GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The promising start has faded. The 3-0 SEC record turned into a 3-5 finish due to a list of season-ending injuries that kept growing and growing.
But after last week's 19-14 loss at South Carolina, Florida head coach Will Muschamp could at least lean on these nine words at his Monday press conference: "We had no other significant injuries from the game."
So, as the Gators kicked off preparation for Saturday's game against Georgia Southern, they already had at least one huge win behind them.
Now they need one on the field.
The 4-6 Gators close out the regular-season with back-to-back home games against Georgia Southern and No. 2-ranked Florida State. Riding a five-game losing streak and with their bid to make a 23rd consecutive bowl game resting on wins in both of their final games, the Gators need to turn it around.
Fast. Real fast.
"I mean, when you are going into the season as a Gator you never imagine something like that,'' defensive tackle Leon Orr said this week. "You always have your mind on winning the SEC Championship, winning a national championship. I can't necessarily say that I was going in thinking that this was going to be a pivotal game."
More than anything, the Gators need something positive to happen.
They played well at South Carolina and appeared destined to pull off an upset with first-time starting quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg filling in for the injured Tyler Murphy, who was filling in for the injured Jeff Driskel.
Yep, it's been that kind of season.
So a win over Georgia Southern, while not necessarily on anyone's list as a "pivotal game" three months ago, is certainly that today.
Muschamp is hopeful the Gators can carry their energy at South Carolina into The Swamp on Saturday afternoon during Saluting Those Who Serve Day in honor of military veterans.
"Very upfront and honest with our guys about where we are and what we need to do to get better,'' Muschamp said. "We're in it together. I told them after the game it was a great effort, but at the end of the day, it's about winning.
"You've got to do what you've got to do to win the game in those situations."
They will try to do that come 2 p.m. Saturday.
Fore more on the Florida-Georgia Southern matchup, here is a look at The Opening Kickoff:
FIVE STORYLINES TO WATCH
Can the Gators get their first win since Oct. 5 against Arkansas? That is the primary question Florida fans want answered Saturday, and they hope it's a big Y-E-S. A victory leading into Florida State Week would help lift the mood around the program.
Mornhinweg will likely make his first start at home. Mornhinweg made his UF debut in last week's start at South Carolina. He finished 10 of 13 for 107 yards with one interception. He wasn't asked to do much in the passing game until the end when he led the Gators inside Gamecocks territory before throwing an interception.
Florida's defensive line will be challenged to stay disciplined against Georgia Southern's triple option. Tackles Orr and Darius Cummings will have to be alert for the fullback dive, and ends Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard must contain the edges give the linebackers and secondary time to react.
Eagles all-purpose back Jerick McKinnon is always dangerous. McKinnon is closing in on another 1,000-yard season and ran for 316 yards last season against Central Arkansas, the second-best rushing performance in school history behind former Chicago Bears running back Adrian Peterson.
The Gators are ranked 11th in the SEC with a negative-3 turnover margin. UF has forced 15 turnovers and committed 18. It's an area of concern for Muschamp, who watched the Gators finish plus-15 in 2012 (30 forced turnovers, 15 committed).
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Gators freshman running back Kelvin Taylor continues to improve in his first season. Taylor scored two touchdowns and rushed for a career-high 96 yards on 21 carries at South Carolina. Both of his touchdowns came on direct snaps, a new wrinkle to the way the Gators have used Taylor.
Freshman linebacker Jarrad Davis is another Florida newcomer to emerge in the season's second half. Davis recorded a career-high five tackles at South Carolina and will continue to see more snaps on defense with injured linebacker Antonio Morrison out for the season.
Another Gators freshman to make strides of late is receiver Ahmad Fulwood, who now has 11 catches for 92 yards. Fulwood has continued to gain more trust from the coaches and had his first career touchdown reception in the loss to Vanderbilt two weeks ago.
Eagles coach Jeff Monken is in his fourth season and has led GSU to a 37-16 record over that span. Monken was an assistant to his mentor, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, for 13 seasons prior to becoming a head coach.
GSU senior cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks is tied for the Southern Conference lead with nine passes defended (2 interceptions, 7 pass break-ups). Westbrooks has NFL potential and is a player the Gators will be aware of when they go to the air.
Gators coach Will Muschamp discusses Florida's quarterback situation in this GatorVision report from Kelly Hawkins ...
THE QUOTE FILE
"You get tired of losing. It definitely wasn't in the plans. Players, coaches, we're all disappointed. But one thing we do have is two games left on the calendar." -- Gators linebacker Michael Taylor on UF's five-game losing streak
"I don't remember the last time we had the same lineup as an offensive line. That was the second week in a row ... so when we can do that, that's only going to get us better. The offensive line is all about chemistry." -- Gators left guard/tackle Max Garcia on UF's injury-ravaged line stabilizing the past two games
"He's probably got a little bit more comfort zone than a kid that hasn't grown up around it.'' -- Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease on Mornhinweg's composure as the son of veteran NFL coach Marty Mornhinweg
"I definitely talked to him as soon as the game was over. Nothing too extravagant. I talked to him about who he thought was the best defensive player, things like that.” -- GSU offensive graduate assistant Jaybo Shaw, brother of South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, on talking to his brother after Florida's 19-14 loss to the Gamecocks
There's Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson, arguably the NFL's best running back, and there's The Real Adrian Peterson, at least to Georgia Southern fans. Former Gators linebacker Mike Peterson's brother played several seasons in the NFL and joined the GSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012 ...
10 QUICK HITTERS
Muschamp said left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) and cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) are out. Humphries will miss his fourth consecutive game. Roberson missed last week's game due to suspension but would not have played regardless due to his injured ankle according to Muschamp.
The Gators have used a different starting lineup on offense in each of their 10 games.
Georgia Southern leads all FBS and FCS schools in rushing, averaging 353.5 yards per game on the ground. The Gators are averaging 151.4 yards per game rushing. Under Muschamp, Florida is 2-10 when outrushed, so slowing down the Eagles' ground attack will be critical.
Gators receiver Quinton Dunbar will try to extend his school-record streak of consecutive games with a reception to 27. Dunbar broke Carlos Alvarez's school record when he hauled in three catches for 25 yards at South Carolina to extend his streak to 26 consecutive games with a catch.
In 36 games under Muschamp, Florida is 22-14. In the 22 wins, the Gators have a turnover margin of plus-25; in the 14 losses, their turnover margin is minus-25.
Muschamp and Georgia Southern offensive coordinator Brent Davis were teammates at Georgia for a season after Davis transferred from The Citadel.
Georgia Southern is 0-20 all-time against FBS opponents. The Eagles' closest call came in 1986 in a 35-33 loss to East Carolina. GSU led Florida State 10-7 midway into the fourth quarter of 1988 trip to Florida State but lost 28-10.
The first quarter has been the Gators' least productive on the scoreboard and the second quarter their most productive. Florida has been outscored 75-36 in the first quarter and outscored opponents 68-36 in the second period.
Beth Monken, the first lady of Georgia Southern football and wife of Eagles coach Jeff Monken, is a UF graduate and former Gators cheerleader.
The late Richard Bowles, longtime director of bands at UF and composer of "The Orange and Blue," also composed Georgia Southern's fight song. When GSU resurrected its football program in 1982, one of Bowles' former students at UF was band director at the school and contacted Bowles, who died in 2009.
The Gators' season reached a low point when they lost to Vanderbilt on Homecoming. While they dropped their fifth consecutive game last week at South Carolina, the mood afterward was more upbeat considering Florida gave the No. 11-ranked Gamecocks all they could handle.
With Georgia Southern visiting The Swamp, the Gators will be challenged to stop the Eagles' rare triple-option run game. They will likely need to make adjustments during the game. They may even fall behind.
But in the end, the Gators need to win this one for many reasons, starting with the fact they still have a chance to get to a bowl game if they win. If they lose, that vanishes -- right as FSU comes to town.