Their Summer of Savage is showing up on the field this fall for the Florida Gators.
They’re winning the fourth quarter, with the exception of one tie (Kentucky also scored six points in the fourth quarter), and in the last two games against Mississippi State and LSU the Gators have come from behind in the final 15 minutes to pull out victories.
It’s a sure sign that all the working and straining and grinding the players have done in Nick Savage’s offseason strength and conditioning program are getting results, further reinforcing the seemingly team-wide buy-in.
“(The work we put in under Savage) showed up a lot (in the win over LSU),” junior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “It’s just guys not being tired afterward and continuing to play.
“When those games get tight and it is back-and-forth, we know that we have each other’s back and we are still ready to play football, even if it goes into overtime. We are ready for it. Just the preparation we put in all summer and on campus has prepared us for these moments.”
After the 27-19 win over the Tigers last Saturday, UF coach Dan Mullen talked about how the players in the game were like hanging onto a rope, straining and losing some ground, but then stopping the negative flow and eventually pulling the rope toward them.
It sounds like tug-of-war.
But what Mullen was talking about was a drill the Gators did throughout the summer under Savage using actual ropes. The players divide into teams and each team is given a rope for everyone to hang onto together while running the stadium steps.
Each team is made up of a combination of linemen, linebackers and skill position players, so there is tendency for some to want to go faster than others. But it’s all about hanging on together, Mullen said.
“Just don’t let go of the rope,” Mullen said. “Sometimes, it’s, ‘I want to go faster, I want to go slower.’ But you’re as good as your teammates are. And we are as good as we are as a team, not, hey, you see how fast I can run the stadium? That’s great, but you left your teammates behind so that does us no good. It’s we are as good as our team is.”
Savage’s offseason program is about getting physically stronger and mentally tougher. The players are always competing against one another, so there are winners and losers in everything they do.
The coaches say it’s all about straining physically, and mentally finding a way to overcome hardship and adversity.
“We do a bunch of different special deals,” Mullen said. “I think those have a lot to do with our success because when you get into those games, you need something to look back on.
“You can look back on and say, ‘Hey, I trained so hard and put myself through so much in that offseason training with so much intensity, I did it for this moment. Not when you’re up big. I did it for when we are down in the fourth quarter and we have to find a way to make a play to win the game.’
“That’s what our offseason program is all about that. A lot of it is about mental toughness and how to overcome any type of adversity and take on any challenge that is put in front of you.”
The physical and mental aspects of Savage’s program came into play in the fourth quarter against the Tigers.
In a physical dogfight the whole game, the Gators gave up a lightning-fast 80-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter to fall behind 19-14. And at that point, the Gators had done little on offense in the second half. So, momentum was gone.
But the Gators responded, answering the LSU score with a 75-yard TD drive to regain the lead. Over the rest of the game, the UF defense gave up only 14 total yards and secured the win with Brad Stewart’s pick-six.
The Gators were mentally and physically strong when they had to be in the fourth quarter.
“When you get punched in the mouth, you’ve just got to keep on fighting,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “That’s what our players did, and just strained through the fourth quarter, not giving up, not letting down.
“That’s one of the best things that could’ve had happened to us in the offseason, becoming more mentally strong.”
The Summer of Savage is clearly having an impact in the fall.
“Our strength staff did an unbelievable job of preparing guys through January, February, even through spring ball all the way through the summer,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “And guys have continued to work, develop to the standard that we want. And we’re starting to have some success with it. We’ve just go to continue to prepare and work the way we need to to be on that same course.”