Does loss diminish UF's season?
Published: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 4:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 4:00 p.m.
With the gloom now having had a chance to fully settle in over Gator Nation, many are wondering if one bad night, one bad loss diminishes what the Florida Gators accomplished over the course of an 11-1 regular season.
Florida coach Will Muschamp says it does not.
“No. We’ve had a great year,” Muschamp said. “We’re building something here. We’re building a program. It’s an unfortunate setback, and it’s one game. We still won 11 games and we still did a lot of positive things this season.
“Obviously, this is a sour day and a sour note, and I apologize to our fans and the university. But we’ve had a great year and we’re moving this thing forward at a rapid pace. I’m excited where we are. Very disappointed with the outcome, but very positive as we move forward.”
The humbling 33-23 upset loss to No. 22 Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night certainly stalled the No. 4 Gators’ late surge during this turnaround season, and puts the program in a bit of a funk heading into the long offseason with a defeat.
But does it damage or diminish the Gators’ overall body of work in 2012?
Heading into the season, Florida was not considered a serious contender in the SEC in Muschamp’s second year. Most picked the Gators (11-2) to lose three or four games and finish third in the Eastern Division behind Georgia and South Carolina.
Florida exceeded those expectations, defeating three top-10 teams and coming perhaps only a few plays away from winning the division and facing Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
The Gators finished the regular season strong, downing Florida State 37-26 in Tallahassee with a performance that earned Florida a spot in a BCS bowl and gave the program all kinds of positive energy and momentum.
But the momentum hit the wall in Wednesday night’s loss.
“I think we had good preparation,” Muschamp said. “We just didn’t play very well. Didn’t coach very well.
“Our kids were excited about being at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and they outcoached us and outplayed us.”
Perhaps the biggest play of the game was the first — the Jeff Driskel pick-six that gave the fired-up Cardinals a 7-0 lead and set the tone for the night.
There were many other big plays that did not go Florida’s way, including the failed onside kick to open the second half. Not only did the Gators fail to recover the kick, they were hit by two personal foul penalties that gave Louisville the ball on the UF 19. On the next play, Teddy Bridgewater threw a touchdown pass to Damian Copeland to increase the Louisville lead to 30-10.
“We felt it was there,” Muschamp said. “We hit it too hard. We game-planned it and felt good about it. We wanted to steal a possession at the start of the second half. We had struggled defensively in the first half and felt like you try to gain some momentum in the game.”
The Gators lost more momentum instead. It kind of played out like that throughout the game, with Driskel turning the ball over three times and UF hurting itself time and again with critical penalties.
So, instead of heading into the offseason with a great deal of momentum, the Gators go into it with a depressing loss that certainly will play a role in where UF starts the 2013 season in the polls.
“We did have a great year with a lot of wins,” Driskel said. “But at the end of the day, we didn’t come through (against Louisville) and we didn’t make enough plays.
“It’s unfortunate, but come Jan. 7, we’re going to be refocused and ready to go for next season.
UF will move forward without two of its best junior defensive players. All-American safety Matt Elam and standout tackle Sharrif Floyd announced after the game that they were forgoing their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft.
"I'm going into the draft,” Elam said in the post-game locker room Wednesday night. “I had three great years. I did all I can for the team. I played my heart out. I feel like it's time to take care of the family."
Two other top juniors — tight end Jordan Reed and defensive tackle Dominique Easley — also are considering declaring for the draft.
While the players are heading back into the offseason strength and conditioning program, Muschamp and his coaching staff will try to close out what is expected to be one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.
This turnaround season did not end on the positive note the Gators were hoping for and expecting. Now, it’s time to regroup, self-evaluate and start thinking about moving forward.
Looking ahead, the Gators will have to replace four starters on offense (tackle Xavier Nixon, guard James Wilson, tailback Mike Gillislee and wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr.) and six on defense (Floyd, Elam, tackle Omar Hunter, outside linebacker Lerentee McCray, middle linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Josh Evans). The Gators also will have to find a new kicker to replace Caleb Sturgis.
“I feel good about our football team coming back next season, I certainly do,” Muschamp said.
Notes: The attendance of 54,178 is the Sugar Bowl’s worst since 1939 and smallest ever for a BCS bowl. … Loucheiz Purifoy’s injury was a thigh bruise, Muschamp said. “For those who care I’m fine,” Purifoy wrote on his Twitter account. … Andre Debose extended his own school record for kick return touchdowns to four with his 100-yarder in the fourth quarter. He had a 99-yarder in last season’s Gator Bowl, when he was chosen as the game’s Most Valuable Player. … Sturgis broke Bobby Raymond’s single-season school record (23) for field goals made with a 33-yarder in the second quarter. The record had stood since 1984. … With the two blocked kicks Wednesday, the Gators finished with six on the season (four field goals, one punt, one PAT) and UF has blocked 12 kicks in Muschamp’s 26 games as a head coach. … Florida is now 20-20 all-time in bowls and 3-6 in the Sugar Bowl.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.