.

I'm sorry, Gators, I wish I had at least a shred of good news to share, but there is nothing going well for Florida right now. The team has quit, the coaches are seemingly clueless as to how to possibly fix anything and our fans are staying home. Let's hope 2014 is kinder, I can't see how it could be worse.

On the bright side, Stetson won, so that's something...

I really hope I'm wrong and before the end of the year I'm back talking about something positive. I pledge to bring outstanding effort to the USC and FSU tailgates and do my part as a fan. Here's hoping the players decide to put in a similar effort before the year is out.

Go Gators. C'mon Gators. GET UP AND GO!


Sunday, November 03, 2013

Week 9: Coming Home

Hello, Gators. If you've been reading the Report for a while you probably know by now that I'm a pretty positive person. Because of that, I want to talk about two very good things that happened this weekend before I talk about our Gators.

First, I met Mrs. Report on October 29, 1993 during Florida-Georgia weekend. This weekend we celebrated our 20th year together and while we haven't always won the game (particularly recently), we always have a fantastic time and the game serves as a reminder of how fortunate we are to have one another. Life can be tough sometimes, but if you pick the right spouse it gets a hell of a lot easier. Thanks for a perfect 20 years, Erin, I can't wait for our next 20!

Second, one of my personal heroes, Tyler Staab, turned the big 16 on Saturday. I've mentioned Tyler's Hope for a Dystonia Cure several times before, and Tyler and his sister Samantha continue to give Dystonia all it can handle. I firmly believe we are on track to curing this disease and am grateful to have the opportunity to know Tyler and his entire family.  If you feel like doing something amazing today, log on to and read about how you can help us cure Dystonia. Consider it your subscription fee for The Gator Report...

Now, with those items properly putting Saturday's ballgame into perspective, here are my thoughts on the game-

First Half
At halftime I was already composing the final Report of the season. Our poor Gators couldn't play dead on either side of the ball and it looked like Georgia was going to paste us. Gator fans were streaming for the exits as a result.

Second Half
I'm really proud of the effort we put in to scare the hell out of Georgia. I don't want to become a Vandy fan and start celebrating moral victories, but it was heartening to see the fire again on the Florida sidelines. I thought Mack Brown had one of his better games. This simply isn't our year, though, and every time we tried to take a step forward we managed to take two steps back. The stupid penalties simply have to stop and I was baffled by Muschamp's postgame comments about Florida always being terrible with penalties. Then again, I was baffled to read that a Florida fan was yelling at him as he left the field. That's simply inexcusable. Nobody on the Florida sideline wanted that game more than Coach Boom.

I said last week that we'd have to win on special teams in a big way to get the W. With the two missed field goals we actually lost the game on special teams. On defense, we played better for most of the second half but couldn't get them off the field on that closing drive. I know you're tired of hearing about injuries, but that loss of Easley just looms larger and larger. We've gone from an elite defense to very average against the run and that's been the killer against LSU, Mizzou and Georgia and will very likely see us beaten soundly by South Carolina and FSU. I've heard plenty of Gator fans say that we should have recruited better, but you just don't replace a defensive tackle that would have gone in the first 5 picks of the NFL draft. Offensively, we played significantly better up front. I think we have a future star in Taylor, but the lack of depth on the O line is just a killer for any hopes of significant improvement this year.  You'll note that I picked the score exactly right, I just had the wrong winner. This team needs its fans' support and I think they'll keep fighting hard like they did on Saturday. Hopefully it is enough to at least get us to a bowl game.

The campaign for bowl eligibility starts when Vandy comes to town for a Homecoming nooner. The Dores last beat Florida in 1988, and this looks to be their best chance since then to get a win. The Dores are coming off a shellacking at the hands of A&M and a bye week. They are 4-4 with wins over Georgia, Austin Peay, UMass and UAB. Both Mizzou and TAMU hung 50+ on them. In spite of our injuries, we have an obvious talent advantage over the Dores and we easily won 31-17 in Nashville last year.

On offense, we've got to take the positives from the Georgia game and keep playing aggressive. Throwing on first down, looking down field, and encouraging Murphy to run when he has an opening are all important come Saturday. Murphy's got to to a better job of putting some zip on those short throws so our receivers and backs have time to catch it and make a move. We did a great job of not turning it over against Georgia and need to stay in the positive column in turnovers against the Dores. Kelvin Taylor needs to get his touches in the running game as does Patton and Showers. Defensively, we need to find a way to get out of bed early and get ready to play in the first half. We've been much to passive early in games the last month. On special teams, we simply have to come away with points if we manage a field goal opportunity of 40 yards or less.

I know it is grim being a Gator these days, but we're going to beat Vanderbilt on Saturday and I hope the Gator Nation shows up to cheer the boys on to a Homecoming victory. Mrs. Report and I will be there ready to go. Gators 31-Dores 20.

In other games-

Wake Forest v. FSU- The Noles are on fire. We all know that Miami may have been the worst top 10 team to come into Doak Campbell in 20 years, but FSU was able to overcome some interceptions by Jameis Winston and dominate the Canes with their power running game. I don't know if they'd be able to handle Bama or Oregon, but I do think they are an exceptionally talented and deep roster and will have plenty to beat the Demon Deacs. FSU 45-Wake Forest 16.

Bama v. LSU- Vegas has this as an 11 point line and I'm not sure that is enough considering the way that Bryant Denny will be rocking for a prime time matchup against LSU. Both teams had the week off and LSU's offense is significantly better than last year, but you just can't pick against the Tide and Nick Saban with 13 days to prepare. Tide 35-LSU 20.

Stanford v. Oregon- This is an unbelievable Thursday night matchup. Stanford is the smash mouth, power football team in the West that beat Oregon last year in a 17-14 overtime classic. This year they get the Ducks at home, but Oregon has looked better than ever this year. I love the way Stanford plays, but their loss at Utah exposed that defense as maybe not what it was last year. I gotta go with the Ducks in a close one. Ducks 33-Cardinal 28.

Baylor v. Oklahoma- This week we finally get to see Baylor match up against a team with talent across the board. I don't think this is one of Stoopsie's better Sooner teams, but I also don't think Baylor runs the table. Both teams had a bye last week (are you seeing a theme here?) and I'm taking the Sooners to find a way to win. Sooners 28-Bears 27.

Stetson v. Davidson- Our Hatters lost a heartbreaker, 19-18 to Campbell. I know it goes without saying, but you just can't give the Camels second chances to beat you. This week they welcome Davidson to DeLand. Davidson is winless on teh year including a 56-13 loss to Kerwin Bell's JU Dolphins. For the record, if Florida was looking for a new Offensive Coordinator, we could do far worse than the Throwin' Mayo-in. Let's go Hatters! Stetson 19-Davidson 18.

Enjoy the weekend of football, Gators. Before too long you'll be wondering what happened to football season.

Go Gators!