With a five-game winning streak that vaulted Florida back into the realm of the relevant — and into the top 10 — in college football, the Gators appeared so close to becoming championship contenders just a few weeks ago.
Now, it feels like they are miles and miles away again — right where many thought they were before the start of the season.
That’s what a blowout loss at home to an unranked opponent can do.
“Harsh reality for us as a team,” UF coach Dan Mullen said.
On a perfect fall afternoon in The Swamp, the No. 11 (CFP) Gators turned in a perfectly ugly performance on all fronts Saturday in a humbling 38-17 Homecoming loss to Missouri, a team that had been winless in the SEC this season.
So, the Gators (6-3, 4-3 SEC) are no longer going to be considered contenders. They may, however, be viewed as close to being a mess.
Not only did the Gators lose big, there’s now a quarterback controversy to deal with, perhaps for the rest of 2018, perhaps for only just a few days this week in practice.
Struggling starter Feleipe Franks was benched in the third quarter and replaced with sophomore Kyle Trask. Trask lit a momentary spark, leading the Gators on a TD drive late in the third quarter, but his momentum quickly stalled out just like everybody else’s in orange and blue Saturday.
Mullen said he will decide during practice this week who will start against South Carolina on Saturday.
“We’ll see,” Mullen said. “We’ll see how they perform this week. If there’s a drastic change, we’ll make a change. If not, we’ll play with who is going to give us the best chance to win.”
Other than when he led the Gators on a touchdown drive late in the first half that put the Gators back in the game at 21-10, Franks was ineffective the rest of the time he was on the field.
He completed only nine of 22 passes for just 84 yards and had problems converting third downs.
After two consecutive three-and-outs, followed by Missouri touchdowns after each one, to start the second half, Mullen made the decision to sit Franks and go with Trask, a move that sparked the offense — and the crowd — but only momentarily.
“We weren’t moving the ball very well,” Mullen said. “We were behind and I wanted to try and do something different. What we were doing wasn’t working.
“We wanted to see if something else would create a spark.”
Trask did create a spark, throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Josh Hammond on a fourth-down play late in the third quarter to make it a 35-17 game. But the spark went out after that.
Trask finished with 10 completions in 18 attempts for 125 yards and the touchdown.
Mullen said he gave Trask an opportunity to play because he had a good week in practice.
“We didn’t pull (Franks) because he was terrible,” Mullen said. “We pulled him because the offense wasn’t moving. We wanted to see if somebody else could get us going.”
Franks wasn’t the only one on offense — or defense and special teams, for that matter — that had a bad day.
There were struggles everywhere you turned.
The Gators produced only 323 yards of total offense and converted just three of 15 third-down plays, while the defense had no answer for quarterback Drew Lock and the potent Missouri offense.
Lock threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns and basically wasn’t touched in the pocket. And the Tigers converted 11 of 18 third-down plays to stay on the field.
UF also lost the special teams battle.
“We didn’t play very well at all with attention to detail, our sense of urgency, our execution,” Mullen said. “That’s all on coaches. We’ve got to do a better job in all three phases.
“Situational football, we were horrific on third down on both sides of the ball. Big special teams penalties. No game-changing special teams plays. Negative special teams plays most of the day.”
A program that was trending up heading into the Georgia game a week ago, now has the arrow pointing sideways at best.
Many will view this as a setback in Mullen’s rebuilding process. And a reality check for everyone in the program.
“Yeah, it was a reality check for a lot of us,” junior running back Jordan Scarlett said. “Lot of guys thought they were better than what they were and we’ve just got to come back and work harder. Everyone needs to hold each other accountable and we need to play better, practice better.”
Mullen said there’s still a lot to play for this season and he’s looking for players who feel the same way and are ready to compete harder than ever.
“We get a great chance to see where we’re at as a program,” he said. “They keep score. Someone wins and someone loses.
“I don’t care what we’re doing. You want to thumb wrestle me right now? I’m going to kick your ass. You want to run stadiums? I’ll kick your ass. You’re going to keep score and someone is going to win and someone is going to lose.
“I want to beat your ass. If you don’t have that attitude in the locker room, you’ve got a problem.”
Who: South Carolina (5-3, 4-3 SEC) vs. Florida (6-3, 4-3)
When: TBA, Saturday
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850