GAINESVILLE — The first time this current group of Florida players lost to Alabama, they spent months replaying the game in their heads and hoping for another shot at the national champions.
This time around, they won't have that miserable luxury.
Last week's 25-point loss at Alabama had to be put aside immediately because the Gators don't have the time to reflect, commiserate or plain sulk.
No. 14 Florida hosts No. 12 LSU tonight in a game the Gators know they can't afford to lose.
"We still control our destiny, and we can still get to Atlanta (SEC title game) so that's what we're focusing on now," senior defensive tackle Terron Sanders said.
"We still have a lot of ball left," added senior guard Carl Johnson. "You never know how the season can end. We've just got to rally up. We've got a big game (tonight), and it's not a slouch. We can't be dwelling on licking our wounds from Alabama anymore. It's time to move on. We've got LSU coming home, so we've got to keep moving forward."
Whether Florida can actually accomplish that may be easier said than done. Florida has won consecutive games against LSU and three of the past four, but the teams enter the game coming off opposite circumstances. Florida was dominated by Alabama in a road loss. LSU is riding high after a come-from-behind 16-14 win over Tennessee.
LSU is bringing the SEC's top defense into Gainesville to face a Florida offense that has been inconsistent. Florida starting running back Jeff Demps is limited with a sprained foot, and the already-struggling running game will be pitted against an LSU defense that is allowing just 79 rushing yards per game.
The Gators' goal of reaching the SEC Championship Game remains intact, but Florida can ill-afford to lose a conference home game at this juncture, even to an SEC West team.
"I see it like some people say, a team is only as good as how they bounce back and how they stick together," senior linebacker Brandon Hicks said. "I think this is like that one punch that knocked us out and opened our eyes and makes you feel like, 'Okay, we can be beaten, and this is it.' There's no going back. You can only move forward and get stronger as a team, as a whole."
The last time the Gators lost an SEC game at home was in 2008 to Ole Miss. The loss resulted in the now-famous Tim Tebow "promise" speech as Florida went undefeated the rest of the season to win the national championship.
Coach Urban Meyer isn't banking on that outcome and, in fact, isn't quite sure how his team will respond.
"In '06 (after losing to Auburn) we had a fistfight, basically," Meyer said. "No, we didn't, but it was screaming and yelling. It was not a fistfight. It was a very angry group. Ole Miss (in 2008), it was a dejected group. This group was a combination of both. Some leadership really stepped up in (the locker room). It's easy to stand up and say something else. You've got to be a grown man to back everything up, so I'm anxious to watch. … It's easy to go stand up and say, 'Let's go and do this,' and group hugs and all that, but we'll find out."
It helps, the players said, that Florida is facing LSU this week. The two programs have won three of the past four BCS championships, and with the exception of 2008, the last five meetings have been decided by fewer than two touchdowns.
"You don't have to be pumped up to play LSU at night in the Swamp," senior nose guard Duke Lemmens said. "You don't need that for motivation. It's another SEC game, and we have a chance to either go downhill or uphill with this game. And we're going to do our best to go up."
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her reports at gators.tampabay.com.