Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Colleges

Jones: A play for the ages can't mask Gators' stench

GAINESVILLE — The ending will never be forgotten. It will live in Gators lore. Forever.

A Hail Mary. On the game's final play. To beat rival Tennessee.

Oh my.

"You can't put into words what just happened," said Florida's Feleipe Franks, the quarterback who heaved the ball more than 65 yards in the air.

"Crazy, man," said Gators receiver Tyrie Cleveland, who caught the ball in the end zone to give Florida a stunning 26-20 victory over Tennessee on Saturday.

The play will go right up there with Tim Tebow's promise and Chris Chiozza's 3-pointer in the NCAA Tournament. Legendary stuff, the type of play they slap on posters and put in highlight films.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let's get to the real story.

The Gators stink.

Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. But they certainly aren't a good football team. They were darn lucky to win Saturday, and they had better get their act together if they are going to make any more noise this season, especially in a pretty good conference.

Not to throw a wrench into anyone's chomp, but the only thing that Florida's victory over Tennessee proved is that Tennessee is awful and its coach, Butch Jones, might want to start collecting moving boxes.

Seriously, Butch, how do you lose a game on that play?

The final few minutes offered plenty of excitement. But don't confuse drama for excellence. This was an awful game. SEC guru Paul Finebaum tweeted at halftime that these teams were setting football back 50 years.

These were two mediocre teams playing a lousy game, and the Gators won only because the other team was more inept than they were.

"Obviously, it was not pretty," Gators coach Jim McElwain said.

Not pretty, but not unusual. The Gators haven't been a good team, at least on offense, for more than a few minutes now.

Yes, the Gators are missing some very skilled players due to suspensions. And, well, maybe all the worrying and rescheduling and rust because of Hurricane Irma had a little to do with what we saw Saturday.

Then again, I'm not sure I'm buying those excuses.

It's not like McElwain's Gators have ever been explosive. You have to go back to the days of Urban Meyer to find a Gators team that could sprint up and down the field and light up scoreboards. That's what Florida football is supposed to be all about.

But these days, Florida football is more about trying not to mess up on offense and hoping the defense finds a way to win a game. Something just seems … off.

"(I'd like to see us) play with consistency," McElwain said. "Play with some energy. Play on the go. When they do that, they play pretty good. Sometimes in life, (you have to) not (be) afraid to be wrong. Rather, think what it is to be right. We just wait to shoot ourselves, and (we're) afraid to make a mistake and cut it loose."

Even when the Gators do something good offensively, they find a way to louse things up. Their best play Saturday — well, aside from the Hail Mary — was Malik Davis ripping off a 72-yard run before being stripped of the ball and fumbling out of the end zone inches before scoring.

You saw that play and thought, "Yep, that's about right."

Realize how the Gators won this game. The offense had the ball for fewer than 10 minutes in the second half. Their defense scored on an interception return. They couldn't move the ball against a defense that regularly gets shredded. Tennessee dropped a surefire touchdown on its final possession. The Vols missed three field goals.

And Florida STILL needed a Hail Mary.

After the game, McElwain tried to spin the way a coach is supposed to. Maybe, he said, this is the type of victory that can get a team rolling.

"We'll get there," McElwain said. "But I will say this. I like this football team."

Right now, he's one of the few who do.

The ending Saturday was a lot of fun. The rest of it, like his team, was a mess.

 
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