To paraphrase Erich Segal, winning means you never have to say you're sorry. I said this after the Gators beat UT-Martin 45-0 and it's worth repeating.
Maybe the win over UT-Martin didn't live up to expectations – yours or Dan Mullen's – but it was a win and if you don't think beating even an inferior opponent by six touchdowns is important, then allow your brain to go to its lowest common denominator and spend a few moments in VolThink or NoleThink. You never apologize for winning.
The Gators have played and won two games, yet some think the sky is about to fall. Are you one who thinks things are teetering on bad? Well, think again. Channel your inner snowball. You're starting to roll down that steep slope. You're picking up momentum and growing bigger and more dangerous with every revolution. Now put a Gator logo on that snowball.
That's what is happening here. This is not sunshine pumping. This is seeing the signs that are there of a team that is gaining momentum. My late father, who spent World War II on a ship that twice took Nazi torpedoes and still managed to limp back to drydock for repairs in Norfolk, would call it getting your sea legs. When a sailor first gets on a big ship he's keenly aware of every ebb and flow so he's unsteady but as he adjusts and grows confident, he's as steady at sea as he is on dry land. The Gators are getting their sea legs under them.
Here is why I think the Gators are gaining momentum and growing more dangerous. I'll focus on three important areas – patience, penalties and pass blocking.
Patience first. How many of you remember Doug Johnson? Dougie had an evil twin named Skippy Johnson. When evil twin Skippy showed up, he wanted to make spectacular throws that required fitting a football in maybe a two-foot window where there was little to no margin for error. If he fit the ball into that tiny window, the results were spectacular but when he didn't bad things happened. It drove Steve Spurrier crazy because nearly every time when Skippy Johnson was trying to make chicken salad out of chicken poop, there was a receiver who was wide open, maybe not for a big gain vertically, but a safe 7-8 yard gain that would move the chains. Spurrier loved spectacular but his version of spectacular involved calculation and setting up the opponent so the spectacular throw was actually an easy pitch and catch. Doug Johnson understood this completely. Evil twin Skippy did not.
Fast forward from that blast from the past to Feleipe Franks. Think about how he has progressed from the redshirt freshman who wanted to show everyone he had the great arm capable of making every throw, even the ones into double coverage and tight spaces, to Saturday night when he patiently took those dinks and dunks. When he went vertical it was calculated and pitch and catch spectacular. The chains moved. There were no turnovers.
This is progress. This is patience. He's going to continue to grow and continue to get better. Receivers are going to be open. All he has to do is stay patient and understand there is nothing wrong with moving the chains six or seven or eight yards at a time.
Now think penalties. The Gators had nine for -100 yards against Miami. There were holding calls, false starts, personal fouls and pass interference calls. The defensive penalties, in particular, were a serious concern. Against UT-Martin, the Gators were flagged three times for 30 yards. There was a chop block call against Chris Bleich and Brett Heggie that is borderline dubious (I've got to see the replay a couple more times before I'll be convinced that it really wasn't more than simply contact during the flow of a play). There was a holding call on Stone Forsyth when he got his hands outside the shoulder pads and there was a false start when the second team O-line was in the game in the fourth quarter.
No personal fouls for late hits. No pass interference. No jumping offsides. No false starts by the first unit O-line. No blocks in the back. No ineligible downfield.
The Gators were aggressive but they weren't stupid. That's progress.
Pass blocking. UT-Martin runs a 3-3-5, something the Gators aren't going to see on a regular basis. Most of the night the Skyhawks dropped eight into coverage, which necessitated Franks taking the easy throw instead of forcing the ball downfield, but they also ran some blitzes from packages the Gators don't normally see. The line did a good job of recognizing, getting help when needed and giving Franks time to throw the football. We saw a much better effort on the right side by Jean Delance, who used his feet very well. We saw Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce both make the right reads to help their O-line brethren by picking up blitzers and staying home until it was safe to release out into the flats for passes.
In two games, the Gators have allowed exactly two sacks for -10 yards. Now UT-Martin's pass rush certainly wasn't the type UF will see in the SEC, but Miami had a fierce front four and brought a lot of heat from all angles on blitzes. Yet, the O-line has done a fine job protecting Franks.
One other good thing about the O-line that has nothing to do with patience, penalties or pass blocking. On the UT-Martin interception that was reversed on replay, did you see second team center Tanner Rowell chase the UT-Martin guy 30 yards before he ran him down and brought him to the ground? That was impressive. The game was already out of reach and if the guy had scored it would have been meaningless in the overall scope of things, but Rowell had too much pride to give up on the play. When your second team guys are playing that hard even when a game is well in hand, that's impressive and something to build on.
Those are good things. Now for some things that have to get better.
We saw Franks take off on a 22-yard run in the first quarter. There were some other opportunities to run the football against UT-Martin just as there were against Miami. The Florida offense needs the Feleipe Franks who was as successful whipping the Michigan defense (see the Peach Bowl) with his legs as with his feet.
The run blocking was better against UT-Martin, but it should have been. In the second half it seemed the O-line got into a better rhythm and began creating better lanes for Perine, Pierce and Davis but we still haven't seen a consistent bell-to-bell effort by the O-line in which you know they can keep the chains moving when Mullen wants to run clock or beat the other team into submission. This line is a work in progress. They are further along in their pass blocking at this point than with their run blocking. The run blocking has to improve to make Franks and the passing game more viable.
There were a couple of breakdowns against UT-Martin that if they happen against SEC teams will result in touchdowns. There was a 48-yard run by the Skyhawk quarterback John Bachus in the fourth quarter in which everybody was fooled. If the QB were faster, he would have scored on a 68-yard run. Credit freshman Jaydon Hill for running him down from behind. Later in the fourth quarter, UT-Martin's backup quarterback Joe Hudson completed a 29-yard pass to Jeremy Horton with an obvious coverage breakdown.
Special teams. There was nothing wrong with Evan McPherson (six extra points and a field goal, five touchbacks on seven kickoffs) or punter Tommy Townsend (his only punt was a 50-yard knuckleball that pinned the Skyhawks back at their own three) but UF is getting nothing from its punt return game. Freddie Swain had three returns for a net of one yard. Three UT-Martin punts that weren't rugby style hit the ground and that just can't happen. That has to improve and UF has to start getting some return yardage (22 on six returns so far this season) to improve field position.
Intensity. Blame it on playing a D1AA team. Blame it on the idea that you can't be emotionally high for every game. Blame it on whatever you want, but something kept the Gators from playing 60 minutes with a decent level of intensity. Things improved in the second half after Mullen hammered the team at halftime. You can attribute some of the fourth quarter breakdowns to second unit guys getting into a game for extended PT for the first time, but overall intensity has to amp up. The Gators are two games into a 12-game regular season. Lack of intensity is a killer and teams that think they can flip the switches and turn it on at will are usually ones that will lose games they shouldn't lose.
FLORIDA INJURIES:Corner CJ Henderson left the game with an ankle sprain. Mullen doesn't think it's serious enough that Henderson will experience anything other than some discomfort and he won't be slowed. Figure he's good to go against Kentucky. There are mixed reports coming in about Kadarius Toney. One report has him missing six to eight weeks with a serious shoulder injury but there is another that calls it a deep bone bruise that will keep him out until the LSU game. Toney has big play ability for sure, but we got a glimpse of Jacob Copeland Saturday night (3-23 receiving with a TD and 1-15 running on a jet sweep) and while he doesn't seem to have Toney's make-you-miss qualities he might have better top end speed and he's a natural pass catcher.
LOOKING AHEAD:Whether or not he's out for the year hasn't been determined, but Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson will almost certainly miss the Florida game next week in Lexington. Wilson was tackled from behind on a horse collar and the result was a serious knee injury. His replacement will be Troy grad transfer Sawyer Smith, who completed 5-9 passes for 72 yards. Last season at Troy, Smith started the last six games (5-1 record) and finished the season wtih1,669 passing yards and 14 touchdowns.
In two games, both wins, Kentucky is averaging 38 points and 441.5 yards per game (207.5 on the ground, 234 through the air). Defensively, the Wildcats are allowing 20.5 points and 366.5 yards per game (115 rushing, 251.5 passing). The Wildcats have six sacks (given up two) and have forced four turnovers (lost three).