THIS ONE WAS different. This one wasn’t about a lack of toughness or effort or grit. This was evidence that this team has not quit on its coaching staff no matter how many people believed it did a week ago.
But does it matter?
It’s still another mind-numbing loss even if it was a game few Gator fans thought this team had a chance to win. These Gators came into Williams-Brice Stadium and went toe-to-toe in what South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier called “an old-fashioned game.”
But in the end, it was the same old story.
With a third-team quarterback and no desire to throw the ball, Florida leaned on freshman running back Kelvin Taylor and its defense to forge a lead. But this time, the team that hasn’t been able to start fast couldn’t finish a rare fast start.
It ended with a hook-and-ladder play that inflated the passing stats for redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg, but it really ended when he did what you would expect a first-time quarterback to do when being chased by hungry defenders — throw it to the wrong team.
“Florida’s a pretty good team,” Spurrier said. “Preseason top 10.”
Well, they were a pretty good team. That was a hundred injuries ago.
This one felt a little bit like the 1989 Auburn game. Playing on the road with a quarterback who wasn’t going to throw the ball and relying on the running game and defense and then at the end it all comes unraveled. This wasn’t as dramatic as that game almost a quarter of a century ago and maybe it doesn’t hurt as much.
But five straight losses isn’t easy to stomach for Gator Nation.
Will Muschamp isn’t taking it any better than any of you, as you could see by his bandaged hand after he punched a chalkboard.
You can question some of the coaching decisions in this game, such as throwing a fake punt pass to a defensive tackle, but he and his staff coached their rears off Saturday night.
That’s what made this loss so frustrating. They weren’t supposed to have a chance and then they did. They played the way they did a year ago, ahead of the chains. They got a lead and tried to milk it.
But again, the same old issues of 2013 took a chomp out of this team. Another missed field goal at a crucial point in the game. Another long drive when they needed a stop. Another interception when a pass out of bounds would have kept the pulse going.
You could see it on Muschamp’s face as he left the field and the Gamecock fans celebrated. It had been a special night for them as they watched Georgia lose on the big screen and then saw their team rally to win and have a chance to go to Atlanta. They still need a Missouri loss, but their work is done.
Florida’s is just beginning.
“Some of our fans need to get a grip,” Muschamp barked after the game.
Good luck with that. This fan base suffers when it’s winning. Losing five in a row is a whole different animal, one that spits venom and bile.
“We’ve got kids playing their butts off,” Muschamp said.
Of that there was no question. You could question the attitude against Vanderbilt but not Saturday night.
To rally around a third-team quarterback and have a chance to pull the upset against a two-touchdown favorite was all about commitment. Alas, it wasn’t enough.
“You can say whatever you want to say and you can write whatever the hell you want to write, but it’s real,” Muschamp said. “It’s frustrating.”
The reality is almost comical. The frustration is understandable.
There is nothing more frustrating for a coach than to get your guys to believe and convince them to fight only to see that effort come up short. But when you go into a knife fight with a toothpick and you’re a half a quarter away from making it happen, well, it makes you want to punch something.
But as Muschamp found out, that seldom does any good. The chalkboard almost always wins.