Homecoming for the University of Florida means Gator Growl, the World’s Largest Student Run Pep Rally, and big name acts like Josh Turner and Tracy Morgan. Alumni descend on Gainesville for fun, socializing, and, oh yeah, a football game. With all the festivities going on into the late hours and the early start time of the game one might forgive fans for showing up a little late. The players? Well now that’s another story.
Same old story actually. It goes a little something like this: overmatched foe playing in the Swamp, the Gators let them hang around late before doing just enough to pull it out. Sound familiar? Except this was a 5-3 Sunbelt Conference team. Except this was a team that boasted the number 114 ranked defense in the country. Except this time the Gators almost lost.
Fathom this. The Gators almost lost… a Homecoming game… to Louisiana…. not Louisiana State University… the University of Louisiana…. at Lafayette… the Ragin Cajuns… Sunbelt Conference…5-3. When was the last time Florida lost a Homecoming game? Let’s just say hair metal was in it’s prime, MTV still showed music videos, Spurrier had yet to coach a down in the SEC, none of the current players were born yet, and Will Muschamp was still in high school. If you guessed 1988 you get a sucker. If you guessed Auburn you get the bonus points. Louisiana is certainly not Auburn. Of course, this year they might be better than Auburn, but that’s another story for another day. This day the Gators almost lost and it illustrates the tightrope that this team walks.
In the first half, Louisiana played Florida to a 3-3 tie up until the Gators last drive of the half when they got into a rhythm running the no- huddle attack they debuted last week against Missouri. Jeff Driskel was effective passing on the drive leading them to a go-ahead touchdown on a two yard pass to Trey Burton for a 10-3 halftime lead. A that point it seemed like mabe the Gators were in control. A normally slow starting team finally getting in a rhythm and fans hoping they would come out in the second half and take over. In the words of the inimitable Lee Corso, not so fast my friend.
Not only was the fat lady not singing, she wasn’t even warming up, heck she wasn’t even in the building This Louisiana team didn’t come for the paycheck, they came to win. Rather than a Cajun feast this one turned out to be a Cajun beast.
The Gators actually took the second half kickoff and drove the field to what looked like would be another touchdown and a 14 point lead. Game over right? Again, not so fast my friend. A third and goal pass from Driskel to an open Clay Burton in the end zone was dropped forcing the Gators to settle for a field goal and only a ten point lead 13-3.
Louisiana used the momentum of the defensive red zone stop and some fantastic half-time adjustments to drive 77 yards for a touchdown and a 3 point deficit 13-10. All of the sudden the top ranked pass efficiency defense in the nation looked vulnerable. All of the sudden Louisiana had some momentum and the Gator faithful were quiet, uneasy sensing some bad karma. They were right.
Florida took the kick and started driving when their old nemesis “penalty” reared it’s ugly head. A 3rd and six turned into a 3rd and 11 which, you guessed it, turned into a 4th and punt. With the nation’s fifth leading punter and 2nd ranked net punting unit that’s not such a bad thing. Right? Right? Bueller? Bueller? Cue Corso, “not so fast my friend”. For some head scratching reason the staff decided to put a 300 lb defensive tackle in the backfield to block and he was left holding his jock as a 5’10” 180 pound wide receiver Bradley Brown beat him off the dribble to block the Kyle Christy punt, the ball was picked up in stride by Blake Comminie who returned it for a touchdown.
Just like that Florida was down 17-13 in the Swamp, on Homecoming, to a 5-3 Sunbelt Conference team. Ahh, but they’ve been down this road before, right? Relax, take a deep breath, step away from the ledge. But wait it gets worse. The plot thickens as they say.
Florida goes a quick three and out, Louisiana starts moving the ball effectively and the Gators are in danger of going down by two scores. When the fourth quarter begins, the Gators are on the ropes as Louisiana drives inside the Florida ten yard line and at that point, finally, the Gators defense digs in and decides to draw the proverbial line in the sand. They hold them to a field goal and keep it a one score game at 20-13. Cue the foreshadowing music.
Finally, Gator fans breathe a sigh of relief thinking in the back of their collective minds that Driskel, who had been effective passing, when receivers actually caught the ball as well as running the zone read, would drive them Tim Tebow style to a game-tying or perhaps game-winning drive. That chapter would be left to be written another day, however. You see Jeff Driskel goes down to an ankle injury. It must have been so bad he took himself out… immediately. He didn’t even try to run another play. Usually a guy will try to ignore the pain and fake it for a play or two. Nope, he came out immediately. In went backup Jacoby Brissett. Remember him?
I bet Gator fans do now. Believe me, it was obvious today if it wasn’t before, why the staff went with Driskel. It’s not that Jacoby can’t throw the ball, it’s not that he can’t lead the team. It’s just that he has no wheels. He’s stiff moving around in the pocket and with an offensive line that struggled once again (yes, same old story) he was a sitting duck for the pass rush.
So here they were down by seven late fourth quarter. The defense that had been gashed for much of the second half had finally settled down and held Louisiana to a three and out setting the stage with 3:06 left in the game. All Brisset did was put together some completions. Six yards to Reed, then 39 yards to Reed over the middle where he drags some defenders with him to the Lousiana 3 yard line. Florida promptly calls time out. Then Brissett drops, throws, and hits Quinton Dunbar for essentially the game tying touchdown from three yards out pending the successful PAT.
No Driskel, no problem. THIS is why Brissett needs to stick around after this season. He’s a swollen ankle away from leading the team to late game heroics. As much as this team relies on Driskel’s legs, it’s amazing he hasn’t been hurt like this before now.
Regardless, Brissett leads the game tying drive and Louisiana gets the ball with 1:49 left in the game. And the tension builds (cue the Jaws theme). Perhaps they scored too quickly. The Cajuns had moved the ball effectively for much of the second half, and the knot in the pit of every Gator fans told the tale. HERE WE GO!
Louisiana made it real obvious their plan was to take their chances in overtime as they run three straight running plays with no timeouts left. Oddly, Will Muschamp, who had timeouts available, didn’t seem interested in using them and seemingly was on the same plan as Louisiana, but then even more strangely chooses to call a timeout on fourth down with 13 seconds left in the game. It would prove to be the right call.
As Louisiana lined up to punt, Muschamp, explained in the post-game, he called the timeout to protect against a fake. He then used it to have Durkin dial up his best punt block. Good call coach. In true Florida Gator special teams style, their star special teams player Loucheiz Purifoy crashes in from the left side, blocks the punt cleanly into the waiting arms of Jelani Jenkins who was escorted into the end zone by a host of Gators scoring the winning points in surprising and oh-so exciting fashion.
Overtime? We don’t need no stinking overtime!
Cue the Mike and the Mechanics music, “all I need is a miracle, all I need is Lou(cheiz)”
And just like that, Lou(isiana), the one in Lafayette not Baton Rouge, the 5-3 Sunbelt Conference team, the team that wasn’t supposed to be in this game much less leading with 3 minutes to go, was vanquished. Shut down. Finished. Kaput. Finito. Au Revoir. Adieu. Ciao. Hasta la vista. Later days.
No matter what language or slang you prefer, Louisiana was left to fly home wondering how they let the biggest upset in their history slip through their fingers.
The Gators, a team that had only scored two touchdowns in it’s last 11 quarters, scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes to win the game. In a season which has been defined by close wins, and strong fourth quarter play, this might have been the best. And most dramatic.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about this Florida team it’s that no team is ever really out of it, and most are never really in it. That is when the game’s on the line. For a team that has little in the way of true playmakers, they seem to make plays when they ABSOLUTELY have to have one. For a team that can’t seem to stop shooting itself in the foot for three quarters, they seem start shooting for the win in the fourth quarter when the chips are down.
The Gator Nation is a fickle beast. They tend to show up late for games, they aren’t always the loudest or the most loyal, but when it’s showtime it’s showtime and they make the Swamp one of the toughest places to play. This team tends to show up late as well, but when it’s showtime it’s showtime and they take care of their business.
Maybe next week somebody should set an alarm or at least call the players and remind them they have a game to play so hopefully they’ll show up earlier this time.