Two weeks ago the Florida Gators had a real chance at winning the SEC East. Saturday night they’re left picking up the pieces of a broken season after losing two games by a combined score of 74-34.
Florida was even in position to go to a great bowl game following the loss to Georgia. The Gators were ranked No. 11 in the College Football Playoff poll and, if they won out, would have likely been picked to go to a New Years Six bowl game. That ended Saturday with a 38-17 loss to Missouri that was as bad as the score looked.
What do you play for now? Georgia beat Kentucky Saturday to win it’s second straight SEC East title. A New Years Six bowl game is out of the question as well.
It’s gut check time for the Gators.
“This is when you gotta buckle down and the toughness comes through,” Dan Mullen said. “We got three more games to go play here in the regular season, and then we get a bowl game. And we get to go see what we’re all about as a team and what this team is made of and where the program is at a little bit, with all of us pushing and moving forward.”
Mullen has put a huge emphasis on changing the mentality of the program. He didn’t inherit a bunch of losers, there is talent on the roster, but he did inherit a team that had grown accustomed to losing — or at least had gotten used to it over the years. Changing that mentality, the thought of being ok with losing isn’t acceptable at Florida. You have to hate losing more than you like winning to truly be successful. That’s the competitive edge that Mullen has and the one that he wants his program to mirror.
“They keep score. Someone wins and someone loses,” Mullen said. “I don’t care what we’re doing. If you wanna thumb wrestle me right now I’m gonna kick your ass. You know what I mean? If you wanna come on up I got you. You wanna go run stadiums? I’ll kick your ass. If you’re gonna keep score, and someone’s gonna win and someone’s gonna lose, I wanna beat your ass. If you don’t have that attitude in the locker room we gotta problem.”
The team needs someone or a couple of people to step up. It’s easy to get down after two losses in a row. It’s human nature to not give it your all because then you have an excuse if you fail. It hurts more to give everything you have and still come up short but that’s what Mullen is looking for. He wants the team to strain in practice, in the weight room, push themselves in the classroom and on the field. The season can and will get ugly if the Gators don’t take a long, hard look in the mirror this week and come ready to play.
Redshirt senior R.J. Raymond took the first step after the game when he spoke to the team.
I might sound a little, come off wrong on this but it’s not time to make friends. At the end of the day it’s time to win a football game. It’s time to play for pride, play for this Gator logo,” Raymond said after the game.”You just gotta push everybody and bring everybody up to that standard, and if there’s nothing to that standard or better that we know we gotta play to, then it’s not god enough. It’s unacceptable. We just – I gotta bring everybody with us. C’yontai, Tez, Moral, CeCe, we all gotta bring everybody with us. And if it’s not up to those standards then it’s not good enough. It’s unacceptable.”
Raymond has been a lifelong Gator fan. Orange and Blue runs in his veins and he’s been living out a dream. He has just two more games left in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and he’ll be damned if the next two are going to look like Saturday night.
Florida needs someone like Raymond right now. He’s the kind of guy that doesn’t have a problem getting in someone’s face. He doesn’t have a lot of time left at Florida, so like he said, he’s not worrying about hurting somebody’s feelings at this point.
At the end of the day Florida wasn’t going to be a championship caliber team this season. There are clear, glaring deficiencies on both sides of the ball. Mullen and his coaching staff need time to recruit and get their players in. Just because I or someone else says that, however, doesn’t mean the players and the team can’t prepare as if they are championship contenders. That’s what they looked like on Saturday, a group of guys who didn’t believe.
“Being a champion is not a sometimes thing. It’s a way of life,” Mullen said after the game. “You either are or you aren’t. You don’t turn that on and off.