As ridiculous and ludicrous as it sounds, the Florida Gators actually still control their own fate in the SEC’s Eastern Division race.
Win out and go to Atlanta.
It’s as, well, improbable as that.
Coming off a crushing one-point loss to LSU and given the way Florida’s season has played out so far, the arrow is definitely pointing down (or sideways at best) for the Gators.
It seems unlikely that this struggling team, especially with a depleted offense, could sweep Texas A&M, No. 4 Georgia, and Missouri and South Carolina, both road games.
But the goal is still sitting there, precarious as it may be.
“Our goals, everything is still out in front of us,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “How we approach that and how our guys choose to attack that is really going to be interesting. I don’t care who is missing, there isn’t any of that. It’s the guys that we have, go out and execute, play your tails off, and that’s what has to happen.”
The big problem — among many — is that each game from here on out is an elimination game. Lose one, and there’s likely no path left to Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game.
But, what the heck, give it a shot. Go for it, Gators.
“We know what’s at stake for us,” sophomore safety Chauncey Gardner Jr. said. “We control our own destiny. We’re not worried about any other team. We just have to go out there and compete. It’s football. Anything can happen. Our motto is just focus on us, go out there and have fun and just play football and just do what we’ve got to do to get a W.”
Getting the W tonight is going to be tough, really tough.
The Aggies are heading in a different direction than the Gators. Their arrow is pointing up.
Since blowing the big lead and losing at UCLA in the opener, Texas A&M has been improving appreciably every Saturday, including last week in a loss to Alabama.
If there’s such a thing as a good loss, that would be one for the Aggies. They came out of the game probably feeling better about themselves than they did going in. For much of the game, A&M competed on an even level with the nation’s No. 1 team, before eventually falling 27-19.
“I saw a team in A&M that was very hungry and well prepared and their athletes played,” McElwain said. “You could see the quality of guys that they’ve been recruiting and the energy they’ve played with. These guys, they’ve got speed. They’ve got a bunch of talent and played really well.
“They’re really good. They’ve been recruiting at a high level for a long time, and they just keep rolling (players) in and out. Coach (Kevin) Sumlin’s done a great job to get people in there and they’ve invested a lot in that place and they’re seeing it by the players they’re getting.”
One of Sumlin’s biggest recruiting victories since he’s been at A&M occurred three years ago, when he was able to sign a speedy receiver from Scottsdale, Ariz., by the name of Christian Kirk.
Kirk has been an impact player from the start and is now one of the nation’s elite playmakers in his junior season. He can beat you four ways: receiving, running, returning kickoffs and punts.
The Gators know they have to account for him.
“We’ve got to punt it out of bounds, Eddy (Pineiro) has got to kick it through the bleachers and we better have a guy over the top of him when he’s out there as a wideout,” McElwain said. “But in saying that, A&M has a high level of really good players all over. They’re really playing good.”
Conversely, the Gators are not. They’re missing two of their biggest playmakers on offense (wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney) and are struggling to convert third downs and sustain drives. Defensively, there have been too many meltdown moments in too many different areas.
The Gators again will go with redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks, who threw for only 108 yards in the 17-16 loss to LSU last Saturday. McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will try to help Franks by going to a quicker pace of play in hopes that it will create some rhythm in the offense.
“I think his confidence level is pretty good,” McElwain said. “He’s done a really good job continuing trying to see the things we need to get a little bit better at. I think some of the tempo pieces we worked this week are going to hopefully help him, kind of with the comfort of getting things in and out. He’s been good. Like I said, he’s a confident guy. And doesn’t waver. That’s one of the good qualities about him.”
While the Florida offense continues to search and struggle, the A&M offense has gotten on a pretty nice roll with quickly emerging true freshman dual-threat quarterback Kellen Mond.
“What he does creating with his feet and getting them first downs, he’s done a real good job,” McElwain said. “Kind of the scary thing is, obviously you saw us last week get beat on the perimeter time and time again. Well, these guys do the same stuff, just a lot of times with a back or swinging it quick and blocking on the perimeter. I’m sure they saw that and got really excited to play this game, because they’re probably going to have 900 yards of offense.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.