Its Heisman winner gone, Florida has failed to find an offensive identity
After top-ranked Alabama's thrashing of No. 7 Florida last Saturday night in Tuscaloosa—a 31--6 beatdown that left little doubt that the Crimson Tide is the best team in the country—there was nothing left for the Gators to do but state the obvious. "Now we know," multipurpose freshman Trey Burton said in the bowels of Bryant-Denny Stadium, "that we're not perfect."
Far from it. This year's Gators bear little resemblance to the dynamic teams that went 48--7 and won two national championships from 2006 through '09. Facing an Alabama juggernaut that got only 47 yards on 12 carries from Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Florida was bullied on both sides of the ball: The Tide scored on its first four possessions and gashed Florida's run defense for 170 yards, while the Gators' backs gained a mere 3.1 yards a carry.
Most notably, the Florida offense looks as if it's going through a serious post-Tebow identity crisis. After underwhelming performances against inferior opponents in their first four games, the Gators mustered their lowest scoring output since October 2005. Tim Tebow's heir, junior John Brantley, is a classic pocket passer—"No one is going to mistake me for a runner," he says—and yet Florida ran plays against 'Bama as if the Heisman Trophy winner were still directing the attack. Brantley ran a spread option scheme and, not surprisingly, ran it with little success.
"When they run the option with him, you know he's not running the ball," Alabama safety Mark Barron says. "That's not who he is, and that makes them a lot easier to defend." The game's turning point came when Florida elected to go on fourth-and-goal from the two on its opening drive. Goal line stalwart Burton threw an interception while attempting one of Tebow's signature jump passes. Needless to say, it was a poor imitation.
Brantley's lackluster start to the season (the team's passing attack ranks 83rd in the country) may soon have the Gainesville faithful calling for the start of the Burton Era. But the Gator under the most heat should be offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, who replaced coach Urban Meyer's longtime assistant Dan Mullen last season. With Addazio calling plays, Florida's once breathtaking unit has looked unimaginative: The Gators' scoring average has dropped from 43.6 points in 2008 to 35.9 last year to 31.4 this season.
Meyer was already on the defensive last week when receiver Chris Rainey agreed to a plea stemming from an incident in which he was arrested for stalking his girlfriend. (The charge was lowered from aggravated stalking to a misdemeanor.) "It's not a dirty program," Meyer said after the 30th arrest of a player in six years at Gainesville. Following his worst loss since his first season, Meyer, who nearly resigned last December after suffering chest pains, looked and sounded dazed and defeated. Of his team's blunders in front of the raucous mob of 101,821, the coach said, "I don't know if we would've beaten them [with fewer mistakes] because they were pretty good today. But we just self-destructed."
A rematch between the rivals may well take place in December's SEC championship game, but given how unimpressive they have looked, the Gators aren't likely to waltz through the mediocre SEC East. "We can talk all we want about Atlanta," says Florida center Mike Pouncey, "but we've got a long SEC season ahead of us."
It will seem much longer if the Gators don't quickly get their act together.
LOSING HIS GRIP The struggles of Brantley (12) are giving Gator Nation reason to call for Burton, a Tebow clone, to start.