The Monday Morning Quarterback: Gator Football (And The HBC) Is Back In Blue, Offense Black and Blue

It was a blue out of sorts on Saturday night in the Swamp as Florida Gator football returned for the 2016 season opener.

Yes Gator football is back!

You know what else (or who) is back?

The Monday Morning Quarterback is back!

But seriously folks, The Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier is back!

He recently returned to the Orange and Blue in an official capacity as Ambassador for the program after his retirement mid-season last year from the South Carolina Gamecocks.

On Saturday night, however, he was back in blue as the team chose all blue uniforms (except for the traditional orange helmets) and Spurrier wore blue for the ceremony honoring him. The school elected to add his name to the stadium in which he played, winning a Heisman trophy, coached, winning a national title, and nicknamed The Swamp when he returned in 1990. 

“I have been very fortunate and blessed since becoming a Florida Gator to receive several honors and awards,” Spurrier said before Saturday night’s opener. “But I can assure all of you here today having my name next to Florida Field, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, here in the Swamp is the single biggest honor I’ll ever receive. Thanks!”

It was an awesome sight seeing him on the field where his teams won 6 SEC titles  from 1990 to 2001. 

“The most special group was the twelve teams that I was fortunate to coach here. Let me tell you what those guys did. From 90 through 2001, they won between 9 and 12 games every year. They won between 6 and 9 SEC games. Those guys knew how to play! And let me tell you what, those guys they won 93% of their games here in the Swamp because all of you, all of you here!”

“I said it twenty years ago, coach Urban Meyer said it ten years ago, The Swamp is the best home field advantage in all of college football.”

Yes, The Swamp became a great home field advantage when Spurrier took over in 1990. Since Urban Meyer left after the 2010 season, however, not so much.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes The Swamp has simply lost some of its luster the last five seasons.

Why do I say that?

Well, there’s the 6-6 home record between 2013-14 which includes a home loss to FCS foe Georgia Southern the low point of the Will Muschamp era. 

And despite the 18-3 home record the other three seasons, there just hasn’t been the same level of dominance that the Gators showed at home between 1990 and 2010. 

Simply put, offense has left the building. 

While the Gators have long been known for great defense, which continues to this day, it was the prolific offenses under Spurrier and Meyer, heck even under Ron Zook, that put the “swamp” in The Swamp!

The ability to score quick, score often, and put up points in bunches is what sold out the stadium and kept fans loud and raucous. 

Those teams would literally swamp teams before they could ever get going. That’s what puts fear into opposing teams.

Now fans have become all too accustomed to close games and nail biters even against teams against whom they are double digit favorites.

On Saturday night, Steve Spurrier Night if you will, the Gators left the HBC tribute at kickoff as they struggled mightily against lowly UMass in a game they were favored by 36. They went into the fourth quarter clinging to a nerve-wracking 10-7 lead over the FBS #122 ranked team before squeezing out a 24-7 victory.

Even the HBC himself appeared nervous while in the booth discussing his stadium honor and the publication of his autobiography. 

To head coach Jim McElwain’s credit, however, the cupboard truly was bare offensively when he took over. 

There was a dearth of skill players (read it: none), zero experience at quarterback, and the lowest numbers on the offensive line that I’ve ever seen in 38 years of watching Gator football.

Coach Mac quickly restored numbers to the offensive line but to do that he had to reach on some players and bring in transfers who might have never seen a scholly at Florida previously. 

It didn’t help losing quarterback Will Grier mid-season to suspension and then to transfer in the off-season. 

So the Gators are back to square one at quarterback with sophomore transfer Luke Del Rio and graduate transfer Austin Appleby as his backup. 

The revolving door at QB is the single biggest reason for the Gators offensive struggles along with changing offensive systems. 

Coach Mac has done a good job recruiting skill talent although losing JUCO transfer Dre Massey for the season is a huge blow to his efforts to revive offense in Gainesville.

But offensive line is where the Gators struggles begin and end with this team.

By the end of coach Mac’s first season the Gators started three true freshman on the line: guards Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan along with tackle Fred Johnson. Not exactly a recipe for offensive success.

On Saturday night, the Gators struggled once again in large part to a line which got little push in the run game and continuously had communication issues and breakdowns in pass protection.

If anything, the Gators showed they’re still a work in progress offensively and have a long way to go to be a dominant SEC offensive line.

The Monday Morning Quarterback believes that coach Mac has the pieces in place to eventually return the Gators offensive prowess and the Swamp’s glory but this season, if Saturday night’s game is any indication, will be another speed bump along that path.

The Head Ball Coach is back, but offense and The Swamp’s home field advantage are still a long way off.

I’m The Monday Morning Quarterback and I’m out!

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