Sentimentality crept through Florida’s locker room after the team’s win over UAB on Saturday. Finally, after six weeks and five games without a win, the Gators could celebrate. And they did.
Cheers, high-fives and hugs dotted the landscape of Florida Field as players laughed and smiled while the band played the school’s fight song following what felt like an endless chasm of dread.
Please, save me your sighs.
When that subsided, defensive tackle Taven Bryan lumbered to the team meeting room under Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where reporters waited to speak with him. He had something to say. It started with praise for interim coach Randy Shannon and interim defensive coordinator Chris Rumph.
“This thing was the Titanic,” he added. “Those guys have been patching it.”
Patching the 2017 Florida football season is a bit like slapping a bandage on a corpse. This team failed to meet its goals for the season, and its players know that. But their 36-7 win over the Blazers gives them some hope. Some light. Some inkling that maybe, just maybe, they can resurrect that corpse with more than a simple bandage, which is all the win over UAB really was: a masking agent for something already dead.
But a win this Saturday over Florida State — that could be a defibrillator. That could jolt the season back to life.
The Gators haven’t beaten the Seminoles since 2012, meaning last season’s seniors — players like Jarrad Davis, Joey Ivie and Ahmad Fulwood — never did. This season’s seniors — players like Brandon Powell, Duke Dawson and DeAndre Goolsby — want to feel what their predecessors weren’t able to.
“It would mean everything to me,” Powell said.
It would also mean a lot to his teammates to help him experience that win when, so far, his senior season has consisted of memories to forget rather than cherish.
“We just want to send those guys out with a good win,” sophomore running back Lamical Perine said. “There’s going to be a whole lot of fans coming out for that game. It’s going to be a nice game.”
Even with a win against FSU, it’s unclear if the Gators (4-6, 3-5 SEC) would accept a bowl invitation with a losing record — their second in 38 years. So it’s likely the Sunshine Showdown will be some players’ last time taking the field in orange and blue.
And even if not, younger players also want to break the four-year losing streak to the Seminoles (4-6, 3-5 ACC). Perhaps none more so than quarterback Feleipe Franks, who said he grew up five minutes from Doak Campbell Stadium and whose father studied at FSU.
He doesn’t even know if he’s going to play, with Malik Zaire — who started over Franks against Missouri and South Carolina but suffered a PCL bruise against the Gamecocks — slated to return from his injury. Regardless, for someone who played high school football about 40 minutes south of Tallahassee, this game means something extra.
“That’s just gonna be the icing on the cake,” Franks said. “Sending these guys out right... It’ll be a fun time.”
Like the bandage on the corpse or the patch on the Titanic, the icing on this season’s cake is like the icing on a cold mess of dough that wasn’t baked properly. The same could be said for the Seminoles, who entered this season ranked No. 3 before their starting quarterback, Deondre Francois, was injured in the season opener and sidelined for the year. Since then, the Seminoles have imploded.
But like Florida, the Florida State was able to build some momentum with a 77-6 win over Delaware State on Saturday. Now, the Seminoles want to use that momentum to extend their winning streak over the Gators to five.
Florida, of course, wants to use their own momentum to end that streak. To resurrect the corpse, ice the cake and reverse the sinking ship.
“They’ve got some good repairmen on that Titanic this time,” Bryan said. “They learned from their mistakes. They’re patching it and we’re floating.”
You can follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri, and contact him at email@example.com.