Nearly everything about Florida’s game against Ole Miss was the polar opposite of what happened through the first three games of the year. I have not gone through my recording for a full analysis; ideally that will come tomorrow. For now though, just consider these things.
Florida entered the game first in the SEC in third down conversions, at 53.85 percent. Against Ole Miss, they were just 1-11 on third downs.
Florida came into the game +9 in turnover margin and had yet to turn the ball over. While Tim Tebow’s school record streak of pass attempts without an interception is still alive, the Gators fumbled five times, losing three, and finished -2 in turnover margin against the Rebels.
Preventing Big Plays
You can question the competencies of the offenses UF had faced so far, but the Gator D had been doing well in preventing big plays. The longest pass play allowed to Hawai’i, Miami, and Tennessee was 26 yards, and the longest run play was 16 yards.
Ole Miss gained 169 of its 325 yards on four plays. One of those four plays was a 40-yard touchdown run by Dexter McCluster and another was Jevan Snead’s 86-yard touchdown pass to Shay Hodge. Both of those plays came within 16 minutes of the end of the game.
On the Rebels’ 59 other plays, they managed just 156 yards, or 2.64 yards per play.
Coming into the game, Tim Tebow had played a relatively limited role in the offense compared to 2007. His 311 total yards against Miami were by far his highest, and 256 of those were passing. He had yet to score a rushing touchdown.
Against Ole Miss he had 319 yards of passing alone, and he had two rushing touchdowns.
Partially due to injuries, Percy Harvin had played a very limited role in the first three games of the year. His largest involvement was against Tennessee, where he had eight touches for 80 yards.
Against Ole Miss, he surpassed that mark in both rushing and receiving. He had 10 rushes for 82 yards, and 13 catches for 186 yards. He was far and away the best player on the field.
Taking a Lead
Florida had not trailed in a game yet this season. Ole Miss scored first, ending that streak with 3:12 to go in the first quarter. UF would take the lead back with 12:26 to go in the first half, but the Gators would lose the lead for good with 10:32 to go in the third quarter when Ole Miss tied the game 17-17.
Brandon James was largely held in check thanks to some occasionally suspect blocking by Florida but mainly good kick and punt coverage by Ole Miss. Saturday’s game was also the first game of the year in which the Gators’ special teams did not score.
The final margin of the game was made possible by Ole Miss’ special teams, who blocked Florida’s final extra point attempt.
“We didn’t play Florida football.”
Those words from Urban Meyer in his postgame press conference basically sum up the game. I am still going to do the analysis pieces, but the whole game can be summed up in that phrase.
It was like a combination of some of the worst parts of 2006 with some of the worst parts of 2007.
They had a third quarter meltdown, an infamous recurring nightmare of 2006’s run. They also had the offense making mistakes and hoping the defense could bail them out, a storyline taken directly from the script of two seasons ago.
They also had critical breakdowns, like Snead’s 86-yard pass, and some bad tackling, like on McCluster’s 40-yard run. The offense basically ended up the Tebow and Harvin show as well. Those bits are vintage 2007 Gators.
The critical thing from here on out is figuring out this team’s identity. The identity it had tried to forge in the first three games was completely reversed. Bad habits from the past couple seasons reemerged.
All is not lost since it’s still September and because Georgia was administered a beatdown by Alabama. Arkansas, Florida’s next opponent, has looked so positively putrid this season that they present a great opportunity to get the house back in order.
Florida came out flat, didn’t do a thing that brought them success in the three games prior, and they only lost by one point (a freak margin at that, considering how few PATs ever get blocked). It was also to a rapidly improving Ole Miss team, whose new coach Houston Nutt always pulls off an upset or two every season.
There are worse ways to take your first loss, and there was enough good in it to build on that the Gators can still accomplish every goal they have for the season.