What had been a steady decline has escalated into a near collapse for the faltering Florida football team.
On offense, defense and special teams, this has become a season in shambles.
Now, perhaps the biggest concern is making sure this team does not fracture from within.
“We’ve just got to find the guys that are still willing to give it all for one another,” sophomore linebacker David Reese said. “I feel bad for the coaches because they’re in a position where they want to be future coordinators, future head coaches. We have a great defensive staff. We have a great coaching staff.
“We have to play for everybody. We have to play for those families and things like that. Nobody likes change. Unfortunately, what happened to our head coach and things like that. But we just have to learn how to have grit when things get tough.”
Times have never been tougher.
The Gators have had to endure player suspensions, a hurricane, multiple injuries and the loss of their coach, Jim McElwain.
Based on recent performances, the burden has been too great to carry.
In the past two weeks, the Gators have been outscored by Georgia and Missouri by a combined score of 87-23.
In Saturday’s 45-16 loss at Missouri, the wounded Gators had trouble staying on the field with a team that had been winless in the SEC and whose defense was among the worst in the conference.
Overall, the Gators seemed to lack energy and effort. At times, some players seemed to almost give up on plays.
After the game, interim head coach Randy Shannon was asked if he was worried about players checking over the final three games of the season.
“No, no, no,” he said. “Never have to worry about guys checking out. You’ve got to find the guys who want to play. If guys want to check out, you go to the next guy. Because, you know what? Those guys got a long time of playing at the University of Florida.
“There’s going to be a lot of guys that have talent on this football team, a lot of guys that have talent that are going to play at the University of Florida. And if you think guys are checking out, fellas, they don’t check out, you know what I mean? You just have to keep playing and keep coaching. Now if you check out as a coach, then that’s going to go down to the players.”
The players say they haven’t given up. They are still chasing the goal of trying to become bowl eligible. To do that, the Gators likely would have to win out against South Carolina, UAB and Florida State. While unlikely, it’s still a possibility — and something to hang on to, for now.
“The biggest thing is bouncing back,” Reese said. “We’ve got a young team and we still have a lot to look forward to. I feel like this team is going to be the same team coming back. Same defense coming back. We’re going to do the things that’s right our next go-around. We’re just looking to not quit. We still have got a lot to play for and send our seniors off the best way we can.
“(The final three games) are very big. Obviously, we need to go to a bowl game. Just holding up tradition. We need to play our hardest, play out, do what we can do to get this good motivation for next year.”
Reese said the players have to hold themselves accountable over the final three weeks.
“It’s just sometimes the character of an individual,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little bit overwhelming. But you have to focus on the task at hand, the game at hand. We’re going to hit it hard at practice and try to get everybody that wants to be on board on board. That’s something we didn’t have. If you want to be a Gator, let’s be Gators.”
Notes: The Gators started Malik Zaire at quarterback, the seventh consecutive season that UF has started a backup quarterback in at least two games. Zaire became the 12th different starting quarterback utilized by Florida since 2010, which is the most in the SEC during that time. … Florida’s 3-5 record is its worst start to a season since a 0-7-1 start in 1979.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.
Who: Florida (3-5, 3-4 SEC) vs. South Carolina (6-3, 4-3)
When: 12 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850