GAINESVILLE, Fla. – This is what they mean when they say going from one extreme to the other.
Two days after their painful loss at Southeastern Conference traditional doormat Vanderbilt, the Gators returned to the practice field Monday night to prepare for their bitter Tallahassee rivals.
Florida (6-5) is seeking a fourth straight win over Florida State (8-3) when the state’s two rivals tangle at Doak Campbell Stadium Friday night in the first regular-season meeting between the schools outside of Saturday since the series started in 1958.
“It’s a rivalry game, big game for the city of Gainesville, big game for the University of Florida,” Gators quarterback said Anthony Richardson said. “We have to bring it this week. If we win this one it will definitely build momentum for us.”
The Gators will undoubtedly need to do better than they took in their first loss at Vanderbilt in 34 years if they are to continue their winning streak over the Seminoles. FSU has won four straight games and outscored opponents 173-39 during their late-season upswing. UF has not played in Tallahassee since 2018 – the 2020 game was canceled due to the revised COVID-19 schedule.
More than that, it’s a chance to make things right six days after a day gone wrong in Nashville.
Mood among the Gators grew somber after the disappointing loss to the Commodores, but they vowed to have a quick reminder of the upcoming Seminoles on Monday.
“From what I feel about the other players on the team and for the history I’ve noticed…it’s a big game,” said offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence, the Louisiana transfer is gearing up for its first Sunshine Showdown. “It’s a great rivalry, so it’s important that we get that win and it’s important that we carry it into next season.”
The duel presents a formidable challenge for the first-year Gators coach Billy Napier. FSU ranks 16th nationally for total offense (473.7 yards per game) and 11th for total defense (293.4 ypg). FSU quarterback Jordan Travis completes 65.3 percent of his passes for 2,526 yards, 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Meanwhile, 6-foot-7 receiver Johnny Wilson, a Gators receiver teammate Ricky Pearsall his last two seasons at Arizona State, he leads the Seminoles with 33 catches, 649 yards and five points.
Napier has stressed to the Gators that they cannot put in another lackluster performance and expect to win. You must appear on a mission.
“Put simply, many lessons to be learned from our Nashville experience,” Napier said. We have to get off the floor, dust ourselves off and get back to work, fight for each other, work hard for each other.”
Florida appeared to be around the corner ahead of the road trip to Vanderbilt with back-to-back wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina. However, too many penalties (eight), a number of costly mistakes – highlighted by Jason Marshall Jr muted punt that resulted in a Vanderbilt touchdown — and too many trips to the red zone without a touchdown (two) cost the Gators.
Richardson threw for 400 yards and three points, but after averaging 332.5 yards in the previous two victories, Florida’s rushing attack produced just 45 yards at Vanderbilt.
The Gators hit the reset button mentally and physically on Monday.
“Everyone in the world doesn’t think we’re going to be ready to play, but we’re going to be ready to play,” senior safety said Trey Dean III said. “It will be a great duel.”
The Gators finished the game at Vanderbilt without several key contributors, including Pearsall, safety Rashad Torrence IIrecipient Markus Burke and linebackers Ventrell Miller. Pearsall, Torrence and Burke were all eliminated through injury, and officials threw Miller out for second-half aiming.
He is expected to miss the first half against FSU unless the SEC appeals to the national officials coordinator.
“We’ve done extensive research on this,” Napier said. “I think all these things are done behind closed doors with the league office and different people. So we have great leadership in this space and that’s certainly what it is. There are challenges, good and bad, that come with that.”
Regardless of Miller’s status, the Gators have ample motivation to show last week’s performance was a bad day, no staggering to the finish line. Florida can improve their bowl standing with a win.
And, of course, another year of bragging rights over the Seminoles.
“We shouldn’t let our alumni down,” Receiver said Daejon Reynolds said. “Florida was the big dog of every Florida school, and I feel like we owe them that.”