The first time that Vanderbilt and Florida played football was back in 1945. It was two months after the Japanese waived the white flag but the United State was still waging war in Europe.
It was also the last time that Vanderbilt had won a football game on Florida Field.
A somber and dejected Will Muschamp walked into the South end zone meeting room just outside of the locker room following Florida’s 34-17drubbing at the hands of Vanderbilt on Saturday in the Swamp. He walked in to face the media, a man with more questions about his football team than answers.
“It’s a ‘woe is me’ mentality right now,” Muschamp said of his football team. “We gotta overcome that. Our leadership needs to step forward, you know, and that’s what, we’ll move forward with the guys who are wiling to accept challenges and opportunities that sometimes are difficult. Sometimes, they’re tough.”
The Gators are nine games and 11 weeks into their season, isn’t it a little late to be searching for leadership in 2013?
The loss is historic and will leave a stain on Will Muschamp’s legacy at Florida. Florida’s 22-game winning streak was snapped today, Florida will struggle to gain bowl eligibility and likely won’t participate in a bowl game this year — something they’ve done in the previous 22 seasons as well.
To attain bowl eligibility, Florida will need to win two of their final three games. That includes a trip to face Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks next week in Columbia before hosting Georgia Southern and the undefeated Seminoles. Florida will be favored in one of those games.
The loss also drops Florida to 4-5 on the season. It’s the first time since 1992 that the University of Florida has been under .500 at any point of the season — a span of 275 games. Florida has been creative in the way they lose those games. The first loss was turned over in Miami Gardens, LSU and Missouri beat wins out of Florida with physicality, Georgia won by getting off to a fast start and creating an insurmountable gap for Florida to recover and turnovers, again, did the Gators in today at home against Vanderbilt.
“It’s a lot of different things,” Muschamp said. “Everybody wants to put their finger on one thing and say ‘Eureka. This is what it is.’ That’s not the way it works. There are multiple things we’ve got to get corrected in order to win, and we’re going to look at it.”
This game felt so familiar. Vanderbilt finished the game with 183 total yards, just 57 passing yards on 12 attempts. They ran the ball 44 times for 126 yards and used three Tyler Murphy interceptions and field position to beat the Gators. It was he same recipe that Florida used last year against South Carolina. In that game Jeff Driskel threw for 94 yards on 17 passing attempts but threw four touchdowns on short fields.
Is this some kind of football karma coming full circle?
There are very few teams in the entire country that can overcome turning the ball over three teams and walk away with a win and Florida isn’t one of them. Not even close. The Gators defense did the best they could, given the situations that the offense put them in. The defense held Vanderbilt to 2.9 yards-per-carry, their second lowest total of the season and sacked Patton Robinette twice-in just twelve opportunities.
“You’re not going to win many games turning it over four times and spotting the ball on the 10, 22 and four,” Muschamp sais. “We’re not good enough to overcome critical mistakes like that. You hold a team under 200 yards.”
Muschamp continued on, “We didn’t play very smart. We didn’t take care of the football. And when those things happen, emotionally, it’s a killer. It’s a killer for your entire organization. So when you spot them the ball on the four-yard line, right now we’re not strong enough mentally to handle that. A year ago, maybe early in the year, we were.”
Those words speak volumes as to where the Gators are right now. They’re broken, beaten down and searching for answers in a dark room with no light. It will take a miracle for Florida to walk into Williams-Brice Stadium and make it out alive next week and Florida State will embarrass the Gators on Florida Field to end the 2013 season.
Losing creates anger; it’s natural reaction to the frustration that comes with watching your teams fail week after week. So when the Florida faithful started booing their Gators on Saturday, I was surprised but not shocked. Booing shows that you care. You care enough that you have to let your feelings out and have them be known. The part that was shocking was the fans reaction at halftime and at the end of the game, pure apathy. The people in attendance sat on their hands, more silent than a congregation at an art gallery and watched as their Gators left the field.
To the fans credit, most of them did stay until the fourth quarter. They locked arms, swayed right-to-left and back right again before they let their apathy take hold. There was a mass exodus in the beginning of the fourth quarter that left the stands looking more like a spring game than a regular season contest.
The 2013 season is unprecedented in my lifetime — probably the worst season since 1979 when Florida went 0-10-1. The weight of the losses is beginning to weigh on Florida’s head coach.
“I’m a lot harder on myself than y’all are or anyone else is going to be or anyone else in this Gator Nation, Muschamp said when asked if the losing streak is humbling. “You know, again, I’m very critical of myself and what I need to do to be better and I don’t need to hear any fan from the outside telling me what we need to do with this football team. I can assure you that.”