It’s no secret the Gators hung their heads after last season’s 42-7 loss to Georgia.
The program’s head coach at the time, Jim McElwain, was a dead man walking, his fate sealed regardless of the outcome. As such, the players themselves didn’t care about the outcomes throughout the month of November, dropping three of the final four contests to finish the 2017 campaign with a 4-7 mark.
Now, having been eliminated from contention in the SEC following Dan Mullen’s first showdown with the Dawgs, the Gators could be forgiven for focusing on the future development of the program instead of competing in the immediate future.
But Florida’s prompt response following the 19-point defeat to Georgia was one of optimism as the Gators turned their attention to finishing on a high note. The message was simple: there are still numerous variables to play for — double-digit wins and a favorable bowl selection remain in the cards — and giving up on the 2018 campaign with four weeks remaining would be ill-advised.
“The way we handle this loss is going to determine the rest of the season,” defensive tackle Kyree Campbell said prior to Monday evening’s practice session. “So, everybody is expected to come out today and have one of the best practices of the season.”
It’s clear the Gators have a more sound mental resolve, and those inside the locker room have noticed the difference in approach. Asked Monday to reminisce on the offseason overhaul led by Mullen and his coaching staff, the Gators credited the attention to discipline instilled away from the field.
“Just the offseason workouts and conditioning, the whole program, I think that’s helped prepare us for moments like this,” wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “When adversity hits us, we got to continue to persevere and continue to grow, and move forward.”
Asked if the lack of discipline was apparent late in McElwain’s tenure, Campbell didn’t hesitate to point out the difference Mullen’s presence has made.
In hindsight, one of the most strenuous aspects of the team’s conditioning — running up the steps of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium holding a rope — helped prepare the Gators when it came to responding after a hardship.
“I think Coach Mullen and his staff have brought a lot of discipline to this program. Just their whole side of the Gator standard has changed the whole program around, what it is or what it means to be a Gator and everything around it,” Campbell said. “So the stadiums actually help in a way.”
It’s one thing to say it and another to do it, and the Gators will have to let their actions do the talking against the Tigers. When it comes to preparing for bouncing back — and getting revenge from last season’s embarrassment in Columbia, Missouri — the Gators have to practice what they preach.
“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 have to handle this adversity,” Mullen said. “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.”