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November 30, 2013

Reality haunts Gators in 37-7 loss



For a short while, it felt like the old Swamp. The Gators were flying around within a field goal of the No. 2 Seminoles. Fans were loud and hanging on every play. An interception here, a couple sacks there - you almost forgot.

That all came to a screeching halt. Florida State took over at its own four-yard line. Nearly six minutes, 96 yards and four huge plays later, everything went back to the 2013 norm.

Scattered empty seats, a disinterested crowd and a Florida team that didn't match up with its opponent for the eighth time this season. It was a perfect finale for pre-fix Florida football.

"A very frustrating and difficult day that ends a very frustrating and difficult season," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "That's the best way I can sum it up."

Changes need to and will be made, but there was nothing that could be done about the troubles those changes need to mask Saturday afternoon. Florida came out inspired as it should have. All week, the Gators - who admit avoiding outside criticism is hard - heard how they had zero chance to defeat the Seminoles.

FSU was a 27-point favorite and plenty in Gainesville might have called that spread generous. Florida won the toss, elected to receive, went three-and-out and then did everything it could to at least make things interesting.

The Seminoles, offensive juggernauts all season, were held to 33 first-quarter yards. Florida made plays in coverage, pressured Heisman favorite Jameis Winston and held FSU to 11 yards on its first 12 carries.

"We're the most physical team they've seen all year, and we're very physical up front," defensive end Jonathan Bullard said. "They just couldn't handle it, but after a while they started to do a little bit more running outside of the tackles, trying to make it a loose-down game."

The energy was offset by the reality of the Gators' offense. Aside from a 60-yard Trey Burton run, Florida once again spat and sputtered on offense. With Skyler Mornhinweg at quarterback, there was no downfield passing game. Mornhinweg finished with one more completion than Winston but 212 fewer passing yards.

Muschamp said the Gators planned to run an offense that was at least 50 percent Burton wildcat, but that plan fell apart when Burton left the game with a shoulder injury and watched the remainder from the sidelines.

"Capitalizing on things has been kind of our struggle the whole year," offensive lineman Max Garcia said. "It's just kind of like we need to do something different. We need to make a play. We need to make a change. That just never happened.

It's that reason that Muschamp and athletic director Jeremy Foley agreed Saturday the UF offense needs to be "fixed," whatever that means moving forward. Muschamp said after the game no decisions have been made on potential coaching staff changes and there is no timetable for when they will happen.

As promising as the direction of the game felt early for the Gators, there was always the constant reminder of the realities they couldn't escape. It wasn't a matter of if, but when.

"Everybody started looking at the scoreboard as a collective group and saying, 'Dang, the offense is just three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out,'" Bullard said. "Whatever they do hopefully is changed for the best. Give us 21 a game. If they can do that, then I would put the blame on us if they score 21 points or over. Hopefully change for the better, because what we're doing right now just ain't working."


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