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With their backs against the wall, time is now for Gators

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Posted: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 12:05 am

This is when we learn the most about the Gators.

When they are in a downward spiral; when their backs are against the wall; when they have to deal with misfortune.

“When you face adversity, you find out a lot about where your leadership and where your football team is,” coach Will Muschamp said Monday.

Florida’s season has played out the way most people expected it to so far: a 4-0 start against inferior opponents, followed by losses against two of the best teams in the nation.

But what happens next, and how Florida responds with games against No. 24 Auburn and division-rival Georgia, is when we learn what Florida is really made of, and who is going to lead this team away from a repeat of 2010, when UF finished 8-5 after starting 4-0.

Muschamp said Monday that handling adversity boils down to mental toughness, something his team lacks right now, and it starts with him.

“At the end of the day, adversity causes two things,” Muschamp said. “It causes you to unify, it causes you to divide — one of the two.”

Down a starting quarterback, banged up and demoralized after two blowouts, this is the time when we find out if Florida is going to unify, or if players are going to do their own thing — something that was a problem Saturday against LSU.

Florida’s defense, which looked impenetrable the first month of the season, has faltered. The secondary can’t make tackles, linebacker Jelani Jenkins was benched in favor of Michael Taylor in the second half against LSU, and opponents have accumulated 464 yards and seven scores on the ground the last two weeks.

The offense hasn’t done much better.

No receiver has more than 10 catches on the season. The running game isn’t what it was through the first four games. The offensive line has been porous and overmatched, and the Gators’ quarterback situation has more twists than an M. Night Shyamalan film.

The Gators slipped out of the AP Top 25 this week, and the road ahead isn’t much easier, with Gus Malzahn’s offensive scheme and running back Michael Dyer at Auburn this weekend. Then running backs Isaiah Crowell of Georgia and South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore are waiting on the horizon.

Unless Muschamp makes the proper adjustments from a coaching standpoint, and unless Florida finds players to step up and straighten things out on the field, the Gators will go winless in October and sit at 4-4 entering November.

“We have a lot of guys that want to be a leader, then the next day they want to step off the podium and let someone else do it,” Muschamp said. “That’s not part of the deal. When you want to be a leader, you step up and positively affect everybody in the organization every day.”

So who is going to step up as a leader when this team is in a free-fall?

Because, to borrow a phrase from LSU cornerback Tyrann “The Honey Badger” Mathieu, who called out fullback Trey Burton on Twitter: Florida is soft as cotton right now.

Contact Tom Green at tgreen@alligator.org.

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