Gators looking to get past Georgia road block
A loss, a long layoff and a brawl.
This is what seems to have brought the Florida Gators together and is now bringing out the best in them. Proof is last week’s performance against Missouri, starting late in the first half and carrying over for the rest of the night in a 41-17 win.
The Gators put together their best and most complete performance of the season at a time when it seemed unlikely that it could happen. They were coming off a loss three weeks earlier and a COVID-19 outbreak that had postponed games against LSU and Missouri. And, more players were missing Saturday night, including three starters in the secondary.
And, yet, the Gators pretty much put it all together.
“I was pleased,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “We were still down a whole bunch of starters and a lot of guys missed practice during the week. During the season, we’ve played good at times, then kind of trickled off in the second half.
“We came out and played with a lot of intensity in the second half and got better as the game went on. That’s the first time that’s happened all year. I hope we continue doing that.”
The Gators clearly have momentum. And the timing couldn’t be better, with UF facing No. 5 Georgia in Jacksonville on Saturday in an SEC East showdown that likely will go a long way toward deciding who wins the division and advances to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
And much of that momentum can be traced back to perhaps the ugliest moment for the Gators over the past month — the brawl at the end of the first half last Saturday night that led to Mullen being fined $25,000 and reprimanded by the SEC and two players (defensive ends Zachary Carter and Antwuan Powell) getting ejected from the game and now suspended for the first half of this game.
That brawl did not play out well across the country, and has drawn national criticism of Mullen. But it also seems to have united this team, lit a fire under it.
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” senior wide receiver Trevon Grimes said. “I think all of the players saw that everyone has each other’s back. When it comes to our quarterback, nobody needs to touch him. That was just something that I feel like the quarterback knew that we always have his back and everybody has each other’s back. That did light a flame for everybody. We know that if one man goes down we’re all going to go down. I think that is going to carry over and we will have a fire this week.
“We need everything we can get. We’re very excited. We’re very hyped to go out there and show the world that we are the best team in the country and we’re looking forward to showing everybody what we can do this Saturday.”
Florida-Georgia is a big game. It always is. But this one is bigger than most for a Florida team that has been talking about possibly being a championship team and College Football Playoff contender since the end of last season.
To have a chance to become a championship team, the Gators have to get past the Bulldogs, who are riding a three-game winning streak in the rivalry.
“We want to be a championship football team and whoever wins this game is going to have the inside track towards being there,” Mullen said. “And that's what you're competing for in this game, that opportunity to put yourself in the driver's seat to go out and win a championship. Those are the opportunities you want to be in, competing for championships as the season goes on."
The Gators aren’t going to be a championship team if they lose Saturday. They are well aware of that.
“We all know to become a champion we have to go beat Georgia," Grimes said. "I feel like this step, this is one of the steps we need to conquer to keep our hopes alive for a championship. And we’re going to do that. We’re going to do whatever it takes. This Saturday, we’re going to get through them and go on.”
Who: No. 8 Florida (3-1) vs. No. 5 Georgia (4-1)
When: 3:30 p.m.
Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850