Return to The Swamp: Gators hoping to avoid another ‘Cocktail Party’ hangover

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Florida coach Dan Mullen and the Gators are now focused on winning 10 games in consecutive years for the first time in a decade and making another New Year's Six bowl. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

Playing in, and not partying at, the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party should not leave you with a hangover. But that’s exactly what’s happened to the Gators the previous two years.

 They’ve fallen to Georgia in Jacksonville, then fallen flat the following week and gotten flattened. It’s been cringe-worthy stuff, losing to Missouri by a combined score of 83-33.

 The WLOCP hangover. It’s real.

 So, how do the Gators avoid it Saturday, coming off the wrenching 24-17 loss to the Bulldogs in what was being billed as the biggest game of the season for both teams?

 Florida coach Dan Mullen has prescribed a hangover cure for the players — and the fans.

 “We’re going to practice hard and try to put a great game plan together and come out fired up on Saturday,” Mullen said. “That’s all of us. We need to pack The Swamp. We need to have the home-field advantage. We need the energy in the stadium.

 “Our team needs to come out with intensity. We need to play hard. That’s really all it is. Have The Swamp rocking. We need the Gator Nation to do that. We need our players to come out with the intensity to come out and play hard with great effort.

 “Come out and play hard with great effort, you have a chance to win.”

 The 2-6 Commodores are banged up (their No. 1 and No. 2 QBs are in concussion protocol) and struggling on both sides of the ball, but they’re capable. They showed that three weeks ago by beating Missouri, the team that took advantage of the Gators’ Georgia hangover the past two seasons.

 Given UF’s recent track record in the week after the game in Jacksonville, the Commodores are hopeful the hangover still lingers in Gainesville.

 “We really believe heading down to The Swamp, playing at noon, it should work as an advantage for us, the early start,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “We’re going to be ready to go. Look forward to playing this game.”

 The Gators say they are, too. But we’re not going to know their true emotional state until they go out there and start playing.

 The loss to Georgia was a painful one. It hasn’t eliminated UF from the SEC East race, but it’s put the Gators on the brink — and the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat.

 So, the Gators go from the intense atmosphere of the WLOCP to playing at home against a 27-point underdog with a noon kickoff, which usually features a late-arriving crowd (or a non-arriving crowd in the student section).

 Still, the Gators insist they’ll be fired up and ready to go.

 Tight end Lucas Krull said the Gators aren’t hungover, they’re angry.

 “It’s the fire inside of each individual,” he said. “You have to talk to yourself and say who are you as a person and a competitor. It’s all about your will to want to win. That’s what I’ve seen in practice this week. Every guy has been out there, practicing pissed off. We’re angry. It’s something that’s going to translate to a great finish.

 “When you’re close to reaching a potential goal that you set at the beginning of the year and you don’t get it, it fires you up. A lot of teams hang their heads, are frustrated and quit on their season.

 “That’s not us. That’s not the Gator standard and that’s not how we work here. We’re just going to build right back up and get right back out there and every time we step on the field, we expect to win — and we’re going to.”

 So, the Gators are angry. They’re also happy, happy about being back home, in The Swamp, for the first time since Oct. 5. UF beat then-No. 7 Auburn that day, and the atmosphere was loud and electric.

 Will it be anywhere close to that today?

 Does it really matter?

 “We don’t want to lose in The Swamp,” junior safety Donovan Stiner said. “Competitive is what we’re going to be. We can come off a loss (and play well). We just want to get back out there and win.”

 That, of course, is the ultimate hangover cure.

Note: Mullen said Thursday on his radio show that reserve defensive end Jeremiah Moon is out for the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his injured foot. Moon suffered the injury in the Georgia game.