Gators try to snap home losing skid on Senior Day
Florida coach Urban Meyer has been reluctant to point fingers at problematic players all season.
On Saturday, he's going to call some guys out publicly. Well, sort of.
It's Senior Day in Gainesville, and Florida's 23-man class - which Meyer will recognize during a pregame ceremony - has the distinction of losing three consecutive home games for the first time since 1989.
The Gators (6-4) need a win against Football Championship Series power Appalachian State (9-1) to avoid four in a row. That's no easy task considering the Mountaineers, three-time FCS champions, have scored at least 35 points in nine games this season.
''Make no mistake about it, the team we're playing isn't some clown show,'' Meyer said. ''This is a real one.''
The Mountaineers wrapped up their sixth consecutive Southern Conference championship last week and earned an automatic bid to the postseason tournament. But don't expect them to rest starters in Gainesville.
''People talk about this is a money game and all that. It's not for us,'' center Brett Irvin said. ''We're going there to beat Florida. That's our No. 1 priority. If we play like we're capable of, it can happen very easily.''
Appalachian State's victory at Michigan in 2007 still resonates with Florida players. They remember the blocked field goal attempt, the celebration and the aftermath. They also insist a similar stunning upset won't happen in the Swamp.
''It was a crazy victory,'' left tackle Marcus Gilbert said. ''I'm not really worried about that. It's 2010. It's a different year, different teams.
''We're very confident. We have the best talent out there. I think we're going to come out and handle business because a lot if guys, especially seniors, have a chip on their shoulders and are not going to let this be our last loss at the Swamp.''
Florida's seniors may have something to prove now, but they haven't played with much urgency in the first 10 games. Meyer acknowledged this week what outsiders have seen all season - that there's a ''void'' in the team somewhere.
''I'm not into excuses, but it's real,'' Meyer said. ''We've always been a high-energy, up-tempo, chest-bumping, flying-around team. ... I don't see that. So there's a void somewhere in there that we have to recruit to it, develop it and coach the mess out of it, because that's what we are.''
The seniors bear the brunt of the blame.
Florida's offensive line, which has four seniors and was supposed to be a team strength, has struggled to pick up blitzes all season and has allowed 15 sacks in the last five games.
Florida's starting receivers, seniors Deonte Thompson and Carl Moore, have been disappointments. Although Thompson leads the team with 30 receptions for 448 yards, he has dropped several passes in key situations. Moore came up with some clutch catches early in the year, but has since been replaced by Frankie Hammond in the starting lineup.
Linebackers A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks, both seniors, have seen their playing time diminish, too. The defensive line has been equally baffling, with seniors Justin Trattou, Duke Lemmens, Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders failing to stop running games and pressure quarterbacks.
The Gators have allowed 196 yards rushing a game in their four losses. They also have 20 sacks, half their total from last season, and are on pace for the program's lowest in Meyer's tenure.
There have been a few senior bright spots.
Safety Ahmad Black leads the team with 93 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. He's the team's best tackler and arguably their best player. Not bad for someone Meyer deemed too slow to play in the Southeastern Conference as a freshman.
''I regret nothing about this whole ride,'' Black said. ''I enjoyed everything about it. I met some great people, some great players. I'm just enjoying it. I'm just living the moment. I'm having a lot of fun. It's probably the most fun year I've had here. It's sad that it's coming to an end.''
Punter Chas Henry leads the nation in punting (47.4) and kicked a 37-yard field goal to beat Georgia in overtime last month.
''We are awful proud of these guys,'' Meyer said. ''I love these guys. Obviously this season has been full of speed bumps and adversity, and I would let you know if I didn't believe we have a good senior class.''
Good, maybe. Certainly not great.
Nonetheless, the seniors have a chance to turn things around in their home finale.
''Yeah, it'll obviously be an emotional day,'' center Mike Pouncey said. ''It's tough for me because I feel like I gave it my all for this program and it just (stinks) to end it on a note like this, but I want to finish the season out strong with a couple more wins.''