Coming off Saturday’s disappointing loss to Georgia, the Florida Gators find themselves right back where they were seven weeks ago.
In rebound mode.
The first time they were here, after the home loss to Kentucky on Sept. 8, the Gators bounced back in a big way, with a five-game winning streak that vaulted them into the top 10 nationally.
This situation is a little different because this most recent loss came in a much bigger game, one with championship implications.
UF coach Dan Mullen is eager/anxious to see how his team responds this time.
“It’s a big challenge for us,” Mullen said Monday. “After every game, win or lose, it’s how you respond and continue to go during the season. So, it’ll be interesting to see now. Our first loss of the season, I think we handled it really well. Then we started handling success pretty well and now we want to see how we handle this adversity.”
Mullen said he has no set playbook for how to put impactful losses behind a team and refocus on the next game. He’ll learn more about where the Gators are mentally over the course of the week, and on Saturday against Missouri.
“It goes to kind of a gut feeling,” he said. “It’s a feel for how the season is going, the team’s going, the attitude of the team and where we’re at. We handled the first loss excellent.
“Everybody was here for the meeting this morning, ready to go. I want to see how they respond out in practice a little bit. I always think there’s two ways to respond.
“The bad one is you have the ‘woe is me’ attitude and the other one is kind of like, annoyed that that happened and I can’t wait to get out there to go fix it. I hope we’re the second with this one. We certainly were with the first one and I hope we are with the second.”
The players started talking about what their response is going to be as soon as Saturday’s game ended, and during a long, quiet bus ride back to Gainesville.
“That switch comes on as soon as that clock hits zero-zero,” sophomore defensive tackle Kyree Campbell said. “Once that game was over, then we know what we’ve got to do. Something has to click.
“The attitude is to go out and have a great practice. Be physical. The way we handle this loss is going to determine the rest of the season.”
Even though Saturday’s loss has eliminated the Gators in the SEC race, there is a lot of season left, and a lot to play for.
UF has three consecutive home games (Missouri, South Carolina and Idaho) before closing out the regular season at Florida State. The Gators likely will be favored in all four of those games.
If they can run the table, they’d be 10-2 and looking at a possible New Year’s Day bowl game as a reward.
“We’re sitting at 6-2 right now,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “Those two (losses) were definitely winnable games.We all know how good of a team we are at every position, and we’ve just had mistakes, including me.
“You can’t dwell on it too much. You just have to move on to the next week, just finish up the season strong. We have a chance to have a really good record.”
The early vibe among the players has been positive, junior wide receiver Josh Hammond said, citing that everyone showed up for Monday morning’s meeting.
“We went over the mistakes we made and things we could have done better (in the Georgia game),” Hammond said. “There were things we didn’t execute in practice and it showed up on Saturday for us.
“We’ve got to be ready to come out and execute at practice. Be more physical, be better and continue to grow as a football team.”
The Gators are expecting to get a boost from returning to The Swamp, where they’ve played only one game in the past six weeks.
Mullen said he’s also eager to see how the fans respond this week.
“The last time we were here in the stadium we had an unbelievable home-field advantage and it really showed with how we played,” he said. “That was such a huge deal for us winning that game over LSU the last time we were in The Swamp.
“It’s a great challenge for everybody in the Gator Nation to pack The Swamp again and create the exciting atmosphere, exciting energy and make it that home-field advantage for us. The challenges are out there for all of us this week to rebound, get a big win and get ourselves back on track this season.”