Taven Bryan was wearing a blue collared shirt. He had stripped off the bulky shoulder pads that he wore about 30 minutes before, pulled off the white jersey that had been covered with dirt and sweat, and, for just a moment, unburdened himself of what was running through his mind.
It came in eight simple words.
“We’ve got some bad stuff on our team,” Bryan said Saturday, standing in the underbelly of Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina.
It was a moment of transparency — rare for any member of the Florida football team, but not unheard of. After Florida’s 45-16 loss to Missouri, an impassioned David Reese called out his teammates for their effort. The sophomore linebacker said UF's play against the Tigers was “unacceptable.”
And after another loss on Saturday, this time a 28-20 defeat at the hands of South Carolina, another Florida player was candid.
“We’ve been purging it out,” said Bryan, a redshirt junior defensive lineman.
Purging out the “bad stuff,” he said. The temptation to give up. To take it easy, to rest for the remainder of a regular season with two relatively meaningless games left.
“This really shows who you are as a person and as a player, Bryan said. "If you quit, you’re a quitter. Once you’re a quitter, you’re always a quitter.”
After UF’s loss to the Gamecocks — one in which its struggling offense and defense were again on display — the Gators find themselves in football purgatory.
They are likely out of consideration for a bowl game. They will likely finish the season somewhere unfamiliar, right in the middle of the SEC East Division standings. They face the possibility of ending the season with a losing record for just the second time in 38 years.
And after Saturday, still breathless after the gut punch that was losing coach Jim McElwain on Oct. 29, the Gators’ play culminated in another loss. A fifth consecutive loss.
“It’s been a bumpy path,” Reese said.
UF's offense started slow with just two first downs in the first quarter. At one point, South Carolina had outgained Florida 168-24.
The Gators converted two of their 15 third-down attempts. Each time the offense failed, jogging back to the sideline to be replaced by the punt team, the Gamecocks’ fight call — the sound of a squawking rooster — echoed in the stadium. After a while, the call felt less like a rallying cry for the home team and more like a taunt of Florida’s lifeless offense.
“Obviously the season we’re having, man, it’s just kinda hard to keep the confidence up,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said.
Franks entered the game in the second quarter and helped lead the Gators on three scoring drives during the loss. He replaced starting quarterback Malik Zaire, who suffered a left knee injury. Shannon said he did not know the extent of Zaire’s injury and whether he will return this year.
But, after Saturday, Franks was hopeful. Hopeful that Florida can return home and win its remaining two games, one against UAB and the other against 3-6 Florida State.
Hopeful that UF will improve on the effort and energy that Reese said was missing two weeks ago against Missouri, but that improved slightly against the Gamecocks.
Hopeful that Florida will find something to play for.
“We’ve gotta go out there and we’re gonna fight,” Franks said.
“We’re gonna be just fine.”
You can follow Ian Cohen on Twitter @icohenb, and contact him at [email protected].