Image Credit: UAA/Courtney Culbreath
Piling up losses has not been uncommon for the Florida Gators over the last few seasons. The Gators lost three straight to close 2015, back-to-back SEC games in 2014 and seven-straight to end 2013.
And considering how crushing last week’s loss was to Tennessee, Florida is in a vulnerable position heading on the road for a second straight Saturday. It certainly doesn’t help that UF will be facing Vanderbilt in a noon kickoff that is actually 11 a.m. local time in Nashville, Tennessee.
“When you look at our track record, I don’t know what it is with noon starts a year ago, we had FAU [20-14 overtime win], Vanderbilt [9-7 win] and the bowl game [41-7 loss], which none of those results were very good,” explained head coach Jim McElwain on Monday. “So I think let’s talk about the obvious, I’ve got no problem with that. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go.”
Before being ready to go, which the Gators will attempt to accomplish by keeping an Eastern time zone schedule after they fly into Nashville, they must make sure they’re able to put the past where it belongs — behind them.
“The big thing is moving forward is what can we learn from [the loss to the Vols] and how long are we going to let it affect us? We have a lot — a lot — ahead of us that we can accomplish. And it’ll be interesting to see how we handle people writing us off, jumping off the ship, all of those types of things,” McElwain said. “This is going to be a real test [about] who each one of us are individually throughout the organization and how we handle some, uh, when things don’t go well.”
McElwain went on to say “the past and the future don’t exist,” calling them “a figment of our imagination.” He continued: “You learn from the past, you learn from history and realize that what you do now actually is going to be a precursor to the future.”
Saying Florida was “lucky as heck to come out” of the Vanderbilt game with a win in 2015 is an accurate statement by McElwain. The Commodores boasted a tough defense last season, but the Gators were also awful offensively, averaging 2.7 yards on 34 carries as Treon Harris completed just 12-of-24 passes with no touchdowns and an interception; nine of those tosses were hauled in by Demarcus Robinson.
While neither of those players are on the 2016 squad, Vanderbilt’s most successful offensive option in 2015 — running back Ralph Webb (22 carries, 118 yards, touchdown) — returns attempting to terrorize his hometown team.
Webb will be going up against a Florida defensive line right in the middle of some turnover as senior defensive tackle Joey Ivie will miss 4-5 weeks with a thumb injury.
McElwain is expecting to see more from redshirt junior DT Caleb Brantley as well as redshirt sophomores Taven Bryan and Khairi Clark. Sophomore Cece Jefferson will see even more time inside. The Gators have also pulled a potential redshirt off freshman Antonneous Clayton, Florida’s top-rated recruit of the 2016 cycle who has yet to play this season. Clayton is now up to 250 pounds after gaining 30 and has filled out enough for the Gators to trust him on the field.
Noting that the defense was “exposed” and did not play “intelligent,” in some part due to the number of plays it was forced to be on the field for last week, McElwain said some Gators “had their feelings hurt” during the team’s last trip to the state of Tennessee.
He proposed that there could be similar issues this week, particularly if Florida in an early start on the road. If the Gators are able to rebound, McElwain may have been able to finger the reason.
“This will be a big test,” McElwain said. “The mood in the locker room [at Tennessee]: There were a lot — a lot — of hurt guys. I’m not sure a couple of the losses last year I could feel that sense of hurt. As I told them, it should hurt. Because if it doesn’t then something is wrong. It means you really don’t care.”
Florida certainly cares. You could tell that by how the players and coaches spoke this week. Sometimes, though, caring is not enough. On Saturday, the Gators will have to show up in more ways than one.