One week ago, the Florida Gators season was thrown out of balance when they fell a touchdown short to the Kentucky Wildcats on the road.
Considered by many to be a legitimate contender — at least in the SEC East — following an inspired showing against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Sept. 18, the Gators quickly fell off their pedestal after recording a heartbreaking second loss of the year.
As a result, Florida currently sits in limbo as a team that has the talent and potential to make noise but is no longer in a position to push for a return to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game without help.
Now, UF enters into their homecoming game against the Vanderbilt Commodores in The Swamp, looking to bounce back in a big way and rediscover their identity in 2021.
Usually, this weekly series would detail one area of the game that can swing the contest in Florida’s favor.
In the grand scheme of things, the Florida Gators don’t — or at least shouldn’t — need an X-Factor to take down the lackluster Commodores squad on Saturday.
As a result, in lieu of the traditional AllGators X-Factor, I present a needed mental shift that will affect the Gators for the rest of the season.
Overcoming a loss is a daunting task for any team that had aspirations to chase a title, as Florida does every year. It becomes even more challenging when a dark cloud is formed over the season in Week 5, with warning signs that a storm of mediocrity is imminent.
Florida is currently at a crossroads in their season.
They have two options: Sulk in their self-pity and allow themselves to drop more games because of it, or become the team that spoils the season of others while simultaneously gearing up for the future.
This weekend against Vanderbilt, they need to embrace their new role as spoilers. Namely, in preparation for their rival Georgia Bulldogs.
Currently, Georgia looks to be a force to be reckoned with in college football, on a collision course to meet Alabama in the SEC Championship Game for a No. 1 versus No. 2 battle of the heavyweights.
Florida possesses the potential to be the wrench in that plan if they allow themselves.
Proving last season that Dan Mullen can out-scheme Kirby Smart despite the evident recruiting gap between the two programs, the Gators present the best chance to be a black mark on the Bulldogs 2021 record.
That wouldn’t happen if they played this week.
The mission to win in Jacksonville starts with their performance against Vanderbilt. By cleaning up the unwarranted self-inflicted wounds and creating a rhythm and trust offensively — from player to player and player to the coaching staff — Florida can set a tone that carries over into the remaining schedule.
Simultaneously, Florida needs to plug young pieces into meaningful downs for valuable in-game experience more frequently.
Players like Anthony Richardson, Joshua Braun, Ja’Quavion Fraziars, Derek Wingo and other youthful talents across the offense and defense should see increased roles — albeit based on circumstance — to expedite in-game development for future seasons.
Setting up for the future doesn’t have to result in immense growing pains at the collegiate level as it usually does at the professional level (tanking).
In fact, winning is a tool that aids the rise and longevity of programs to the top of college sports.
The Gators coaching staff needs to press the gas pedal even harder than they have, especially as a team that tends to play down to their opponents.
Something that can’t continue.
There is no better chance to get back on than against a Vanderbilt with two combined wins — against Colorado State and UConn — in the past two years.
All in all, if the Gators can channel their inner aggression before two marquee matchups against LSU and UGA, undergoing the shift in identity and mindset seamlessly against Vandy, Florida will have a new purpose on the 2021 season.
While they may not hoist a trophy, they can play a role in determining who hoists one at the season’s end.
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