Ga­tors des­per­ate to end skid at two games

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Sports - By Edgar Thomp­son

GAINESVILLE — The Florida Ga­tors were in their seats five min­utes early for Mon­day’s team meet­ing.

But a pos­i­tive sign for coach Dan Mullen af­ter his team’s worst show­ing on his watch will mean noth­ing un­less the No. 15 Ga­tors show up at noon Sat­ur­day against South Carolina.

Mullen’s team sud­denly is in dis­ar­ray and run­ning out of things to play for this sea­son just two weeks af­ter the SEC East ti­tle was in Florida’s sights.

Quar­ter­back con­fu­sion, rum­blings that some key un­der­class­men are eye­ing the NFL and onesided losses to Ge­or­gia and Mis­souri leave the Ga­tors (6-3, 4-3) scram­bling as for­mer UF coach Will Muschamp and the surg­ing Game­cocks (5-3, 4-3) come to town.

“Go­ing to be a huge chal­lenge for our guys,” Mullen said. “We ob­vi­ously have a lot of our things we have to im­prove on.”

Mullen’s squad looks to avoid a three-game skid and third loss this sea­son in the Swamp, where Mullen lost just twice in 27 games dur­ing his four-year stint as the Ga­tors’ of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor (2005-08).

Muschamp was fired in 2014 largely be­cause of his strug­gles on Florida’s fa­mous home field, los­ing six of his fi­nal eight home games as Ga­tors coach.

A win by Muschamp Sat­ur­day in his sec­ond visit with South Carolina would be a bad look for Mullen as he tries to re­build the UF pro­gram and re-en­er­gize the fan base.

With so much on his mind, though, the 46-year-old has given lit­tle thought to a Mul­lenMuschamp show­down.

“I guess that’s big, right?” Mullen said. “I haven’t thought about it in terms of that that much, to be hon­est with you. I’ve thought more of it in terms of I want to win the game be­cause I want to win the game.”

Mullen’s Ga­tors need a win or risk a late-sea­son swoon that would un­der­mine a promis­ing 6-1 start.

Mullen hopes per­sonal pride and pro­tect­ing their home field are rea­son enough for the Ga­tors to bounce back Sat­ur­day in the Swamp.

Mon­day’s meet­ing told UF’s first-year coach his play­ers are not ready to mail it in with three games re­main­ing in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“There weren't strag­glers com­ing in late,” Mullen said. “Those are things that you look for. What are lit­tle things that are out there like that that would be signs? I ac­tu­ally see it the other way, of a lit­tle bit of a hunger to try to do things the right way.

“But our per­for­mance has to match our at­ti­tude.”

A sus­pect at­ti­tude and shaky ex­e­cu­tion led to the Ga­tors’ col­lapse against Mis­souri.

The Ge­or­gia loss a week ear­lier elim­i­nated UF from the SEC race. Un­der­stand­ably dis­ap­pointed, the Ga­tors came out flat against Mis­souri and never found their foot­ing dur­ing a 38-17 home­com­ing loss that be­gan in front of an an­nounced crowd of just 80,017 fans — the fewest since 1990 — and fin­ished in a near-empty sta­dium.

Fol­low­ing the frus­trat­ing de­feat, Mullen shared his dis­plea­sure with Gator Na­tion’s sim­i­larly poor show­ing, be­liev­ing the Florida pro­gram and fan base feed off of each other.

Two days later, Mullen soft­ened his stance, but re­it­er­ated his po­si­tion.

“It’s a pro­gram as a whole, and our fans are such a crit­i­cal part of that pro­gram,” he said. “And so I’ve been pleased with how they’ve bought in.”

Like his play­ers did Mon­day, Mullen would like to see fans in their seats five min­utes early on Sat­ur­day.

Ei­ther way, his Ga­tors are go­ing to have to sum­mon more en­ergy and fo­cus than last week­end.

The Game­cocks have won three of four games in dra­matic fash­ion un­der Muschamp. The three wins, in­clud­ing a 37-35 de­ci­sion against Mis­souri, were by a to­tal of nine points while the loss was by three points to Texas A&M.

The Ga­tors want to get back on the same page and re-es­tab­lish a win­ning for­mula.

All eyes will be on quar­ter­back Feleipe Franks. Un­til the past two games, the red­shirt sopho­more man­aged games and min­i­mized mis­takes. Against Mis­souri, Mullen benched Franks and planned to weigh his quar­ter­back op­tions this week un­til backup Kyle Trask broke his foot run­ning a trick play dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s prac­tice.

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