KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Following Florida’s first loss to Tennessee in 12 years, the Gators were beaten and broken down in postgame interviews.
But they also sounded like a broken record.
Every player gave the same unmerited message when they met with the media Saturday night.
QB Austin Appleby: “There’s never been a Florida team that’s won a national championship without the one loss.”
LB Alex Anzalone: “No national championship team at UF has ever went undefeated.”
RB Mark Thompson: “No national championship Gators team has ever went undefeated.”
CB Quincy Wilson: “National championship teams always go in there with one loss.”
There’s nothing wrong with this team aiming high and thinking big.
UF coach Jim McElwain turned heads prior to 2015 when he said the Gators had 15 opportunities ahead of them, so it’s no surprise that the College Football Playoff is once again their end goal this year.
That’s the mentality — and expectation — McElwain creates for his players, which is why he used Florida’s three title teams as a way to boost morale after this loss. But frankly, this team needs to be channeling another McElwain mantra.
Win the now.
The Gators failed to do that in Knoxville. They won the first half, but then had their biggest collapse (38 unanswered points) since 2003.
“You can’t change it,” McElwain said. “So how do you not make it two (losses)? You go back to work and you take care of the now. There’s really no secret formula.”
UF came into this game overconfident and overhyped on defense. The unit had two goal-line stands and only gave up a field goal through two quarters, while the offense had 21 points and 300 total yards.
Players thought the game was over at halftime.
“We got a little content,” said Quincy Wilson, who guaranteed the Gators would win. “I’ve never seen us come in the locker room like that at the half and then come back out like that.”
Florida flat-lined and folded in the third quarter against a motivated Tennessee team and in front of a rowdy Rocky Top crowd. McElwain and his players mentioned missed assignments and mental errors that happened.
But more than anything, this team just got outplayed.
“We didn’t have the same intensity that we had in the first half, and it showed,” running back Mark Thompson said. “Whether we’re up by 50 or up by 1, you have to play the second half. You can’t come out lax, you can’t come out feeling comfortable. It’s the SEC.”
After all that trash talk by Jalen Tabor & Co., the Vols served UF a large slice of humble pie in Knoxville. And before the players could even digest it, they were already looking ahead — and back — with championships on their mind.
They need to win the now and worry about beating Vanderbilt in Nashville next weekend.
“In life, being humble there’s a lot of good things in that,” McElwain said. “As I said (this week), back it up. They didn’t back it up, did they? There might be the lesson.
“What it does is really test who you are as a person, really test who you are as a man. In loss, in failure, some of the greatest lessons you can ever learn about who you are and what you’re all about are taught.”