Saturday night the Florida Gators walked away with a desirable outcome; but the journey to reach the result was slightly more challenging than Coach McElwain would have preferred. The game against East Carolina reminded us how far the Gators have to go as a program, and we should not be surprised. Maybe Saturday was the official SEC struggle day that Florida fell prey to. After tough losses by Arkansas and Tennessee as well as a near disaster by Auburn, Florida’s performance pales in comparison.
Florida is a part of an elite club in college football where winning is not just enough, how you win is just as important. Some may say that is ridiculous, but in Gainesville, it is the standard. Meeting the standard on and off the field is what this coaching staff is attempting to get this squad to see and reach for.
As this team grows and matures, their biggest opposition will be the past.
“Monday was very weird for us. It felt like old times, you know, it just felt like we kind of reverted back, we got comfortable” said junior linebacker Jarrad Davis who finished the game with 10 total tackles, three for loss and a pass break up.
One would ask why in the world any player would want to think about or return back to the previous era of Florida football. That comment, along with last night’s performance, revealed why over the last four seasons the program has seen so many ebbs and flows. This team has to be retaught how to win consistently and that won’t be easy, nor will it always feel good.
Florida will experience growing pains this season and when those moments occur we hope that the plan does not derail. As games and competition get tougher we will discover more about the personality make up of this team as well as the coaching staff.
In the development of this program, McElwain will have to recognize growth points. This will be vital to forward progress of the program; and fortunately enough for Florida they found plenty of them Saturday night. As the Florida Gators enter into the meat of its schedule there are plenty of things to correct. While the focus through fall camp and the beginning of the season has been on the quarterbacks, the first growth point was exposed or resurfaced, which is the mentality of some on roster.
McElwain was concerned entering game prep this week because the team lacked overall focus.
“”It might have been just a preparation thing. I mean we had a lot of selfish plays, a lot of selfish calls, so it was just us being a lack of being prepared,” he said. “We’ve just got to get back out there this week and really work hard and get ready for Kentucky.”
If the Gators bring this type of performance against Kentucky the Wildcats will break the current 28-game losing streak. Both teams will enter Saturday night on different emotional plains but the team who forgets the last game is the team that will have a decided advantage come kickoff.
Kentucky ended a 22 game road losing streak against SEC opponents by winning at South Carolina. Kentucky will definitely be confident and will have a chip on their shoulder after last year’s three overtime loss to Florida in The Swamp. Florida will need to put this game behind them and progress forward.
“We’ll correct the mistakes. Bury [the ECU game], tear out the rear view mirror and get ready to go play a very good Kentucky team on the road that arguably beat us a year ago here,” McElwain said on Saturday night.
Coaching, developing and motivating young athletes is just as annoying, difficult and frustrating as solving a Rubik’s cube. The moment you think you have the right formula, something happens that requires more alterations and corrections to get everyone and everything on the same page. Coach McElwain and this staff are holding the Florida football program in their hand and it will be up to them to find what needs tweaking.
Getting Florida back to national prominence will not occur in one night. Only a handful of players on this team have experienced legitimate success. Many have gone through a losing season and others are coming off of a season of mediocrity. This team will have to earn respect and understand that winning is a privilege.
At this point Florida cannot walk on the field commit 12 penalties and expect to win comfortably. That may have worked with All-Americans and Heisman quarterbacks, but for this group of Gators, that type of football will lead to another disappointing season.
Coach McElwain called this game “embarrassing” and I would not go as far as to say it was embarrassing as much as it was disappointing and many were let down with the inconsistency and the effort. It is still too early to judge the course of this team and where it will eventually end up. We don’t have any reason to lose the optimism that was gained after last week’s victory. The Gators are still a young and growing organization. The organism that is Florida football was dealt a nice dose of reality that will benefit them as this seasons moves along.