Only one thing is keeping coach Will Muschamp from fully establishing Florida as a team known for toughness and physicality: his foolish, stubborn insistence on trick plays.
The Gators have accomplished more offensively in three weeks than I expected to see all season.
Jeff Driskel looks like the real deal, Mike Gillislee leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing and the offensive line appears to be stronger and faster than it was a year ago.
With all of those pieces in place, Florida has turned into the team Muschamp wants it to be.
The Gators run the ball, they play defense, they wear opponents down and they win the fourth quarter.
But Muschamp’s shenanigans don’t fit that mold, and they’re keeping the transformation one step shy of completion.
It’s not only one call. It’s every week so far this season.
One drive after Tennessee scored to take a 20-13 lead, Muschamp called for a fake punt on fourth-and-9 at his own 42 — a move he later admitted was a mistake.
And it wasn’t just any fake punt, it was a wacky direct snap to Trey Burton, who pitched to unlikely recipient Matt Elam, who had to break a tackle in the backfield to even get half of the necessary yardage.
If Elam hadn’t come through with a sack on the next play, the game easily could have spiraled out of control.
Of course, Muschamp almost put the Gators in a hole much earlier.
On UF’s first play from scrimmage, Driskel handed to Matt Jones, who made a reverse pitch to Andre Debose. But Debose never received the ball; Florida was lucky to recover the fumble at its own 3.
If the Vols had fallen on the ball, they very easily could have taken an early lead, ignited the Neyland Stadium crowd and set the Gators up for a long, difficult afternoon.
Given Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s constant emphasis on winning the turnover battle, why are the Gators going out of their way to set up possible giveaways?
With Driskel, a mostly conservative passer, at the helm of an offense with a run-heavy approach, turnovers figure to be rare. Unless, of course, Florida puts itself in harm’s way.
Later that same quarter, on a fourth-and-1 at its own 40, Florida motioned from a spread punt formation to a three-man line with Burton under center.
Only a timeout as the ball was snapped kept the Gators from certain failure.
These plays wouldn’t be a terrible idea if Florida was struggling or needed to rely on gimmicks.
But the surprising truth is the Gators might actually be good.
After upset wins in hostile environments against Texas A&M and Tennessee in consecutive weeks, all the talk about a new breed of tougher Gators makes sense.
Now it’s time to start play-calling accordingly.
No more 15-yard punts from Jeff Driskel like he had against Bowling Green.
No more fake field goal pitches from holder John Crofoot to Trey Burton, like the one against Texas A&M. Sure, it worked, but is that the way Florida wants to set the tone on the game’s first offensive drive?
And no more lining up with only three players on the line and the rest split out wide for a simple point-after try, as Florida did following their first touchdown against the Aggies.
Especially against a team like Kentucky this weekend — a group that might be worse than Bowling Green.
The formula is simple.
Line up, play physical, run the ball, win.
As surprising as it is in light of last season, Florida can do just that and be fine.
Contact Greg Luca at [email protected].