Whether it’s a last-second touchdown pass for a victory or a missed extra point that leads to a loss, every game is revealing, every game is a learning experience.
So, where do the Florida Gators go from here, coming off a tough one-point loss at home to LSU and now facing maybe an even tougher opponent in The Swamp on Saturday in Texas A&M?
“You’ve got to do a really good job. We’re going to find out a lot about leadership as to where we go,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “We need to come back, have a good week, get ready to put this one to bed and get ready to play our next opponent. Another talented group coming in again.
“There’s going to be good things in every game, whether it’s a win or loss. There’s always things to build on, there’s always things to work on. It’s tough. It is what it is. Not real happy about it obviously and neither are our guys. But we’re also going to find out about this team a little bit, too.”
The young Gators discovered how quickly and dramatically momentum can change in the 17-16 loss to LSU. UF had all the momentum after back-to-back touchdown drives in the third quarter, but then lost it when Eddy Pineiro’s extra-point attempted sailed wide left after the potential game-tying touchdown late in the third quarter.
From that point on, the Tigers dominated the game and prevented the Gators, who fell out of the college football rankings Sunday, from making even a threat of a comeback. In the fourth quarter, LSU’s offense controlled the ball and the Florida offense could muster only one first down and 37 total yards.
The disappointing loss puts the Gators in a precarious position in the SEC East race heading into the heart of the schedule. After Texas A&M on Saturday, UF faces division leader and undefeated Georgia in Jacksonville two weeks later.
This two-game stretch is crucial, and could define the Gators’ season.
“The leaders that we have, we’re going to keep everybody together,” junior defensive tackle Khairi Clark said. “We got to keep each other motivated, not have our heads down about this loss because we still have a whole season left to go.”
Quarterback Feleipe Franks was not hanging his head after Saturday’s loss, even though it was another tough day for him and the offense. Franks threw for only 108 yards, was sacked five times and had poor time management on UF’s last drive, which started with 4:01 remaining.
The Gators made only one first down on the drive and turned the ball back over with only 1:39 to play when Franks’ fourth-down pass from the UF 25 was tipped and fell incomplete.
“Coach Nuss (offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier) and them tell me there’s going to be ups and there’s going to be downs, and it’s just how you respond when you’re down,” Franks said. “There are so many things that you can say that, ‘You could have done this, you could have won that game, you could have made that pass.’
“That’s the game of football. Quarterbacks make mistakes. People make mistakes. That’s OK. You learn from them. God has a plan for every game we play, every practice we play, and you just go out there and have fun. He already has it planned out and that was His plan for tonight. We’re going to go back out there, this coming up week and prepare for the Aggies.”
The Gators will have some injury issues to deal with this week. Starting left guard Brett Heggie will be under concussion protocol after sustaining a concussion in the first half.
Several other players were injured in the game and their status for this week is uncertain.
Safety Chauncey Gardner and linebacker Jeremiah Moon have ankle injuries, safety Nick Washington is dealing with a chronic shoulder injury and slot receiver/wildcat quarterback Kadarius Toney has an injured shoulder and shin.
“This will be interesting because after a loss, you know, little nicks, injuries, things like that, some things take longer to heal, and we don’t have the time to let it heal,” McElwain said. “If we’ve got guys that can go, they’ve got to go. We’ll have a good week of practice, and come back and play A&M.”
The Gators lost their serve at home to the Tigers. Now, they will be trying to get it back against a team that competed evenly at times with No. 1 Alabama on Saturday night in a 27-19 loss in College Station.
“We’ve got a long season ahead of us and we’re going to prepare for the Aggies this week and get ready to have some fun on Saturday,” Franks said. “(The LSU game) is a stepping stone. Just get it smoothed out and come out ready this week.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.
Who: Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1) vs. Florida (3-2, 3-1)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850