University of Florida

Listless Florida Gators limp into Atlanta to face Alabama in SEC title game

Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) misses a pass in the end zone in front of Florida State defensive back Derwin James (3) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Florida State won 27-2.
Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) misses a pass in the end zone in front of Florida State defensive back Derwin James (3) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Florida State won 27-2. AP

The No. 10 Seminoles dashed UF’s teetering College Football Playoff hopes, exposing Florida’s formula of leaning on a tenacious defense while simply hoping its offense and kicking game make enough plays to win.

But it turns out, the stains of the Will Muschamp era are tough to erase.

As has been the case for the past five years, Florida’s defense tried to carry the load again Saturday.

It swarmed to the ball, limiting FSU to field goals early and holding sophomore sensation Dalvin Cook to just 33 yards through three quarters.

But then a demoralized defense simply ran out of steam, as the Gators’ offense literally made fans and players feel ill.

“It’s something that makes you sick when you see how hard they’re playing,” senior tight end Jake McGee said. “We weren’t able to give them anything.”

That might be an understatement.

Florida gained just 262 yards against FSU. The Gators had five three-and-outs and only avoided its first shutout in 27 yards thanks to a safety. Auburn beat the Gators 16-0 on Homecoming in 1988.

Now their punchless attack will limp into Atlanta with a struggling quarterback to face off against one of the best defenses in the country.

Sophomore quarterback Treon Harris has regressed in the past month, completing just 52 percent of his passes with six turnovers and only three touchdowns.

After Will Grier’s suspension, the Gators have been forced to stick with Harris because his backups are a converted wide receiver (Vanderbilt transfer Josh Grady) and a walk-on (Jacob Guy).

“He’s our quarterback, and he’s going to get a little bit better this week as we go into the SEC Championship game, playing a pretty darned salty defense,” McElwain said, giving Harris a vote of confidence. “I think maybe he might have looked at the rush a little bit. We had some guys [open], created some pretty good open receivers, but we’ve got to deliver it.”

Florida’s sophomore, a Miami Booker T. Washington product, hasn’t been helped by a makeshift offensive line and has been sacked 15 times in the past four games.

But Harris’ accuracy issues, vision, pocket awareness and lack of production have been too much for the rest of Florida’s listless offense to overcome.

And now the Gators must tangle with the Tide. UF is already a 17 1/2-point underdog, as Vegas expects a beatdown in Atlanta.

Alabama’s defense ranks No. 2 nationally, and leads the SEC in sacks (41) and run defense (78.9 yards per game), too, so McElwain faces a monumental task of devising a winning game plan.

“We have to get out of our comfort zone and play our game,” junior tailback Kelvin Taylor said. “I feel like we can play with anyone, but if we are not consistent, it’s going to be hard to win at this level. We just have to get back to the basics [Monday].”

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