Finishing close football games seemed to be the Florida Gators’ forte for the first three weeks of SEC play.
Maybe it was luck, maybe it was mental toughness to stay in the game with time winding down, but whatever it was, it has been missing in recent weeks.
Four of Florida’s six games this season were decided by a single score.
The Gators relied on a last-second touchdown pass to avoid overtime with Tennessee, a Kentucky defensive breakdown and missed field goal to take away a one-point win in Lexington and even needed a huge Malik Davis touchdown run in the final minutes to keep the game out of reach against Vanderbilt.
Playing in so many close games, Florida’s luck was bound to run out, and it did two weeks in a row as the Gators suffered a heartbreaking 17-16 homecoming loss to LSU and fell again in The Swamp 19-17 to Texas A&M.
“When we get the opportunity to finish against teams like we have in the past, we have to get it done,” said sophomore linebacker David Reese. “Early in the season we got it done, but towards this end we haven’t gotten it done the past two games.”
Tough finishes like that can be discouraging and mentally exhausting for a team. The frustration from players, and even from head coach Jim McElwain has been apparent over the last few weeks.
It’s crazy to think, but had a few moments gone the Gators’ way the last couple games, they could’ve very well been a top ranked team in the country, competing for a ticket to the SEC Championship with the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend.
The road to closing out the season in Atlanta is much harder now, and that is a tough pill to swallow for a team that has been there two years in a row.
“I feel like he’s [McElwain] probably frustrated at how we have better guys, we have better athletes and sometimes we come up short. But we’re trying to figure that out as a team, being young and things like that. Not making excuses, but we just got to find out a way to pull strong when it really counts to get those wins. Everybody we could have beat or every game we lost to, we lost by three or less. It’s been a ‘tweener year where we could be 0-6 or 6-0. It’s like one of those types of years. He just wants us to get those wins in those tough moments.”
With two weeks to prepare for a tough Georgia team, Florida’s practices have been geared towards finishing games.
Of course, having a chance to finish implies it will be close in the fourth quarter. Very few are predicting that, but crazier things have happened in rivalry games.
The Gators seem confident that if they can make it a game in the fourth quarter with a team like Georgia that has only played in one close contest all season, they have the advantage, and they won’t flop again.
Good or bad, lot should be proven on Saturday about Florida. It can either move on from its tough losses and salvage the season or continue to dwell on them.
“You can’t look back in the past,” said redshirt freshman offensive lineman Brett Heggie. “You have to move forward and focus really in practice on finishing. That’s the biggest thing is to finish, finishing at practice. We had a couple opportunities to win some games and they slipped through our fingers. That’s going to be in the back of our mind for the rest of the season. It’s going to motivate us moving forward.”