Know this: Be it good luck, good coaching or good karma, Jim McElwain’s Florida Gators know how to win when it seems most unlikely.
Will Grier to Antonio Callaway to beat Tennessee two years ago. The goal-line stand against LSU last season. The “Heave to Cleve,” as some media members named it a week ago, to again pierce the heart of the Vols.
And now this – a 10-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, on the road, in a raucous building, with a backup quarterback who should have been as rusty as the oldest nail in the shed, against a team that wanted to win in the worse way. Yet, somehow, Florida beat Kentucky again, for the 31st consecutive time. They won 28-27 when the Wildcats inexplicably failed to cover a receiver for the second time in the game, then committed a holding penalty on a play that would have set up a reasonable game-winning field-goal attempt.
The result is that the Gators are 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC; they and Georgia are the only East Division teams unbeaten in league play.
Once again, McElwain’s Gators found the answers. And despite how many questions remain about this team, understanding how to win is not one of them. If you do it enough, it’s not luck. You know how. There is more than enough evidence now to support that.
We’ve learned plenty about these Gators. There are still tons of unknowns. A handful of thoughts in the aftermath:
* The most impressive thing about these Gators is they don’t panic. In fact, there are so many times it seems like they are too deliberate, lacking a sense of urgency. No clock moves faster than the closing seconds of a game when Florida is playing from behind. Still, there almost always seems to be enough time.
* The quarterback quandary is puzzling. Feleipe Franks seems to be the future – a big, strong-armed, athletic quarterback who is an accurate passer. But as many young quarterbacks learning his way, he still seems at times to lock in on receivers and to have trouble getting the offense into a rhythm. I still think Franks has a bright future, but while he learns, there clearly is a lack of rhythm with the offense. Whether that is his play, the play of others or play-calling, the truth is the Gators haven’t totaled many yards with him under center.
Del Rio never will have Franks’ arm strength or athleticism. He also makes some poor choices and the ball at times can lack zip. But there is a calmness to him and that seems to carry over to his teammates. The fourth-down scramble and throw to Mark Thompson shows he can play big when the moment is biggest. So maybe he does get the ball moving forward. I could live with that, at least for now. He certainly seems to understand what coordinator Doug Nussmeier is trying to accomplish. That brings us to …
* The play-calling. I spent most of the game a little concerned that Nussmeier had fallen back into his old habits — predictable play-calling, second-down running play after an incomplete pass on first, wide receiver screens when everyone knows they are coming, etc. But in fairness, all of those stretch plays from the pistol seem like much better calls with Malik Davis in the game. Similarly, Del Rio sure seemed to move the offense even though the play-calling didn’t change much.
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