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Jones: Loss to LSU reveals a slew of Gator problems

LSU quarterback Danny Etling throws a pass as he is hit by Florida linebacker David Reese (33) and linebacker Kylan Johnson during the first half. [Associated Press]

LSU quarterback Danny Etling throws a pass as he is hit by Florida linebacker David Reese (33) and linebacker Kylan Johnson during the first half. [Associated Press]

GAINESVILLE — Bad loss. That's all there is to it. A really bad loss.

LSU 17, Gators 16. A missed extra point. That was the difference.

But this goes way deeper than a shanked extra point. The flaws go well beyond one bad play. A loss is a loss. It should never have come down to a missed PAT. This was a loss to a team that lost to Troy a week ago. This was a loss to a program which is still about five minutes away from firing its coach.

Save the excuses. No one cares that the Gators have a bunch of guys suspended. Or that their best quarterback, Luke Del Rio, is out for the season. Or that other guys are banged up.

No matter how you slice it, this was a brutal loss at home to a team that the Gators of the past would have embarrassed before the fans had time to sing We Are The Boys.

"Tough one to swallow," Gators coach Jim McElwain said. It's the same phrase several players used. Right now, Gator fans can say the same thing. This whole thing is so very tough to swallow.

And the latest loss leads to a question that, frankly, true Gator followers have been asking for a while now: What the heck has happened with this program?

This thing is a mess.

The Gators are no longer a national power in football. Not anymore. These days, Gator football is merely decent. Better than average, but not by much. It's certainly not great. And, on too many Saturdays, it's not even what you would classify as good.

When they play elite teams, like Alabama, they get destroyed. When they play good teams, like Michigan, they lose handily. And against everyone else, it could go either way. Even when they win, it feels lucky. Like when they beat Kentucky and Tennessee, which, by the way, is also a good program in name and reputation only.

Who are the Gators these days? They're Georgia Tech. They're Iowa. They're Virginia Tech. They're a nice little program that will win some nice games here and there but lose their share, too.

They have no identity. There's no swag. There's no urgency.

Teams used to dread to come to the Swamp. Now, teams come in believing they can win. And, you get the feeling that the Gators, deep down, think the other team can win, too.

Saturday's loss, while disappointing, is by no means shocking.

For a while now, the Gators have fooled themselves into thinking that beating average teams in what has become a very mediocre Southeastern Conference is somehow accomplishing something. McElwain's 19-8 record coming into this season feels like a mirage. His 13-3 record in the SEC coming into this season feels like fool's gold.

Watch this team, and what are the realistic goals anymore?

SEC titles? Please. Long gone are the days when Florida could compete — truly compete — for SEC championships. I'm not talking about merely getting to the championship game. I'm talking about kicking people in the teeth on the way to such a game and then having a good chance to win it.

National championships? They're nowhere close.

You could sense the frustration and helplessness in McElwain after Saturday's loss. He tries to remains positive, but you can see that he knows he has lots of work to do.

"For this Gator team, it hurts," McElwain said. "They should hurt. We need to lay this one to rest and come back and prepare for a talented group coming in next week."

That would be Texas A&M. The Aggies are just a decent team, but there's no reason to think they can't come in and beat Florida. Then a Georgia game that could get ugly.

In the end, maybe Florida, now 3-2, might still end up winning eight or nine games. That would be a good season at this point. But eight or nine wins shouldn't cut it, not when you're Florida.

There are some things to build upon. The defense is pretty good. And when the Gators commit to the running game, they can move the ball. But quarterback and occasionally wonky play-calling remain an issue.

Ultimately, whenever a program isn't where it should be, fingers are pointed at the head coach. It's too early to suggest McElwain, in his third season, is on a hot seat.

But it's his job to fix it. And it certainly needs fixing.

Jones: Loss to LSU reveals a slew of Gator problems 10/07/17 [Last modified: Saturday, October 7, 2017 9:16pm]
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