GAINESVILLE — When the reality of Saturday night's 36-14 loss to South Carolina finally settled in, Florida was left to acknowledge that there's very little to play for this season.
With two games left, coach Urban Meyer's biggest challenge is keeping his team from falling apart. His greatest hope is that he can send his seniors out with dignity.
"My whole focus is making sure that team sticks together," Meyer said Sunday. "You see it across college football where it disintegrates, and I can't let that happen. … The message was real clear after the game. That was a crushed, crushed group.
"Our special teams and defense played their hearts out. We had no momentum at all on offense, we couldn't get that thing to go. All the tempo and everything we worked so hard on for the last three weeks, it was like it went backward to where we were. So we've got a lot of work to do, but the key message is stick together. …
"And the other thing is these seniors, I was just counting them up, there are a couple that have two national championship rings. There's five guys basically starting in the NFL that are part of this senior class and you've got a group of seniors that have done some wonderful things here at Florida. And we want to respect them."
The Gators, who fell from the national rankings for the second time this season, will host Appalachian State on Saturday before closing the regular season at Florida State.
But their ultimate goal had been to make it to the SEC Championship Game, and with that off the table, pride must kick in.
"I'm not a quitter," senior S Ahmad Black said. "I don't think nobody on our team is a quitter."
"We're extremely disappointed," LB Jelani Jenkins said. "… We've just got to go out there the next couple weeks and play our heart out for our seniors and all the guys who gave their all to this program."
DEFENDING THE DEFENSE: Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said South Carolina did nothing surprising, which added to his disappointment over the defense's performance. The Gamecocks gained 395 yards, including 239 on the ground. The run defense also struggled against LSU, Mississippi State and Alabama — all losses. Saturday, the defense was on the field 40 minutes, 46 seconds, but Austin refused to concede that fatigue was a major factor.
"I think when you look at it, the games we've given up runs, it's been probably a combination of some things," Austin said. "Third-down defense where they keep drives alive, not tackling very well, also not fitting the run very well. It all contributes to it. … In games we needed to have great run defense, we didn't."
DEMPS MIA: For the seventh straight week, junior RB Jeff Demps, who suffered a foot injury Sept. 18 vs. Tennessee, was unable to play much, helping to render the running game nearly nonexistent. Demps had just two carries Saturday. "He's got a stress reaction in his foot," Meyer said. "It's something that's very painful. It's something you have to be very careful about."