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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Just like last year, the Gators struggled with an underdog from the Southeastern Conference West at home.

Just like last year, they fumbled all over the place, gave up big plays and showed a general lack of focus.

Just like last year, they got a rude wake-up call.

Only this time, when the alarm sounded, they didn't hit snooze.

Sure, they fumbled the alarm clock trying to turn it off, stumbled around on the floor for a while and knocked some stuff over getting to their feet, but Florida prevailed, 23-20, and is still undefeated.

All in all, I think it's a positive that the Gators could play as poorly as they did and still win, and there's no way they come out and wet the bed like that again this year. Right?

"Just like the Ole Miss game was a wake-up call (in 2008), I think this was the same kind of wake-up call," linebacker Ryan Stamper said. "But luckily we came out with the victory instead of a loss. This lets the team know that if we don't come out to play in all phases, we can easily lose a game. We have to stop giving up big plays on defense and have no turnovers on offense."

The difference between the Ole Miss loss and the Arkansas win boils down to one thing: trusting your kicker.

In 2008, Urban Meyer didn't seem to believe in Jonathan Phillips. On UF's first drive, he passed up a 47-yard field goal attempt for a failed conversion try on 4th-and-3.

On the last drive, he took his chances and lost on 4th-and-1 rather than let Phillips try a go-ahead 49-yarder.

The second decision was the right call, and maybe the first was too.

But either way, Meyer didn't go down that path again.

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Even after Caleb Sturgis missed from 37, Meyer trotted him out for kicks of 30, 51 and 27 yards, the last of which won the game with nine seconds to play.

The end of the Gators' last drive was spent lining it up for Sturgis, who calmly delivered, then shook off his jubilant teammates and got ready to kick off.

After the roar of the crowd faded away, the message remained loud and clear that Florida isn't invincible.

That was backed up Sunday, when UF dropped to No. 2 behind Alabama in the AP poll.

For all the talk of the Gators struggling, this was the first game they should have lost. Unlike Tennessee, Kentucky and LSU, Arkansas could muster a score when needed.

That feeling that Florida would inevitably pull it out was nowhere to be found for much of the game, and UF walked away with much more than what was deserved.

If this was just a wake-up call and not a sign of things to come, the Gators got their one bad game out of their system without taking a loss.

The rest of the season is about getting in tip-top shape to face the Crimson Tide for the SEC crown without losing twice beforehand, but if Florida doesn't spring out of bed and slap Mississippi State silly next weekend, it may be time to put those Pasadena travel plans on hold.

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