“Your only as good as your last game.” Jeff Driskel
It’s an old saying. Repeated endlessly in every locker and media room across America. Coach speak if you will. If true, however, then it means the Gators are horrible. Stinky. Mediocre at best. The Gators last game, as fans would love to forget, was a blowout loss to Big East opponent Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. The same Louisville Cardinal team that most pundits and Gator fans felt did not belong in the Sugar Bowl. The same Louisville team coached by long time Gator defensive coordinator Charlie Strong and quarterbacked by South Florida recruit Teddy Bridgewater who former UF coach Urban Meyer failed to actively recruit. Yes, that Louisville team was the better team on that fateful night in New Orleans when Gator fans failed to show in droves purportedly over dissatisfaction with the opponent. As it turned out, the team was just as much of a no show as it’s fans. Perhaps the only thing worse than setting an all time low for ticket sales to a BCS bowl game which is within a ten hour drive of the school is for the team which had made a strong argument for making the BCS championship game laying an egg to a seemingly inferior opponent.
“Your only as good as your last game.”
Coach Muschamp for one is not fazed by how the Gators finished last season. Asked if the loss to Louisville is a motivating factor for the team this season Muschamp replied,
“I think different guys are motivated in different ways, I think regardless of how you ended the season doesn’t affect how you play the next season. But certainly in the offseason, you know different guys are motivated in different ways, and certainly I think that’s something a lot of our guys have taken forward with them.”
That may be the understatement of the preseason for coach Muschamp. While it is obvious that this is quite a mature team with a ton of experience which takes on Muschamp’s somewhat stoic personality, there’s no denying the loss to Louisville IS a motivating factor for the Gators. Especially going into their first game against Toledo.
“It (the Louisville loss) was very disappointing just because we had a great year and it left a sour taste in our mouth,” cornerback Jaylen Watkins said. “We had to play for the whole spring, go through the whole camp remembering that that’s the last show we had in front of everybody. As a secondary we didn’t play our best too. So it’s definitely motivation to go out and pick up where we started before the Louisville game and try to get this thing going again.”
The secondary, in particular, likely has a sour taste in it’s collective mouth. A unit that had finished first in the nation in passing efficiency in the regular season and top five in turnovers got torched by Bridgewater and company. Absolutely torched. Embarrassed is the word that comes to mind when I think of the secondary’s performance in that game. Of course, we all know that secondary is better than they looked that night. Now it’s time for them to go back out and prove it. For the secondary, Toledo cant get here soon enough.
One unit that did play well, somewhat, in that game was the defensive line. They harassed, chased, and hit Bridgewater all night long but couldn’t seem to faze him. On Louisville’s first possession of the game, linebacker Jon Bostic delivered a blow that might have knocked most quarterback’s out of the game. Not Bridgewater. In fact, he came back from the hit to lead them to a touchdown and a quick 14-0 lead which they would not relinquish.
Buck end Dante Fowler, Jr. hasn’t forgotten that bitter loss and says it does serve as motivation for this year’s team.
“It’s been a lot of motivation especially who Louisville was. They came and upset us. It was kind of off guard. As we were working out, and having pictures up, and always talking about it. I guess we had a reality check.”
That statement is very telling of the mindset the Gators had going into that game. “Who Louisville was” refers to the fact that the Gators weren’t respecting the Big East conference team and they learned a valuable lesson. Namely, do not overlook any opponent. They obviously overlooked the Cardinals and it showed.
Of course, it wasn’t only the defense that stunk up the joint that night for the Gators. The offense wasn’t much better giving up a pick six on the Gators first possession and then, playing from behind, they abandoned their usual formula of relying on a pounding rushing attack and took to the air. The results were disastrous. Quarterback Jeff Driskel repeatedly was harassed into poor throws all evening and the contrast between his performance and Bridgewater’s showed the difference in maturity between the two quarterback’s and the two offenses.
“Your only as good as your last game.”
In that case, Driskel and company had a lot of work to do in the offseason. To his credit, however, he and the rest of the offense reportedly have made considerable strides to get better and improve on what was the weakest passing offense in Gainesville since 1989. The loss to Louisville served as a big motivator for the offense as well.
“It (the loss to Louisville) was huge,” Driskell said. “After a great year we went out and got dominated in all aspects. We’ve carried that through the whole offseason. We’ve heard about it all the time. Your only as good as your last game. That’s the last time we’ve been on the field so we’ve been really eager to get out and show that that’s not us. We’re a lot better than we were that day. We want to show that that’s not us and it was a fluke.”
So it’s been a long off season for both the Gator team and it’s fans. For a program that got so close to the top of the mountain, to fall so quickly and so harshly before a national prime time audience to a team which most considered to be in over their heads, the start of a new season should be, if nothing else, cathartic. It should erase the ghosts of the Sugar Bowl loss and set the tone for the new season. So as Gator fans and alumni look forward to the start of a new football season, the players and staff are focused on one thing: redemption. That redemption begins this Saturday at 12:21 eastern in the Swamp as the Gators take on MAC foe Toledo in it’s 2013 home opener. Broadcast is on the SEC network and you can check here for your local SEC network affiliate.
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