In a somber post-game locker room last Saturday, Florida coach Dan Mullen, seeing guys with bowed heads and blank stares, could sense some of his players were questioning whether there was anything left to play for this season.
So, he quickly addressed the situation, giving them the reason why they should and would carry on the fight.
Because they are competitors. And competitors like to compete in anything and everything they do. Winning means everything.
THEY DO NOT TOLERATE LOSING.
“If you don’t have that attitude in the locker room, you’ve got a problem,” Mullen said.
Well, apparently the Gators don’t have a problem, because the players seem to have embraced Mullen’s call to compete this week.
“I guess there was some stuff going around the locker room about guys not wanting to compete,” junior wide receiver Freddie Swain said. “But everybody just rose to the occasion. Coach talked about it one time, and that’s really all it took, one time.
“So, everybody’s coming and competing. Everybody’s just trying to get better and get healthy. We’re just competing.”
It’s become the theme of the week coming off the back-to-back one-sided losses to Georgia and Missouri.
The Gators no longer have a chance to play for a championship, their No. 1 goal at the start of the season, but they still have opportunities to compete, to win, to beat the opponent across from them, starting with South Carolina today.
They’ve decided on their path.
“Compete,” center Nick Buchanan said. “Simple as that.”
During their two-game losing streak, the Gators seemed to lose the competitive edge they had during a five-game winning streak that elevated the program into the top 10.
They’re trying to recapture it the same way they established it after the early loss to Kentucky. They’ve gone back to the practice field with the attitude that they’re going to compete on every rep and focus on being more physical.
“What we’ve got to do is figure out where we’re at and how to continue to move forward,” Mullen said. “Our competitive edge. The biggest thing is we’ve got to compete. We’ve got to come out desperate to compete on every play.
“Then the guys have also got to learn, ‘Hey, it’s not just, you know we have a noon kickoff this week. We’ll be ready at noon coach.’ We ain’t going to be ready at noon unless we compete every single snap in practice during the week. You can’t just turn it on and off.”
Actually, the Gators apparently do know how to turn it off. That’s what they appeared to do during their bye week. The edge they played with in previous games seemed to be missing following the week off.
UF looked like a different team, physically and emotionally, in the two losses.
“I feel as if in the past few weeks, we’ve gotten away from ourselves,” Buchanan said. “We’re back to competing every single rep. We didn’t get the outcome we wanted on Saturday, so we came together and said we wanted to compete because we’re competitors. We want to compete to win at all times.”
The quarterback apparently has bought in. Even before Kyle Trask injured his foot in practice Wednesday, effectively ending the competition for the starting role, Feleipe Franks was focusing and putting in the work.
He stayed after every practice, working on timing and making extra throws to the wide receivers.
“Feleipe has always been a hard worker,” Buchanan said. “Every day he comes out here, he’s out here competing, working to get better, trying to be his best. That’s just Feleipe.”
After Saturday’s loss, there were rumors on social media that Franks had an altercation in the locker room with some of his teammates. Mullen said as far as he knew, that did not happen.
Swain said the locker room is still good, this team is still very much together and ready to compete.
Swain was asked if locker room incidents are common this time of year.
“No, they shouldn’t be,” he said. “You should play games like it’s your last anyway, so I don’t think that should be common. It might be in some locker rooms, but not this one.”