4-4 Gators have different goals now
Published: Monday, November 4, 2013 at 2:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 4, 2013 at 2:34 p.m.
Back in August, when expectations were soaring and the injury list was short, the Florida Gators would have never imagined being in the situation they are in now. But, here they are, 4-4 on the season, out of the SEC race and fighting to just become bowl eligible and avoid a losing season.
“Definitely, (it’s a weird situation to be in),” quarterback Tyler Murphy said Monday. “We expected to have a much better record this time of year, but we haven’t played that way. It’s just unfortunate.”
No one saw this coming.
Coming off an 11-win season and returning many key starters, including a more experienced Jeff Driskel at quarterback, the Gators were a top-10 team and considered a national contender in the preseason.
Then the injuries hit (boy, did they ever hit) and the losses followed. Now, the Gators find themselves riding a three-game losing streak and in danger of not going to a bowl for the first time since 1990.
UF has gone to a bowl game the last 22 years, the second-longest active streak in college football, only behind Florida State, which has played in 31 consecutive bowl games.
The Gators have not had a losing season since 1979, the 0-10-1 year.
“Everybody is real disappointed right now,” senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins said. “We’ve lost three (SEC games) in a row and definitely cancelled out our chances in the East. Now the main goal is to become bowl eligible.
“It’s pretty weird, but back in 2011, it was kind of the same feeling. We did become bowl eligible, and we did have a lot to play for that year.”
That was coach Will Muschamp’s first season at UF, and the Gators did not become bowl eligible until beating Furman 54-32 in the next to the last game of the season. UF, by the way, trailed in that game 22-7. UF then needed to beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl to finish 7-6 and keep the school’s streak of winning seasons alive.
“This one’s more difficult for me because I’m a senior and in 2011 I was a sophomore,” Watkins said. “And to come off an 11-2 season last season, we went to a Sugar Bowl and we were winning, and then you come back this year and you’re not winning as much as you were. So it’s definitely tougher for me, and as a team in general because everyone comes here to win.”
After losing to Georgia 23-20 on Saturday, the Gators face having to win two of their last four games (Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Georgia Southern and FSU) to become bowl eligible and even have a chance of finishing with a winning record.
“We’re definitely trying to make a bowl,” Murphy said. “That’s definitely our goal now, we want to make a bowl. But we’re really focused on just beating Vanderbilt. You take things one game at a time. We’re kind of in a hole right now, so we’re just looking to keep fighting and find our way out.”
The Gators will keep fighting, Muschamp said.
“Motivation is what you saw in the second half (of the Georgia loss), those guys playing for each other,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got a close-knit football team, a team that’s got character and you wouldn’t have seen that in the second half if that wasn’t the case. So our guys will play, they’ll play hard.”
Watkins said it’s up to the seniors and other veterans to keep the younger players focused during this difficult time.
“(I’m worried about motivation with) some of the younger guys that haven’t been here before at this point,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that all of them came here to win. That’s where leadership comes in, to show these guys that we have a lot more to play for and go to a good bowl game.”
That’s pretty much the only goal that’s still out there for the Gators.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.