Gators face elimination game in SEC race

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Florida coach Dan Mullen walks on the sideline in the first half Saturday against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday. LSU won 42-28. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The narrative concerning this Florida football team after last week’s game was as follows — Perhaps this team is better than we thought.

So the Gators lost by two touchdowns and the defense couldn’t stop the rain with a dozen umbrellas. Meh. The UF quarterback looked good, and that hasn’t been the case around here in a decade. The Gators never quit and never let the crowd be too much of a factor.

It was a rare case of the Gator Nation feeling good about a team coming home after a loss. I can’t remember that ever happening around here, and I have been around Gator football since the Cuban Missile Crisis (look it up, kids).

You want to believe that you found out about your team in Baton Rouge, La.

But the truth is that you are about to find out about your team today.

It’s a nooner at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., a place where Steve Spurrier made his mark both as a Gator (I’ll never forget the 1995 game when UF won 63-7 on a miserable weather night) and as a Gamecock (beat Alabama in 2010 and used to own Clemson there).

That’s a sidebar, by the way, the story of the game. Yes, Will Muschamp used to coach at Florida and, yes, he got fired after Spurrier beat him in The Swamp and, yes, one big reason Muschamp got the job was because Spurrier recommended him as his replacement.

Nope, isn’t about them.

It’s about Florida.

Pure and simple.

You’re about to find out what kind of team you have.

Is this team serious about playing for championships? Let’s find out.

The truth is coach Dan Mullen probably already knows just from how the way this team practiced this week.

He knows whether or not they are consumed with getting better. He probably has a gut feeling based on practice whether his defense is going to come out today with a chip on its shoulder or with the swagger knocked off of it.

Two games ago it was a Prove It Game. You know what last week was. Today, basically, it’s an elimination game.

Lose this one and Atlanta becomes a disappearing genie. Any talk of the College Football Playoffs will be accompanied by a Jim Mora emoji. (“P-P-Playoffs? PLAYoffs?” Again, look it up).

Mullen wasn’t kidding minutes after the LSU game when he started talking about how South Carolina was a more important game than the one his team had just played. It was a mantra he kept up all this week.

Today, we find out if they listened or just heard him.

This Florida football team faces no restrictions. It can go wherever it chooses to go. The fascinating part to watch is whether they truly hit reset or are still dealing with a loss-inducing tummy ache.

Do you want to keep dreaming of confetti? You can’t without a win today.

Florida fans had to switch gears in a hurry this week, going from couch-rooting for the Gamecocks to hoping Muschamp doesn’t ruin another Gator season.

This is probably going to shock you, but this Muschamp team has a really tough defense and a shaky offense. (That was supposed to be sarcasm). South Carolina has scored more than 24 points in only one game in 2019 and that was against FCS Charleston Southern, now 1-5 this season (how bad is Savannah State?).

On the other hand, the Gamecocks just beat Georgia, which got everybody’s attention like a bucket of cold water, and beat Kentucky way worse than Florida did (I know, every game is its own game.)

It’s the SEC, where you had better bring your pudding snacks every day. It’s the SEC East, suddenly up for grabs.

It’s football at Florida, where one big game begets another.

We’ll try not to overstate it and say the season is on the line.

But it is.

Grab a cold one and somebody bring the popcorn. You’re about to find out what your team is made of. And then we’ll worry about Jacksonville.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps this team is better than YOU thought. WE already knew what they’re capable of.

    The most non-obvious and intelligent thing said here was, “Today we find out if they listened or just heard him”. In a nutshell, that’s it. In their only loss so far this season, it was more due to attitude in my opinion, than talent. While it shouldn’t have, although it’s only Year 2, depth did play a role as well. But as the SC-Georgia game has been re-constructed all week, I’ll be damned if they were stomped by South Carolina. Georgia’s attitude about that game had a lot more to say about the outcome than anything SC actually did — worth remembering before we credit SC with being the second reincarnation of the New England Patriots or something.

  2. The biggest difference between this year’s Gator team and last year’s team is at the most critical position in team sports, QB. Last year’s Gator meltdown vs. Mizzou was “led” by our QB. This year’s resurgence vs. USCe will also be “led” by our QB.

    WHEN the Gators are victorious in Columbia today, don’t forget to mention THAT difference in your post-game columns!

    GO GATORS!!!