Another gut-check Gator game

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Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks and teammates before the game against LSU. The Gators beat the Tigers 27-19 on Oct. 6 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Cyndi Chambers/Gainesville Sun Correspondent]

There were a few moments Saturday when you could mentally pencil the Florida-Missouri game into the CBS 3:30 p.m. slot this week. Florida had just taken the lead on Georgia and Mizzou was handling Kentucky.

Alas, things did not go well from that point on and here we are, stuck in the dreaded slot a half hour later.

As a result, Florida will be playing a game without hype, without fanfare and without a whole lot of viewers. The noon time slot may be less appealing to fans and hungover media, but it draws more eyeballs.

The 4 p.m. game? Really, other than fans of both teams and degenerate gamblers, who is going to watch? All SEC eyes will be on Lexington, Kentucky and a lot of national viewers will bounce around between West Virginia at Texas and Penn State at Michigan. The Florida game will be in the corner at most sports bars on the TV you have to crane your neck to see and constantly move out of the way to let a waitress get to the bar.

That’s the national atmosphere of this game. What the in-stadium atmosphere is like depends on how amped up the Gator Nation gets for only the second home game in 49 days.

You could tell early this week when Dan Mullen spoke to the media that he is concerned about the bounce-back factor. Last week was SEC Nation and GameDay and the World’s Largest Outdoor Keg Party.

This week is different.

But in a way, it’s typical of this season for these Gators.

Because it’s another gut-check.

It feels like most of this season has been one after another.

How would this team respond in Week 2 against a really good Kentucky team? Was it ready? After that game, we questioned the toughness of Florida’s players.

Then it was on to a team that already had a win over an SEC team. Florida responded to handle Colorado State.

Next up, the first road game with this group of players and coaches in front of a hostile crowd. That gut was checked early in Knoxville.

Could the Gators be tough enough the following week to win in Cowbell Country? Check. Big game the following week and Florida responded with flying colors against LSU, the signature win of this season.

And then down 21-3 on the road, the toughest of all gut-checks.

And we know how big it was last week.

This week is not anywhere near as big. But it’s still really important, even if it feels kind of like playing the triangle in the symphony of the big brass band that is Saturday’s ginormous games.

Those two biggest games will decide in a CBS doubleheader Saturday which two teams will be in Atlanta. Florida is playing for pride, bowl position and the chance to still have a really nice season. The chance to have a great season has passed.

That’s the ultimate gut-check, how do you play when your dreams have been dashed?

I take you back to the preseason, when we didn’t know what to expect from this team. Would you have taken 6-2? After Kentucky, would you have been thrilled with only one loss in the next six games?

In a way, Florida has still overachieved, especially with the injuries that have weakened a once-sturdy secondary.

But nobody is happy after a loss to a rival. Nobody should be.

Still, it’s a long season even when it flies by you like a vacation family on its way home on I-75.

What happened in Jacksonville is history. What happens Saturday is the only thing that matters now.

There are a lot of bigger games in college football, especially now that the first College Football Playoff rankings are out.

But there is only one big game in Gainesville.

Missouri has yet to win a game in conference play, but nobody is taking it for granted, not only because of the way the Tigers put a beatdown on the Gators last year, but because Florida is a flawed team with problems that haven’t gone away.

And it’s college football, where there are few guarantees.

The one thing that Florida fans have been able to count on is that their team will play hard. What they can’t be sure about is that their team will play efficiently.

That’s what makes them nervous about facing a team that is 0-4 in SEC play. They should be.

Nervous energy is part of every gut-check. On Saturday, we find out about the energy this team still has in reserve. We find out if the fan base can be a boost these Gators need to get a much-needed win.

It’s still a big game, no matter how many people watch or how much it is talked about by the talking heads.

Florida needs a win for a lot of reasons. Because while this can no longer be a great season, it can still be really good.

Starting Saturday.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

56 COMMENTS

  1. Pat: You summed it up well. Pretty simple. You were properly yawing as you typed. As Gator fans watch (me on big beautiful 65″ curve HD, when is 4K coming to all viewing), it will be about turnovers. If Franks hangs on and doesn’t under/over throw receivers, then we have a tidy, fairly easy win. 10-2 and an Orlando Bowl would be nice, the Peach Bowl would be great. Lets see?

    • DeWayne. If (more like, when) Georgia beats Kentucky and the Gators go 10 and 2, the Gators will most likely be in Atlanta, not Orlando, and play against either Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State. If Kentucky upsets Georgia, the Gators will likely either be in Orlando with the 10 and 2 against a Penn State or Northwestern. Either way, a GREAT season. Not FANTASTIC OR UNBELIEVABLE. But definitely GREAT (sorry Pat).

      • I’m a little late to this thread, but after reading the article that is the first thing that popped out to me….. Pat, I’ve have to disagree also in that IF the Gators go 10-2, after going 4-7 and being a laughingstock of college football last year and considering (sorry for the run on sentence) most of our pre-season expectations…I call that a GREAT season. In August, if you said your expectation was to play in the college football playoff or even the SEC championship game, you would’ve been sent for an immediate drug test. This team and program has taken so many positive strides forward that it is unrecognizable to last year. This has been and will end up being a GREAT year.

        But what that means is next year, the GREAT bar has been raised 🙂

        • While there’s still some air left in the room, I’ll come out of hull defilade and comment……you are exactly right, Rog, if we finish at or even close to our expectations, the GREAT bar will be raised. But by then — again if we are at expectation — we will have one GREAT recruiting season behind us too, a full year for our remaining players under the system, a full year of the S&C program, and should have a truly GREAT season in 2019.

          I think it all comes together in the 2020 season. Now, Mveal thinks we’ll take a slight step back then, which I suppose is always a possibility, but even if we do, don’t you think we’ll see an SEC and possible NC by CDM’s 4th year? (that’s an opinion harvest 😃 — to be distinguished from a call for fires)

  2. Huh. Am I missing something? The Gators – my beloved Gators – are playing on Saturday. And it’s a SEC game. You better believe I’m excited! It’s a big game. This is college football. It’s the best regular season in any sport! Every game is a big game! Also, it’s clear – warts and all – that the Gators are better than last year. They’re already bowl eligible. Ok, it feels kind of lame to even say that. How very Vandy fan of me. But c’mon – they’re better. They’re playing with house money. And they have a few more beautiful Saturdays left to get better each week and build towards an epic beat-down of Florida St. Go Gators!

    • That’s the way most of us feel too, Mark — despite reports to the contrary. Not that we’re not interested in the other “more interesting” or “more important” games……sure we are! We’re college football fans and SEC fans, aren’t we? But when the Gators are playing? Hold that train, because nothing — and I mean nothing — is more important.

    • “They’re already bowl eligible…”

      In the words of Lee Corso, whose endorsement is even deadlier than is Dooley’s, “Not so fast my friend!” I believe onse needs victories over six FBS teams to attain bowl eligibility. Charleston Southern is an FCS team, leaving the Gators still in need of a sixth win over FBS competition.

  3. I have to disagree with the pretty nice season comment. If they win out the regular season, that would be a +2/3 win margin by pretty much every preseason belief. A 10-2, 6-2 regular season would be a great season this year, no matter what bowl they get placed into. Anything more would’ve been an amazing first season. Don’t sell what this team has done this year in growth and change of culture short.

    • Corey. Pat has been negative about this all year (his negative view of Mullen, I believe). 10 and 2 would definitely be a GREAT season. Not a miracle season. But certainly a GREAT one. Let’s hope the Gator players want to be GREAT in this game and the rest of this season.

      • I don’t know Tampa, I think after the absolute disaster of last season and the dumpster fire program this was when Mullen took over, a 10 win season would be borderline miraculous. Going from 4-7 to 10-2 would be up there with some of the biggest 1 year turnarounds in college football history. I know there’s been some bigger 8 to 10 game improvements, but I’m pretty sure not many of those were done by coaches in their first year.

    • Are you kidding me??!! 4:00 is light years preferred to noon. Who owns a home that can afford to blow an entire Saturday? I have to record noon games, then I cannot have my phone with me as everyone texts me, and I have to avoid watching the TV or other games until I play my Gator game. Complicating this further, my wife is a UCF grad, and she wants to watch her game, but there is no way to tell the sports networks to quit scrolling scores.

      4:00 PM is a beautiful thing, and this is an SEC game, I do not care if there is no national fervor, me and my Gator grad friends do not care, we are all excited by a 4 game, and even better, a 7ish night game!!

      Geesh I hope we can pull this game off. Anyone that thinks this is a gimme isn’t paying attention.

      • “…I have to avoid watching the TV or other games until I play my Gator game…”

        No, you don’t; train your eyes not to look at the crawler, and be ready to mute and avert your eyes whenever the game broadcasters announce, “And now, let’s go to ____________________ back in the studio…”

        I routinely record and watch as many as five games on Saturdays and I am hardly ever surprised with results I don’t wish to know.

  4. Since Missouri joined the SEC Florida is 3-3 against them. That shows the level that Florida’s program has been brought down to. Florida should dominate Missouri. The game this weekend should be an afterthought. Our average score over a team like this should be 30-10. And I think that’s possible this week. If Dan Mullen just abandons the passing game, save for screen passes, and runs the ball on every other play, Florida should be able to put between 25-30 on the board, and our defense hold Mizzou to 10-13 points. It should all be over with around 10 minutes to play in the game. This is not a gut-check game, this is a nuisance game caused by the SEC allowing in a team that shouldn’t be in the SEC.
    This season has a chance to be a really good season to build on. Winning out and being 10-2 puts Florida in a really good New Year’s Day Bowl Game. That’s something I know I didn’t see coming, and I challenge other Gator fans to tell the truth about what they saw coming this year. The consensus was 8 wins. That’s the Music City Bowl. This year will have no championships, but it will have an excellent opportunity to destroy our in state rival the semi-holes. Winning that game makes every season special.

    • Must concur with just about everything you said, Grump. And I was one of those guys who said 8-4 would set the right tone and attitude going forward from Mullen’s first year. So far we have lost one we should have won, and one that was up for grabs. We should win this one hands down. Why then, do I not feel good about this game? I can’t explain it and hope to hell I’m wrong.

    • Grump E. , agree with most of what you have posted here. Only concern is will this defense be able to hold the Mizou offense to 10-13 points, what with our depleted secondary. However, assuming that Stewart is allowed to play and Henderson has no ill effects from his injury last week, the defense will no doubt be more stout than last week. Their QB Lock is a likely 1st round NFL pick who has had success against the Gators the last couple years, so he’ll be confident, which is probably why Gator-6 and others, including me, feel a bit antsy about this game. But last week, Kentucky held the Mizou offense without a single first down the entire second half ( they were 3 and out on every possession!), so it should be possible to accomplish the 10-13 point goal you have put out there. If so, we should get the W. Now, if the Gators have another -3 turnover margin, well……….

    • I disagree with the Grumpster. Mizzou should never be an afterthought. They’ve had some stellar D lines since joining the SEC (and before), and their offenses have been better than many, esp. with Lock. That said, I think the Gators should win, and a good win it will be.

    • Grump…I hope you’re riight. Mizzou put up 29 pts against the Dawgs. Bama held them to 10 pts. I think the Gators have a better D than UGA, when t
      UF’s dbs are healthy, but Bama’s D appears to be tops in the SEC (won’t know until they play better competition). If Kentucky could hold the Tigers to 14 pts, hopefully you’re right and the Gators can do better than the Dawgs did and even match what the Tide did against Lock. I have to admit Mizzou’s passing game makes me nervous though.

      • What stat or what outcome, other than the one bad game Georgia played against LSU, justifies Florida having a better defense than Georgia? And Missouri put most of those 29 points on Georgia’s third string long after the game was over. And Bama has pounded every single team they have played. Not a single game they have played and won has even been close or even a competitive game, including very easy wins over two top 25 teams (Texas A&M and Mississippi State). But you are correct. The Missouri passing game makes one nervous, and especially with their preseason all-SEC receiver finally returning for this game.

        • Tampa…After the 3rd qrtr, the score was 33-22 (not a large lead). Mizzou only scored 7 pts in the 4th qrtr. Did not score “most of those 29 pts against the third string after the game was over”. Maybe you are remembering anothet game?
          My opinion that UF’s D (when the DBs are healthy) is better than UGA’s D will be tested Saturday. I’ll take our D line and lbs to stop the run over the Dawgs line and lbs. When healthy, a like our DBs better too. Most importantly, I like our coaching and style of play better. But I’m no coach or expert. And I admit I’m biased too.

          • I watched the replay of the game. Georgia had very few starters playing on defense after the 2nd quarter. The final score does not reflect the game dominance by the Georgia starters. Georgia played with the Tigers and rested a bunch of players.

      • Gotta tell ya Prairie, not sure about your statement that our D is better than UGly’s D.
        It’s possible Franks made them look better than they are, but they came up with the takeaways, they came up with stops and forced us to punt or kick FGs.

        • I’d have to agree with Prairie. Obviously their defense was better in that particular game, since pretty much the entire secondary was out, but with Henderson and Stewart in, I think the defense is better. Yeah they had 3 turnovers, but one of those was Franks throwing it right to them as if it was his WR. They may be ranked a little higher in most statistical categories, but that gets overly inflated by the competition faced. The Gators have played a far more difficult schedule and lead the nation in fumble recoveries and have almost triple the amount of sacks. Had the Gators played their schedule, I believe they’d be ranked higher in every defensive category. That loss didn’t change my belief that UGA isn’t overranked, it actually furthered my belief. If they play the same against UK and UK stays healthy and protects the ball and plays anywhere near the same that they did us, then I think they’ll win relatively easily. Bama is going to absolutely curb stomp them.

  5. When Coach Spurrier left Florida, one of his famous quotes (at least for me) was something like, “10 win seasons aren’t good enough for Florida fans anymore” after losing to U.T (in the make up game from 9-11-’01 week) at the end of the year for all the East marbles. Every Florida fan should be elated for a ”10 win season.” And that should be this team’s goal, win out! It NEVER happened, period, until Coach Spurrier got to Florida as Head Coach. Now it’s only a ”great year” when Florida goes to Atlanta? Well, not for me!
    Coach Spurrier, thankfully, humbled me up 17 years ago. It would an amazing year for Mullen’s 1st year as Head Coach with 10 wins for this team. Go Gators! Beat Mizzou!

  6. Hello fellow Gator fans. Ya boy is back after visiting family members and friends in the Lynn Haven/Panama City and surrounding area. It’s a mess down there, y’all. If you can get there-go there. They need all the encouragement we can offer. Spirits are good and they still love and support the Gators. Now-this game scares me because Mizzou has nothing to lose. Lock will come out slinging the ball all around and the tiger team will play this game like a Super Bowl. I fear that Franks will make a couple of bonehead throws, fumble away another by not securing the ball and make a couple too many bad decisions. Gators still find a way to pull this one out and win but it will be tough. I for one will channel surf between the cbs game but this one has my attention. I hope it’ll be a nice precursor to Bama destroying lsu and shut their fans up once and for all. Crying over one player not playing the first half. Won’t matter ’cause by then Bama will be up 28-zip and cruise to victory. GEAUXX GATORS!!!

  7. Pat, a 10 and 2 (what is what the Gators are playing for and what Gator Nation is pulling for) season record and a trip to Atlanta to play in the New Year’s Day Chick Fil A Bowl would be a GREAT season after a disaster of a 4 and 7 season record last year. An 11 and 1 record and a trip to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship game would have been an UNBELIEVABLE season; and beyond almost any person’s realm of expectation for this year’s Florida Gators team. And I do believe that 100 percent of Gator Nation will either be in The Swamp, sitting sometimes in the recliners, or in bars yelling their lungs out for our Gators to romp over Missouri, which will not be an easy accomplishment. Personally, I have a very bad feeling about this game. The key will be just how physical the Gators play and dominate the lines of scrimmage, as well as how well they execute on defense on third downs (and limit explosive pass plays). If they do not do those things well in this game, the Missouri offense will roll and the Gators offense will be hard pressed to keep up. Win this game, and I do think the Gators go 10 and 2 this season. Lose, and the Gators could go to 8 and 4 or worse. Fingers crossed for the win over Missouri, but with a lot of concern about how this team will respond and play Saturday.

    • And Pat, mostly just Georgia and Kentucky fans will be watching CBS at 3:30. I know I will be pulling for a Kentucky upset, but I will not be watching that game. And mostly Florida and Missouri fans will be watching ESPN at 4:00. I will be in The Swamp watching the scoreboard between plays. And fans of all other teams will be tuning into their teams games on whatever channel. But most college football fans will be watching Bama vs. LSU at 8pm. Not sure why you wanted to publish such a DOWNER of an article right before the game. And no doubt you will be picking Missouri on Friday. Shocking if you do not.

      • I’m not sure why you describe this article as a downer, TampaGator, since he does say that 10-2 would be a very good season and is within reach. On the other hand, I agree that, given the overall context, 10-2 would be a great season for the Gators. Pat seems to be using a standard that Bama fans would use, which is perhaps justifiable with their recent history. But judging the Gators by that same standard is a bit odd, though we certainly hope that the time comes when it is justified to do so.

  8. we aren’t 10 and 2 yet. there is a leadership issue at the defensive backfield. obviously mr stewart is exhibit 1a. and we have to play an nfl first rounder at qb. kentucky stopped them because they could see we had given them a reason to play georgia. now we play missouri who will be more motivated than we are. i don’t like this dynamic at all. hope im wrong.

  9. mveal. Why would Missouri be “more motivated” than Florida? And Kentucky “stopped” Missouri because a ref (from the other side of the field) called interference when there was none on the Missouri DB. But there clearly was offensive pass interference on the play. But Missouri is a decent team with an excellent QB. The Gators must play very well at home to win for sure.

  10. Really, Pat? Texas-WVU? Penn St.-Michigan? Really?? Who are you talking to when you imply these games are more watch-worthy than UF-MO.? Certainly not the
    Gator fans who make up the vast bulk of your readership! Get more rest, Pat and give us stuff worth reading.

    Please.

    And, BTW, even an 8-win season, along with all the other obvious improvements we’ve seen in the program this year, would be great by our recent standards!

  11. For this team (and almost every one) every game is a big game. If we are playing someone who we are superior to it is big for those that usually don’t get to play, otherwise big for the starters and those that will play. Every game is big for real fans, except when our team is poor and has no chance to play well. Pat told me he is not a Gator fan, so what he writes means almost nothing to me.

    • VA I hope that is not true that a staff writer for the home town paper is not even a fan of the team he covers. that would explain the tenor of the articles though. I am not saying the writers should be homers but should at least support the home team.

  12. Gators 34 Missouri 19 Look for Emory Jones to play 10 to 12 snaps. Look for Perine to have a big game 130 rushing yards. Lucas Krull has a break out game at Tight end. Mullen runs out of the tunnel with a Real live Alligator leading the way. To motivate the team and get them prepared to play with Relentless effort Saturday afternoon at 4pm.

  13. I hate Noon games. I wish all Gator games were 4:00 PM or 7:00 PM games. The last noon game I went to at the swamp felt just like that, a swamp. It was 90+ degrees and with all the other fans sitting in the sun it felt like 100+ degrees. Also, you have to leave home by like 8:00 AM to make it to a noon game on time. Later games give more fans ample time to enjoy the Gator atmosphere prior to kick off. Please, people don’t count on any wins before they happen. Missouri, South Carolina and even Florida St. are not a given. I hope we sell out the swamp this weekend, our defense dominates and Franks doesn’t fumble anymore balls (on the flipping one yard line). Go Gators!!!

  14. Until the Gators find a nQB who can be a strong team leader and not come apart after a sack or interception the Gators are in for a Long 3-4 weeks! Franks is not the QB who is going to lead the swamp back to its glory days! Mullen is going to have his work cut out for him recruiting the people he needs to get it done on Offense and give the Gators more depth in our Defensive backfield!