Pat Dooley’s Back Nine: December 14

The Back Nine comes at you after a unique Saturday night which included going to the Florida-LSU game and just sitting in the stands with my wife. It was our first ever Florida football game sitting together in the stadium. So, yes, I am the jinx.

10. The stunning and sad event that happened in Tallahassee on Saturday with Keyontae Johnson collapsing and his teammates crying certainly was a reminder that these games we care so much about are just distractions. It’s OK to care, but everyone would be smart to compartmentalize their feelings about whether losing a big game is a tragedy compared to the health of the young men and women who play the sport. It’s difficult to talk or even to write about Johnson’s situation without welling up or feeling the immense weight of sadness. It is overwhelming. We’re going to talk about football, but just to get out minds off the really bad news.

11. From my seat, you really couldn’t see the cleated shoe flying in the air because of the thickening fog that had settled just about the playing field. Instead, it was the groan that told you somebody had done something wrong just when the game looked survivable. Marco Wilson did an emotional thing and it happened to a guy who needed a big Senior Night more than anyone on the field. Here was a player who was the fan villain after losing an end zone battle in the Texas A&M game and I’m sure there are some of you out there will add this to your list of mistakes made by Wilson. It was bad. It was emotional, but it was bad. A bad mistake. It’s something he will have to live with for a long time. That’s the thing. You make your own legacies. And he’s going to have to live with the jokes. But with the said, he didn’t lose the game. He helped lose the game and certainly not on purpose. It was lost by the usual heroes, guys like Kyle Trask and Evan McPherson. It was lost because of defense. It was lost because every game is lost or won and every game in unscripted and every game usually comes down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes. Florida lost because it was football.

12. Even if Florida has pulled that game out, won it at the end of the game or in overtime the way it looked like it was going, even if Gator Nation was celebrating 9-1 in an all-conference COVID-19 season, we all knew what was and is coming next week. Florida just isn’t at the level of Alabama and it could get ugly. I think the Tide would have opened as 12-point favorites but after the results of the weekend I saw the spread as high as 17.5. This game will come down to two things – muscle and matchups. I don’t like Florida’s chances with the former.

13. To be honest, I can’t really explain the Florida defense this year. We have tried, but every time we think we have it figured out, some inexperienced quarterback takes his team the length of the field. If it gets bad Saturday and again in a bowl game (which could be so uneventful players might opt out), but Florida may be on the verge of history. Right now, Florida is giving up 26.3 points a game. The record is 29.3 in 1946 (that team went 0-9 but who is counting?) Only two other teams in UF history have given up more points per game than this one (1971 and 2007). What is so hard to figure out is how a coordinator who put together a dominant defense in his second season at UF have such a clunker in his third. Players not getting lined up, quirky substitution patterns, both cornerbacks blitzing on a play that left an uncovered LSU receiver? What’s happening?

14. And then we had the offense that had 609 yards and only 34 points. Well, going 5-for-13 on third down didn’t help. I have heard this theory that the offense is wearing down in this long and mentally-exhausting season. First of all, the other teams have coaches, too, and are able to slow Florida down. Here’s a nugget for you – in the six games at the start of the season, Florida averaged 45.8 points a game. In the last four 34.3. Now, 34 points a game should allow you to cruise through those games unbeaten, but not with this defense.

15. I have been a Heisman voter for a while and I know that any favorite three-quarters of the way through this season is far from a guarantee to win the stiff-armed one. All it takes is one bad game. I know how voters vote. They see Florida all but eliminated from the playoffs and they see the three turnovers by Trask including a pick-six and they ignore everything he did correctly in the LSU game and in every other game this season. Trask still has a shot if he lights up the Alabama defense and Florida wins the game. But I think the movement towards Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith is gaining momentum.

16. One thing for sure, Florida’s loss not only killed the Gators, it did Texas A&M no good because that win over Florida doesn’t look so special anymore. By the way, sitting in the stands for the first time in 34 years for a game, I found out one thing. You guys get really angry. The venom was suffocating.

17. The Tweet of the Week goes to Jason Kersey of The Athletic – “Chad Morris was a rising star in the coaching world like three years ago ¬and is now fired for the second straight year. Such a brutal, brutal business.” You can look at this in one of two ways. 1. These coaches who get fired collect on what is left of salaries that are substantial and almost always get more chances; or 2. Hiring coaches is a difficult job to get right, whether you’re an athletic director or a head coach. Actually, you could look at it this way – coaches need to vet jobs as much as they need to be vetted.

18. I won’t spend much time on this because it has been a sad enough week, but I have seen people refer to this as the worst loss ever for Florida. It was a bad one, an embarrassing one. But these were four that were – at a minimum, just as bad (regular season games only). The Florida Four Pack:
* Georgia 26, Florida 21, 1980: Lindsay Scott.
* Auburn 10, Florida 7. 1989: Shayne Wasden was open.
* Tennessee 34, Florida 32, 2001: Just tackle Travis Stephens.
* Alabama 40, Florida 39 (OT), 1999: On a missed extra point.
You can hear Pat Dooley on the Tailgate from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, this week with special guest host Robbie Andreu.


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