With a new coaching staff, a fresh start and a winning, bowl-eligible record, the Florida Gators have pretty much decided to let the past remain in the past by suppressing many of those depressing memories of 4-7 in 2017.
But one keeps popping up. At least it is this week. It can’t be helped.
The Missouri Memory.
In a season of lows, Missouri is where the Gators hit absolute rock bottom a year ago.
Seven days after they’d been pummeled by arch-rival Georgia 42-7, and six days after their coach, Jim McElwain, had been forced out, the lifeless Gators laid down in a 45-16 drubbing at the hands of the Tigers and quarterback Drew Lock.
“Yeah, it was (the low point),” junior safety Jeawon Taylor said. “Getting beat by 40 points or however much it was, yeah, it was the low point.”
The Gators, of course, are enjoying much better times now. But with the Tigers coming to The Swamp for homecoming Saturday, the memory of that beating is fresh, and certainly relevant this week.
The R-words (revenge and redemption) haven’t come up among the players, but let’s just say last year’s result is providing motivation for Saturday’s game.
“We’re going to have a bitter taste in our mouth,” Taylor said.
It’s not like the Tigers intentionally ran it up on the Gators in last year’s game. They just played their game against a team that had been mentally beaten up over the previous week and seemed almost disinterested.
In the lopsided loss to Georgia the week before, Florida was clearly distracted after the players learned earlier that day that McElwain was in trouble and probably would be terminated. The Bulldogs jumped all over the unfocused Gators, sprinting to a 21-0 lead less than midway through the first quarter. So, that game was over early.
A week later in Columbia, it was a steady beat-down against a discouraged Florida team that seemed to give up.
“My memories of that game are that we got whooped badly by them,” senior defensive tackle Khairi Clark said. “We can’t have teams beat us by 30 points. We’re better than that.”
The Gators haven’t forgotten that hopeless feeling in the post-game locker room that reduced some players to tears, including defensive end Cece Jefferson, who said this summer that the two-game span where the Gators were beaten by a combined score of 87-23 is one of the reasons he returned for his senior season.
Many of those same players are looking for smiles in The Swamp on Saturday. It would be another indication of how far the program has come in a year.
“Last year those guys really beat up on us pretty bad and we had a lot of other things going on,” junior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “Guys were just not focused mentally throughout the week last year for preparation for Missouri.
“This year we finally get a chance to come together and gel. That’s the one thing about SEC ball is you play those guys every year and I think a lot of guys remember that loss and remember the feeling and know that if we just execute and prepare like we’re supposed so we can be real successful on Saturday.”
Taylor said the Gators don’t want to dwell on the past.
“We’re just going to handle it like they’re a new team, we’re a new team,” he said.
But the reality is, the Gators do remember that long, losing day in Columbia.
“It’s not fun to lose, especially by that much,” said quarterback Feleipe Franks, who came off the bench in the second half to throw a touchdown pass in the loss. “We have to have a big (game) on Saturday because of how they did us last year.”