Sunday Hash: Breaking down the Florida-Vanderbilt debacle

It was almost as if Florida came into Nashville Saturday speeding up a hill and suddenly threw the car into reverse.

That’s how violently everything changed around a program that is trying to get back to the top of the mountain only to find the road full of potholes and Do Not Enter signs.

It was a loss in every way for Florida – offense, defense and special teams all were less than good. And Florida is not a good enough team to play average and win, as we saw against Vanderbilt.

The Commodores didn’t have to do that much. The offense had 283 yards and two turnovers. The defense gave up 400 passing yards.

But in many ways, it was an early Christmas for the Commodores and this time there weren’t lumps of coal in their stockings.

The Sunday Hash looks back on the Nashville Debacle.

There is going to be some heat on the coaching staff...

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… and deservedly so, especially on Gamechanger Coordinator [autotag]Chris Couch[/autotag]. Maybe [autotag]Billy Napier[/autotag] should have been more specific when he hired Couch about which way he wanted the game changed. Florida’s special teams have been a mess all year, but I will say that the roster and lack of talent on it has contributed to it.

[autotag]Jeremy Crawshaw[/autotag], who has a 43.5-yard net punting average — which puts him in the top five nationally — has been the only bright spot.

But much of the heat will be on Napier for two reasons

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One, he is the head coach and Florida was clearly not ready to play. And two, his play calling was very questionable at times. Now, when I say “heat” it’s mostly from fans who are upset and not from the people who pay the bills. There are going to be a lot of fans who believe he should give up calling plays.

I know this much – he needs to have a special coach on his staff of a thousand who only comes up with unique and effective two-point conversion plays instead of running the same one twice and failing both times. Florida is 2-for-6 on two-point plays this season.

We will see how much this loss hurt the Gators

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… and I don’t want to hear about how they were looking ahead to Florida State. If they were, if the coaches were especially, that’s a mistake obviously. Certainly, the good feelings about this season were smacked in the face with a bucket of cold water that had sharp rocks in it.

“Well, it’s a setback,” Napier said. “There’s no question about it. Problems are often opportunities in disguise.”

I did like one thing he said after the game

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“I think it’s a little bit of a reality check to some degree,” he said. “You know, this is a simple game. I think our group knows what winning football looks like. We did not play winning football.”

Great teams can overcome mistakes and bad breaks. Average teams end up losing those kinds of games. And the reality check is that Florida has to be a fine-tuned machine to have a chance against almost every team it plays.

Maybe Anthony Richardson was seeing ghosts...

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… because it seems as if he didn’t want to run but said after the game that Vanderbilt was taking it away from him.

“Their ends played great seven-technique,” he said. “Kept me in the box. Just got to try to contain me, they did contain me, they got to open up a lane for the running backs. We just got to take advantage of it and execute.”

OK, I’ll have to go back and watch it again, but in real-time, it looked like he could have kept the ball on a lot of read options. And why did Florida not call more straight running plays for its best athlete?

Here’s the deal:

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We all know that the best way to beat Florida is to make Richardson throw the ball. Twice he has eclipsed 400 passing yards, both in the state of Tennessee and both losses. In Florida’s five wins against FBS schools this season, he has averaged 137.7 passing yards per game.

One thing about this staff – there seems to be some panic that is not healthy. Florida ran 104 times in the previous two games (both wins) and ran only 20 times (not counting the botched snap) in this one.

Look, I know it’s never easy to play these kinds of games

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That’s when your coaches and leaders have to make sure the team is ready. I don’t think this team was looking ahead. I think it was looking behind at the success of the last two weeks and becoming bowl eligible.

“There was a lot of Florida beating Florida out there today, you know, and that’s my job, is to have the players ready to play,” Napier said. “We did not do that today.”

A week ago, the guy who didn’t do that was Shane Beamer

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… whose team had just become bowl eligible and laid a rotten egg in Gainesville. Then, the Gamecocks scored 63 on Tennessee. It’s a weekly game and every game is different. Every environment is different. Every mindset is different.

Really good teams take care of business no matter what the setting. Let us also point out that an already-thin team is getting killed by injuries, especially at wide receiver.

I can, however, make the case that the defense continues to improve

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The Gators are actually fading in the race to become the worst statistical defense in school history, but still have a chance to break the record for most first downs allowed in a season. Yay.

“We play football,” said linebacker [autotag]Amari Burney[/autotag]. “Nobody loves to lose. We love to win, but it’s very difficult just knowing that we didn’t play our best ball.”

In the end, the loss to Vanderbilt not only took Florida down a notch...

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… on the level of bowl game the Gators will play. It means Florida is going to finish under .500 in SEC play for the fifth time since [autotag]Urban Meyer[/autotag] walked out that door.

It also means that Florida could end up tied for last in the East if Missouri and Vandy both win this week. That’s hardly the way Napier wanted to start his career. But let us also remember, he is in his first year with a depleted roster.

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