Florida entered the bye week in an unlikely spot: ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press poll with a 6-1 record, and an opportunity to gain some significant ground in the SEC Eastern Division when the Gators meet No. 8 Georgia at TIAA Bank Field on Oct. 27.
Until then, however, UF is getting a much-needed reprieve following a strenuous start to the 2018 season, in addition to a whirlwind 10 months following Dan Mullen’s arrival in Gainesville, with the current open week.
Things began easing up Monday morning — well, Sunday night — when the Gators were allowed to arrive at the facilities later than normal.
“Off the field, we’re getting enough sleep,” UF linebacker Rayshad Jackson said. “And the early mornings, we usually come in around 8:15, (but) now this whole week we’re not coming in at 8:15, so we get enough sleep.”
The goal is to recover, mentally, physically and emotionally, before closing the season on a high note, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
The mental exhaustion almost resulted in a letdown in Nashville, as the Commodores jumped out to a 21-3 lead over a sleepwalking UF team, before the Gators eventually received a decisive jumpstart just prior to the second half.
Mullen said after Saturday’s 37-27 win over the ’Dores that there was a noticeable difference in Florida’s preparation in the buildup to the comeback win — specifically, Mullen watched as the lethargic Gators looked ahead toward the impending week of rest.
“We didn’t have the best week of practice ’cause we had three really emotional games in a row, and that is, physically and mentally, exhausting and draining for everybody on the team,” Mullen said. “Everybody gets a chance to catch their breath. Then we come back, we got five (games) in a row. So we got to get rested and then build our mental toughness for those next five as we come back.”
Sometimes it takes seeing loved ones to revitalize a person, and many Gators will use the extended break to travel back home. Some will head north, like sophomore defensive tackle and Virginia native Elijah Conliffe, while many players will journey within the confines of Florida.
CJ Henderson is heading back to his home in Miami — after a week of preparation, that is.
Even though he’s supposed to be decompressing away from the field, Henderson’s focus remains on football, with the presence of his former Columbus High teammates — who he intends on watching college football on TV with Saturday — and family providing the necessary solace in UF’s interim stretch away from the field.
“I’m trying to get in the training room a little more (this week) and get my legs back, and work on my technique a little,” Henderson said. “Even when I go home, I will probably still work out and stay in shape.”
Mullen and the Gators can preach mental recovery all they want, but the physical recuperation will likely go the longest in determining UF’s success the rest of the season. After the Gators avoided disaster at Vanderbilt, quarterback Feleipe Franks didn’t mince words: the bye week is critical in the SEC.
And how the Gators balance their preparation with recovery over the next nine days will either verify or nullify the work to date.
“I think it’s important. We have to get a bunch of our guys’ bodies back. You got seven weeks playing SEC ball, and you play against really good players, your body gets kind of beat up,” Franks said. “I think that’s one of the main things (the bye week) is going to help us out with is catching up on our rest.”