Josh Hammond walked out of the Florida locker room and into the team’s meeting room, where the media waited to ask the junior wide receiver just what went wrong Saturday night in UF’s 27-16 loss to Kentucky.
Rather than declare the team overmatched or under-prepared, Hammond faced the music, saying Florida may have been beaten but the Gators weren’t solemn or looking to hang their heads.
After a historic loss to the Wildcats, Florida’s message throughout the week has been one of optimism and improvement despite the natural feelings of doubt and insecurity that tend to creep in following defeat. The goal is to recapture the momentum and elation felt throughout preseason camp rather than letting an early loss alter the dynamic of the program this season.
“(We need to) just practice harder and let this loss not sink in,” senior offensive lineman Martez Ivey said. “Just it’s a light to show us we’ve got to go much harder than what we think we’ve been giving.”
For a Florida program dragged through the mud for nearly a year regarding the team’s development and preparation under former coach Jim McElwain, it can be reassuring knowing many prospects seemingly have yet to peak due to the previous regime. It’s a message Mullen has reiterated to the man under center, redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks, while imploring Franks to play confidently. The idea is that confidence can narrow the gap as he focuses on his gradual improvement.
“Just the experience of getting those reps over and over and making all the different throws,” Mullen said of Franks’ play against Kentucky. “I never saw him rattled or not confident at any part of the game or not thinking we weren’t going to find a way to come back and win the game.”
It’s that piece of the puzzle — the believe the game is still winnable no matter the score — that should help Florida and Franks immediately. That doesn’t mean it’s worked flawlessly throughout the first two games, however.
After Kentucky took a 11-point lead late in the third quarter, the Gators went away from attempting to establish the run game, opting to take several shots downfield with Franks instead. The drive resulted in a one-for-six passing performance from Franks as the Gators didn’t come away with any points, although the field goal was incorrectly ruled a failure, depriving UF of a deserved three points and making it a one-possession game in the process.
Even in a situation where the team felt slighted on the field, maintaining confident play was the message on the sideline during the entire debacle.
“We’re down two scores and have to get in the end zone and then come back and be ready to drive it again,” Hammond said. “We were kind of prepared for it and I think everybody on the sideline was ready for it too. Just ready to compete and go play ball.”
That mindset — go compete no matter the scenario — was sorely missed under the McElwain regime. Yet it’s one thing to preach a confident mindset, and it’s an entirely different beast to execute a positive attitude in the face of adversity. Saturday at 4 p.m. will reveal whether or not the Gators approached the week with the necessary confidence.
“We are going to respond. Trust me, we are going to respond,” junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson said. “A lot of guys, we held our heads down (after the loss), tears were shed, but like I said, it’s early in the season. That was hard for us to swallow, but you can’t go into practice thinking about the last game, because it’s going to affect this game. So our guys are going to get out there this week. We’ve got to focus up.”
Who: Colorado State (1-2) vs. Florida (1-1)
When: 4 p.m.
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Tickets: Visit FloridaGators.com. Fans may also call the Gator Ticket Office at 375-4683 or visit it on the west side of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.