When Florida got up comfortably against Vanderbilt last week, I foolishly started wondering if Kurt Roper would be allowed to open up the playbook a little and give Treon Harris some much needed reps throwing the football. The Gators were up 17-7 with a second and goal at the 7-yard-line as the fourth quarter began. Harris had a wide open Clay Burton on the play action call and with a little touch on the ball, it was a TD. But Harris missed Burton. Harris ran it in the next play but the missed pass is what stuck with me. A kid making his second career start doesn’t have the experience to know how to make a throw like that. So why not use some of his time on the field in a game that was in hand to develop a rhythm in the passing attack?
As the fourth quarter progressed, Vanderbilt clearly had no chance at a comeback and Will Muschamp being Will Muschamp, the Gators were going to run the ball and clock it. Harris attempted only one more pass after the Burton mis-throw, a sharp connection to Demarcus Robinson on a third and five. Gator Nation celebrated the blowout win and a two-game winning streak. A lot of the postgame chatter turned to the thought that Muschamp might save his job with a win against South Carolina. But I knew better. The missed opportunity of letting Harris run more of the offense in the safe environment of a big 4th quarter lead foreshadowed what we say today.
In 2012, the Gators won week in and week out with a vanilla attack that never really gave Jeff Driskel a chance to learn how to play quarterback. He wasn’t asked to make throws, let alone make reads. But the Gators were winning, unbelievably going 11-1 without any shred of a reliable passing attack. When they finally found themselves down and in need of throwing to make a game of it in the Sugar Bowl, they failed miserably. Muschamp never invested the time on offense to help Driskel get better. He never threw more than 27 passes in a game or for more than 219 yards. In the South Carolina laugher in which Florida was up huge in the 3rd quarter, Driskel only threw it 16 times for 93 yards. That lack of development doomed Driskel as a quarterback and doomed Muschamp as a head coach. And even though he made the quarterback change this year, Muschamp’s fear on offense wasn’t going to give Harris the opportunity he needed to develop and ironically save Muschamp’s own job.
If we’ve learned anything over these four agonizing seasons of Will Muschamp football it is that his formula for wins is tough defense and an offense that eats clock and doesn’t turn it over. That’s a really low bar to set for your offense and it puts an enormous strain on the rest of the team. Muschamp reeks of fear every time the Gators are on offense. That stench has to be demoralizing not only for the offensive players but for the entire team. Then if you aren’t mostly perfect in the other phases of the game, you have a good chance to lose. Never did that come to mind-numbing fruition like it did today against South Carolina.
You could spend a lifetime never seeing as dumb of a performance as the Gators turned in today. South Carolina is not a good football team. Neither is Florida. But Florida was in control of the game, with a win percentage that must have been close to 95 percent at two or three different times in the fourth quarter. The Gators had the ball in Gamecocks territory three times in the 4th quarter. Treon Harris fumbled once, Florida punted once and had a field goal blocked. Harris ran the ball eight times and attempted one pass in the fourth quarter. Muschamp was in clock-kill mode and fear paralyzed the team.
Florida could have ended the game twice. After a penalty, Florida had first and seven at the 16-yard-line. A touchdown would have effectively ended the game. But instead of anything remotely aggressive, Florida ran it three times including on third and nine and settled for a 32-yard field goal. In fairness, that kick would have sealed the game too. But how often do you see missed field goals after ultra-conservative play calling? Why wasn’t Harris given an opportunity to win the game with his arm? Fear and the fact that he doesn’t have enough experience.
The second time Florida could have ended the game was on their next possession. It is hard to fault running the ball three times in that situation with the clock and timeout situation what it was. What isn’t hard to fault is Florida taking a delay of game penalty when they had a timeout, giving up five yards of field possession for no reason at all. Most egregiously, though, was not having max protect on when basically the only way you could lose was on a blocked punt.
Will Muschamp is not a smart head coach and his Gators are not a smart football team. But despite so much stupid in today’s game, it was the stupid from last week (and that traces all the way back to 2012) that I think really sunk the Gators. Treon Harris and the offense deserve better. There are playmakers on this team. But because Harris wasn’t given a chance earlier in the season, wasn’t given a chance late against Vanderbilt, he wasn’t going to be given a chance today. And so instead of sealing a big win at home against the man who built the Florida program, the Gators gave the game and season away. It was poetic that the final nail in Will Muschamp’s head coaching career coffin was driven in by his own fear.