Gators focus on becoming bowl eligible


Coach Will Muschamp and the Florida football team focus on avoiding the program's first losing season since 1979.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 5:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 3, 2013 at 5:36 p.m.

Now that their small glimmer of hope for winning the SEC Eastern Division is gone, the Florida Gators will turn their focus to getting bowl eligible and avoiding the program's first losing season since 1979.

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Coach Will Muschamp and the Florida football team focus on avoiding the program's first losing season since 1979.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer

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Who: Vanderbilt (4-4) at Florida (4-4)
When: Noon Saturday
TV: FSN/Sun Sports
Radio: WRUF

Based on what's happened through the first eight games of the season — the last three, in particular — it's not going to be easy.

Of the four remaining games, the Gators likely will be a big favorite in one (Georgia Southern, 4-4), a slight favorite in another (Vanderbilt) and a significant underdog in the other two (No. 13 South Carolina on the road and No. 3 Florida State at home).

It starts with Vanderbilt (4-4) in The Swamp on homecoming Saturday. Then the Gators close out their SEC season at South Carolina (7-2) the following week.

At 4-4, UF needs to win two more games to become bowl eligible. The Gators find themselves in this position after falling 23-20 to Georgia on Saturday for their third consecutive loss.

The Gators rallied from a 23-3 halftime deficit and had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, but failed to make game-changing plays on both sides of the ball that allowed the Bulldogs to escape.

“I feel like we did seize control (in the second half),” UF coach Will Muschamp said on his Sunday television show. “Our players. … we have a lot of character guys on the team, a lot of guys who will understand what it takes to be successful.

“We've been through some tough times. We understand that. We need to win those games in the end.

“We dug too deep of a hole to get out of. I'm extremely proud of our players and how we fought back in the game and put ourselves in a position to win the game in the end.”

The loss was the third in a row for the Gators in the rivalry.

“It's always an emotional game,” Muschamp said. “We need to get back on the right end of the stick here as far as that game is concerned.”

That, of course, is a future concern. The big concern now is trying to finish out the season strong and make it to a bowl game.

Clearly, some positives came out of Saturday's loss in Jacksonville as UF moves forward. The Gators showed more balance and less predictability on offense, and the revamped offensive line (with Tyler Moore starting at left tackle and Trenton Brown at right) was solid, creating some holes in the running game and holding up in pass protection for most of the game.

On the negative side, the defense gave up far too many big plays that allowed the Bulldogs to jump out to a commanding 23-3 halftime lead. The defense also had early problems in the losses at LSU and Missouri.

The defense failed to come up with key stops in the closing minute of the first half and again during the game's final eight-plus minutes, which allowed the Bulldogs to run out the clock.

“It was very frustrating,” Muschamp said of UGA's final drive, which consumed the final 8:17 and four third-down conversions by the Dawgs. “We need to find a way to get a stop in that situation.”

Also on the negative side, as has happened so often over the past several seasons, the Gators hurt themselves with some critical penalties, including two big 15-yarders in the fourth quarter.

Despite those issues, the Gators hung tough in a game where it looked like they might get blown out. But they came up short.

“They did (fight hard),” Muschamp said of his players. “Our guys play hard. They always have. They always compete. I'm very pleased with that part of it.

“We've got to win those games.”

With only four games to go, and needing to win two to reach the postseason, the Gators are running out of opportunities.

NOTES: The Gators did not sustain any serious injuries in Saturday's game. … Muschamp said placekickers Frankie Velez and Austin Hardin will battle for the starting role in practice this week. Both missed field goal attempts in the three-point loss.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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