A misconception often exists in each college football defeat: the belief that performance and outcome are inherently linked, that improvement can’t exist without success.
After Florida’s 14-point loss in Baton Rouge last Saturday, the Gators are hoping to be evidence to the contrary when it comes to improving despite a suboptimal outcome — yet that improvement doesn’t come from shying away from mistakes.
As they do each week, the Gators reviewed the mistakes from the previous game and came away with an understanding of the necessary refinements before diving into preparing for the Gamecocks.
Upon review, the Gators, win or lose, were more focused on isolating areas in need of improvement rather than the result. It’s as if each play is a microcosm for the season; the result is a culmination of multiple aspects, requiring each unit working in sync to reach a collective goal.
“We’ve talked and we know we have to improve in all aspects of the game,” said offensive lineman Brett Heggie, “We can’t focus on LSU anymore, so we’re just talking as an offensive line and knowing we’ve got to improve going into South Carolina.”
It’s a lesson the team learned the hard way in Dan Mullen’s first season at the helm.
Heggie and the Gators remember the crushing feeling of last season’s emotional loss to Georgia, and avoiding that ensuing hangover, which hung like a cloud over the team during preparation for Missouri, has been a constant theme in the build-up to Saturday.
Many Gators agreed the inability to refocus hindered their opportunity for a successful turnaround, and it’s the residual trauma from that setback that serves as a constant reminder of just how quickly things can go wrong.
“Seeing it last year, knowing the feeling of how that affected our season,” Heggie said, “really we can’t let that happen again this year.”
Considering how much is still at stake, Florida understands now is the time for focusing on the positives rather than sulking.
With the SEC East a wide-open race following Georgia’s loss to South Carolina, the Gators are embracing the opportunity ahead to return to Atlanta for the first time since 2016.
To stay firmly in front, however, they’ll likely need a performance similar to last week’s from quarterback Kyle Trask.
In his first collegiate start on the road, Trask threw for three touchdowns and 310 yards in Death Valley, becoming UF’s first quarterback since Tim Tebow to post those numbers on the road against an AP Top-10 opponent.
“Being his first on the road game, that was the loudest place I’ve ever been, and his composure, the way he was able to handle himself and communicate with us I thought was extremely good,” Heggie said. “He was super calm back there and he made plays when he had to.”
UF redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones had a moment in the spotlight, too, and he continued to flash the skill set that made him a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. Jones’ one-yard touchdown pass on play-action wouldn’t stand out in the statbook, but the tip-drill touchdown to Lamical Perine was further evidence of a promising signal caller for UF to build on. In the eyes of his head coach, the man overseeing his development, Jones could have provided, more, too — a promising sign for a program that will presumably have another quarterback battle on its hands after the season.
“One was a drop and we had a receiver running the wrong route, one of the other guys, and he would have been open. He would have been 2-for-2 with two touchdowns,” Mullen said of Jones, “which would have been a pretty good day.”
And despite showing an affinity for tight end Kyle Pitts, the offense has spread the ball out evenly; Trevon Grimes’ five-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter marked the 10th Florida player to haul in a receiving touchdown this season. In all, 15 Gators have scored either a rushing, receiving or return touchdown this season, the most in NCAA Division I.
In the aftermath, the message for Trask has required a similar form of delicate balance: embrace the moment, yet understand there’s still room for improvement.
Settling can lead to setbacks, while harping on the negatives can lead to a skewed perspective. For a Florida team finding balance across the board for the first time in a decade, the time draws nigh for the Gators to capitalize on the moment.
“We let one loss affect our season last year. That’s something we’re not doing, so everybody’s just like, ‘move past it, leave that game in the past and just move on. Win this game and win out’,” safety Shawn Davis said. “We just know that everybody’s going to try to play us hard, so we just can’t practice one way then go in a game another way. We just got to play hard and practice hard.”