Saturday night for the Florida Gators and the Kentucky Wildcats marked the end of a chapter for both teams. Each team came into Saturday hoping to close the first quarter of the season on a high note. For Kentucky, they were hoping to overcome the seemingly colossal mountain which beating Florida has become, and to turn into a player in the SEC East because of it. For Florida it was taking care of business and continuing to build momentum for their brutal upcoming schedule. The Gators enter the most difficult part of its schedule this week. This portion includes a rival game against Tennessee, looking to end their own losing streak against Florida. They will face three teams currently ranked in the top ten — Ole Miss, LSU and Georgia (in Jacksonville.) Mixed in the middle of the gauntlet is a road game against Top-25 ranked Missouri, where the Gators lost their last trip there by 19.
Entering the next five games, the margin for error is minimal. The offense still needs further time to develop the offensive line and completely settle the quarterback position. Until then, Florida will be depending on the defense to carry the day. One thing is for sure; the defense is more than capable, as they are definitely one of the best in the SEC and in the country. They will once again bear the burden of keeping Florida in games and give hope against tougher competition.
This stretch will be a definitive moment and give us a clearer understanding of where the program currently is, the pace and the direction it is heading in. It is still early in the season and not very much has surprised us concerning the team. Exiting spring and entering fall there were questions about the offensive line, and nothing has been answered there and you could argue even more uneasiness has occurred. Florida has struggled in the running game against teams they should be able to get push against and pass protection was iffy against Kentucky on Saturday. The uncertainty about the playmakers is still in question and according to McElwain, nothing has been decided at quarterback.
But, we knew this already.
What we didn’t know before the kickoff of the season was how this team will respond to challenges. When things get tough will they roll up or flourish? Can they escape the flames when the fire is kindled against them?
Tennessee, Ole Miss, Missouri, LSU and Georgia will certainly bring the heat, and the Gators will have to withstand it. I believe they have just enough talent to do so, but do they have the heart?
Joshua Dobbs, Robert Nkemdiche, Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb and others will challenge the Gators on the field. Florida will line up against some of the elite players not only in the SEC, but also in the country. The opposition will bring everything they have to the table, but the biggest challenge will be Florida overcoming the hurdle of reverting back to past thoughts and behaviors. Over the last two years the Gators continually buckled and fainted under the adversity. They did not have leadership on the sidelines to pull them through tough times and right the ship. Many will be looking at Jim McElwain to reverse the trend.
And that trend will probably lead to some overreaction following the Kentucky game. This week we can expect a few reactions to be comparisons to the Will Muschamp era, and that will be based upon the output on the offensive side of the ball. While that may look to be the case, I don’t think it is equal. Jim McElwain has a plan and philosophy that is clear and definable. That does not guarantee it will work in the long run or bring championships, there are too many factors that go into that, but through three games, we can see things that make sense in their overall blueprint to rebuild the Gators.
Each game during this part of the schedule will pen another word in the overall definition of the Florida Gators. There are sure to be successes as well as failures with a few surprises along the way. This Saturday Florida begins the next chapter and looks to take another step to redefining and rewriting the narrative that floats around every conversation outside of the organization.
Three games have not proven much. The true proving moment is upon them. The definition written will not be etched out by the final scores, but it will be the complete effort displayed on the field that begins to erase the past and put new ink down in the history of Florida football. Florida cannot talk their way to change, they cannot hope their way to success; this will only get done through clear and definable actions that produce results. This stretch of games is a phenomenal opportunity for Florida, which we all hope they take advantage of.
We may not know what the future holds for the program, but the next few weeks will be a continuation of the past or sure step to rewriting the current definition of the Florida Gators.