GAINESVILLE — Six games and two losses into the season, it's a rough time for the Florida Gators. They haven't lost back-to-back games since 2007, and admittedly they are unhappy with the situation.
"I can't say I'm dealing with it better," coach Urban Meyer said. "I can't stand it. That's something that you never want to get used to, obviously. We've been very fortunate around here that we haven't had to deal with it very often. I'm one of those people, and our staff is those people, and we're trying to make sure our players are those (types) of people: Let's worry about what's important. And what's important right now is we're 4-2, and we're playing Mississippi State at home."
No. 22 Florida is hoping "at home" is the key. The Gators suffered their first loss since 2008 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last week against LSU, so generally home is an advantage. The Gators, 2-2 in the SEC, remain optimistic about their chances to turn things around and still make it to the conference title game. South Carolina is atop the East Division at 2-1 in the league and 4-1 overall. The Gators host the Gamecocks on Nov. 13.
"That's the positive of the whole situation, that we still control our own destiny, we've just got to win out," senior center Mike Pouncey said. "That's our goal, and we're going to work as hard as we can to do that. I think it's a very achievable goal. We knew we weren't going to be perfect this year, but as long as we get to the SEC Championship Game, we'll be happy."
Much easier said than done. Florida hasn't won a game this month, and now it must win them all to remain in contention. The Gators are well aware of their many problems, but Meyer insists the team isn't far off from where it should be.
"At times we look like a very good football team," he said. "We played two good teams (Alabama and LSU), two excellent defenses and we've got to get better. We went into those two games without our starting tailback, our receivers were dinged up a little bit, our offensive line was dinged up, and now we're starting to get everybody back healthy. And the real positive to me is our quarterback showed he's tough. … So there's many positives. We've just got to make sure we keep those young minds focused on the task at hand."
The task is facing a formidable Mississippi State defense with a Gators offense that hasn't led in the first quarter except against Kentucky, hasn't scored more than 40 points except once this season, and has entered the red zone 27 times and failed to score on six of those trips.
Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio is taking the brunt of the criticism for the offense's ineptness. Addazio said things aren't as bad as they might seem.
"I would tell you that we've got a great staff here," he said. "This has never been about a guy, me or anybody else for that matter. We don't operate that way. There are great coaches here with great input and great ideas and segments that they are responsible for, and I think they are doing a great job with that, and I think right now it's really all about just keep working, keep grinding, keep developing young players, keep finding the right mix. There were some great things that happened in that (LSU) game. You don't like the result, but there were some things that were pretty productive. In every game we do some good things . … You'd just like to see those good things done more consistent."
When the season began, experts compared it to 2007, when Meyer's team had lost many players to graduation and the NFL. That team did not make it to the league title game. The players who were around then don't think it's a fair comparison and don't think the same outcome is a foregone conclusion.
"The team we had in '07 was a lot different," senior offensive lineman Carl Johnson said. "They were younger guys that became Gator greats like Brandon Spikes, Tim Tebow, Joe Haden, Jermaine Cunningham. We don't have those so-called elite-status players yet. But just like it took them time to get to the level they were, it's going to take these guys, too. Rome wasn't built in a day. I don't think you can say '07 was like now. We've still got a lot of ball left, we still control our own destiny. We have yet to lose in our division. There's a lot of ball left, a lot of time. You never know what can happen."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.