GAINESVILLE (AP) — No. 22 Florida has lost two games and four starters this season.
The Gators haven’t lost hope of winning the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
Despite so much having gone wrong this season — season-ending injuries to quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones and defensive tackle Dominique Easley were significant setbacks — the Gators still have their primary goal in sight.
If Florida wins its remaining Southeastern Conference games, it would play for the league title for the first time since 2009.
The road to Atlanta begins Saturday at No. 14 Missouri.
“When you can control your own destiny, you don’t have to hope and pray for somebody else to lose,” linebacker Michael Taylor said. “Knowing that if you win every game that you can reach all your goals, that’s always a good thing.”
The Gators were in a similar position the last two years, too. But they dropped close games to Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina that knocked them out of contention in 2011, and a turnover-filled, 17-9 loss to Georgia last year did the same.
“We’ve blown it two years in a row, so like we’ve all been saying, ‘We’re not going to blow it this year,'” Taylor said. “We’re going to take advantage of the opportunities that we have and not blow them like we did in the past.”
It’s easier said than done, especially with the way Florida (4-2, 3-1) performed last week at LSU.
The Gators managed a season-low 240 yards and two field goals against the Tigers. They were better on defense, but still got gouged for 175 yards rushing.
“All of our goals are still in front of us,” guard Jon Halapio said. “But if we don’t handle business and play like how we usually play, then those goals don’t mean nothing.”
It starts up front, where the Gators were handled on both lines of scrimmage.
The offensive line was supposed to make huge strides this season. Florida returned Halapio, center Jon Harrison and tackles D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green. Throw in the addition of experienced transfers Max Garcia (Maryland) and Tyler Moore (Nebraska), and the Gators were supposed to run roughshod over the rest of the league.
Instead, it’s just been rough and shoddy.
Florida has averaged 2.8 yards a carry in half its games. Green’s season-ending labrum injury and Halapio’s partially torn pectoral muscle, which sidelined him for the first two games, surely were part of the problem. So was the viral infection that slowed Jones in fall practice and kept him out of the opener.
Still, many outsiders question how Florida has failed to find enough talent to withstand a few key injuries.
“We’ve got to be better at what we are, and I don’t think we’ve reached the pinnacle of what we’re really trying to achieve yet,” offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “We’ve got some guys down. Some other guys have the opportunity to step up. Whoever that may be in those positions, we’ve got to put it all together and put our kids in a good situation to be successful.”
Missouri won’t provide an easy rebound for Florida, either.
The Tigers rank second in the SEC in scoring and rushing, and third in total offense. They also are second in the league with 17 sacks, including 14 the last three weeks.
And Florida had all kinds of trouble picking up blitzes and stunts against LSU.
“Basically we need to do a better job of going out with a nasty attitude,” Garcia said. “We feel like we’re being called out by the media and by all these people, but we’re calling ourselves out as an offensive line unit. We want to put the team on our back and get the job done and be the ones that win the game.
“We’re gonna go out there this week and do everything with a purpose.”
If so, the Gators would stay in control in the East — with conference games remaining against No. 15 Georgia, Vanderbilt and No. 11 South Carolina.
“Here on out, it’s a one-game season,” Halapio said. “So we’ve got to play every game like it’s our last.”
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