Marco Wilson’s thrown shoe was as much metaphor as cause.
Florida’s hopes at qualifying for the College Football Playoff were in peril before the defensive back heaved opposing tight end Kole Taylor’s footwear 20 yards downfield to celebrate a third-down stop late last week against heavy underdog LSU.
The ensuing 15-yard penalty kept alive a drive that ended in a 57-yard field goal with 23 seconds left and snapped a 34-34 tie. When the Gators’ Evan McPherson’s 51-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide as time expired, so had the team’s chances of playing for a national title.
Final score: LSU 37, Florida 34.
Now Florida faces as tough of a bounceback as can be imagined. Without the national title in sight, the No. 7 Gators (8-2, 8-2 SEC) have to match up with top-ranked Alabama (10-0, 10-0) in the Southeastern Conference title game Saturday night in Atlanta.
While keyboard jockeys and social media warriors heaped blame on Wilson, his teammates knew better. After all, Florida offset 609 yards of offense with three crucial turnovers, including a pick-six, and gave up 418 yards to a team using its backup quarterback.
“Turning the ball over that many times, it’s hard to win games,” quarterback Kyle Trask said. “I take full responsibility. I just got to play cleaner. It’s not the way you want to go out as your last home game in the Swamp.”
For the Gators to have a chance at beating the Crimson Tide, Trask will have to eliminate the turnovers and play perhaps his best game. He broke Danny Wuerffel’s single-season school record for touchdown passes last week with his 40th, a mark made more impressive because Trask did it in 10 games.
The hardest part for Trask might be trying to match Alabama’s Mac Jones, who may enter this game as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Even after a low-key performance (208 yards passing, no scores) in a 52-3 rout at Arkansas last week, Jones’ numbers this season are video-game quality: 3,321 yards passing, 76.4 completion percentage, 27 touchdowns, three interceptions.
While a cynic might say that throwing to the likes of DeVonta Smith and John Metchie — and handing off to Najee Harris — could make any quarterback productive, the fact is that the Tua Tagovailoa-led offense from last year has skipped zero beats with Jones running it.
The moniker “game manager” has been used to describe Jones, and he doesn’t disagree with it.
“Nothing is really offensive about it,” he told al.com. “I mean, I try to manage the game. It’s kind of my job to do that. Honestly, I have a lot of great players around me, so that’s my job – to get them the ball.”
Smith (83 catches, 1,327 yards, 15 TDs) and Metchie (40-720-6) have more than made up for the absence of big-play threat Jaylen Waddle, who was averaging 140 yards per game before suffering a season-ending injury while returning the opening kickoff Oct. 24 at Tennessee.
The Tide enters the title game averaging 49.5 points and 537.8 yards per game, No. 3 and No. 5 in the nation, respectively.
–Field Level Media