The Florida Gators finished 2015 with a 10-4 record and a berth in the SEC championship game for the first time since 2009, but that won’t be how most people remember the season.
Most people around the Gators’ football program will remember how the season finished with a three game losing streak, then getting blown out by Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.
That thought is something head coach Jim McElwain shares, at media days on Monday he reflected on last season.
“[The team] really took pride in giving themselves an opportunity to get to Atlanta, and I was really excited for not only our players, but our organization, just to be able to experience that event,” McElwain said. “Because that is one of the greatest events there is, and it was a lot of fun. And yet very disappointed in how we finished. Not something that we’re proud of, and not something that, you know, I take very lightly.”
The biggest question for McElwain and the three players at media days was what happened to make things change? That question has a pretty easy answer, because of the suspension of starting quarterback Will Grier prior to the LSU game.
While players and coaches didn’t use Grier’s suspension as an excuse last year, linebacker Jarrad Davis says things were different after the news of suspension was out.
“When he [Grier] left, it was kind of different and it really was a different atmosphere around the team,” Davis said. ““We kind of took the news with Grier tough, we were definitely surprised. Going into the season you definitely don’t expect anything like that to happen.”
Davis is on the defensive side of the ball, so he didn’t get to see how things changed in the offensive meeting rooms, but offensive lineman David Sharpe did.
Sharpe, who says he felt like Grier let the team down a little bit, says that the second half of the season changed because of the suspension.
“It was a different feeling for sure,” Sharpe said. “Willy was our dude and we didn’t expect it at all. We were very disappointed about it and everyone was down about it for a while. I feel like the second part of the season was affected by that.”
The Grier news was definitely something that affected things on the field and off the field, but it seemed like things got worse after the heartbreaking loss in Atlanta.
When the team arrived in Orlando for the bowl game, there didn’t seem to be a ton of an excitement, which in large part was due to the difficult finish to the season. Davis and safety Marcus Maye believe that while they wanted to win in Orlando, the mindset wasn’t right.
“The bowl game was just a different kind of focus at that point,” Davis said. “ We really wanted to win because you never want to go out in a football game and lose but everything just felt different at that time. It was really weird.”
Maye, who called some of the issues a lack of focus, says that the team learned from the mistake and has moved on this offseason.
Moving on is something the team must do, but last season can also serve as motivation not to let it happen again.
David Sharpe says that last season is something they hear about often in offseason workouts and he’s truly using it as a motivation tool.
“The second half is definitely motivation for us this offseason. We needed to finish out the season better last year but we couldn’t. We were very disappointed but we use it as motivation this offseason. I feel like it was more motivation for us.”
Motivation and a learning tool are both things that McElwain and his staff are hoping his players learned from last year.
“It was an opportunity for us to kind of learn. And really, as you go through life, the piece of learning is what it’s all about,” McElwain said on Monday. And learning from that, it will be interesting to see how this year’s team responds. This should be a lot of fun. Really looking forward to it. Looking forward to see what this team’s all about.”