Gators searching for some ‘grit’

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Florida defensive back Duke Dawson, right, is flagged for pass interference on Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam during the second quarter Saturday in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

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 robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.

 


Up next

Who: Florida (3-5, 3-4 SEC) vs. South Carolina (6-3, 4-3)

When: 12 p.m. Saturday

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


30 COMMENTS

  1. I believe Reese, who had 13 tackles Sat., is a true tough guy with “grit”. But there are precious little others around him right now. CeCe Jefferson is one I spotted loafing on one play. Then there was CJ Henderson, who gave up on a TD that if he had kept running, he might have batted it down. Tackling was horrific, it’s been bad all year, but hit a new low vs. Mizzou.
    The next coach has to not only instill a new, actually working offensive system, but must identify leaders and demand effort, especially on D, to change this “broken” program.

  2. “Never have to worry about guys checking out.” No, they have already checked out. Did so against Georgia. The bags are packed and the bell hop has taken them to the cab. This team is finished and whoever comes in next has a big job ahead of him.

  3. Any given football season is balanced on a razor’s edge. Just a little off balance and it can go from excellent to poor. A great coach definitely gives you some wiggle room on the edge. We walked it for 2.5 years relying on great D to overcome poor O.

    This tightroping caught up to us against Lsu and a&m. Was going to happen. Hell, it has happened to fsu as well. Thin line between excellent and poor. Our coaching staff provided no wiggle room at all.

    My point is, it not as bad as it may seem for the longer term. A couple of players added together with the right coach and we are back in the mix again. We are not nearly as far away as it seems at the moment.

  4. It was evident to even a casual fan that the Gators have collapsed, and don’t give a damn about the team, the record, each other, or trying to do their best. All this pointless talk about “playing for each other” is just another joke line these kids learned from movies and recycled coachspeak. This team is WORSE than the 2013 mass casualty team. I expect another “teammates blocking each other” moment against UAB.

    Sad to say, but if we couldn’t score against Mizzou, we will get throttled by a Muschamp defense this Saturday. No bowl, and another loss to the $%&#* ‘Noles. Thank you Coach Mac, for your brilliant leadership and jerk sauce. No, really, great job…

    • No bowl will be a Godsend. I cannot stand to watch this team play anymore than it has to this season.

      I still am hoping this season will not be a total loss. Maybe we can beat FSU? Not counting on it, just hoping.

  5. It’s true these players have experienced a lot of adversity, suspensions, key injuries, very little depth in certain areas, hurricane, poor coaching and coaching change. I do thin the D has given up. They have played hard for most weeks only to see a pathetic offense bumble and stumble. Heck, the O could only manage 3 fgs against UM first team D which for the season has been horrible. Heck, most fans have given up on this staff especially the OC that needs to be booted. The team (most players) have too given up and I don’t suspect we will see much of a difference the rest of the year. We may and I say may pull out a win verses UAB. I so would like Nuss fired but would be a burden for the coaching staff, I wished he could be demoted and someone else call the plays. Right now that shouldn’t be too hard. It’s stretch draw right, stretch draw left, bubble screen right, bubble screen left and qb rollout to hit a tight end. We have what 6 plays. Enough of nuss.
    I wanted to blame the players for quitting or lack of grit or desire. But then when I think of Nuss’s offense, heck I get depressed. It’s hard to be motivated when you are coached by incompetents and that includes ST play. Personally, I wouldn’t be unhappy to see the whole bunch of coaches removed once we get a new coach. Clean house and sanitize. Furthermore this mess is Mac’s doing. O well, at least basketball is almost here.

  6. BTW Nuss has a buy out too. Our AD must step up an make a great hire. It is challenging. Let’s hope he uses a set of criteria different than Foley’s. This is the football team in the SEC, not women’s lacrosse. This is the most important decision this AD will make. I agree with Chris Dudley that with the right leadership, employing the right mix of carrots and sticks, UF will have a very successful football program within 2 years. But you have to find the right leader.

    • You don’t have to ‘buy him out’, just demote him. Put his ass in charge of water distribution or laundry, something way down low. But it absolutely amazes me that he is still calling plays. I really don’t think at this stage of the game it matters, but are they blind up there? Just don’t get it.

  7. Last week, Dooley finally treated us (the readers) to the back story of what was being said by McElwain and about McElwain in the athletic offices.

    In another few weeks, we will be treated to the stories about how the locker room was impacted by the suspensions of the 9 players and how it tore this team apart.

    Then we’ll have the complete picture and can close the book on this regrettable campaign and McElwain era.

  8. I wish Florida would move Taven Bryan to strong side defensive end, where I think he would excel. He is only average as a defensive tackle. And Reese is the only quality LB Florida has with Johnson injured. Moon, Joseph, and Garcia are not starting SEC linebackers. Neither are strong enough to seal gaps and neither are very good tacklers. They seem to always be out of position on running plays. And Chauncey Gardner is NOT a safety and his lack of ability to learn how to tackle might encourage the new head coach to consider moving him to offense next year. He is one of the worst tacklers I have ever seen play for the Gators. But most of the team has poor tackling fundamentals. It is almost like they do not ever practice tackling and that the coaches do not realize how horrible they are as a team at tackling. It has gotten to the point where I never expect the first one or two Gators to actually make a tackle at the initial contact. The offense has been horrible for a long time, and the defense is now playing at the offensive standard now. Thank you, “coach” McElwain and staff. Maybe the next head coach and his entirely new staff can cure the Florida program of the bad culture that is growing in this team both on and off the field. Maybe this team does need a Charlie Strong to come in and kick a bunch of them out of the program and start over.

    • Bryan needs coaching, he works hard but constantly takes himself out of the play by penetrating to deep on run situations. I think you are right about moving him to DE. I never thought of that, it makes good sense. Another problem I see with this team is that there are no quality players pushing the starters. Ivey was a 5 star. Does he play like it? No. If someone was behind him ready to take his place he might be motivated. I think of J. Davis last year, only a 3 star but tough and self motivated. He is starting as a rookie in the NFL. The gators do not have that type of players this year

  9. And I have a question for the sports writers. Will the new coach be the one determining the future of the suspended players or will Sumlin be making that decision before he arrives on campus. Either way, I hope all nine are off this team. The ugly stain of their bad judgment and lack of basic good character needs to be removed from this team permanently.

  10. I have a question that maybe someone can answer for me. Prior to the game with Mizzou, I had read that the team had good practices leading to the game and the coach said they were ready. Then I read that coach Mac was allowed into the practice field to say goodbye to the players, because that certainly would tend to demoralize the team When did this took place? because it seems to me that the team was completely flat. It seems to me that if he had already said goodbye to the team after the Georgia game, there was no need to allow him into the practice field again. I am just curious and wondering if that visit was the cause of the team playing like it did.

  11. They can’t spell “grit.” They’ll lose the last 3 games. Yes, its 2013 again, they’ll lose to UAB, South Carolina is a definite defeat, and FSU is a better 3-5 team than UF. Their running back Akers is gonna gash our defense. 3-8 on the season. Muschamp is licking his chops right now. This team is heartless and prideless. A bunch of quitters.
    Get ready because the inevitable is about to happen.
    .