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The Gators hope to keep their SEC East title hopes alive with a win over Missouri on Saturday.

Friday November 2, 2012Gators Seek to Rebound from First Loss, Keep SEC East Title Hopes Alive

The Gators hope to keep their SEC East title hopes alive with a win over Missouri on Saturday.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The images remain fresh for the Gators.

The two fumbles and two interceptions by quarterback Jeff Driskel. Georgia’s Jarvis Jones running loose and causing havoc. Jordan Reed’s fumble in the final minutes.

The final image lit up on the scoreboard at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field is the most painful: Georgia 17, Florida 9.

As disappointing as the loss was for the Gators, Florida coach Will Muschamp wants them to hold onto that feeling as long as it doesn’t turn into a negative distraction.

“I don’t want them to forget the loss,’’ Muschamp said this week. “I want them to learn from it and use it as motivation. But if you can’t use it as motivation in a positive way, then you need to forget it.”

The Gators have tried their best this week to turn a negative into a positive. The words “bounce back” and “rebound” have been popular mantras.

Despite dropping to No. 8 in the polls and fumbling their opportunity to clinch the SEC East title, the Gators’ season is not over. In fact, one-third of the regular season remains to be played, starting Saturday when Missouri visits The Swamp for the first time.

The Gators need to beat the Tigers and then get help from either Ole Miss or Auburn to beat Georgia to make it to Atlanta. Is it likely? Probably not. Is it possible? Certainly.

“There’s still a lot to play for,’’ offensive lineman Jon Halapio said.

In the aftermath of the Gators’ first loss of the season the coaches liked the way the players responded. They want to see them carry it onto Florida Field come noon Saturday.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn expects that to happen.

“Our team is pretty well connected,’’ Quinn said. “You can tell the players are really for each other.”

Driskel certainly is ready to get back on the field after his four-turnover day. The sophomore quarterback’s most costly mistake was a first-half interception in the end zone that cost Florida a chance to go into the locker room with the lead.

He knows he must play better against the Tigers for Florida to regain its winning touch. The Gators can surpass their win total (seven) from last season with a victory and not only keep their SEC East title hopes alive, but further position themselves for a BCS Bowl.

“Hopefully I got them out of my system," Driskel said of his four turnovers. “You've got to learn from mistakes.”

The loss certainly can’t be pinned all on Driskel. The offensive line wasn’t as sharp as usual. The running game was stuffed. No wide receiver had more than one catch. The defense was solid but missed some critical tackles.

The Gators would like to get back to running the ball effectively and take some of the pressure off Driskel. The Gators are averaging just 1.9 yards per carry (89 attempts, 170 yards) in their last two games.

“In our league, they catch up pretty quick with you as far as the things you’re doing,” Muschamp said. “You’ve got to continue to stay advanced in what you’re doing. We self-scout ourselves hard. We look at what we’re doing based on the personnel groupings we have the field position and the down and distance. That’s something we studied pretty hard.”

If senior running back Mike Gillislee can find running room, then Driskel should be able to find open receivers more easily down the field. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease continues to search for playmakers and ways to create space for the receivers.

Meanwhile, Missouri defeated Kentucky last week for its first SEC win. The Tigers lost their first four conference games with quarterback James Franklin battling a shoulder injury and knee injury.

Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said Franklin, who came off the bench against Kentucky, will start against the Gators.

Franklin will test Florida’s defense according to Quinn.

There are some games that he really beat people with his legs,’’ Quinn said. “One that stands out to me is last year against Texas A&M. He is a dual-threat guy. When you know a guy that has ability to do that, you have to prepare that way. They want to create space to get the ball outside to their talented guys.”

The only other meeting between Florida and Missouri came in the 1966 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. The Gators lost 20-18 despite 352 yards passing from quarterback Steve Spurrier.

On this week’s SEC media teleconference, Spurrier was asked about what he recalled from the game.

“For some reason one of the coaches persuaded our head coach, Ray Graves, to go for two,” Spurrier recalled. “So we kept going for two; we haven’t made one yet.”

Forty-six years later the schools finally meet again, this time with Missouri an SEC East foe.

Tigers coach Gary Pinkel expects a unique setting Saturday and difficult challenge.

“It’s a historic place for college football, which is one of the great things about coaching and playing in the SEC,’’ Pinkel said. “We just want to play our best football game. That is what our goal is and we are going to work real hard to do it.

“[Florida] had a tough loss last week, but they are playing great defense. You can see [Muschamp’s] stamp. At Texas they did the same thing. They played really good defense there.”

The Gators will try to do the same Saturday. They hope to mix in more offense, too.

I think we’ll have a good plan this week again to run it,” Muschamp said. “I think we had a good plan last week. We got whipped at the point of attack, quite frankly. We need to win some of those.”


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