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The Gators tangle with Vanderbilt on Saturday in search of their first win in over a month.

Friday November 8, 2013Gators Strive to End Skid with a Win Over Vanderbilt

The Gators tangle with Vanderbilt on Saturday in search of their first win in over a month.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When Will Muschamp took over the Florida football program in 2011, quarterback Tyler Murphy and defensive back Jaylen Watkins were already on the roster.

They have experienced some highs and lows over the past three seasons.

In Muschamp's first season the Gators needed a victory over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl for a winning season. Florida responded with a 24-17 victory.

A year ago, while expectations were turned up a notch in Muschamp's second season, the Gators pulled a pleasant surprise by finishing the regular season 11-1 to earn a BCS bowl berth. Florida lost to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.

Year 3 has been marred by injuries and a three-game losing streak entering Saturday's Homecoming game against Vanderbilt.

Quinton Dunbar

Photo: Gators receiver Quinton Dunbar will try to extend his streak with a catch to 25 games Saturday.

Florida's recent slide has frustrated fans, coaches and players alike. Still, with a bowl berth and 34th consecutive winning season still on the table, the Gators are staying calm amidst the storm.

They say that is the only way to turn around the season with four regular-season games remaining.

"We expected to have a much better record this time of year, but we haven’t played that way,'' said Murphy, who took over at quarterback three games into the season when starter Jeff Driskel suffered a season-ending broken fibula. "It’s just unfortunate.

"Guys are just pointing fingers at themselves. Nobody is really pointing fingers at other people; everybody is looking at themselves in the mirror and trying to fix what they’re doing wrong."

Besides injuries -- Florida lost its ninth player to a season-ending injury Tuesday when offensive lineman Tyler Moore fractured his right elbow in a scooter accident -- slow starts, untimely penalties, an on-and-off offense, and inconsistency on defense have plagued the Gators.

One of the country's most difficult schedules hasn't helped either.

Though it's been a roller-coast ride unlike any other for the team's veteran players, they have faith that Muschamp will turn the Gators around sooner than later.

"He fights for us,'' Watkins said. "He takes all the blame, and we're the ones out there playing. A lot of times, he puts in the right -- we know he's got the right scheme for us. We're just, a lot of times, out of place or something. We definitely love the support he gives us, and we're going to support him right back."

After Driskel went down, Murphy led the Gators to three consecutive wins over Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. He was suddenly Florida's savior.

A month later, after losses to LSU, Missouri and Georgia, Murphy has faced modest criticism from fans that are desperate for a win.

That's life as a player at a big-time program, especially the quarterback. Murphy can now relate to the mood swings from game-to-game. Muschamp certainly can, too.

Like Watkins, Murphy has faith that Florida's current woes are temporary under Muschamp, not permanent.

"He’s a high-energy guy,'' Murphy said. "He always has our backs. He takes a lot of the blame for things. As players, when somebody takes the blame for everything, you want to work hard because we’re the ones out there playing. To see somebody like that to really have our backs means a lot.

"We try to put it all on the field for a coach like that."

The Gators showed that they have no intentions of giving up on the season in last week's 23-20 loss to Georgia. Florida trailed 20-0 only 23 seconds into the second quarter.

The vitriol and frustration from fans on Twitter overflowed timelines.

Slowly, the momentum shifted as Florida's defense started to slow down the Bulldogs. Meanwhile, Murphy started to move the offense.

Murphy's 14-yard run with 14:20 left in the game cut Georgia's lead to 23-20. However, the rally fell short and the Gators departed EverBank Field with a third consecutive loss to Georgia and more questions than answers.

One of those questions, however, was not whether they had anything left to play for after being eliminated from the SEC East race.

"It was a losing effort, but we fought really hard. We came back,'' linebacker Michael Taylor said. "A lot of teams wouldn't do that, but that's us. We're not going to lay down. It was a poor first half and a good second half. If we would have played the whole game like that, it would have been a dominant performance."

The Gators allowed 259 yards in the first quarter; Georgia managed only 81 yards over the second and third quarters, which allowed the Gators to get back into the game.

"That really spoke to what their character is and what the morale is of the team,'' defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said.

The Gators could use a dominant performance from start to finish Saturday against the Commodores, also 4-4. Florida has defeated Vanderbilt 22 consecutive times and No. 23 in a row could not come at a better time.

Florida needs two more wins to become bowl eligible, and with a road game at South Carolina and home game against Florida State still on the schedule, a bowl trip is anything but guaranteed.

"We’re definitely trying to make a bowl. That’s definitely a goal,'' Murphy said. "But we’re really focused on just beating Vanderbilt. We’re kind of in a hole right now, so we’re just looking to keep fighting and find our way out."

Watkins summed up the current frustration this way:

"Everyone comes here to win,'' he said.

The same goes for Muschamp.

"We’ve had our opportunities in several games going back to Miami and LSU, some opportunities and a chance to win the game and we just didn’t get it done, and that’s on me,'' he said. "We’ll get our players in finishing situations and get over the hump, and that’s what we’ll work to do.

"We just need to build on the positives and correct the negative things and move forward."

Step 1: beat Vanderbilt.


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