One year ago, Florida went 11-2 and played in the Sugar Bowl. In August, it entered the 2013 season ranked No. 10 in the AP Poll. Now, the Gators' storied football program has hit rock bottom.
FCS Georgia Southern shocked Florida 26-20 in the Swamp on Saturday. There are numbers to consider -- the triple-option Eagles (7-4, 4-4 Southern) completed zero passes and gained a staggering 429 rushing yards -- but the box score doesn’t capture just how completely the Gators (4-7, 3-5 SEC) have collapsed. They’ve lost six straight games since opening the season 4-1, a skid that now includes their first defeat to an FCS foe in school history.
Perhaps no team has been hit with as many injuries as Florida, which has lost 10 players to season-ending ailments. Redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg started the last two games as a result of injuries to starter Jeff Driskel (leg) and backup Tyler Murphy (shoulder). But that doesn't excuse this result, which seems at once stunning and, in a way, inevitable.
Mornhinweg hit senior wide receiver Solomon Patton for a 46-yard touchdown pass with 5:41 remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 20, but Georgia Southern quarterback Jerick McKinnon -- who carried nine times for 125 yards -- ran for a 14-yard score on the ensuing possession to regain the lead. (The Eagles missed the PAT.) On the Gators’ final drive, Mornhinweg completed six passes to move Florida to the Georgia Southern 17-yard line. But his two heaves toward the end zone fell incomplete, the last one as time expired.
This loss may well signal the end for third-year coach Will Muschamp, who received the “1,000 percent” backing of athletic director Jeremy Foley earlier this month. As the Twitterverse was quick to point out, there are bad seasons … and then there’s this.
Now the Gators face the near-impossible task of rebounding in time to face second-ranked Florida State next Saturday. That clash will mark the end of Florida's season -- the Gators can no longer reach a bowl game. Can Florida's players turn around and hang with an in-state rival that seems bound for the BCS title game? Or will the Gators fall even further?
“If you don’t come out prepared and ready to play, you can lose to anybody. We lost to Vanderbilt. We hadn’t lost to Vanderbilt in 20-something years,” junior linebacker Michael Taylor said. “Any team is capable of losing on any day. I know this team put up 352 yards on [Georgia] last year, so this is no team to push aside. This is a team to be prepared for.”In retrospect, those words were more true than perhaps any of the Gators' coaches, players or fans could have imagined.