The last three games have been ugly, and the Gators know it. After squeaking out an overtime win over Florida Atlantic, Florida was blown out 27-2 at home against Florida State. The Gators then suffered 29-15 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game.
The challenge now comes in blocking out all of those memories and turning the focus to Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on January 1 in Orlando.
As it would be for any team, the goal is to get a win, but it goes even deeper than that for Florida. The Gators want momentum back to push them into an important offseason.
“It’ll be big,” Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “We’ve got to go out with a bang just because we don’t want to go out with an ‘L’ going into next season. Going into next season with a positive note, that’ll be real good for us.
“We just want to go out on a positive note. It’s just positive vibes around the program.”
A win over Michigan might not erase memories of the losses to Alabama and Florida State, but it would be important to regain some optimism around what has been a surprising season. The Gators sprinted out to a 10-1 record after being picked to finish fifth in the SEC East before the season started.
That 10-1 record brought McElwain into National Coach of the Year conversations, which has slowed down some since the back-to-back losses. But as the Gators head into an important January of recruiting, it would be helpful for the team to win and regain some of the positive perception outside the program.
“It’s huge,” Florida defensive end Jordan Sherit said. “You really realize when you come out there for these couple of days just the other guys coming back and we have a lot of talent. It’s also big for the seniors. We haven’t finished the season quite like we wanted to. Definitely don’t want to send the senior out with a loss. We want to go out winners.”
To prepare for the game, the Gators opened practice on Friday with seniors and NFL-bound juniors away from the field. The goal was to give extra practice reps to the younger players while allowing the older ones to get their legs back before game preparation begins next week.
“I think that's what coach Mac is trying to get to us, see what's going to happen with our offense and defense,” tight end Deandre Goolsby said about seeing the future in recent practices. “Just everybody getting around each other. It's going to be a different feel."
The increased reps are always important for young players in bowl practices and can sometimes spark breakout seasons.
“Extra practices, extra work, you can get extra time to work on your craft and get better as a player,” defensive tackle Caleb Brantley said. “It can propel us into the spring."