Notebook: Defense putting Shoe-gate behind them

Dec 16, 2020 | 0 comments

Marco Wilson’s boneheaded and horribly timed decision to throw an LSU player’s shoe after the Gators made a key third-down stop has been the most talked-about item on social media in recent days among Gator fans. Wilson is easily the most disliked player by the fan base since Treon Harris at the moment and maybe even longer ago than that.

A lot of the criticism is fair. Yes, Kyle Trask turned it over three times, the offensive line struggled and the defense gave up some big plays that also factored into the outcome. But, despite all of those shortcomings, they had an excellent chance to still win the game and keep their playoff hopes alive. Instead, Wilson extinguished those chances.

Coach Dan Mullen said he talked with Wilson after the game Saturday night. After reviewing the film, he believes the LSU player’s shoe came off naturally as a result of the tackle; Wilson didn’t intentionally rip his shoe off. He then got a little too excited that he helped his team make a big stop, and he made an inexcusable mistake in the heat of the moment.

“I don't think there was any intent to taunt,” Mullen said. “It wasn't like he was throwing it at their sidelines, doing any of that. It was a huge play, possibly a game-winning play. Threw a shoe, went to celebrate with his teammates. Unfortunately, it was a penalty.

“I think he'll look at things and realize, ‘Hey, that's certainly not the reason that we lost the game. There's many, many factors that went into that.’ That's just an unfortunate one in that situation. It was a key moment in the game.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham also thinks the timing of the penalty makes Wilson look worse. If he threw a shoe and got penalized in the first quarter and the Gators lost by three points, nobody would be talking about him. There were a bunch of plays that led to the shocking loss; Wilson’s play just so happened to be the lasting image for a lot of people. He thinks Wilson will learn and grow from his mistake and be ready to play against Alabama.

“One play does not define a player,” Grantham said. “It doesn't define a person. It doesn't define a game, and there's a lot of plays that can change the outcome of a game. So, that doesn't happen. But what happens is, as you move forward in a situation like that, it casts an image that certainly he's not proud of and he was disappointed in, but knowing the competitor he is and the kind of fire he has and his willingness to be a good player for us, it's basically, ‘Come back, and let's get back to work. Move on.’ That's the thing you've got to understand is we all have the ability to make choices, and when you make those choices, that's it. And we've just got to continue to move on and get ready to play the next play. He's helped us get to where we are right now, and we've got to have him play his best game to date.”

Wilson’s teammates have spent the past few days supporting him and trying to build his confidence back up. That mistake doesn’t reflect the type of person and teammate he is.

“Everyone has been supporting him, knowing it's all right,” tight end Kyle Pitts said. “That doesn't define your whole career. Us just uplifting his spirits, despite what the media says and all the fans say. We know how Marco is as a person. To uplift him is what he needed.”

UF only drops one spot in CFP rankings

In a surprising move, the College Football Playoff selection committee only dropped the Gators one spot to No. 7 in its final rankings release before Selection Sunday.

UF fell to No. 11 in both the coaches’ and Associated Press polls that were released on Sunday, and they were expected to be ranked somewhere around there by the committee following their home loss to a team with a losing record.

By only dropping one spot, the Gators remain in a good position to get a New Year’s Six bowl berth even with a loss to Alabama. As of now, they would be in the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach bowl, with Cincinnati or Oklahoma among their potential opponents.

Being ranked No. 7 also leaves the door open for major controversy should Florida upset Alabama. Two SEC teams could get in under that scenario, and you’d be able to make a strong argument for either Florida or No. 5 Texas A&M to join Alabama in the playoff.

Do you believe in miracles?

Alabama’s offense versus Florida’s defense is a David-versus-Goliath matchup. Except, Florida’s defense is fighting with the smallest rock possible and doesn’t exactly know when and where the fight is.

The Crimson Tide rank first in the SEC in total offense, scoring offense, yards per play, passing efficiency, and touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Grantham said what sticks out to him the most is the versatility the unit possesses. They can beat you with deep shots downfield to DeVonta Smith, the national leader in receiving yards and the likely Biletnikoff Award winner.

“He's really fast,” Grantham said of Smith. “He's got excellent hands. His catch-radius as far as when the ball is thrown, I mean, he's going to make the play if it's near him. He gets the play, and he makes it. So, the combination of his speed, his competitive nature, his intelligence to understand stems and stacks and how to play those things and his releases. Combine all of that with being able to get an accurate ball, No. 1, from an elite quarterback and his ability to go catch balls in tight windows and come back to the ball, that's why he's an elite player.”

Or, Alabama can throw it underneath to players like John Metchie and Miller Forristall. Or, they can lean on arguably the best offensive line in the country and pound you into submission with 1,000-yard rusher Najee Harris. They can play up-tempo or grind it out. They have a Heisman candidate at quarterback in Mac Jones who makes everything operate smoothly.

“They have very talented players at every position,” Grantham said. “Those players are well-coached. They have a very sound scheme, and they have a head coach that is really going to make sure they really have an attention to detail and stay grounded, in the sense of no game is too big or too small [as] you kind of go through the season. So, as you go through the season, you have this calm about you that you continue to play the next play. You continue to play the next game, whether you won or lost. When you do that, you have a tendency to continue to ascend and move forward with your play, and that's really what you see with these guys. If you watch from week one until now, they continue to get better with their play.”

Meanwhile, the Gators struggle with very simple things on defense, such as getting lined up correctly, being on the same page and tackling. The most glaring example in the LSU game was when both cornerbacks blitzed and left Kayshon Boutte wide open for a 34-yard touchdown just before halftime.

Simply put, it will take a miracle of near-biblical proportions for the Gators to limit Alabama’s offensive production. Schematically, Grantham said one of the keys is to give his players enough options to keep Jones on his heels.

“I think that you have to do what your players can do from an execution standpoint,” he said. “You also want to have the ability to give them tools within their toolbox to allow them to be able to give some different looks, some changes and do those kind of things to maybe give a little hesitation to the quarterback. I think it’s really a balance like anything. I think it’s a balance of your ability to make sure you have enough weapons and things within your toolbox to allow you to go out and perform at a high level and find ways to get stops.”

Linebacker James Houston said he’s as confident entering this game as he is any other game. He believes that they have the players to compete with Alabama.

“I’ve never really gone into a game thinking, like, ‘This team is much more talented,’ or ‘This player is much better than me,’” he said. “I’ve always gone into a game with the notion that I’m me. I’m always going to be me. I know what I got. I know what we got, and I think we can go whip your butt. I think if everybody got that attitude … it don’t really matter who’s playing –Alabama, Missouri State, Colorado State. If we go out there with that same mindset, we’ll be fine as the Florida Gators.”

Quick Hitters

  •  Todd Grantham said Alabama's offense is in the same category as 2019 LSU. They can win games a lot of different ways. They can run, they can throw, they can, they can go up-tempo or they can take the air out of the ball.
  • He says Brad Stewart moving to safety against LSU was due to Rashad Torrence and Shawn Davis not being available and them feeling good about Tre'Vez Johnson at nickel. We could see him at safety again this week. They felt having him at safety gave them a little more flexibility.
  • James Houston says Alabama has players across the board, but that Florida has playmakers that can match up with them. 
  • Read everything that was said during today’s press conference on the We Chomp Chat


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