After the 38-17 loss to Missouri on Saturday, Florida coach Dan Mullen sounded a little disappointed by the fan turnout in The Swamp. The Homecoming game drew only 80,017 fans, the smallest home crowd in years.
“If we want the program back, we need a sold out stadium next week, and an unbelievable home-field advantage,” Mullen said Saturday night. “That’s how it works. I’m going to be honest with you, this is how it works too, when we sell out the stadium, we win a championship. It doesn’t go the other way. It’s not we win, you sell out. You sell out, you win. Go watch teams that have built programs. That’s how it works.”
Mullen sounded a little unhappy with the fans. But Monday he said he wasn’t, urging the fans to hang in there along with everyone else coming off the consecutive losses.
“I’m not disappointed in any of the fan base and what they’ve done,” Mullen said. “I think they’ve really tried to buy in since we got here. Since Day 1, if you go back since we’ve been here, of the spring game, all showing up all throughout the season. The environment they created at LSU to give us that advantage.
“I know the other night I said, ‘Hey, how you build the program’. But I’ve said that since day one, that we’re all in this together. And to get the program to championship level, it’s not just going to be my play calling or a blitz we run on defense or who’s playing quarterback.
“It’s a program as a whole, and our fans are such a critical part of that program. And so I’ve been pleased with how they’ve bought in. And to me I want to make sure they continue to understand how important they are.”
The fans certainly will be tested Saturday. Not only are the Gators coming off two one-sided losses, the game with South Carolina has a noon kickoff. The early kickoffs usually lead to late-arriving and sometimes relatively small crowds.
“I know everybody in the Gator nation would prefer that late afternoon/evening kickoff because it makes for even a probably more fun day for everybody with the tailgating before,” Mullen said. “I think it’s something we just. … we’re all working together to get the program where we want it to be.”
In the last two games, the Gators have pretty much lost their shirt on the money down.
In the losses to Georgia and Missouri, the Gators combined to convert just seven of 27 third-down plays, while the defense allowed 19 conversions in 32 third downs.
That disparity helps explain why the Gators lost those two games by a combined score of 74-34
Florida’s offense hasn’t been able to stay on the field, while the defense can’t get off it.
UF’s defense is 12th in the SEC in third-down conversions allowed. The Gators face another difficult challenge Saturday in South Carolina’s potent offense.
“We’ve just got to make sure we’re mentally sound,” middle linebacker David Reese said. “People flip fronts or exchange backs because that’s what they think we look at. People might do things that copycat other teams, things we might struggle with, so we’ve just got to hone in on that and know that’s what we’re going to get from other teams, and just try to get off the field.
“Let our pass rush be our pass rush, try to get guys to hold the ball a little bit longer. We’ve got some of the best pass rushers in the country. We’ve just got to let those guys eat.”
By rotating three running backs, the UF ground game has been running on fresh legs throughout the game. It’s most apparent in the fourth quarter, where the Gators are averaging 6.33 yards per carry, which leads the SEC and ranks fourth in the FBS.
That’s a big difference from a year ago, when the Gators were 58th in the nation, averaging 4.25 yards a carry in the fourth quarter.