Gators’ offseason workouts paying off in fourth quarter of games

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Florida's Nick Savage, director of football strength and conditioning, will be the players' contact coach in the offseason. [John Raoux/Associated Press]

Their Summer of Savage is showing up on the field this fall for the Florida Gators.
It’s obvious.

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.”

26 COMMENTS

  1. Great article and absolutely true. In recent years we would have folded up like a lawn chair when we fell behind in the second half. I was so impressed to watch our defense being able to push LSU around in the 4th quarter. It almost makes me mad to think about how we lacked in strength and conditioning before Savage got to Florida. At least it looks like we have that corrected now. Go Gators!!

  2. A lot of us have been excited about Savage from the time we first started reading about his philosophy and approach. It is good to see results now as the team has overcome adversity and fought hard right to the end, forcing the other team to break. They work hard, and they are reaping the rewards.

    The disgusting yellow stains are being scrubbed from the program, the twisted deformities straightened, and the players are emerging bright and sharp and deadly.

    • I might add that when the physical plant is at or near optimum, mental clarity and agility correspond accordingly. I wouldn’t overlook this factor as working in concert with Dan Mullen’s efforts in building gumption, character, or whatever you may want to call it. This is a different team than we saw at the beginning of the season.

      • 6 this was discussed earlier that the players would respond better mentally when they were fit. I think all the keys were in place before the KY game except they were lacking in trust (who could blame them) and confidence in their abilities. Losing the streak was actually a good thing as it forced them to look inside for what they already had developed and didn’t recognize they had the ability. I hope this weekend has got some recruits ready to sign on the dotted line (don’t think the line is dotted anymore)as the product on the field was with recruits who for the most part had not performed to their capabilities in the past. If Mullen and Co. can turn what was then into what is now any recruit out there would be wise beyond their young years to listen to any offer from them. I haven’t heard anything yet on the recruits opinions of the game though I would think some of those guys that came were looking at LSU (Gut feeling) (the reason they came unofficial) may now have a different feeling. Gator Nation…my next gut feeling is we are going to be top 10 in the 2019 year for recruits maybe even top 5 if we keep playing like we are. New attitude, New feel, it was Great to be Gators last weekend. BTW Seeing Marcus Spears in Gator colors was awesome (great job Chauncey Gardner-Johnson) and even though Spears played for the enemy I think he has a lot of class. Go Gators.

      • Great point, Gator 6. Yeah. The cognitive benefits can’t be under-valued. And where our guys are still playing sharp, sound football at the end, it’s the other teams we now see having mental breakdowns– dropping passes, throwing picks…etc…

      • Good point ! They ( physical / mental / emotional ) all work together and if one is too much or too little you end up with an athlete that while strong physically, may be weak mentally or gets too emotional and commits dumb penalties, etc.. There is a fine balance that needs to be obtained and coach understands that. Urb was/is a master at the mental manipulation of his players and stressed conditioning , realizing that when you get tired you are more prone to make mistakes. It is a big piece of the puzzle, just ask any Ranger , Seal , Green Beret, etc.. Same deal to a lesser extent with football.

        • Youre right, but THIS team isnt being decimated by injuries as some of the teams over the last 9 years have been. I recall that as an excuse a couple of years as to why we performed so badly later in the season. I think that is what Nopriors is remembering; the overall injury rate.
          Look at how durable Franks is, my goodness, that sandwich he filled, I thought for sure he was out; then he popped right back up!

    • While Arnold Feliciano is bringing the truth about the injuries, I fear some you all are gonna’ JINX us (U.F.).
      Be very careful! We’ve already lost a dynamic R.B., and 1st round Corner Back to name only 2. Stay hopeful Gator fans, but like ”Han Solo” once famously said, ”Don’t get cocky, kid!” Go Gators!

  3. The injury list is definitely smaller and less severe than in the past.
    Also, I recall Dooley saying before the season that the team looked better physically. The LSU game was the first one I have attended this year. Watching this team in warm ups without pads on they simply looked bigger and stronger, like a real elite team looks. I would expect future teams to look even more that way. The future is very bright under Coach Dan if he can recruit elite athletes

  4. pleased to see us closing games better which bodes well for solving a bigger problem…we tend to, particularly since tebow graduated, not win as high of a percentage of wins in the second half of the season.