The Florida Gators beat the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns yesterday in the Swamp 27-20 in Florida’s annual homecoming game. They won it in dramatic fashion scoring two touchdowns in the last two minutes of the game to erase a seven point deficit and leave Gator fans breathless.
In a game that many felt would be a mere tuneup the Gators allowed Louisiana to hang around the whole game and they almost pulled the upset. Offensively, the Gators didn’t play as bad as the score looked, they had balance, they made plays in the passing game, and they ran the ball effectively. The problems were the same old mistakes they’ve been making all season dropped passes, penalties, missed blocking assignments, and breakdowns in execution.
“We certainly make it interesting,” said coach Muschamp. “This is a football team that’s finding ways to win games. We certainly shot ourselves in the foot enough in the game to put it in that situation.”
“But we managed the game very well late as far as field position and time was concerned and with what we wanted to do.”
The Gators, who have been criticized for their predictability and imbalance, were very balanced yesterday running on 34 plays and passing 26 times. The negative is here is they only had 60 offensive snaps once again showing their offensive inconsistency. Realistically you hope to have 70-80 snaps per game.
Driskel played one of his best games all around hitting 13-16 for 98 yards and rushing 12 times for 76 yards before leaving the game late in the third quarter due to an ankle injury. Jacoby Brissett came on in relief and played well also completing 6 of 8 for 68 yards and the game tying touchdown. The plays were there all afternoon in the passing game but drops and penalties slowed the progression once again.
In the running game, Mike Gillislee continued his recent struggles gaining only 45 yards on 14 carries a 3.2 yard per carry average due mostly to continuing struggles by the offensive line in their inside blocking assignments. On a good note teams continue to focus on stopping Gilly inside which allowed Driskel to be effective on the edge. He was the Gators leading rusher yesterday with 76 yards and made several big runs on the Gators two scoring drives before halftime and coming out of halftime. Omarius Hines looked great yesterday filling in for the injured Solomon Patton on the jet sweep finishing with 37 yards on only three carries.
At receiver Reed had a monster game, at least by this teams standards, with 5 catches for 85 yards and two big ones on scoring drives. The 39 yard catch on the game tying td drive was the play of the game before Purifoy’s blocked punt. The biggest news in the passing game was the play of the receivers Hines and Dunbar who combined for 7 catches and 55 yards. Again, the plays were there in the passing game, receivers got open and had opportunities to make plays. Once again penalties and ill-timed drops hurt the progression of the passing game or the game might not have been as close.
The biggest issues in this one for the Gators was penalties and 3rd down conversions. The Gators were penalized 10 times for 79 yards and every one either stopped a drive for the Gators, extended a drive for Louisiana, or took points off the board.
“Obviously the penalties just killed us in the game and they were penalties. We’ve talked about it, we’re going to reemphasize it again. We’ve emphasized it, every day in every situation we could, we’ve benched guys, we’ve done everything we could do. I’m going to find another way.”
On 3rd down the Gators continued to struggle finishing a paltry 4-14, a 29 percent conversion rate and not nearly good enough to string together effective scoring drives.
Defensively, the Gators played a good game holding a potent Louisiana offense to 267 yards which is near the Gators season average. They weren’t as opportunistic as they have been the last few weeks getting only one turnover, a fumble for by Sharif Floyd on the opening drive of the game, leading to a Gator field goal. They were, however, very effective on 3rd down holding the Cajuns to two out of twelve for only 17 percent and numerous three and outs.
The defense once again continued to have a number of aggression penalties with Loucheiz Purifoy getting two in the game which extended drives and led to Louisiana scores. But, overall, they played their usual stout game They did give up some big catches but no big scoring plays and when the game was on the line late they shut down the Louisiana offense allowing the Gator offense maximum opportunity to tie the game. When the Ragin Cajuns were threatening to go up by 14 in the fourth quarter the Gator defense stiffened holding them to a field goal and keeping the Gators within seven.
“In that situation , especially with the way we had been playing offensively, we did not want a two-score game,” Muschamp said. “So when we go to the fourth quarter, I told the guys we gotta hold them to a field goal.”
Sharif Floyd added, “Coach was on the sideline going bananas and we don’t like it when he’s going bananas. So we came together and played all three downs aggressive.”
Special teams, not surprisingly, was the difference in the game. Supertar Loucheiz Purifoy, who continued to prove why he’s one of the best in the nation, came crashing in from the left side to block a punt into the arms of Jelani Jenkins. Jenkins subsequently was escorted into the end zone by a host of Gators to score the winning touchdown with four seconds to play. Lost in the drama of the winning punt block was the job Kyle Christy did once again. His average wasn’t great this time but that’s due to all the pooch punts he was required to make. He did have a few booming 50+ yards punt but mostly he kept Louisiana pinned deep inside their twenty yard lines. Not many teams are going to be able to drive 80+ yards consistently on this defense.
Overall the Gators didn’t play nearly as bad as the scoreboard showed, they just continued to struggle with penalties, missed assignments, drops, and third down conversions. In spite of these struggles, the Gators are 9-1 on the season with two left to play as they continue the magical ride on the backs of the defense and special teams.