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The Gators must regroup from Saturday's loss at Miami with the start of SEC play looming.

Saturday September 7, 2013Gators Plan to Reboot after Disappointing Defeat

The Gators must regroup from Saturday's loss at Miami with the start of SEC play looming.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- As the Gators' team buses pulled away from Sun Life Stadium late Saturday afternoon, large chunks of Miami fans still remained outside the stadium.

As the buses passed, many of those fans flashed "The U" sign synonymous with the Hurricanes. Others offered only a middle finger. One guy, presumably a few drinks down, said goodbye with a moon.

The Gators' 21-16 loss was not the way they wanted to say goodbye to this bitter rivalry -- those parting images serving only as an unkind reminder of a rivalry that appears over unless the schools meet in a future bowl game.

The Gators mostly had themselves to blame.

And they knew it.

"We kind of killed ourselves,'' quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "That's the most frustrating part of it all."

More than half an hour after the game, center Jon Harrison still seemed miffed at what had transpired on a cloudy and muggy afternoon.

After all, the Gators dominated the game for large stretches. They outgained Miami 413 yards to 212. They had 22 first downs to Miami's 10. Miami punted on eight of its final 11 possessions and quarterback Stephen Morris was intercepted by Vernon Hargreaves III on another.

Still, the Gators only had another loss to the Hurricanes to show for it.

"I'm very surprised [at our performance],'' Harrison said. "We just couldn't capitalize in the red zone. That's what hurt us and that's what we have to work on."

The only stat that mattered in the end was five turnovers. That's how many the Gators committed in losing to Miami for the fifth time in six games since 2000 when the two programs met for the first time in 13 years in the Sugar Bowl.

Instead of their first win at Miami since 1985 -- a perfect way to end the rivalry in the eyes of longtime Florida fans who remember when this game was one of the most important on the schedule -- the rivalry ended with a thud for the Florida sideline.

"Unless I get another 10 years of eligibility, I won't play Miami again,'' linebacker Michael Taylor said. "As a program, it's disappointing to have a bitter taste like this after playing these guys."

As disappointing as Saturday's loss was for the Gators, they can take solace in knowing that it doesn't impact their primary goal: winning an SEC East title and playing in Atlanta for the conference crown.

Driskel, cast as the villain by a large portion of the fan base for his three-turnover afternoon, tossed a reminder of that fact as he took questions from a large horde of media outside the Gators' locker room.

"We're not out of anything yet,'' he said.

That will be part of Florida coach Will Muschamp's message in the next two weeks as the Gators prepare to host Tennessee in the SEC opener Sept. 21 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

But for the Gators to realistically challenge for an SEC title, they will need to make some major improvements in some key areas, most notably ball security.

Saturday's game played out much like the loss to Georgia last season that cost the Gators an SEC East championship.

Too many turnovers. Too many penalties. Too many drives that ended as if the Gators had a kick-me sign taped on their backs.

How the Gators respond against Tennessee will be critical to the rest of their season.

Muschamp doesn't expect a hangover.

"We have a good group,'' he said. "A lot of character in that locker room. They're hurt right now. They're disappointed. I told the team in the locker room, at the end of the day we gave them way too much momentum and belief early in the game.

"Defensively, we gave them what they needed."

What the Gators gave Miami was a 14-6 first-quarter lead that had them trying to climb from a hole the rest of the day. Every time they looked ready to reach ground level, an interception or fumble sent them tumbling back into the hole.

The critics will be tossing the same darts as they did after the six-turnover loss to Georgia last season.

That is a ritual that never goes away.

The offense will be targeted most after scoring only one touchdown in six trips inside the red zone.

"We have to watch a lot of film and get better,'' said senior receiver Trey Burton. "You have to evaluate yourself and really be hard on yourself. Hopefully we can get things right."

Still wearing his sweaty shirt and a frustrated expression, Muschamp was matter-of-fact in his postgame press conference.

There is nothing to panic over. Only areas to practice at and get better before the Vols come to town.

A loss is a loss in Muschamp's world. Even one to Miami that, for most of the afternoon, appeared avoidable if the offense had been able to convert on a more of those trips into Miami's red zone.

"That will sink in in a while,'' Muschamp said of losing another game to their rancorous rivals in South Florida. "Just disappointed for our football team and the Gator Nation."

That disappointment stretched far and wide. And loudly on social media.

What the Gators do against Tennessee will either hush the noise or turn up the volume.

Harrison was asked about Driskel's demeanor in the locker room.

"He was aware of possible mistakes and he was aware of that we need to really get our foot on the pedal these next two weeks,'' Harrison said. "He was like, 'We really need to step up our urgency as a team.' "

On a frustrating day for the Gators and their fans, that's something they can all agree on.

 

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