The way the Florida Gators look at it, they let Georgia beat them twice last season. The Bulldogs took them down on the field, then the emotional hangover created by that defeat lingered and led to another loss the following Saturday against Missouri.
Having experienced that, the Gators want to make sure LSU doesn’t beat them twice this season.
“We have been through this once before last year,” senior wide receiver Josh Hammond said Monday. “A lot of guys that are on the team now were here last year and have been through the situation. Guys are just ready to get back on the practice field and break down mistakes from last week and get ready for South Carolina. We can’t let it happen again.”
Just like the loss to Georgia, the loss to LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday night was an emotional one, with potential to linger. It ended the Gators’ 10-game winning streak and cost UF a chance to vault into the top five nationally, and into the College Football Playoff conversation.
There’s one big difference with this loss: it doesn’t eliminate the Gators in the SEC race like the loss to Georgia did a year ago. Their championship aspirations are still very much alive. If they win out over the remainder of their SEC schedule — at South Carolina, Georgia, Vanderbilt and at Missouri — the Gators will win the SEC East.
“Our mindset after this loss is to use it for fuel and to use it to get better,” junior safety Donovan Stiner said. “We know that that’s not going to count against us winning the East, and we know that one of our ultimate goals this year is to win the East. So, we know that we have to use this loss to get it together and win out.”
After the disappointing 42-28 loss to the Tigers on Saturday night, the message from the coaches to the players was that, yes, this was a tough one to take, but it really changes nothing. All the team’s goals are still out there and very much attainable.
“We control our own destiny,” senior center Nick Buchanan said. “If we win the rest of our games, we’re in Atlanta at the end of the year, sitting where we want to sit. We’ve got to come out and focus each week, do what we’ve got to do because we’re still in control of our own destiny and we need it to stay that way.
“When you lose one game everything is still in front of you. You lose two games and then you start having questions about where you want to be at the end of the year. We can’t let this one game affect us and get us down. We’ve got to know that there’s a sense of urgency to make sure we get everything right from here on out.”
As the players learned a year ago, they can’t dwell on a tough loss. They need to put it behind them and move on, focus on the present, and the future, starting with Saturday’s game at South Carolina.
If the Gators let the loss linger, LSU could beat them a second time Saturday in Columbia.
“Just stay focused,” senior wide receiver Van Jefferson said. “This one loss doesn’t determine our season. We still control our own destiny. We know we’ve got to keep our heads up and keep going.”
The players are saying all the right things now, early in the week. UF coach Dan Mullen said he’ll know more later in the week where the Gators actually stand in terms of moving on from the loss at LSU.
Are the Gators going to respond like they did after the Georgia loss last season? Or like they did after Missouri loss that followed?
“We’re going to find out,” he said. “Because after the Missouri loss (last season), we won 10 in a row, a New Year’s Six bowl and beat three of our rivals, two Top-10 victories.
“So, which one. We’ve got to see which one. I know which one I want to show up. I know how my attitude is going to be toward the week. Hopefully it’s the second one within our team, kind of responding in a big way to that loss and how they responded to adversity and not the first one, where I don’t think we handled it very well.”
Buchanan said the players understand the approach they must take this week.
“You don’t win or lose the game on Saturday,” he said. “You win or lose the game during the week. We look at the mistakes that we made last year with two losses in a row and we’re going to fix those mistakes so they don’t happen again.”
Who: No. 9 Florida (6-1, 3-1 SEC) vs. South Carolina (3-3, 2-2)
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850