Well, the dream of an undefeated season has evaporated on the plains of Auburn. It was just that – a dream. Urban has already said it’s not a goal. I will admit that I got caught up in that dream as the season progressed, and why not? The team was winning, it was immense fun, and it was easy to do.
The warning signs were all there. I’ve already gone over all of the reasons why Florida is not a national title contender. Many of those things came to haunt them in the second half. First, I’ll go over the issues in the game, then the positives to take away.
- Everything worked on offense in the first half. It may seem counterintuitive to even list this as an issue, much less first. However, the Gators’ secret to being a great second half team was to make better adjustments than the other team. Well, since everything worked, Auburn had a better chance at making adjustments than Florida did. Auburn obviously made the right ones at halftime, and Florida couldn’t adjust on the fly in the second half. It was the receivers running the ball to the outside that was most effective, but Florida didn’t stick to that enough to score.
- Turnovers. Florida made theirs at bad times, and Auburn’s didn’t end up hurting them. I do want to say that Chris Leak’s fumble was a fumble since the defender hit the ball out of his hand, so that was not a case of being robbed by the refs. In fact, there were a few non-calls in Florida’s favor, like when Joe Cohen hit Brandon Cox’s helmet with his helmet and then with his arm. Leak did not have his best game, and Florida never got a big play from the secondary. Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith have bailed out the team several times with big interceptions, but they never came this time.
- The lack of big stops. Florida has rarely been able to get big stops all year, except when it’s a Nelson or Smith interception. The defense did not get any big stops this game either. Florida ran only 45 offensive plays this game, and that was a byproduct of the defense being on the field all the time. Auburn dominated time of possession, and they used the new clock rules that Tommy Tuberville pushed for and got in the offseason to their advantage.
I think part of this was that Florida simply got tired in the second half. Auburn had plenty of energy after practically taking last week off and then sleepwalking through the first half of tonight’s game. The schedule at last took its toll. I thought that at the beginning of the year (like most people did) that this was the game that Florida had a better than 50% chance at losing. That turned out to be prescient.
So where do they go from here? Well, back to Gainesville to get some rest for one. They’ve got to be emotionally and physically spent after this loss. There are some things to build on though.
- Everything on offense worked in the first half. They really did look good, although Auburn was not playing with real fire or emotion at the time. The turning point was the blocked punt, where it seemed after that, Florida played on offense to avoid punting, not to gain yards. It’s kind of like the difference between playing not to lose versus playing to win. They got tight, and Auburn had finally loosened up. Still, a healthy Percy Harvin made a big difference. For the record, the last time Harvin got the ball was on the first possession of the second half. Either his ankle got to him or the coaches decided to lean on the seniors after that. Either way, they must keep Harvin involved all game long.
- Auburn’s offense scored only 9 points. Yes, Auburn did not score an offensive touchdown. They got 2 points on the safety, 7 on the blocked punt, and 6 on the last play. The defense script of bend but don’t break did work as normal, and in that respect, it should have been 17-9. Florida’s sloppy offense and special teams really did them in. I still hold that the defense needed to make big stops if nothing else but for momentum purposes, since UF did nothing to turn the tide of Auburn’s second half momentum. The defense had 5 sacks in the first half, but none in the second. If they could have gotten some more crucial sacks or some of those timely interceptions, Florida wins the game. They didn’t come up with the big plays, but they did hold Auburn’s offense to under 10 points. I know Urban Meyer will take that every time.
- There’s a lot of footall yet to be played. The biggest game in this four game gauntlet is still what it was in the beginning: Georgia. Originally it was to make sure Florida stays ahead of them in the standings and hold the tiebreaker over them, but Georgia’s losses to Tennessee an Vandy (!) make that less of a concern. The big issue now is not losing another conference game, since I’m not sure that Tennessee will lose another conference game themselves. The goal for the year was getting to Atlanta, and the Gators are still on track to do so and they still control their destiny.
This one is going to weigh on Gator fans’ minds for a while. Auburn was playing to save their season, and they certainly did in the second half. However, if Florida ends up 11-1 at the end of the season, and gets revenge in the SEC title game, it’ll be non-stop what ifs for the month going into bowl season. What if the Tigers had blocked the punt? What if Leak had thrown underneath to Cornelius Ingram instead of underthrowing Andre Caldwell for the pick? What if Tebow had played more? (For the record, I think it wouldn’t have mattered the way Auburn’s defense played in the second half, although the offense could have used that spark of enthusiasm.)
Regardless, what’s done is done. This is no time to get ahead of ourselves and demand answers as to why UF is not going undefeated. It was a near impossibility with the schedule, and we knew this going into the season. I still hold that it’s quite possible that no one goes undefeated, although at this point I’d say that no one is beating Ohio State. Florida is still in the driver’s seat in the SEC East, though not as comfortably so than it was five hours ago. Going undefeated is really hard, and as Tuberville said two weeks ago, nearly impossible in the SEC.
Florida has not been to Atlanta in early December since 2000. This is the goal. It has always been the goal, and Florida can still accomplish it without help from other teams. If you told any Gator fan that Florida would go 6-1 to start the year, I think all but the most irrational would take it. I’ll still take it even today. Now, the focus switches getting fully healthy and ready to face Georgia.