Let the Healing Begin: Final Thoughts on the Florida Game

I was hoping that I'd be feeling a bit better about the Florida game by now...maybe have a better and more positive big picture perspective on what it all means or something like that. But, no. It still makes me sad/angry/depressed/frustrated/disappointed pretty much every time I think about it (which is fairly often).

So, as part of the healing process here are a few thoughts rattling around in my head...please add your own in the comments section.

* The Defense - I was so proud of the way the defense played (not to mention surprised). They showed no fear in the face of the Mighty Tim Tebow, and gave the Gators everything they could have hoped for and more...they were constantly in the backfield, finishing tackles, making plays and generally wreaking havoc. I don't really blame them for that last drive, either -  by that point there was a certain air of inevitability about the whole thing. Before this game I wasn't sure if the defense's positive trend the A&M and Auburn games was for real or not...the good news is that it's starting to look like it is.

* 3rd & 4 - I'll be honest, this is the part of the game that bothers me the most - more than the missed FGs, more than the terrible calls, more than the open receivers in the end zone that Mallett missed. In their final possession, the Hogs had put together their best drive of the day, steadily marching down the field with a nice combo of strong running and accurate passing. It all came down to that 3rd & 4 at around the Florida 20...why exactly did we call a run there? Was Petrino hoping to get it close enough to a 1st down to go for it on 4th? The way our offense was clicking at that point I would have liked the odds of us getting a 4 yard pass way more than a run (especially with Dennis Johnson on the sideline with a head injury). Obviously it's easy to question that call in hindsight, but it seemed more than a little Houston Nuttian.

* Dennis Johnson - How tough was Dennis Johnson? In last year's LSU game he stood out to me by running hard and fighting for extra yards on the big plays (especially late in the game). Once again, he stepped up with a true man's effort out there. I forget the exact drive, but there was that one play in the 4th quarter where he literally broke four sure tackles for about a 15 yard gain. Amazing. Lots of heart and guts with that kid...I hope we see him a lot more during the rest of the season (and not just on kickoff returns).

* Alex Tejada - I try not to be too directly critical of players because it's important to remember that they're just kids playing a game on a very big stage, so I'm going to hold my tongue here. But, man, we've got to do better in the kicking game. Lots better.

* Taking Punches - I liked how tough and resilient this team was (until the last Florida drive, I guess). This wasn't like the Auburn game where we built up a big lead and then watched it slip away (sort of)...we traded punches with the #1 team in the country (on the road) for the entire game. When Florida made a big play, we answered. When they got into the red zone, we made stops. When we needed good drives, we generally came up with them. This team is getting tougher and tougher as the season goes on...let's hope they can shake this loss off and keep it up.

* The #*#%&@*$ Refs - Unlike my policy on the players, I have no such qualms about criticizing the refs...they're getting paid to do a job, so is it wrong to expect them to at least be somewhat competent? I'll be the first to say that the refs didn't cost us this game - even with all the bad calls we were still in a position to win, so I really don't think we should focus on the officiating too much - but jeeez, those were some absolutely atrocious calls. Phantom pass interference in the end zone? Phantom personal foul on Malcolm Sheppard (I'm still not clear on what he was supposed to have even done)? Missed offensive pass interference on Florida? Think of it this way: even without the free 30 yards in penalties given to the Gators on their final TD drive, they might have scored, but it would have taken them a lot longer to do so...would they even have had time for their winning march down the field? Quite possibly not. (btw, there's a lively discussion of this on a post called "Fire the Refs" over at Team Speed Kills.)

* No Michael Smith or Joe Adams - It's pointless to speculate on how we would have done with these guys in there, but I have to think it would have helped our cause (particularly on a few of those drives that ended in missed FGs). On one hand, that makes the effort the Hogs gave even more impressive. On the other hand, it's kind of painful to think about. And one thing that annoyed about the generally good announcing was their constant discussion about he impact of Florida LB Brandon Spikes missing the game with an injury...hey Vern and Gary, we were without our #1 RB and #1 WR...do you think that mattered too?

* What This Means for the Future (Short Term) - Saturday's game will be a mental HUGE test for the Hogs. Can they put the immense frustration of this loss and focus on bringing the same attitude and energy to Ole Miss? Or will they backslide after such a brutal experience? The Rebels have been disappointing this season, but I'm sure Colonel Nutt will have them ready to go this weekend...it's a winnable game for us, but we need to bring it like we did against Florida and then some. Will be interesting to see how it goes.

* What This Means for the Future (Long Term) - This game sucked royally, but let's not lose sight of how far we've come in a short time. The Hogs are putting it together, folks...next time we'll win this one. If I were a fan of another SEC team I'd be very, very concerned about the the beast that's growing in Fayetteville.

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