Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Gators

Florida Gators can’t let LSU loss turn into another

UF followed the Georgia loss last year with a bad defeat against Mizzou. It can’t do the same this time.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen walks on the sideline in the first half of an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. LSU won 42-28. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) [GERALD HERBERT | AP]
Published Oct. 13
Updated Oct. 13

BATON ROUGE, La. — Florida’s 42-28 loss at LSU on Saturday night was still fresh when Gators coach Dan Mullen began to downplay its significance.

“Next week is a much bigger game than (last) week for us…” Mullen said. “For Florida, next week is always going to be bigger.”

From the national perspective, Mullen is clearly wrong.

The Gators’ trip to South Carolina won’t have the same buzz as a matchup of top-10, unbeaten rivals in one of the sport’s most electric environments. A win over LSU would have given the Gators the two best victories in the country and solidified them as College Football Playoff contenders. Beating Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks probably won’t get UF in the top five, and the Gators would still be a few weeks away from returning to the forefront of the Playoff conversation.

But zoom in, and Mullen’s right.

The Gators’ first goal every year is to win the SEC East. It’s almost impossible to see them doing that with a loss at Williams-Brice Stadium.

The end of UF’s 10-game winning streak didn’t kill the Gators hopes of winning the division, conference or national title. It just eliminated any margin for error.

That means UF can’t suffer a letdown the way it did last year.

The Gators’ worst loss last season wasn’t the streak-ender against Kentucky or the 36-17 beat-down by Georgia. It was what happened the week after the Cocktail Party.

UF fell into the coaching-cliche trap of allowing one loss to turn into two, following the defeat in Jacksonville with a head-scratching 38-17 home loss to unranked Missouri.

“There’s no telling about how a loss bleeds into another one,” center Nick Buchanan said.

There were some explanations for what happened last year. The Tigers had an NFL quarterback (Drew Lock, now with the Broncos). Despite their 8-5 final record, advanced metrics considered Mizzou a top-20 team. UF quarterback Feleipe Franks struggled and was, deservedly, benched.

But UF’s biggest issue was that it didn’t recover quickly enough from Georgia. The Gators took too long to move on from a second consecutive demoralizing loss in Jacksonville. And given the depth of the SEC, that’s a problem.

“Don’t let this one loss defeat us,” receiver Van Jefferson said.

South Carolina is good enough to do that without any help. Just ask Georgia, which lost Saturday to the Gamecocks at home despite a handful of questionable decisions by Muschamp that looked familiar to UF fans.

Saturday night’s loss exposed some fatal flaws UF will have to fix if it wants to have a chance to win the East, either this year or next.

The offense is better than last year and light years ahead of where it was under Muschamp and Jim McElwain, but it’s not good enough to win a shootout against an elite team. An off-season of attrition in the secondary left too many holes that probably can’t be patched this year. As strong as the defense is, it doesn’t yet have the depth along the line to withstand injuries to starters Jabari Zuniga and Jonathan Greenard.

But UF has shown that it can beat a very good team (Auburn) and hang with another (LSU). The Gators are good enough to win the division and, maybe, challenge for more than that.

If they learn their lesson from last year and make sure one loss doesn’t bleed into another.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Utah wide receiver Samson Nacua (45) celebrates their victory over UCLA following their NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) RICK BOWMER  |  AP
    From Power Five newcomer to CFP contender, Utah is living the American (Athletic Conference) dream.
  2. BRONTE WITTPENN   |   Times
Florida State Seminoles defensive back Asante Samuel Jr. (26) deflects a pass to Florida Gators tight end C'yontai Lewis (80) in the first quarter at Doak Campbell Stadium at Florida State University in Tallahassee on Saturday, November 24, 2018.  "BRONTE WITTPENN  | TIMES"
    The SEC Network will broadcast the annual rivalry meeting.
  3. Florida State Seminoles running back Cam Akers (3) runs the ball down the field in the second quarter against the Florida Gators at Doak Campbell Stadium at Florida State University in Tallahassee on Saturday, November 24, 2018. BRONTE WITTPENN  | TIMES  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES
    How healthy will Cam Akers be? What about Jabari Zuniga?
  4. Alabama sive lineman Alex Leatherwood (70) checks on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) after he was injured in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Alabama won 38-7. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) ROGELIO V. SOLIS  |  AP
    The Florida Gators moved back into Matt Baker’s top 10 this week.
  5. Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) is carted off the field after getting injured in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss. ROGELIO V. SOLIS  |  AP
    The junior quarterback already was on the mend from surgery four weeks ago for a high ankle sprain.
  6. Florida wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) is pulled down by Missouri defensive back Christian Holmes after catching a pass during the second half in Columbia, Mo. Florida won 23-6. JEFF ROBERSON  |  AP
    The Gators, who led just 6-3 after the second quarter, find more of a rhythm offensively in the second half.
  7. A Florida Gator fans yells during the first half of the Nov. 2 game against Georgia in Jacksonville. The Gators travel to Columbia, Mo. for a noon Saturday game against Missouri. JOHN RAOUX  |  AP
    Here are our picks for this week’s top college football games, including Florida-Missouri, USF-Cincinnati and Florida State-Alabama State.
  8. Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck leads him team on the field prior to an Oct. 26 game against Maryland in Minneapolis. Minnesota won 52-10. STACY BENGS  |  AP
    The last time Minnesota started 9-0 was 1904. Another big event that year involved Cy Young.
  9. Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks poses for a photo with Reyce Ramsey, 9, one of the fans who sent him a get-well card. SCOTT RAMSEY  |  Special to the Times
    When the Florida Gators’ quarterback got hurt at Kentucky, cards came from a 9-year-old in Kissimmee and a retiree in Oldsmar.
  10. Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (84) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a 15-yard pass reception during the second half against Vanderbilt on Nov. 9 in Gainesville. JOHN RAOUX  |  AP
    The Florida Gators still have a lot to play for, even with a sleepy game in cold Columbia.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement