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November 23, 2013

Triple-option exposes Gators on both sides



Jon Halapio searched for words and broke them up with deep breaths. The last six games will do that to a player who came to a prestigious football program to win, not establish all-time lows.

"Losing," Halapio said. "I hate it."

Georgia Southern (7-4) came to Gainesville and left as the first FCS opponent to ever defeat Florida (4-7). The firsts hardly stop there for the Gators. They have sealed their first losing season since 1979 and their first non-probation season without a bowl game since that same year. For the first time since 1976, a UF opponent completed zero passes.

So how did it happen? Start with the triple-option offense.

The Eagles' famous attack that has led them to six FCS national championships stumped a once-proud Gators run defense for four quarters. Every time it felt like Florida would put an end to Saturday's unexpected nonsense, Georgia Southern busted out a 45-yard run or a 66-yard run or a 53-yard run.

"There were a couple big plays, a couple big runs that we let out," junior safety Cody Riggs said. "Besides those plays, we played it pretty well. We got them in some third downs, we just didn't make the plays to get off the field."

Zero passing yards became a forgotten number because Georgia Southern ran for 426, the fourth-most yards ever gained on the ground against a UF team. All week, the Gators worked against the triple-option, using scout team wide receivers like Alvin Bailey and D.L. Powell to simulate redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Ellison.

It didn't work.

From their first drive moving forward, Georgia Southern was able to string together one effective drive after another against Florida's defense. The Eagles controlled the pace of the game throughout, thanks in large part to the Gators' inability to throw the ball or establish any tempo of their own.

Florida had 140 total yards through three quarters and trailed 20-10.

"This is what they do for a living. It's hard to defend them," Florida coach Will Muschamp said regarding Georgia Southern's triple-option attack. "The way you defend these teams is you change the scoreboard on the other side and you get them out of their rhythm and you create negative plays and you get them behind the down and distance. We were never able to do that."

The Gators offense - last in the SEC all season - has never been reliable enough to attach that kind of assignment to. Not against LSU or Georgia or Vanderbilt and not even against Georgia Southern, which has allowed 30 or more points to teams named Wofford and Samford and Appalachian State this season.

Not even the man passing out the allegations can completely assess the problems.

"Where do you start?" Muschamp said. "It's been a week-in, week-out occurrence, and it's my job to get it fixed, and we will get it fixed. Very disappointed for our program. An embarrassment in this situation. ... We're struggling offensively and it has infected our entire team."


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