Gators suffer fourth straight loss


Published: Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 6:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 6:55 p.m.

For the past month or so, that sinking feeling has been hovering ominously over coach Will Muschamp's faltering football team. Well, it's not just a feeling anymore, it's reality.

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Florida Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy (3) tries to break free from Vanderbilt Commodores safety Javon Marshall (31) during the second half against Vanderbilt in Gainesville Saturday, November 9, 2013. Murphy ended up pitching the ball out of bounds resulting in a intentional grounding penalty.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

Facts

Three things

1. Vanderbilt turned three Tyler Murphy interceptions into 21 easy points, and the Commodores cruised to a stunning victory, ending their 22-game losing streak to the Gators.

2. The Gators, soundly beaten on both lines of scrimmage, are now 4-5 and in danger of having their first losing season since 1979, and not becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 1990.

3. It was UF’s fourth consecutive loss, and only the Gators’ third homecoming loss in the past 34 years.

— Robbie Andreu

Cold, harsh reality.

Florida's 2013 season has now officially been sunk, torpedoed to the bottom of The Swamp on Saturday by a team named the Commodores, no less.

Given the way things have been going for the Gators during their current losing streak, maybe a 34-17 loss to Vanderbilt should not be considered all that shocking. But, yet it is.

The Commodores ended their 22-game losing streak to the Gators (and won for the first time at Florida Field since 1945) by turning three Tyler Murphy interceptions into 21 easy points and then holding on in the fourth quarter for one of the biggest victories in school history.

“Very shocking,” Murphy said of the loss and current four-game losing streak. “We came here … everyone in that locker room came to Florida to win, and we're not winning. That's unacceptable. As players, we know it's unacceptable. We're just going to keep fighting and keep pushing and try to get the most of this season.

“There's definitely anger. Nobody is happy over losing. There is anger. People are upset.”

The loss drops the Gators to 4-5 overall and 3-4 in the SEC, and puts them in jeopardy of having their first losing season since the woeful 1979 team went 0-10-1. UF also could get shut out of a bowl game for the first time since 1990.

With upcoming games against No. 13 South Carolina and No. 3 Florida State, the Gators are staring at a possible 5-7 season after starting the year in the top 10.

“(The expectations at Florida) never change,” Muschamp said. “I know what I expect of myself. I put more pressure on myself than anyone else can to do a great job here at Florida. I take a lot of pride in that, regardless of the situation or circumstances. We'll find a way. We've got to keep going.

“What we're doing so far isn't working. Keep doing the same stuff, you're going to get the same results.”

What the Gators kept doing Saturday was turning the ball over to Vanderbilt. UF had four turnovers, all by Murphy, who was intercepted three times and lost a fumble.

The three interceptions led to Vanderbilt (5-4 overall and 2-4 in the SEC) touchdown drives of only 10, 22 and 4 yards. The four-yard TD drive came after a Murphy pick on UF's opening drive in the second half and gave the Commodores a 24-3 lead.

“We're not going to win many games turning it over four times, spotting them the ball on the 10, the 22 and the 4,” Muschamp said. “We're not good enough to overcome critical mistakes like that. Emotionally, it takes the wind out of your sails.

“When you give it to them inside the 10-yard line twice, you're not going to win. When those things happen, emotionally it's a killer, a killer for your entire organization. We're not strong enough mentally to handle that.”

Murphy said he felt he let his teammates down with his game-changing interceptions.

“Anytime you play like that, it doesn't help your team,” Murphy said. “Obviously, I feel I let my team down a little bit. I'm just going to have to watch the film and find a way to get better and take care of the ball.

“(In the locker room), guys were saying we've got to pick ourselves up and stick together and keep fighting and find a way to win.”

Murphy, who was sacked five times, threw for 305 yards and a touchdown and the Gators outgained the Commodores 344 yards to 183, but the large statistical edge was rendered meaningless by the turnovers.

“I think the difference in the game was the turnovers,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “Our defense was able to get turnovers. If you look at it statistically, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but because of the turnovers that our defense was able to get, the offense had a short field a lot of times, and I think that was the difference in the game. We talked about all week long that the penalties and the turnovers were going to be a huge factor in the game.”

The defense also shares the blame. The Gators could not come up with key stops when they needed to, the most glaring offense coming after UF cut the deficit to 24-10 midway through the third quarter.

The Vandy offense, which had done close to nothing in terms of sustaining drives, answered the UF touchdown with a 17-play, 75-yard TD drive that gave the Commodores a 31-10 lead and sealed the victory.

There have been a lot of lows for the Gators over the past month, but Saturday's performance has to be the lowest. It doesn't get much worse than getting dominated on homecoming — by Vanderbilt.

Muschamp took responsibility.

“I'm a competitor. I don't like losing. I certainly don't like the product we are putting on the field, and that's my responsibility,” he said. “I take full credit for that. When it's good, it's good. When it's not good, it's not good, and it hasn't been good. And that's on me.

“We'll make the decisions that we need to do to help this football team in the latter part of the season as we move forward. That's my plan. I'm not asking for anybody to be happy. I'm not asking anybody to give a pass.

“This is the real deal. This is the University of Florida. My expectation, I'll guarantee, is as high or higher than anyone sitting in those stands. There's nobody more let down or hurt or their competitive edge dented. So it's on me. We'll get it turned. I can assure you that.”

Senior offensive guard Jon Halapio was asked if he thought Muschamp's job is now in jeopardy.

"I strongly disagree with that,” Halapio said. “I'll go to battle with that coach any day, his whole coaching staff. I see the grind in his eyes every day, I see what he does every day, the passion he has for this team and I'll go to war with him any day. He has our backs and I have his back, win or lose."

While it was another troubling day for Muschamp and the Gators, it was a breakthrough victory for the Commodores.

“They came out with the 'W,' " UF defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. said. “They executed their plan and we didn't. Hats off to Vandy.”

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