Reeling Gators push to upset No. 5 FSU, ruin Seminoles’ season
GAINESVILLE — It’s never easy to stay motivated during a losing streak, but the Florida football team has continued to show up and fight.
The Gators shouldn’t have a problem doing it once again, even as the losses mount and frustration builds.
“This is a game that matters 24/7, 365,” UF coach Billy Napier said Monday.
The stakes and effort level remain high for Napier’s squad, despite four straight defeats.
“We put in so much work here and to not get the results, obviously it’s very frustrating as players,” linebacker Teradja Mitchell said. “It all comes back to how we respond as a team.”
Bowl eligibility remains in play for the Gators (5-6) while the chance to spoil their archrival’s season carries obvious appeal. The No. 5 Seminoles (11-0) could watch their College Football Playoff hopes evaporate with a loss a week after star quarterback Jordan Travis suffered a season-ending leg injury.
“All of those are external,” Napier said. “But they have impact.”
Florida will use whatever edge it can find to avoid a season-ending skid and program’s first losing regular season since 2017.
“Inside that locker room there’s just a fire burning for us just because we need to get a win,” senior receiver Ricky Pearsall said. “It’s about that time. It’s due time to get a win for us and for the university and the program.
“There’s not a better week to do it than this week, especially against these guys.”
To end their losing streak, the Gators will have to close out a game.
Florida’s misuse of timeouts and poor late-game execution cost them Nov. 4 during 39-36 overtime loss to Arkansas in the Swamp. Last Saturday’s 33-31 loss at No. 9 Missouri featured eight lead changes but slipped out of the Gators’ grasp when the Tigers converted a fourth-and-17 on the game-winning drive to avoid an upset.
“It was hard,” veteran edge rusher Princely Umanmielen said Monday. “That one might have hit harder than Arkansas. After the game I went outside and sat down for like 20 minutes. It was really, really tough. It was tough on the whole team.
“Guys were crying in the locker room because we knew we could have walked away with a win. We gotta just look forward now.”
Defensive collapses have been a consistent theme during the losing streak, with UF’s four opponents averaging 544 yards.
FSU quarterback Tate Rodemaker made his only college start in 2020 but has shown flashes in relief. After Travis went down last Saturday, Rodemaker completed 13 of 23 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns during a 58-13 win against North Alabama.
UF will turn to backup Max Brown after starter Graham Mertz broke his left collarbone during an 11-yard run on third down with the Gators trailing 23-21.
A matchup of inexperienced QBs will be a major storyline, but a matchup of two rivals going in opposite directions offers the Gators a final chance to close the deal after too many crushing defeats.
“I really think we’re better than our record says,” Pearsall said. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to go out there on the football field and earn those wins. I don’t think we did a good enough job of doing that.
“Hopefully we can come together, rally back and do that this week.”
Edgar Thompson can be reached at moc.lenitnesodnalro@nospmohtge