Florida lost the second game of the 2018 season. At the time it wasn’t just a loss but the first loss in more than three decades to the Kentucky Wildcats.
To fans it was devastating, infuriating and puzzling all at the same time. To the team it was the best thing that could have happened to them.
Following that loss the team refocused. Mullen and his coaching staff were able to go back to the film from that week of practice and show the players where they went wrong. They showed them plays where guys weren’t giving 100% effort and weren’t straining. That message sunk in deep and the Gators went on to win the next five games including two wins over ranked opponents.
The early loss is what the team needed.
“I think the big challenge for us is, any time, after every game, win or lose, it’s how you respond and continue to go during the season,” Dan Mullen said on Monday. “So it’ll be interesting to see now.”
Following Florida’s 36-17 loss at the hands of Georgia the team is once again faced with adversity. Now, however, there isn’t the SEC East carrot dangling on a string in front of them. With losses to Georgia and Kentucky it would take utter madness the rest of the way for Florida to make it to Atlanta. That doesn’t mean the season is over and the players that spoke to the media on Monday didn’t subscribe to a “woe is me” mentality either.
“Our goal is to win the rest of the season,” defensive lineman Kyree Campbell said. “Our goal is to get a New Year’s Six bowl game, just to show that we are one of the best teams in the nation.”
Mullen was curious to see what the team would do Monday night during practice. He was encouraged with their attitude on Monday morning when everyone was on time and focused for their first meeting together since the loss. Safety Jeawon Taylor described Monday’s practice as one of the most physical of the season.
“I just feel like that (loss to Georgia) was a little bitter,” he said. “We just had to get it out on the field.”
Those words and actions embody what Dan Mullen is trying to do in Gainesville. The culture change is in full effect when guys show up on Monday after a loss ready to work and take it out on the practice field rather than firing away angry tweets at fans. The Gators have moved on from Saturday’s disappointment and it didn’t take long.
“That switch comes on as soon as that clock hits zero-zero,” Campbell said. “Once that game was over, then we know what we got to do. Something has to click.”
Monday’s physical practice was what the team needed to get out its frustration and start to gameplan for Missouri. The Gators are currently ranked 13th in the Associate Press poll and, if they win out, could very well find themselves in a New Year’s Six bowl game. That is an incredible accomplishment for a team that was 4-7 a season ago and for a first year head coach.
They wouldn’t be able to do that with the mentality they had in 2017. It’s been less than a year but Dan Mullen’s greatest accomplishment has been making the Gators mentally tough and a group that can handle adversity the right way.