No. 10 Florida's formula for success is ugly, effective
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida's winning formula is pretty simple these days: Make a few plays on offense and rely on one of the nation's top defenses.
It has yielded close, low-scoring games, a four-game winning streak and a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
But it also has the 10th-ranked Gators (10-1) installed as a slight underdog at home against rival and No. 14 Florida State (9-2) on Saturday.
''We're a 10-win football team that's still got a long ways to go in a lot of areas.'' Florida coach Jim McElwain said. ''You guys know. You guys watch. But here's the key: Part of the key is figuring out how you get wins even through deficiencies.''
McElwain points to games against East Carolina in early September and Florida Atlantic last week as ones his team didn't deserve to win.
Throw in nail-biters against Vanderbilt and South Carolina this month, and Florida's offense has looked like something from the Will Muschamp era - maybe even worse.
The Gators rank 100th in the nation in total offense and 80th in scoring. They can't run, can't pass, can't block and certainly can't make field goals with any consistency.
''Here's the difference: It has a lot to do with the approach of how you go into the event or the opportunity therein,'' McElwain said. ''You're going to figure out a way no matter what to win. That's what you do. Our guys have won a bunch of games, whether you say they deserve it or not.
''But whether we deserved it or not, we figured out a way to do it. There's something to feel happy about that, but satisfied? It's embarrassing.''
Since forcing five turnovers and totaling more than 400 yards in a 27-3 victory against Georgia in Jacksonville, the Gators have been fairly pedestrian with the football.
They needed a late field goal to beat the inept Commodores 9-7 on homecoming. They needed a late touchdown to hold off struggling South Carolina 24-14 on the road two weeks ago. And they needed a touchdown in overtime and then a fourth-down stop to defeat FAU 20-14 on Saturday.
''You don't want to have the games like those two, but I don't think they will have a big impact on this weekend,'' tight end Jake McGee said. ''You've got to be able to get up for this game regardless of how the season's been going, and it's been going pretty good. We've had some lulls, but it's your rivalry game with a lot on the line. I think the intensity and the effort should all be there. There should be a lot of fired up guys in the locker room.''
Maybe so, but the offense is far from firing smoothly.
The team's shaky offensive line has been getting manhandled on a weekly basis. And quarterback Treon Harris, who took over the starting role after Will Grier was suspended a year for using performance-enhancing drugs, has been indecisive and inaccurate.
He also has seven turnovers in his last four games - four interceptions and three fumbles - and seemingly has lost confidence. Equally troubling for Florida, the 5-foot-11 Harris is missing open receivers. And defenses had figured out his weaknesses and his penchant for rolling right to escape trouble.
''We've got to complete passes when guys are open and create some explosive plays and consistency,'' McElwain said.
Fortunately for Florida, the defense has been downright dominant.
The Gators rank third in the nation in scoring defense and sixth in total defense. The defense ranks first or second in the SEC in yards, points allowed, sacks, interceptions and fumbles.
It's unlikely Florida can change its identity at this point. The Gators are ugly on the field - the margin for error is even smaller considering they've missed seven field goals and five extra points - but getting it done in the end.
''Pretty much just keep finding ways to win,'' defensive back Brian Poole said. ''At the end of the day, that's really all that matters. They ain't always going to be blowouts. There's going to be some close games. In the end, we just got to find a way to win.''
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