With everything surrounding the Florida Gators football team it’s easy to overlook that there are still games to be played in 2017.
Mired in a five game losing streak with an interim head coach, a staff that may be starting to pack their bags and an ever-growing injury report the Gators are trying to remain focused on their opponent this week.
Even if the season hadn’t fallen apart it may be easy to overlook the UAB Blazers. This is a UAB program that has been outscored 90-3 in their last two meetings against Florida (2002, 2011).
It’s also a program in its first year back playing football after a two year hiatus. Shortly after the Blazers attained bowl eligibility in 2014, the first time the program had done so in a decade, University president Ray Watts announced the football program would be shut down due to funding issues. The decision was reversed in 2015 and the program built back towards fielding a team this season.
UAB comes into Gainesville with a better record and something else Florida doesn’t have, bowl eligibility.
“Everybody may look at UAB and say, Well, it’s UAB,” interim head coach Randy Shannon said. “Well they’re 7-3 so that should wake everybody eyes open and stuff like that. Those are the things you do in football in this time and age, the name doesn’t mean anything. It’s the player you’re playing against. If you play to the level of your competition, well that’s what you’re going to get and what you’re going to expect.”
The Blazers’ will give Florida issues. UAB will run read option with quarterback A.J. Erdely and freshman running back Spencer Brown, who has already eclipsed 1,000 yards this season. UAB is averaging 210.5 yards per game on the ground, 27th best in the country. Florida’s propensity for missing tackles, coupled with a depleted defense due to injury, present a serious issue against this high-octane UAB offense.
“The run game and what they’re doing presents problems because you have a guy, you either take the running back or take the quarterback,” explained Shannon. “You’ve got to figure out which one you want to do in your scheme, which one to take. When you got guys like that, in that conference, in that league and what they do on offense will give you problems.”
Florida is trying to rally around whatever they can with two weeks left in the season. Right now the minds of the younger players have turned to their seniors. Most of Florida’s 13 seniors are injured, most notably Nick Washington, Marcell Harris and Jordan Sherit. This isn’t what they imagined for their final season, nor is it was Duke Dawson or Mark Thompson envisioned for their final season in Gainesville.
“The main thing we want to do, not looking ahead though, we want to get them two more wins in the Swamp. The last one is probably going to mean the most to them playing against their rival at home,” sophomore David Reese said. “We can’t look forward to that. We have to focus on UAB, which has a great program. I think they’re 7-3, already bowl eligible. They have momentum going their way.”
The goals they set out to accomplish back in August are long gone. Now they’ll play for pride and for the guys who only have two more opportunities to play in orange and blue.