Heading into this season, the Florida Gators had lost more games to one SEC East rival than any of the others over the past six years. That would be four losses since 2013.
No, not Georgia. Not South Carolina.
Missouri — the new nemesis for Florida football.
Yes, that’s right. It’s not Georgia or anybody else the Gators have been having a hard time getting past. It’s been the Missouri Tigers, who have recently pretty much owned UF, especially over the past two seasons, where they have beaten the Gators twice by a combined score of 83-33.
Of the four losses over the last six seasons, two were the blowout variety, on Homecoming in The Swamp, no less — 42-13 in 2014 and 38-17 in 2018. The other two losses were at Missouri, also one-sided defeats — 36-17 in 2013 and the ultimate debacle (45-16) the week after Jim McElwain was terminated two years ago.
So, why have the Tigers been such a difficult matchup for the Gators?
“I don’t know,” senior middle linebacker David Reese said. “I feel like it’s a situation sometimes where we really let one loss turn into another.
“I feel like our athletes can compete with anybody’s. They probably have a better scheme and you know everyone’s going to give us our best game. Obviously, if you don’t perform your best, you’re going to fail.”
The four losses have all followed losses — to LSU in 2013-14 and to Georgia the past two seasons.
The current players weren’t around and can’t speak to those first two defeats. But they experienced the last two. Both defeats are still fresh in their minds.
The 45-16 loss at Missouri two years ago was the low point in a 4-7 season that saw the Gators mail it in over the final few games under interim head coach Randy Shannon.
“I’d say, my freshman year, our attitude wasn’t right going into the game,” cornerback Marco Wilson said. “Coaches got fired. I’d say we just started giving up, which is not the right thing to do. We knew we weren’t going to win the SEC East or any of that. People just didn’t have the mindset of, ‘We’ve still got something to play for, which is that they’re keeping score in the game, and we need to win it.’
“And then last year, I don’t really know what happened last year. We just didn’t focus in on that.”
In 2017, the Gators were suffering from a McElwain hangover. Last year, it was a Georgia hangover coming off a 36-17 loss to the Bulldogs that pretty much eliminated UF from the division race.
“Probably (a letdown after the UGA loss),” Wilson said. “I think that’s something where people didn’t get their mind right after losing a game. You lose a game, you’ve got to put that behind you because you’ve got another game coming up, and you got to get ready for that. Because if you lose that game, it’s just more embarrassment and you don’t want that.”
The good news for the Gators concerning Saturday’s game is the fact that this time they’re not coming off a loss but a win — a 56-0 trampling of Vanderbilt where UF outscored the Commodores 42-0 in a white-hot second half.
“Obviously we didn’t perform the way we wanted to the past couple of years (against Missouri),” quarterback Kyle Trask said. “I don’t remember two years ago that well, I think I was hurt that season, too. And this past year we had a slow start, and we just never got the ball going.
“This year we just have to do a good job trying to get the ball rolling a lot earlier. Obviously, we don’t want to wait until the second half. We want to get things going from the very first drive.
“It’s really important for us not to focus on all the outside noise about the struggles we’ve had recently (against the Tigers). What we need to do is just focus on who we are and what we can do and doing our best to work through it even harder in practice. And I think if we do that we’ll perform well on Saturday.”