It’s easy to write about chaos and schadenfreude from afar.
At your doorstep, it feels different.
There’s not a Gator in Gainesville feeling good today.
And the sickest of all, rightly, will be Tim Tebow.
Tebow’s third-quarter fumble on an exchange with Brandon James in the backfield led to a tying touchdown by Ole Miss, and his Gators would never recover the lead, allowing a long touchdown pass from Jevan Snead to Shay Hodge in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, missing the extra point on their subsequent scoring drive, and, finally, seeing their reigning Heisman Trophy-winner stopped on the trademark Tebow Smash on their last possession.
Tebow showed, again, that his poise as a passer disappears under pressure. Ole Miss’ Greg Hardy harassed Tebow all day, and the Gators’ running game, blessed with a stable of supposedly capable backs, was reduced to the Tebow and Harvin Show, the two combining for 25 of UF’s 35 carries and 89 of its 124 yards.
It was all too “Back to the Future” familiar for fans who watched the 2008 Gators turn into the 2007 squad, complete with baffling fumbles, reliance on Tebow and Harvin to do everything for the offense, and human kindling in the form of, surprisingly, Major Wright in the defensive backfield.
The Rebels, to their credit, played an excellent game.
The fumbles Florida coughed up were on a handoff miscue that was Tebow’s fault and, for Aaron Hernandez and Harvin, on great plays by Ole Miss defenders who ripped the ball out of Gator arms. Their defense in general played disciplined zones, yielding gains over the middle but little around the edges and nothing deep.
Snead showed up when needed with a pair of perfectly timed and well-placed throws, one on a screen over the mammoth Carlos Dunlap to Cordera Eason, one to Hodge in stride, both for TDs. And the “Wild Rebel” formation kept Florida from loading up the blitz packages that put Snead on his back a few times and wore all-everything linebacker Brandon Spikes down; Spikes was a monster in the first half, but his name was scarcely uttered in the second.
There’s blame to go around, for the abysmal blocking on the extra point attempt Ole Miss stuffed, for Tebow’s uncharacteristic sluggishness and missing composure, for play-calling that only started spreading the ball to players other than Harvin and Tebow when it was too late. (www.firedanmullen.com will not be an inactive WordPress blog for long.)
Certainly, UF’s best offensive play coming in the second quarter on an underthrown pass that a safety tipped to the Gators’ best wideout who happened to have an open sideline to streak down does not presage a great state of affairs; neither is squandering Percy Harvin’s best game in Gator blue, a 268-yard, two-TD tour de force that is as clean a bill of health as he could get.
But, more than the blame, more than the shame associated with finding their own Oregon State and losing to the Rebels for the third time this decade, I must remind myself and you that this is the beauty of the game.
I can’t, on Friday, embrace the chaos of college football’s uncertainty and parity and, on Saturday, bemoan my team’s failure to poke its head above that rising tide.
There’s no such thing as a safe game anymore, not in the mighty SEC, not in the “Pac-9” Pac-10, not in the cauldron of the Big House, not under the watch of Saint Bobby, not against the fluke offenses of Dread Pirates and Quarterbacks Brought to You By Pizza Hut’s P’Zone, not now.
The nature of college football has shifted so seismically, we will be feeling aftershocks for years to come. One came in Corvallis on Thursday; another, in The Swamp on Saturday.
And I welcome it.
Every Saturday should be dangerous. Every Saturday should be competitive.
And if every Saturday is like this one, then every Saturday should be special.