Gators look to fix season


Florida linebacker Michael Taylor (51), defensive lineman Damien Jacobs (4) and linebacker Ronald Powell (7) are ready to play at home.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 6:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 8, 2013 at 7:11 p.m.

Perhaps more than any other team in college football, the Hurtin’ Gators really need to experience the comfort of home again. They’ve been gone a long time, a long and hard time.

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Florida linebacker Michael Taylor (51), defensive lineman Damien Jacobs (4) and linebacker Ronald Powell (7) are ready to play at home.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

“First home game in over a month,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “Seems like it’s been forever. We’re looking forward to it.”

The Gators ventured onto the road a month ago with high hopes and aspirations. They return with three consecutive SEC losses, eliminated from the conference race, and coping with an injury list that seems capable of stretching from one end of Florida Field to the other.

“We’re just trying to win, man,” junior outside linebacker Ronald Powell said. “Obviously, this is not what we expected. This is not our standard here. We’re just trying to get another ‘W.’ ”

Limping into today’s homecoming game with Vanderbilt, the 4-4 Gators find themselves in a must-win situation if they hope to become bowl eligible and avoid the school’s first losing season since the 1979 team went 0-10-1.

It probably won’t be easy — because nothing has been for this injury-depleted and emotionally spent Florida team.

But the Gators are home now. At least they have that going for them.

“I think it’s been like a month, so we are a little homesick,” sophomore defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said. “So being able to play in front of our fans and our classmates and things like that is always fun.

“It should be a fun weekend for fans and things like that. I’m pretty sure it will make it even better if we get a ‘W’, so we’re going to try to do that.”

If the Gators and their fans experience some fun today (and a victory) it will be the first time since Oct. 5, when Florida beat Arkansas 30-10.

Since then, it’s been nothing but misery for the Gators. And much of that misery has been the product of slow starts in the past three games, especially by the defense.

Opposing offenses have hit the Gators with quick touchdown drives, putting the Gators in an early hole — the last place this offensively challenged team wants to be starting games.

Last Saturday, the Gators found themselves down 14-0 less than six minutes into the game. UF rallied and made a game of it, but a 23-3 halftime deficit proved too much to overcome.

One of UF’s priorities today is to avoid yet another slow start.

“Teams always do some things a little differently, especially early on in the game,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “They can script their plays, they can practice them and get ready for it. And we’ve definitely given up more early in games than we have late.

“The positive of that is our guys have responded well to making adjustments. I think we’ve made good adjustments in games. We can’t start the game like we did against Georgia. That’s our job, to better prepare our guys for that and maybe be in some simpler looks early on so we can get right, get our eyes right and not give up plays.”

Muschamp said he and his assistants need to have the players better prepared from the start.

“We’ve just got to go back and put our guys in better situations to play. And that’s on us as coaches,” he said. “We’ve got to put our guys in better situations to feel more comfortable and react as opposed to thinking in some situations.

“That’s the best way I can summarize it because in every game it’s been a little something different. We just need to coach better.”

Fowler said the Gators can build on their second-half performance against Georgia in which UF outscored the Bulldogs 17-0.

“I actually feel like the second half (against Georgia), we came along, we found ourselves,” Fowler said. “I feel like as long as we have the same intensity and the same swagger as we had in the second half, and we play like that for all four quarters, we’ll be a good team.”

It’s not too late. As bad as things have been — the three consecutive losses and all the injuries — the Gators still have a chance to salvage their season to some extent.

If they can win two of their last four games, they’ll become bowl eligible and have a chance to finish the season with a winning record.

This is not the situation the Gators expected to be in when they hit the road a month ago. But this is where they are, facing a must-win game against Vanderbilt.

“Definitely, we expected to have a much better record this time of year, but we haven’t played that way,” quarterback Tyler Murphy said. “It’s just unfortunate.

“We’re definitely trying to make a bowl. That’s definitely a goal, 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.”

Powell said there’s still a lot of fight in the wounded Gators.

“We are where we are — and we’re mad,” Powell said. “We’re not OK with it. We’re a mad team. We want to win. This is definitely, definitely not the spot we thought we’d be sitting in, but we’re going to keep fighting. We’re still hungry.”

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