“Kind of the M.O. of this program has been you play high, you play low, and not consistently.”
Florida Head Coach Jim McElwain
Two games into 2016 for the Florida Gators and it’s already been a tale of two seasons.
In this case, however, they played low and played high.
The first game against lowly UMass the Gators played low. They couldn’t get any consistency offensively and went into the fourth quarter clinging to a 10-7 lead with nervous fans fearing the upset.
It was the usual suspects once again for the Gators.
The offensive line got little push in the run game, and had difficulties in pass protection. The rushing attack was virtually non-existent. Meanwhile, sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio, playing in his first collegiate start, looked the part often missing open receivers and seemingly playing tentatively while suffering form numerous dropped passes.
For the most part, though, they were simply inconsistent, particularly in the red zone and on third down.
Eventually, however, the Gators were able to pull out a late 24-7 victory but overall it was a very lethargic effort.
“To be honest I don’t think they’re real proud of what they did (against UMass),” McElwain said. “They played ok in that first game. That’s what it was, it was just ok.”
Against Kentucky, however, the Gators were anything but lethargic. They came out from the opening kickoff fired up, composed, focused, and ready to play a physical game.
They appeared to get the message that coach Mac was preaching all week.
“You can’t just go out and be ok, and that’s…a good thing,” McElwain said. “I thought that they took that to heart and they played well this last game.”
“Played well” could be an understatement. Going into the game popular sentiment seemed to be that Kentucky might finally break a 29 game losing streak.
In fact, Kentucky was never really even in the game. The Gators cruised from start to finish and laid a 45-7 whipping on the Wildcats and it could have been worse.
Gators kicker Eddie Piniero missed two field goals and the Gator defense pitched a shutout holding Kentucky to 78 total yards until a late scoring drive during scrub time.
So now the Gators face a North Texas State team who should come in as huge underdogs.
Which Gator team will show up?
“I think that the challenge moving forward is to see how this team is going to respond-see how this Gator team is going to respond. Kind of the M.O. of this program has been you play high, you play low, and not consistently. This will be a huge week for us as far as our guys understanding that never, ever let an opportunity pass you by. And this another opportunity for us to go out and get a little bit better.”
Will the team that showed up against Kentucky arrive at the Swamp on Saturday?
Or will they go back and play down to their opponent as they have for several years now?
“Great teams they learn how to prepare and go out and be proud of how they play and realize you’re only given so many opportunities to go do this. For us, I think we need to really focus on the now, focus on the things that you’ve got to do to go out and be proud of what you do.”
And that is really the crux of the issue.
Often fans who love to complain about lackluster efforts against overmatched opponents will actually go and try to rationalize it.
“Oh it was just UMass”, or in the case of Tennessee fans, “that App State team is better than everyone gives them credit for,” or “App State could compete in the SEC.”
Do they actually listen to themselves?
Forget the BS.
Every game is an opportunity to get better as coach Mac says. It’s important for the team to take advantage of each and every opportunity to get better. Sure, the final score only matters to bookies and bettors as long as they win, but playing fundamentally sound football and learning against opponents who aren’t your teammates and are actively trying to beat you is of the utmost importance down the road.
When the Gators play Tennessee, or LSU, or Georgia, they’ll perform with the same habits they created against UMass, Kentucky, and North Texas State. The more fundamentally sound they are in those games, the more fundamentally sound they’ll be against the big guys.
So North Texas State will arrive in the Swamp on Saturday with big eyes and and bigger ambitions, but the Gators need to arrive themselves with even bigger ambitions understanding, as coach Mac preaches, that they only get so many opportunities to get better.
This is one.
And they get less and less each and every game.
Will the Gators be proud of what they put on tape?