GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here's what we learned about the Gators after their 34-17 homecoming loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday:
They're demoralized: The players and coaches won't admit it, but this season is unofficially over. There's little chance this team will upset South Carolina or Florida State, so a 22-year bowl streak is likely to end, and Florida would have its first losing record since its winless team in 1979. How's that for company in the history books? Saturday's game was a clear indicator that the injuries, the penalties, the play-calling, the questions about coaches' futures … it's all worn down the players' resolve and rendered UF a team with little heart and little toughness. After the game, coach Will Muschamp lamented what he called a "woe-is-me mentality" in which the slightest adversity spirals into bigger mistakes and failures.
Turnovers remain the key: When he arrived at UF as coach, Muschamp made it clear how much turnover margin translates to success. In going 11-2 last season, the Gators were plus-15 with 30 takeaways. Heading into Saturday's game, Florida was plus-2 with 15 takeaways. Heading out of Saturday's game, Florida was minus-2, and its defense's streak of 19 straight games with a forced turnover came to an end. The timing was particularly bad for Florida's defense to come up empty. When quarterback Tyler Murphy committed his fourth turnover of the game on the third play of the second half, most Gators fans were probably praying for a pick-six or fumble return for a touchdown. But thanks to Murphy's gifts, the Commodores had no reason to take any risks.
The kids might be all right: It's time to look for the silver linings amid all of the black clouds hovering over the program. They're out there, I promise. For one, losses in recruiting are not as crushing as they are in the record books. One UF staffer was quick to note immediately after the game how recruits often see poor performances as an opening for early playing time. The Gators played host to five-star DE Da'Shawn Hand and four-star DL Gerald Willis III among many other prospects in the south end zone stands on Saturday. Secondly, the UF coaching staff showed late in Saturday's game that they’re not afraid to play freshmen. It might even motivate some of the veterans who have struggled this season. True freshmen wide receivers Ahmad Fulwood, Demarcus Robinson and Chris Thompson all recorded fourth-quarter catches. Look for that trend to continue.