Florida stakes claim as SEC East contender in blowout of Ole Miss
Here are three thoughts on a result no one saw coming:
1. This is what Florida can do with a good offense
That just happened. Really. A Florida team that was supposed to be rebuilding its offense from the ashes of the Will Muschamp era dominated a team that won at Alabama two weeks earlier. There were a lot of first-time-since notes getting tossed around the press box at Florida Field, because it was the first time in a long time that the Gators have had such a competent passing game.
Florida quarterback Will Grier became the first Gators signal caller since Tim Tebow (2009) to throw multiple touchdown passes in four games. Grier became the first Florida QB since Chris Leak (2005 against Kentucky) to throw four touchdown passes in a half. Florida now has six touchdown passes of more than 30 yards this season. The Gators had five such touchdown passes all of last season.
Grier, who was ill with the flu in the days before the game and missed Thursday’s practice, completed 24 of his 29 pass attempts for 271 yards and four touchdowns. Meanwhile, first-year Florida coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier continue to prove that a well-run offense was all the Gators needed. Florida’s defense was this good the past few years, but it looked worse because the inept offense put it in too many tough situations.
With the offense clicking, coordinator Geoff Collins’s defense looks downright dominant. Ole Miss entered Saturday averaging 54.8 points a game, but all the Rebels could manage prior to garbage time was a measly field goal that felt like an admission of defeat at the end of a 9-minute, 35-second drive to open the second half.
2. Ole Miss remains an SEC contender, but now its path is more difficult
Ole Miss still controls its SEC destiny, but things just got much tougher. The Rebels’ win at Alabama on Sept. 19 was about the best hole card an SEC team could hold, but Saturday’s loss removes any margin for error.
Even more distressing for Ole Miss was the number and severity of negative plays the Rebels took in the first half. The Rebels never gave themselves a chance with six losses for 53 yards. A snap that sailed over Chad Kelly’s head for a loss of 19 was the worst, but Florida killed another Ole Miss drive with a pair of sacks that drove the Rebels back 20 yards.
The defense didn’t fare much better early. Grier and Florida’s playmakers made the Land Sharks look like beached whales.
3. We underrated Florida
What does this mean for the Gators? It means what was supposed to be a lost year could end with them competing for an SEC East title or maybe even more. Bowl eligibility seemed like a legitimate goal for a team that entered the season with only one offensive lineman who had started an SEC game, but now Florida can aim much higher.
While the rest of the month (at Missouri, at LSU, Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla.) isn’t easy, it looks much more manageable after these past few weeks. Then comes a November that features SEC games against Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Florida probably still has to beat Georgia to ensure a shot at the division title, but the very idea that this is a legitimate conversation would have seemed insane a month ago.