Adversity is nothing new to the Gators football team. The rash of injuries to key players on both sides of the ball has been well documented, but a loss is something Florida hasn’t swallowed in quite some time.
With four straight games coming up against SEC East opponents, coach Dan Mullen is quickly putting Saturday’s 42-28 loss to LSU in the past.
“Next week is a much bigger game than this game,” he said.
Mullen is right about that. And even though No. 9 Florida (6-1, 3-1 SEC) lost its first game of the season to the Tigers, Georgia — UF’s main competition in the SEC East — dropped a home game to South Carolina this past weekend. (No. 22 Missouri, which is in first place in the division, is not postseason eligible.)
The Gators’ path to Atlanta is clear now: beat Georgia and get rewarded with a rematch vs. LSU or a meeting against Alabama.
The Bulldogs don’t have an easy schedule to finish the season, having to host Missouri and Texas A&M and take on No. 11 Auburn on the road. But Florida’s remaining schedule isn’t much better. The Gators draw Missouri and a Gamecocks team fresh off a top-five upset both on the road and, of course, Georgia.
The health of linebacker Jonathan Greenard and defensive end Jabari Zuniga going forward could be the deciding factor in these games.
Cornerback Marco Wilson said that losing Greenard, who apparently reaggravated an injury he suffered against Auburn, killed the team’s vibe and not having Zuniga on the field for the whole game took the air out of the team.
UF drifted away from its defensive identity against LSU, and those injuries are at least in part to blame. The Tigers put up season highs in rushing yards, passing yards and points for a Florida opponent.
Quarterback Kyle Trask seemed up to the task of a shootout against the No. 1 offense in the nation, but the scoring fizzled out in the second half and the Gators defense only forced three punts all game.
Luckily for Florida, LSU was the best offense it will have to face in the regular season. But the holes that running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and even quarterback Joe Burrow found gives cause for concern against a team with a stout offensive line and rushing attack like UGA.
Still, as far as 14-point losses go, this was an encouraging one for Florida. At the very least, it didn’t derail the season and will show as a quality loss now that LSU moved up to No. 2.
“I know we could play with anybody,” Wilson said.
Following the game, multiple players were asked how to avoid one loss becoming two, as was the case last season against Georgia and Missouri, the last time the Gators lost. Senior center Nick Buchanan called the loss a freebie, but said things could get out of hand with a second one.
“When you lose one game everything is still in front of you,” he said. “You lose two games and then you start having questions about where you want to be at the end of the year. We can’t let this one game affect us and get us down.”
Follow Kyle Wood on Twitter @Kkylewood. Contact him at [email protected]