Avoiding another fade pattern


Published: Friday, August 31, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 31, 2012 at 12:13 a.m.

Looking back on all the carnage from a year ago, there are many ugly numbers that reflect Florida Gator misery.

Like, say, 79-21 — the combined score of the back-to-back losses to Alabama and LSU.

Or, 105 — where the Gators ranked in the nation in total offense.

Then there's this one: 113 — where Florida ranked nationally in turnover margin (out of 120 teams).

And this one: 6 — the number of losses.

But the number (or combination of numbers) that has really been stuck in Gator craws (or, rather, jaws) throughout this long offseason has been this: 72-22. That's how badly the Gators were outscored in the fourth quarter in SEC games in 2011.

When it was late, when the games were on the line, when their manhood was challenged, the Gators could manage but a whimper.

“We talk about it every day,” junior defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell said. “That's what drives us to go every day. It's something we've got to take ownership of as a defense and an offense. When you're playing winning ball, it doesn't look like that.”

Seventy-two to 22.

The score burns in Gator brains — and biceps. It has been THE motivating factor through the winter, through spring ball, through the demanding workouts in the weight room, through training camp and right up to the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

Nothing lights a fire under the Gators quite like 72-22.

“It's one of those things that definitely hit a lot of guys in the heart,” junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. “It's one of those things where you have to look at yourself in the mirror and stand up.”

The Gators say they have done that. They've accepted responsibility for their fourth-quarter failure last season, have used it as motivation, and are vowing that it won't happen again. Not a day goes by that, that number, that score — 72-22 — is not mentioned on the practice field, in the weight room or in the meeting rooms.

“Every day,” sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett said. “When you need to fight through pressure and you're dead tired, someone will say, ‘72-22,' and you know you need to step up, do whatever you need to do to get past it.”

Had Florida not faltered so badly in the fourth quarter, last season could have been a far different (and much more satisfying) story than 7-6. With the exception of the losses to Alabama and LSU, the Gators had a chance going into the fourth quarter in their SEC losses to Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina.

But they went zero-for-three, getting outscored 20-6 in the fourth quarter.

“A lot of that goes to the weight room,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “You have to be stronger, well-conditioned.

“We were 3-and-4 in seven games in the SEC in games decided by one or two scores. You're talking about a one- or two-possession game late in the game. You need to win those games.”

It goes back to the weight room. And it starts with Jeff Dillman and the new strength and conditioning staff.

When Mickey Marotti left to join Urban Meyer at Ohio State, it cleared the way for Muschamp to hire a strength and conditioning coordinator who would bring what Muschamp wanted to the Florida weight room — Olympic-style lifting with heavy weights designed to make his players stronger, quicker and more explosive.

After eight months under Dillman, the Gators say they are stronger, tougher and better equipped to win the fourth quarter this season.

“There's a huge emphasis on winning the fourth quarter,” senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. “It started in the offseason with Coach Dillman and his training. He made everything harder toward the end of workouts so we can prepare for the fourth quarter. It's been the same way in practice. We need to win the fourth quarter.”

The coaches certainly seem pleased with Dillman's work.

“What they did in the weight room ... a lot of credit to our strength and conditioning staff,” offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “The guys look different. They're playing fast, they're looking confident. I'm just ecstatic where they're at with that.”

Said defensive coordinator Dan Quinn: “The guys who have really gotten strong, you can see that confidence level that, ‘I'm able to impose my will and use my strength and make them deal with me.' That added confidence is something you really look for, where you can play more aggressively.”

Muschamp said the Gators are physically and mentally stronger.

“Yeah, I think we are,” he said. “Jeff Dillman is really doing a good job with our players. You've seen the transformation of our bodies. We've gotten stronger.”

After watching his team get pushed around in the fourth quarter in the SEC all season, Muschamp had finally had enough. After bowing to Florida State 21-7 in The Swamp in the final regular-season game, he called his team soft, especially on the line of scrimmage.

No one argued with him.

“At first, it bothered me. I was mad about it,” Powell said. “But the reality of it is that's what it looked like. That's what it is. If you're not winning football games, that's what it is. If you're not lining up and not beating the man across from you, that's what the case might be.”

Being called soft was motivating, the players say.

But what's really been pushing their buttons is that nasty score — 72-22 in the fourth quarter in SEC games.

“That 72-22 thing motivates us a lot more than coach calling us soft,” junior fullback Trey Burton said. “What you do in the fourth quarter, that shows you who you really are.”

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