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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Chemistry isn’t the problem for Gators this season, talent is

With four seconds left in Florida’s loss to FSU on Saturday, Lerentee McCray jogged toward the locker room. The Gators’ offense was coming on the field, and assuming Charlie Weis couldn’t  draw up a 14-point play, the game was over. McCray’s night was done.

But it wasn’t. Even with four seconds left in the last game of a lost regular season, Will Muschamp wasn’t letting his junior linebacker slip away prematurely.

“Lerentee!” he yelled in that pissed-off, Southern voice that has surely crawled into the heads of Florida players as they try to sleep at night.

At least one reporter could hear Muschamp from 30 feet away, but apparently McCray could not. Muschamp yelled even louder, cranking his vocal-chord dial up to 11: “Lerentee! Get your ass back here!”

McCray obliged. The Gators ran one more play and the post-game festivities ensued. Some players and coaches greeted friends from the other sideline. Others just exited quickly, like McCray was trying to do.

This past week has been treated like the football apocalypse in Gainesville: Matt Elam ripped the seniors on Twitter, Muschamp ripped everyone in front of a lectern, two players transferred. And through all of this, chemistry has been pegged as the team’s central issue.

That’s backward logic. Florida isn’t 6-6 because it has chemistry issues. Florida has chemistry issues because it’s 6-6.

We often oversimplify the teams we follow, probably because we watch too many sports movies. When a squad succeeds, the players and coaches overcame a devastating obstacle in the second act to forge an unshakable bond. And if they lose, it’s because everyone on the team hates each other.

But real life doesn’t work like that. In high school, I came off the bench for terrible teams that I loved being a part of. I also started on playoff teams that I hated.

In almost every game, the winning team is simply better, the loser simply worse. That’s an elementary concept, but people  often lose sight of it. The Gators’ roster is full of five- and four-star recruits who didn’t pan out. That doesn’t mean they were selfish or spoiled. It just means they weren’t good.

After members of the senior class spoke in front of the team Friday night, Elam (@Dopest_Hitter22) tweeted that every player gave a “fake” speech except Jeff Demps and Deonte Thompson. On Tuesday, one underclassman said Elam’s opinion does not represent how most of the younger players feel.

“Every team is going to have their individual trials; we’re going through that,” that player said. “But people made more of an effort this year. This year was more of a group than last year. People were all about themselves last year. Now, we pulled together a little bit more. We still have a ways to go, as far as closeness, obviously.”

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Fans want to blame chemistry because it’s a quick fix: Get rid of the punks, and everything will be smooth. But the real issue is more basic, and to improve it will take time. Time on the recruiting trails, time in the weight room.

Sure, you can look at McCray leaving a game early or Muschamp scolding him as a sign that the team just needs a better attitude.

But you would be wrong.

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@alligator.org.

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