Gators credit much of five-game winning streak to mental toughness

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Kentucky offensive tackle E.J. Price (72) reacts to wide receiver David Bouvier (33) catching a 29-yard pass and making it into the end zone in the first quarter against Florida in the Sept. 8 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Cyndi Chambers/Gainesville Sun Correspondent]

An early defeat can often spell the end of a team’s season, as the loss of momentum, and the belief that fate is sealed, sets in and doesn’t dissipate.

Florida’s 27-16 loss to Kentucky at home in the second week of the season could have been such a game for the Gators, especially considering the circumstances surrounding the loss. After the double-digit loss to the Wildcats, coach Dan Mullen was asked about UF’s potential that season. Mullen said the Gators would need to work harder in practice, and that UF’s progress hinged on toughness, mentally and physically, proclaiming the team would only succeed if they continued to develop in areas critical to success during the season.

Now, with a five-game winning streak and an opportunity to be in the driver’s seat in the SEC East, UF is crediting much of their success since the loss to the Wildcats to improved fortitude all-around.

“I think their understanding of how to prepare for a game and play in different games,” Mullen said after being asked about the team’s most significant improvement since that loss to the Wildcats. “That your performance on Saturday is a reflection of how you practiced during the week. That just because you have a Gator helmet on, doesn’t mean everything is going to work out fine and we’ll be OK. If we don’t put in the time, if we don’t put in the work, in every phase of the game, we can’t expect to be successful. I think that’s the biggest one that our guys have really bought into.”

Physical toughness often comes from mental toughness, and cognitive fortitude requires treating each opponent as if they’re a top-10 program. Just because Florida has on a Gator helmet, as Mullen said, and the opposition has on a historically inferior one doesn’t mean they deserve to be taken lightly. It ended up becoming another teaching point, but the Gators almost experienced it in Nashville just prior to the bye week.

“Biggest change, I think that we approach each week knowing that we got to respect each opponent, and we learned a little bit of that when we played Vandy,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “You got to respect your opponent, no matter who you’re playing. It’s not easy to go on the road in the SEC and win.”

Now, while not a true road game, the Gators will head to a neutral site for a top-10 match-up with Georgia where, if both program’s records and performances this season are any indication, the mentally toughest team will likely prevail. Many thought Florida would need more than a season to return to prominence in the SEC; as it seems, the talent was there all along — the program just needed a coaching staff to instill mental toughness. It’s a far cry from where Florida was at mentally before the Georgia game last year.

“Last year wasn’t so fun for our team, but just coming from then to this year, our record is a lot different. The way the guys approached the week, preparing for a game is different,” Franks said. “We went through a coaching change, which turned out for the better for us.”

13 COMMENTS

  1. Florida may indeed need another season or two to return to prominence in the SEC and beyond, but it’s safe to say that we are ahead of schedule as a T-E-A-M. Besides the development of individual and interactive skill sets, I’m glad to read that you too have captured this, Graham. You called it mental and physical toughness, but in reality it is the same thing many of us on here have been using different words to describe: Character, grit, drive, determination, pluck, perseverance……whatever you may choose to call it…….it all flows from the basic fountain of LEADERSHIP.

    Great article, a real pleasure to read, Graham.

  2. I got a little carried away this morning about the gator death roll, CDM is a nice man and i dont think he would want me showing my true colors, it can be disrespectful, so let me amend them a little. its true i have georgia, and south carolina, and arkansas, and a few others. my brother is a nice guy and hates no one. just didnt get that gene. anyway, we both agree that spurrier was the true death roll gator. the death roll was actually Fred Taylor and that running game. urban was a chomp guy, hed take your arm with the shock and awe of the spread but you did get to live. CDM, he uses that powerful tale end of the gator that whoops you so hard you can barely move. does it with special teams, does it with misdirection, and does it with those grantham blitzes and will fool you and me both hes so good at it. Georgia, there are 3 ways a gator can take you, youve seen two, and your about to get the third one. imo. for the truely good georgia people, and arkansas, and south carolina that are my friends, im sorry, i just cant help myself.

  3. The toughness part was when someone crushed our crackers we had two choices fold up shop and work for next year or say we are better than this and we can do better which is what 6 says goes to leadership. I think the struggle against Vandy was a little burn out and a lot of let down after LSU. Now assuming we didn’t get lucky with the wins we have the team is actually pretty good. On SEC Net this am they were talking about UGA again assuming they are not sandbagging anywhere the matchup is closer than the major networks are stating. CBS is television it nationally so I hope I am right that the match up is very close. I our guys are healthy and we don’t send someone off for a stupid penalty we are going to be in this game. Go Gators and eat some dog for dinner Saturday.

    • Muschamp had one really good season record wise, and anybody watching it would tell you that the lucky breaks were going our way just about the whole time. Ever since, I worry about that — not to say that I won’t take the wins anyway we can get them — but my honest appraisal this season? Luck has had nothing to do with it……so your assumptions are sound, 65, at least from this cowboy’s viewpoint.

      • One thing that intrigues me about this game is they are saying we are going to lose but they are not saying what they are going to beat us with. Their offense is suspect and their defense isn’t as good as last years. No respect. That’s the name of this years team. Team NO RESPECT. GO GATORS. TAKE THAT RESPECT.

  4. Gators are much more physical this year than last. New strength and conditioning coach. Gators were supposed to be a 7-5 team this year with 2019 the year of the big movement. This team, so far, has exceeded expectations. Here are the games that several college football experts predicted Florida would lose:
    Miss. State, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and FSU. Whatever happens at the cocktail party, I am sure the coaches won’t let the players sway from the schemes and plays. If it’s a loss, this team SHOULD bounce back. Here’s hoping for a 10-2 season. Even 9-3 will be much higher than predicted.

    • Some called for 2-10. Before the season I logged at what the opponents had and we had at that time. I tried to look more are what they did in HS for the younger guys. I (in my untrained eye) didn’t see great separation from some of the top teams. I tried to look at stats myself over *’s. Didn’t have access to things like grades. Then I looked at the older players and used their college stats. That is where I saw some things that made me think we had more potential than we were given credit. Individual stats don’t mean they will work as a team A. Lemons. But the building blocks were there. Maybe not what Mullen wants in am ideal setup for his scheme but.. Add a resourceful leader who is willing to modify his plans to win and we have what we’ve seen this year. That is truly the difference in the last three coaches. The first two don’t have the ability to adjust their scheme to the talent at hand and lack the teaching ability to do so. We have a strength program now where the results are showing in aces. Hats off to N Savage. If that’s what we are now is using the tail to swat our opponents then swing that tail Gators and sweep the dogs of the field.

  5. Watching the Ohio State loss to Purdue (which I thoroughly enjoyed, btw), I thought the Buckeyes looked a lot like we did against UK toughness wise. The one glaring difference is OSU threw it 72 times. I appreciate the work Mullen, his staff and the players have put in since losing to the Wildcats and am excited to see us whup up on dem Dawgs. Go Gators!