HOOVER, Ala. — Confetti fell from the rafters of the Georgia Dome and the Florida Gators were relegated to handing out congratulatory hugs to friends wearing crimson. A 41-7 Citrus Bowl drubbing at the hands of the Jim Harbaugh led Michigan Wolverines compounded the loss to Alabama in Atlanta.
Florida stated the season with six consecutive wins. The Jim McElwain era hit the ground running and the first year head coach had his team ranked inside the top-10. Florida stumbled to a 4-4 record, including three consecutive losses, getting outscored 97-24, to end the season. The late season stutter step almost wiped the first six weeks clean, leaving a putrid stench over the entire year.
How did it happen?
Losing starting quarterback Will Grier certainly played a large role in it, but Grier didn’t play defense the first six weeks. Florida gave up more points in the last three games (97) than they did in the first six contests (86). So, what happened?
“Confidence can be something to push you or something to make you relax,” senior linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “Whenever we’re working, or supposed to be working, we might be so confident in what we did last week or the week’s prior back to back to back that we don’t really need to push ourselves like that and think we don’t need to really come out and show out to beat this team. That’s why we showed up the way we did at the end of the season last year. We didn’t take care of ourselves. We didn’t become the best Florida that Florida could be.”
In McElwain’s own words, the Gators got their bellies rubbed. They started listening to the praise that came from the outside and they ate it up. Rather than using it to fuel workouts and practice, they relaxed. Florida State, Alabama and Michigan showed them what happens when you come to the football field relaxed and it’s a feeling McElwain won’t let his team forget.
“[We] Won a few more games than maybe some people had to learn a hard lesson you can’t ever be satisfied,” said McElwain.
That message isn’t lost on the players either. A simple question on any of the final three games from 2015 sends Jarrad Davis into a frustrated rant. Marcus Maye and David Sharpe think long and` hard, but don’t have real answers other than the satisfaction of winning curbed the appetite to put in the work that led to the success. This is, after all, a group that hadn’t done much winning the previous two seasons.
“Losing the last few games are a constant reminder for the offseason of what we need to do, what we need to accomplish and where we need to go as a unit,” Davis said. “It shows our true colors from last year and how we react to a situation.”
Florida isn’t into gimmicks. They don’t have the scores from the games or the stats pasted in the locker room. They don’t need the visual reminders of the late season sinkhole that engulfed the team. The memories are still fresh. When the alarm clock wakes Davis up for a six AM lift, he’s thinking about another Michigan touchdown, or the confetti falling in the Georgia Dome.
There’s only one goal this season. Just as they did in 2015, Florida intends to play the last SEC conference game of the season. They don’t intend to have the same result.
“Go back to Atlanta and win,” Davis said. “Our goal as far as the SEC Championship is to not only get there but we want to win. It is a lot to say that you made it because not everyone does, but we want to say we won it and moved on. It is something that is on our mind constantly.”