GatorZone.com Senior Writer
BATON ROUGE, La. – They started fast against Alabama and lost by 28 points. They started slow with a true freshman quarterback on Saturday and lost 41-11 to LSU.
There have been very few back-to-back Saturdays for Gator fans in the last 20 years like the last two. To be fair, there have been very few back-to-back challenges in Florida football history like the last two Saturdays.
Seven days after losing to No. 2-ranked Alabama at home, the Gators got spanked here by No. 1-ranked LSU on a picture-perfect afternoon at Tiger Stadium. Less than nine minutes into the game the Gators trailed 14-0.
The game wasn’t over, but it felt that way considering the circumstances. Florida was without starting quarterback John Brantley and back-up quarterback Jeff Driskel to injuries. Tailback Jeff Demps made a brief appearance but a bum ankle sent him to the sideline.
And a week after being unable to slow down Alabama’s Trent Richardson, Florida’s defense had difficulty bringing down LSU running backs Spencer Ware (109 yards) and Alfred Blue (70). Even LSU punter Brad Wing ran free for a 52-yard touchdown run that was turned into a 44-yard gain when he started high-stepping at the 8 and was called for taunting.
The deficit grew and so did the Gators’ frustration. Afterward, Gators coach Will Muschamp was asked if he at least took solace in that the back-to-back losses came to the top two teams in the country.
Muschamp wanted no part of a pity party.
“We came here to win the game,’’ he said. “We are at Florida. We expect to be able to win these games.’’
The buzz after a 4-0 start has turned into “4-2 and what do we do?”
The Gators travel to Auburn next weekend and after a bye week, close out October with Georgia in Jacksonville. To prevent another three-game losing streak like a year ago, the Gators know they must get a lot accomplished between now and then.
The job starts up front, where if you don’t win the line of scrimmage in what Muschamp calls a line-of-scrimmage league, you lose.
“I thought we would have played better than we did these last two ballgames,’’ Muschamp said. “We’ve got to get better at the line of scrimmage. We wore out as the game wore on. We’ve got to come up with some ways to stop the run. That’s been disappointing.”
Florida’s problems on Saturday ran much deeper than quarterback Jacoby Brissett becoming the first true freshman at UF to ever take his first college snap as the Gators’ starting quarterback.
Brissett managed OK after a shaky start, but too many penalties, the inability to force a turnover, lackluster tackling, a key breakdown on special teams on Wing’s long run and other factors contributed to Saturday’s defeat.
Sixth-year senior Dan Wenger walked out of the locker room after Florida’s worst SEC loss in nine years and into a large group of media asking what went wrong. Wenger has quickly become a team leader despite not becoming part of the program until the summer.
He said it’s time for the Gators to regroup and really find out what they are made of deep down.
“As a team, we have to collect together and learn from the experience,’’ Wenger said. “We don’t want to feel this way. We don’t practice all week to lose.’’
Muschamp made it clear that “it’s not one area.’’ He wants to see improvements in every area, including the coaching.
“We’re obviously disappointed in the game,’’ Muschamp said. “When it’s not being executed on the field it comes back to me. We’ve just got to look at the film and evaluate where we are as a football team, and that’s what we’re going to do and move forward with guys who are willing to do the things we need to do to be successful.”
If you look back at the first seasons of every Gators coach since Steve Spurrier returned to UF in 1990 and lifted the program to new heights, there have been some big speed bumps after the introductory press conference.
In Spurrier’s first season, the Gators’ only two losses were bad ones: 45-3 at Tennessee and 45-30 at Florida State. In Ron Zook’s first season in 2002, the Gators lost at home to Miami 41-16 and to LSU 36-7. In Urban Meyer’s first season in 2005, Florida was blown out at Alabama 31-3 lost a much-hyped meeting with Spurrier’s South Carolina team.
Maybe we’ll look back in a couple of months and be able to see the lopsided losses to Alabama and LSU were Muschamp’s hard knocks in his first year. That would be a best-case scenario.
The worst-case scenario would be if the Gators continue to lose and start unraveling.
“We are going to move forward with guys that do respond,’’ Muschamp said.
Sophomore Trey Burton plans to be one of those guys.
“[We have to] look in the mirror and critique ourselves,’’ Burton said. “We’ve got a lot of things to work on. We’re young team and we’ve just got to mature.’’
When last year’s 4-0 start took a wrong turn, the Gators hung together and came within a game of winning the SEC East. They plan to take a similar approach now.
“We are going to rally up,’’ defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. “We are going to practice harder and do things the Florida way. We’re going to get it right.
“We still control our own destiny.’’
Losing to Alabama and LSU on back-to-back Saturdays is nothing to be ashamed of. One of these teams could easily be playing for the national championship in January.
What the Gators will regret is if they don’t learn from the losses. That will start Monday at practice.
Linebacker Lerentee McCray is confident the losses won’t continue piling up the way they did a year ago after a 4-0 start.
“We will bounce back,’’ he said. “We’re a better team [than a year ago].’’
The best way the Gators can prove it is by winning at Auburn next Saturday.