Column: Strong Florida football team one step away

By Joe Morgan

Column: Strong Florida football team one step away

Florida’s 14-6 upset victory against LSU on Saturday was a microcosm of UF’s season.

The Gators held tough defensively while the offense turned the ball over twice and recorded just 47 yards on 32 plays during the first half.

Then, a slew of halftime adjustments helped Florida dominate.

“It’s not like we’re waiting [for] the second half to turn it on,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said on Saturday. “We’re trying to make plays in the first half.”

The Gators are a second-half team, and that’s one hell of a trait. Florida has rallied back from halftime deficits against Texas A&M, Tennessee and LSU.

UF has scored 57 percent of its points in the second half and has outscored its opponents 41-0 in the fourth quarter. No other team in college football has shut out all of its opponents in the final quarter in 2012.

The Gators have averaged 221.6 yards of total offense after halftime this season. If Florida duplicated its second-half offensive output during the first half, it would jump from 10th in the Southeastern Conference in total offense to fourth.

Meanwhile, UF has left something to be desired before halftime. Florida has been outgained in all five first quarters this season by an average of 36.2 yards.

UF scored 24 points in the first half against Kentucky on Sept. 22, but has averaged just 8.5 points before halftime in its other four games.

Despite their first-half struggles, the Gators are the No. 4 team in the country and are firmly in control of their destiny in both the SEC and national championship races.

If folks think Florida is scary now, imagine what this team could do if it actually played a complete game. If the Gators want to keep winning, they better find out soon.

Florida got away with a sluggish first half against then-No. 4 LSU, but that will not work three more times against No. 3 South Carolina, No. 14 Georgia and No. 12 Florida State.

Nobody is that lucky.

Bad starts have nearly proven costly on numerous occasions this season.

Had Bowling Green kicker Stephen Stein not missed field-goal tries of 31 and 29 yards, Florida would have entered the fourth quarter of its season opener trailing 20-17.

Against Texas A&M, coach Kevin Sumlin’s attempt to “ice” Caleb Sturgis on a 51-yard field goal late in the first half backfired. Sturgis’ first kick ricocheted off the right upright, but his second try was true, pulling the Gators within one touchdown.

Let’s say Sumlin holds his tongue and Sturgis misses the kick. Considering Florida had yet to stop Texas A&M’s offense, dual-threat quarterback Johnny Manziel may have turned good field position into another score.

On Saturday against LSU, Tigers linebacker Kevin Minter knocked the ball from the hands of wideout Frankie Hammond Jr. midway through the second quarter. LSU’s Kwon Alexander scooped up the ball and appeared to have only daylight in front of him, but luckily for UF, Hunter Joyer was there to make a touchdown-saving tackle.

Later in the quarter, Driskel fumbled to set the Tigers up at the Gators’ 7-yard line. If not for one of the gutsiest defensive stands in college football this season, LSU heads into the halftime with momentum and a 10-point lead. Granted, there was a lot of “iffing” and “butting” there, but eventually, the pendulum is going to swing the other way.

If the breaks stop going in Florida’s favor, what happens next? A team with a run-first mentality and a first-year starter at quarterback could struggle to erase deficits.

Driskel is a talented guy, but if the Gators are in dire straights with the clock ticking down, they would much rather have the ball in Mike Gillislee’s hands.

Gilly can’t run out of bounds to stop the clock after every play.

UF needs to start games better offensively. Expecting Driskel to be Tim Tebow against the Gamecocks and the Bulldogs is a bad strategy.

Simply put, Gillislee and the Gators’ offensive line need to impose their will on opponents quicker and earlier. Florida is one of the best teams in college football. Earning some championship hardware in 2012 is a real possibility.

It would be a shame if the Gators were on the outside looking in come championship season just because they have some trouble getting things going on Saturdays.

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