SCOTT: Florida dealing with off week issues

It was an unusual week at Florida, on several fronts.

It started with a dramatic 28-24 loss to LSU, a game in which the Gators led all but the final 69 seconds. The loss gave the Gators two consecutive losses for the first time since midway through the 2004 season under former coach Ron Zook.


In the aftermath of the defeat, Florida coach Urban Meyer said, "I don't make guarantees. I don't know if I've ever done this, but I guarantee we'll be back. The Florida Gators will be back smokin'. I don't know when. I can't make that one yet. I've got to see how everybody responds, but we'll be back."


Before the Gators could start working toward getting back, senior safety Tony Joiner met with reporters for the first time since being arrested Oct. 2 on felony burglary charges for removing his girlfriend's car from an impound lot before paying the fee.


Joiner admitted, "I'm ashamed of myself, especially going through that with a big game coming up and having the focus on me and not on my team was extremely tough on me."


Then quarterback Tim Tebow revealed that he had to change his cell phone number after receiving hundreds of threatening messages the previous week. "It was an interesting experience handling it all," Tebow said.


The Gators then attempted to get back to normal during an open date. They suffered the worst kind of loss when Michael Guilford, a 19-year-old walk-on defensive back, was killed early Friday morning in a motorcycle crash. His roommate, redshirt freshman defensive lineman John Fairbanks, was the first to arrive at the scene to identify Guilford's body.


"That was probably one of the worst experiences in my entire life," Fairbanks told the Gainesville Sun. "For some reason, he and I had an uncanny connection that I just didn't really have with anybody else. He was by far the closest male friend I have ever had in my entire life.


"It's so incredibly empty (not having him around), I can't even describe it. Off the field he was probably the most genuine person I had ever met. He was free and fun-loving and goofy. He rarely made people feel uncomfortable when he was around them. I just know that's what I'm really going to miss."


Guilford, nicknamed "Sunshine" because of his resemblance to the character in "Remember The Titans," wasn't destined for stardom but played a valuable role for the Gators, often playing the part of the opposing team's star player on the scout team. Before the SEC championship game he tried to imitate Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden. Before the national championship game he tried to be Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith.


In his role, Guilford often took a beating; but like many a tough walk-on, he kept getting back up. And like many walk-ons who play such a valuable and selfless role behind the scenes, Guilford did all he could to make a difference.


"Everybody was impressed that he wasn't afraid of anybody," junior defensive back Telly Concepcion told the Sun. "(Brandon) Siler would pop him or Earl (Everett) or anyone else would hit him and he would just get right back up and go run another (play). He earned the team's respect, whether it was the seniors or the starters or anyone, even though he was on the scout team. ... He was definitely a leader of the offensive scout team."


As if the two game losses aren't heavy enough, the Gators will carry a heavy heart into Saturday's match against a Kentucky team that shocked top-ranked LSU 43-37 in three overtimes.


In a way, the consecutive losses may do Florida some good in the long run. Anyone who thought the Gators were going to repeat as national champions wasn't paying attention to the lack of seniors and juniors on this team. With so many talented-but-young players, the losses to Auburn and LSU can teach a wealth of lessons about what it takes to finish a game.


That's just one of the priorities Florida addressed during the open date. The Gators also spent time on a running game that must be more productive beyond Tebow. Now they must get receiver Andrew Caldwell healthy and more involved in the offense.


The defense must find a way to get off the field. Florida entered last weekend ranked 10th in the SEC in opponent first downs and must do a better job in the pass rush, especially when it comes to getting a push up the middle.  The Gators also found themselves last in the SEC with 400 penalty yards.


"This will give us time to regroup, get our minds together, and start game planning for Kentucky," tailback Kestahn Moore said.


The Gators are going to be very good again – maybe not this week, or this month, or even this season, but at some point. Who thought the Gators would win the national championship at this point last season? You never know how a team will respond to adversity or how players will grow and mature, but the Gators are putting together the elements of another national championship contender.


"For certain, the team's future is still bright," Tebow said. "We can still make it to Atlanta and win the SEC championship. We have to still believe in each other and the coaches and fight for the rest of the season.


"It's been a tough week. Coming off the loss to Auburn, a game we felt we should have won, then fighting back and getting ready for this game with a great game plan and playing well. We should have won. There's no doubt about it, we should have won. We've just got to finish the game, play all four quarters."




Richard Scott is a Birmingham-based sportswriter, author and featured columnist in Tiger Rag. Reach him at


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