Taking a tough loss heading into their bye week is certainly going to make for an uncomfortable couple of weeks for the Florida Gators.
A bunch of proud young men who just had that pride pulverized by a more willful LSU Tigers team — one that fired its coach not 24 hours after the finishing touches on Saturday’s 49-42 loss — and the coaches responsible for preventing that outcome are assuredly not going to be as happy as they could be for the next fortnight. The next game on the schedule being a matchup with the nigh impregnable Georgia Bulldogs also has the chance to infect Florida’s locker room with a sense of impending doom.
They can choose to accept that. Or they can choose to fight.
I think they will choose to fight.
And the game that Saturday’s loss reminded me most of is actually the best proof I have of college football players’ willingness to fight in a disappointing season. That would be Florida’s epic upset of Georgia in 2014, a game in which the Gators threw six passes and completed three, yet still stomped a highly-ranked, well-regarded Georgia team.
Saturday reminded me of that game because LSU’s alphabet-basic game plan — run right, more or less — proved unstoppable for good coaches with good personnel on that day in Jacksonville, with Florida ringing up a still-staggering 416 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the Bulldogs. That’s more yards and touchdowns than LSU had on Saturday — and while LSU did slightly better on a per-play basis, the LSU rushing offense that had been much-maligned prior to Saturday’s trampling was more successful in its previous game than Florida’s running game had been in 2014, with the Tigers getting 147 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against Kentucky two Saturdays ago and the Gators getting 135 rushing yards and one score in their debacle against Missouri in 2014.
Hell, LSU did slightly more on the ground against Kentucky than 2021 Florida did, with the Gators — still No. 5 nationally in rushing yards per game, with three option teams among the four ahead of them — picking up only 137 yards and a touchdown in Lexington. While Florida not being able to stop a handful of plays is shocking to the point of being embarrassing, the narrative of LSU being awful on the ground is undercut by its last five or six quarters of play.
And the idea that LSU was supposed to be listless is also based partly on fallacy — which 2014 Florida’s October helps prove, too.
After that loss to Missouri, I wrote that Florida had finally come to the point where it had to fire Will Muschamp, a coach I both personally liked a great deal and believed in to the point of others questioning my sanity on a near-daily basis. Here’s how I closed that piece:
There is no hope today. It was all extinguished last night, probably just after Driskel’s pick-six, and nothing will reignite that flame.
Hope is the easiest thing for anyone to buy. It is a more evanescent, less specific form of desire — desire, in its many forms, controls what humans do, I believe — and it is intoxicating, and it is the sort of thing that is so freely available that it can be bought anywhere, anytime, at any price.
No one is buying hope from Will Muschamp, or from a Florida program that employs him, today, or ever again. And so he must go, so we may get our hope from something, somewhere, and someone else.
12 days later, Florida beat a top-10 Georgia team — by 18 points. And Muschamp still got fired, two weeks later, after an eyeroll-inducing loss to South Carolina.
LSU did not beat Florida as comprehensively at home on Saturday as Florida beat Georgia in Jacksonville back in 2014. And LSU winning that game does not preclude it from pratfalling in one or many games over the forbidding close to its season.
But 2021 LSU and 2014 Florida winning games surprisingly and emphatically with seemingly little to play for but pride is evidence that pride alone can be a major motivator — and 2021 Florida had better hope that pride can be its primary motivator through the rest of a season now likely to end with these Gators far removed from their goals.
History says it can be. Florida’s own recent history says it can be a potent enough motivator to propel a pack of Gators to a seismic upset. And Florida’s next game is either going to be a seismic upset for the Gators or an expected win for Georgia.
Why wouldn’t Florida work as hard it collectively can over the next two weeks for a monumental pride-restoring win? LSU just got one of those — a pride-restorer, anyway — and the Gators surely saw first-hand how good that can feel.