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Gators coach Will Muschamp faced some tough questions after Saturday's loss to Vanderbilt.

Saturday November 9, 2013Muschamp and Gators are Down, Determined to Get Up

Gators coach Will Muschamp faced some tough questions after Saturday's loss to Vanderbilt.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The oversized reminder of how unusual of a season this one has become for the Gators was on the wall over Dante Fowler Jr.’s right shoulder.

As Fowler answered questions from reporters following Florida’s 34-17 Homecoming loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday, a large sign on the wall behind him listed Florida’s 22 consecutive bowl trips.

A 23rd one was made much more difficult Saturday as the Gators lost to Vanderbilt for the first time since 1988, snapping a 22-game win streak over the Commodores.

The Gators lost their fourth consecutive game and dropped to 4-5 overall, the first time they have had a losing record this late in a season since the 0-10-1 team in 1979, which is the program’s last losing season.

“Everybody is frustrated,’’ Fowler said. “We’ve lost four straight. That’s really not how it goes at Florida. We are just going to have to bounce back and get right.”

As you can imagine, an urgent tone presided over Florida head coach Will Muschamp’s postgame press conference.

A year after leading the Gators to an 11-1 regular-season record and berth in the Sugar Bowl, Muschamp is now being questioned by fans and media.

He gets it. That’s part of the job when your team has not won in more than a month.

“The expectation doesn’t change,’’ he said. “I know what I expect of myself. I put more pressure on myself than anyone else can, to do a great job here at Florida. I take a lot of pride in that, regardless of the situation, the circumstances.

“I’m not asking for anybody to be happy. I’m not asking anybody to give a pass. This is the real deal. It’s the University of Florida.”

Muschamp was asked about the frustration some in the paid crowd of 88,004 expressed Saturday and how difficult the losing streak has been on him.

Once again, the Gators’ third-year head coach answered pointedly.

“I’m a competitor. I don’t like losing. I certainly don’t like the product we’re putting on the field and that’s my responsibility,’’ he said. “I take full credit for that, and when it’s good, it’s good, and when it’s not good, it’s not good. And it hasn’t been good. That’s on me.”

Another slow start doomed the Gators Saturday. And four turnovers by quarterback Tyler Murphy didn't help in Florida's first loss at home to Vanderbilt since 1945, the first meeting between the two programs.

Murphy threw three interceptions, and all three led to Vanderbilt touchdowns. The Vandy touchdown drives totaled 36 yards combined, starting at Florida’s 10-, 22- and 4-yard line.

Murphy finished 30 of 46 for a career-high 305 yards. His touchdown pass to Ahmad Fulwood -- with the help of a Vanderbilt defensive back’s foot – made it 31-17 midway through the fourth quarter.

But on a beautiful fall afternoon at Ben Griffin Stadium it was too little too late as Vanderbilt avoided the costly mistakes the Gators made.

“Anytime you throw three interceptions you put your defense in a bind,’’ Murphy said. “You kill the momentum offensively. I’ve got to play better.”

The Gators -- offense, defense and special teams -- have to play better if they want to have chance to keep their impressive streak of winning seasons alive. Florida has 25 consecutive winning seasons and 33 consecutive non-losing seasons (UF finished 6-6 in 1987).

To do so the Gators must win two of their final three games: at South Carolina, followed by Georgia Southern and No. 2-ranked Florida State at home.

No small task.

Then again, in a Florida season that has been marred by injuries and inconsistency, few have been.

“We’re not good enough to overcome critical mistakes like [four turnovers],’’ Muschamp said. “We didn’t do enough to make them have to earn the win. We’ve got to take care of the ball … find some things we can do well offensively, regain some confidence defensively.”

Florida had a season-high 26 first downs, outgained Vanderbilt 344 yards to 183, and allowed only six completions and 57 yards passing by Commodores quarterback Patton Robinette. Five of those completions went to All-American candidate Jordan Mathews, including a 23-yard catch on third down to prolong a drive in the third quarter.

However, Vanderbilt’s three biggest catches Saturday were by Kenny Ladler, Andrew Williamson and Andre Hal – the three Commodores to pick off Murphy.

Muschamp said he thought the Gators played hard, but not with the kind of edge they need. He said they did not check out after falling behind by double-digits in the first quarter for the third consecutive game.

He challenged the players to toughen up mentally in the final three games.

“We didn’t play very smart and we didn’t take care of the football,’’ Muschamp said. “When those things happen, emotionally it’s a killer. It’s a killer for your entire organization.

“It’s a woe-is-me mentality right now. We’ve got to overcome that. Our leadership needs to step forward. We’re going to move forward with the guys willing to accept challengers and opportunities that sometimes are difficult; sometimes are tough.”

As for those outsiders shouting for change, Muschamp said each Florida player and coach needs to re-evaluate what they are doing and how they can get better before Saturday's trip to South Carolina.

As they did prior to Saturday’s loss, the Gators voiced support for Muschamp after the Gators’ first home loss since 2011 to Florida State, snapping a 10-game winning streak at The Swamp.

“I see the grind in his eyes everyday,’’ senior starting right guard Jon Halapio said. “I see what he does everyday. I see the passion he has for this team. I’ll go to war with him any day. He has our back, we have his – everyday, win or lose.”


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