JACKSONVILLE — In his first season and first taste of Florida’s most historic rivalry, Will Muschamp has made sure the new era of Gators football would be remembered.
Problem is, most would rather forget.
After losing to Georgia to close out a winless October, and with all hope of a late charge at the division title lost, Muschamp seems to have finally realized just how plain bad this Florida team is playing.
“This year, we’re not close,” he said inside the bowels of EverBank Stadium on Saturday night.
To his credit, Muschamp knows what’s wrong: turnovers, no run game and, of course, the stunning amount of those darned yellow flags that are tossed each game.
Out of 120 FBS schools, Florida is last in the nation with 75 penalties, and the two teams immediately ahead — Colorado (73) and Western Michigan (69) — have both played one more game. After again losing the takeaway battle against the Bulldogs, the Gators are 114th in turnover margin at minus-8. For all the talk of creating a ball-hawking unit, the defense has only forced eight turnovers, which is 112th in the nation.
In four wins, Florida averaged 259 yards rushing. In four losses, including Saturday’s negative-19 showing, that number has shrunk to 43.75.
That’s not a typo.
The Gators are 111th in third-down conversion percentage. They are 96th in passing offense and 94th in total offense.
Anyway you look at it, this offense is plain terrible.
It racked up one first down in the second half of Saturday’s loss. After the first two series, Florida did not have a drive of longer than 35 yards and had nine that went for less than 10.
This team has played so poorly that its best hope of putting points on the board is to allow the opponent to score and hope Jeff Demps (when he’s actually healthy) or Andre Debose can break the kickoff return for a touchdown.
In one of the few statistical categories where they actually rank near the top, the Gators are eighth in the country in kickoff return average and are tied with seven others for the most return touchdowns with two.
It doesn’t matter if the offensive coordinator is in the booth, or if John Brantley is the quarterback instead of a freshman. The problem with the Gators’ offense is not Charlie Weis or the play-calling — it’s the personnel.
And for the rest of this season, at least, help is not on the way.
Saturday’s pathetic showing was just the latest in a line of poor performances, and now Muschamp’s first enduring memory as the head coach at Florida will be as the guy who lost four straight in October.
And it’s not over yet. There’s more history to be made, as a tough Vanderbilt team comes into The Swamp next Saturday fresh off pushing No. 8 Arkansas to the limit.
Should Florida lose that game, it would be the first time UF has lost to Vandy since 1988 and only the second time ever at home.
With a loss, not only would Muschamp’s Gators become the first to lose five straight since Florida dropped every game in 1979, it would also mean that Florida would be in serious danger of not qualifying for a bowl game for the first time since that same season.
Quite a way to usher in that new era.
Contact Matt Watts at [email protected].