Florida looks to end slide against Vanderbilt
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)
It can't get any worse for Florida, right?
The Gators have dropped four consecutive games for the first time since 1988, had some of the worst offensive performances in two decades and been knocked out of the Southeastern Conference race before the final month of the season.
Florida has been embarrassed at home, beaten by a top rival and exposed as woefully unprepared to play the schemes first-year coach Will Muschamp has installed.
The most telling sign of how far the Gators (4-4, 2-4 SEC) have fallen since winning the 2008 national championship: They probably need to beat Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4) on Saturday to make a bowl game.
''It's been a long, tough road these last few games and these losses,'' defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. ''But we're not talking about being bowl eligible right now. We're just talking about finishing the season out strong.''
The Gators went 0-for-October, losing to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia by a combined score of 120-47. Florida managed just four touchdowns in the losing streak, and all of them were somewhat fluky.
Andre Debose caught 65-yard touchdown passes against two of the best defenses in the country, Jeff Demps went untouched for a 99-yard kickoff return and Jordan Reed hauled in a 31-yard score on a fourth-and-19 play.
Florida's run game, which averaged 259 yards in the first four games of the season, has been almost nonexistent since. Behind speedsters Chris Rainey and Demps, the Gators averaged 43.8 yards a game on the ground in October.
''It's definitely a bad taste in our mouth,'' guard Jon Halapio said. ''It's been a long month, I can tell you that. It's been a long, long month.''
It could get longer, too.
Although the Commodores have lost 20 consecutive games in the series and haven't left Gainesville with a victory since 1958, they hardly resemble the team that lost consecutive road games at South Carolina and Alabama in lopsided fashion.
Quarterback Jordan Rodgers, the little brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has played well at times in his two starts.
And Zac Stacy has 423 yards rushing and five touchdowns in the past three games. The Commodores lost two of those, but they proved to be a handful for Georgia and Arkansas.
''It's not the same old Vanderbilt, that's for sure,'' Commodores left tackle Wesley Johnson said.
The Gators have given up 804 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground in their four losses, and all four opponents ran at least 43 times. Stacy could be the next running back to pile up yards against Florida.
''We have a lot of confidence coming into this game,'' Commodores safety Javon Marshall said.
Vanderbilt has mostly served as a punching bag for Florida over the last 20-plus years. There have been two close games in Gainesville (1999, 2005), but the Gators have kept the streak intact.
Florida needs this one maybe more than ever.
The program hasn't lost five in a row since 1979, and with games remaining against Vanderbilt, Furman, South Carolina and Florida State, the Gators need to win two of their final four to extend their bowl streak to 21 years.
''We're focused on Vanderbilt. That's really it,'' Muschamp said. ''It's been week to week and that's been my approach all season. Nothing's changed as far as our approach and how we do things. We're going to focus on our football team and improving and finding out what we need to do to beat Vanderbilt.''
The Gators are tired of losing. They are 8-9 since the middle of the 2010 season, a stretch of mediocrity that has players, coaches and fans frustrated.
''There's nothing good about it,'' Muschamp said. ''There are no moral victories, there's nothing. You deal with it. You watch the film. You're technical in your approach. You don't get emotional with the players with it. You show what you did well, what you didn't do well, what you've got to do to improve yourself as a player, a coach and a football team.
''And the first person you look at is yourself. Too many people in our society want to point a finger at somebody else or blame somebody else for why something happened.''