Something was different when Josh Hammond showed up to practice on Monday.
The Seminoles’ war chant rang through loudspeakers and echoed inside UF’s indoor practice facility. While it might seem disrespectful, the song served a special purpose.
“To let you know that it’s FSU week, hate week,” Hammond, a sophomore receiver, said.
After earning their first win in six games Saturday against UAB, the Gators (4-6) are turning their focus to a rivalry matchup with Florida State (4-6) this weekend. And while Florida’s season hasn’t gone how the team had hoped, players like receiver Dre Massey are looking at the Sunshine Showdown as a chance to salvage a hectic 2017 campaign.
“There’s not much to look forward to this season,” Massey said. “We hear they have an opportunity at a bowl game, so we’re going to just spoil that.”
Florida State has made an NCAA-record 35 consecutive bowl appearances. If the Seminoles win on Saturday, they could still qualify for a postseason game despite finishing the regular-season slate with five wins, provided some bowl slots go unfilled and FSU’s players meet certain academic criteria.
Florida is in a similar situation, but isn’t expected to vie for a bowl appearance given the uncertainty of its coaching situation. That means the UF-FSU game will be the last time multiple Gators suit up in orange and blue, something younger players are using as motivation.
“Guys like BP (Brandon Powell), Duke (Dawson) and Johnny Townsend, those guys, they work really hard and they deserve a lot more,” Hammond said. “So we just want to send those guys out on the right note … let them know that we appreciate them.”
While the in-state rivalry has a history of amping up players, interim coach Randy Shannon said stressed the importance of containing those on-field emotions.
“If me or any coaches or any players make it personal … you're probably going to make mistakes,” Shannon said. “That's when bad things happen.”
Sophomore safety Chauncey Gardner is one player Shannon might have to reel in. Gardner has been one of UF’s more vocal players this season, even calling out Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm before Florida’s 42-7 loss.
But while Gardner struggled in areas like tackling at the beginning of the year, he’s come into his own as a safety, grabbing interceptions in each of Florida’s past two games.
“Chauncey is great when he's tuned in,” Shannon said. “When Chauncey's like everywhere and dancing and everything else, there's no telling what Chauncey's going to call on defense.”
But if Gardner and the rest of Florida’s defensive players can do their jobs, the Gators have a chance to snap a four-game losing streak against the Seminoles.
“No matter who your opponent is, it's got to be about us,” Shannon said.
You can follow Matt Brannon on Twitter @MattB_727, and contact him at [email protected].