Columbia, S.C. — A sweaty and bloody Will Muschamp walked into a small cement room in the bowels of Williams-Brice Stadium. He wasn’t the same Muschamp that looked like the weight of a then 4-5 season and a homecoming loss to Vanderbilt was sitting on his chest, but a coach who was proud.
The Gators dropped their fifth straight contest on Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium, 19-14. Florida entered the game a two-touchdown dog but played a tough, inspired brand of football that hadn’t been seen in recent losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt.
Human nature tells us to take the easy route when it’s available. It would have been easy for the team to roll over after losing to Vanderbilt last week but that isn’t the option that Will Muschamp or his football team took this week against South Carolina.
“Extremely proud of the players who continue to fight in the game,” Muschamp said. “There’s a lot of negativity out there, and these guys pulled together and showed you something.”
The negativity that has surrounded the team amidst their five-game losing streak has been building in size and in vitriol. The attitude towards the team has turned from frustrated to angry and the anger is palpable. The coaching staff hears it and the players hear it as well.
“You can say what you want to say and write whatever the hell you want to write, but it’s real. It’s frustrating,” Muschamp said. “It’s frustrating for that locker room. To hell with me, I worry about the kids. These kids fought their butts off.”
“There’s a lot of negativity out there, and some of our fans need to get a grip. They really do. We have a bunch of kids in that locker room fighting their butts off. You can criticize me all you want. I’m great with that. They pay me enough money to deal with it, but those kids don’t. They really don’t.”
Injuries have impacted the Gators more than any team in he country. Florida entered this game against South Carolina playing with their third string quarterback, missing two starting left tackles and a handful of other starters as well. Marcus Roberson was suspended for the game but had an ankle injury that Muschamp said was severe enough that he might not have been able to play even before the suspension. This is a shell of the Florida team that we thought they would bring to Columbia when the season began.
Injuries led Skyler Mornhinweg, a redshirt freshman with no game experience, to see his first collegiate action in front of a season-high 83,853 hostile South Carolina fans. It’s not exactly how you want to start your career.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease put together a game plan to protect the first time starter, running the ball 41 times to just 14 pass attempts. It was a game plan made for success at least when the Gators scored on back-to-back drives for the first time since the Arkansas game. And Florida scored a touchdown on the opening drive for the first time since the season opener against Toledo.
The early lead allowed Florida to lean on Kelvin Taylor, who played the best game of his career with 21 carries for 96 yards and two scores. The running game was so successful in the first half that the Gators needed only two pass attempts in the first 30 minutes. They were on track for the fewest number of pass attempts in a single game in school history after a half of football.
Credit Muschamp and Pease for coming into the game with a solid game plan and credit the players for executing it.
Florida fell short this week but this loss doesn’t feel like the previous losses in the streak. The Gators came out with a fire underneath them and with a renewed passion. A sense of direction.
Last week Jeremy Foley publically supported his head coach in a release on the university’s website. He said that the administration had full confidence that Muschamp was the man to lead the football program and that he would turn this team around.
Muschamp heard that message loud and clear and it looks like his team heard it too.
“Thank goodness I have two guys that see the big picture and understand where we’re headed with the program, where we were, in a two-year period what we’ve accomplished and understand the circumstances we’re in right now,” Muschamp said. “And more than anything, where we’re headed. They’re in the day-to-day operation, so it’s very rewarding to have a strong athletic director and a strong president that’s willing to stand up and fight for what’s right. And I appreciate that very much.”
Fans should appreciate the team for what they are. Yes, the loss today moves Florida to 4-6 and all but guarantees that the Gators will end the 2013 season with a losing record and no bowl game but the team hasn’t given up on the season and the fans shouldn’t give up on them.
All I can say is we played our hearts out. We left everything out there on the field. I hope Gator nation saw that as well.
— Kyle Koehne (@KingKone64) November 17, 2013