Gators desperate to end skid at two games
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.