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October 30, 2011

Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down: Yet another loss

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MORE FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING: What we learned | Irish impress UF commit Pittman | Gator Injury update | Florida now playing for pride | Brantley returns to action in Gator loss Penalties, losses, piling up

After the game each week Inside the Gators will take a closer look at the football team by awarding them either a thumbs up or a thumbs down to either specific players, coaches, positions or areas of the team.

WAS THE BYE WEEK A WASTED WEEK?

Heading into the bye week after an awful performance against Auburn, Florida had to work on their team discipline, penchant for turnovers and ensuring that they don't make mental mistakes in crucial situations. Based on how they played Saturday, the Gators did not seem to learn a single lesson during the off week.

UF's 14 penalties - believe it or not - was only Florida's second-worst effort of the season, and the more than 100 yards lost due to those miscues put Florida in deeper and deeper holes since they came at inopportune times.

If nothing else the Gator Nation can take some comfort in the fact that Florida does lead the nation in one category - penalties against (we joke to keep from crying).

Between Ronald Powell's unnecessary personal foul on a punt return, the numerous false starts and delay of games that pushed the Gators' offense back to the goal line or out of field goal range, and the defensive mistakes that extended drives, Florida could never catch a break.

Speaking of which, the two turnovers on UF's side of the field - both fumbles that should have been held onto - gave UGA great field position that they otherwise should have fought to get. Not only did the Gators waste their own opportunities, they gave the Bulldogs way too many.


NOWHERE TO RUN, NOWHERE TO HIDE

It does not take a genius to point out that Florida has hasn't been able to run the ball at all over their last four contests. The difference this week is that the Gators knew going into the game that the running game would struggle but did not even make an attempt to carry the rock.

The game plan all week was obviously to have John Brantley start and do so in shotgun formation in order to keep him from having to go through the motions of dropping back on a bum ankle (the push off from center, planting on the drop back, etc...). Since that took away much of Florida's inside running options, the Gators should have had some type of plan in place to keep the defense honest.

Whether that plan would have been using Trey Burton in some direct snap situations or subbing in Jacoby Brissett here and there for a few downs, UF failed to present a balanced game plan, something offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said earlier in the week was a necessity.

If there's one thing that Florida's backs have proven this season - there is a world of difference between running wild against the likes of Florida Atlantic and doing so against a top tier SEC defense. Against lesser programs (read: slower defenses), the Gators east-west running game is effective. Against quality programs (read: fast defenders), you have to be able to run north-south. Florida isn't able to do that, certainly not with Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. They are of course speed demons, but that only does them good when they are actually able to break past the first level of the defense. Which hasn't been very often as of late.

Without a true between the tackles type of running back and an offensive line which does more harm than good, Florida's running game has proved to be DOA (dead on arrival) against upper end speed defenses (read: South Carolina and Florida State).

Regardless of what it takes, UF has to try to run the ball at least on occasion; Georgia knew after halftime that Florida couldn't and because of that they were able to take Brantley's arm out of the game, too.


INJURY BUG BITES - AGAIN

Every college football team goes through injuries over the course of a season, but the amount of times the Gators have been hurt this year is undoubtedly an issue.

Already dealing with a roster lacking depth, Florida is severely limited at quarterback, running back and on the offensive line. Brantley's ankle reduced what he could do, Demps was not at 100 percent, Mike Gillislee didn't play, and Chaz Green was held out of action with a bum ankle.

Lerentee McCray and Cody Riggs each left the game with injuries on Saturday, and the Gators were also without starting kicker Caleb Sturgis for the game.

In other words, the team that Will Muschamp thought would be full-go on Monday was anything but, even heading into the game. And all of this is not considering the fact that Jeremy Brown has severely impacted the secondary by being out the entire season with a knee injury.


SPECIAL TEAMS ARE BECOMING SPECIAL

Demps's 99-yard kickoff return touchdown and Andre Debose's big second half take across the field were both impressive but even more noteworthy was the blocking that the special teams units provided for the speedsters.

With Florida having so many offensive struggles, getting in good field position right off the bat is important, and the return units helped the team do just that on Saturday.

Even though Sturgis was out of action, sophomore Brad Phillips filled in nicely at kicker. Sure he missed an early field goal, but Phillips hit his next two and did not hurt UF on kickoffs, something else Sturgis had been pretty consistent at all season.

Where Florida's special teams slightly struggled Saturday was with punter Kyle Christy. He averaged just 39.2 yards on five attempts and had a long of 48 one week after showing some great leg strength. Two of his punts were meant to be short (one was a touchback) but on two attempts from the goal line, Christy had a chance to flip the field and did not succeed.

However, Georgia's Drew Butler - arguably the nation's top punter - did not do much better on his attempts as it appeared that the wind was somewhat of an issue during the game. So Christy gets a bit of a break this time, though he did not play as well as he did one week earlier.


AN IMPACT ON OFFENSE

He was supposed to be a playmaker for the Gators this season, but up to this point tight end Jordan Reed had been anything but. In his first five games (he was injured for Tennessee and Kentucky), Reed had just 12 receptions for 89 yards.

On Saturday alone, Reed caught four passes for 69 yards including a beautiful 31-yard touchdown reception from Brantley. Perhaps more importantly, he hauled in some balls in stride and latched on to a pair of relatively difficult receptions.

He had another opportunity to make a big catch on third down in the fourth quarter but failed to do so in what should have been a pass interference penalty on Georgia.

Looking ahead to the future, if Reed can continue to progress this season with Brantley under center, he could be a weapon that Florida can count on in 2012 - a much-needed piece for next year's young starting quarterback.


BALLSY YES - EFFECTIVE NO

First and foremost there's no way around giving John Brantley credit for returning to action despite having about 100 yards worth of tape wrapped around his ankle. There's no doubt whatsoever that it was ballsy for an injured quarterback to return to action and be willing to stand in the pocket (what little pocket they provided) behind an offensive line which has more holes than the Iraqi Navy.

So yes, give him credit for being ballsy, but outside of the first two drives of the game, he wasn't the least bit effective.

Yes, his receivers (Chris Rainey in particular) let him down somewhat, but he also was simply off of his game coming back from a two game absence.

In the end, Brantley was 12-of-34 for 245 yards and one touchdown. Not terrible, but not exactly game winning either. Especially when you add in the fact that in the second half he was a pitiful 2-of-13 for 19 yards passing while leading the Gators to 32 yards of total offense.

Combining those numbers with the lack of a running game and penalty after penalty, it was dumb luck, and credit to a stout defense, that UF was even in the game until the very end.

As bad as he was in the second half, the truth is, without him Florida has very little chance of beating anyone other than Furman on the remaining schedule. It's true, the Gators may be playing poorly recently, but with Brantley on the field they at least have a chance to win each game they play going forward; the same simply cannot be said for the freshmen backups.


A TURNSTILE AT LEFT TACKLE

You never want to place the blame for a loss at the feet of any one person, and there is certainly enough blame to go around for Saturday's debacle. However, when reviewing the game it is all but impossible to overlook the performance of left tackle Xavier Nixon and the part he played in the loss to the Bulldogs.

As it is, he was having his fair share of issues for most of the year - but these last two games, he has helped make both Corey Lemonier and Jarvis Jones household names.

On one hand, yes, Florida is painfully thin along the offensive line and with Chaz Green out, Matt Patchan has to play on the right side leaving only Nixon to man the left side.

There's no signing of free agents or making a trade - the reality is Florida has to go with what they have.

However, on the other hand, why would the coaching staff let him be continuously beaten and not give him some help with a tight end lining up to the outside of him or have a running back chip Jones?

I know hindsight is 20/20, but you would have thought that at some point, the staff would do something, anything, to give him some help and buy Brantley some more time.

The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. So then, by definition, the UF coaching staff must be insane - right?




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