The Florida Gators made history Saturday by losing to the Vanderbilt Commodores at home for the first time since 1945. With the 34-17 loss, Will Muschamp’s team is now 4-5 overall and 3-4 in SEC play. Worst of all, Florida is now virtually guaranteed to accomplish another depressing historical feat – the school’s first losing season of football in more than three decades.
Two of the Gators’ final three games are against teams ranked in the top 15, and there’s no reason to believe Florida can hang with either South Carolina or Florida State. Even the Georgia Southern game might not be a formality anymore. Without an unexpected turnaround in The Swamp, a 25-year streak of winning seasons and a 33-year streak of finishing .500 or better will come to an end with a muddy thud over the next few weeks.
With these lofty records all but claimed, this team can now focus its attention on increasing the historical body count. And there’s one record in particular that was once thought unattainable by any team in the modern era but now seems easily within reach for Florida. More importantly, it only seems right this record belong to the 2013 Gators.
Way back in 1939, even more dated than the other records already claimed by Muschamp’s Gators, Texas Tech punted an amazing 39 times in a single game. The Red Raiders’ opponent, Centenary, punted the ball 38 times as the two trudged through a downpour in Shreveport, LA.
Conditions were so slippery neither team could advance the all by either running or passing. The teams finished with a combined 30 yards of offense and struggled to a scoreless tie. The offensive ineptitude reached such a ridiculous level that both teams resorted to punting, including 67 times on first down, in hopes of recovering a fumble at the other end of the field to set up a scoring chance.
Can you see now why all will not be right with the college football world until this record belongs to the Gators?
Under normal circumstances, several factors would prevent a modern repeat of the 1939 punt-fest: 1) Playing surfaces have much better wet-weather footing. 2) The football is tackier, more streamlined and easier to handle. 3) The footwear and gloves offer much better footing and ball-handling.
But clearly these modern football improvements haven’t helped Florida’s offense. This unit is 107th in scoring (20.7 points), 99th in passing yards (189.7) and 87th in rushing (146). During the current four-game losing streak, the Gators have eclipsed 20 points just once – a 23-20 loss to Georgia.
Even when the offense does gain yards, as it did Saturday, out-gaining the Commodores 344 to 183, turnovers and penalties have doomed Florida. The Gators have given the ball away 17 times this season, bringing their turnover margin down to -2 (11th in SEC). Florida is also last in the league in first downs, 12th in sacks allowed and last in penalties.
Oddly, the Gators are No. 1 in the conference in time of possession. Perhaps, the problem is that Florida has the ball for too long – more than 35 minutes a game. Maybe, just maybe, the Gators should adopt the Texas Tech-Centenary strategy of punting on first down and hoping their terrific defense forces a turnover, possibly leading to a score.
From what we’ve seen this season it’s not really that out of line to suggest punting could be Florida’s best offensive strategy. And by doing so 40 times or more in a game, this team can further enrich its historical achievements this season.