GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida defensive end Jordan Sherit doesn’t want to forget what happened down the stretch last year.
The third-year sophomore plans to use the painful memory of last season’s collapse — the Gators dropped their final three games in lopsided fashion — as motivation this time around.
“The fact that we do have that is going to help us go forward,” Sherit said.
The 10th-ranked Gators (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) might need it. Florida has the toughest part of its schedule ahead, a daunting November slate that begins Saturday at Arkansas (5-3, 1-3) and includes road games against No. 15 LSU and No. 19 Florida State. Throw in “Senior Day” against rapidly improving South Carolina and Florida could be set up for another fall slide.
The Gators insist it won’t happen.
“We definitely have a stretch coming up,” defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. said. “But I feel like the leadership on this team is a little bit different then it was last year. I just feel like the cohesiveness between everybody is just … we’re all in a good place right now.”
Florida was in a good position last November, too.
The season started to unravel against Vanderbilt, though. The Gators needed a shanked punt and a late field goal to eke out a 9-7 victory. Two weeks later, they had to go to overtime to stave off Florida Atlantic. The struggles were just beginning, too.
Florida scored just two offensive touchdowns in losses to Florida State, Alabama and Michigan. Yes, those were some of the better teams in the country; the Tide won the national championship. But Florida was outscored 97-24 in those games and hardly looked interested in playing the Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl.
“That’s something that we keep in the back of our minds,” center Cam Dillard said. “You want to start the season strong and finish strong. That’s what we preach all offseason, finishing. That’s what we’re going to try to do throughout the remainder of the season, finish.”
Beating the Razorbacks certainly would be a good start.
Florida is 9-0 against Arkansas since the former Southwest Conference member entered the SEC in 1992 and has won all three meetings in Fayetteville.
The Gators also have won three straight since a second-half debacle at Tennessee, but showed as many offensive flaws as defensive strengths while beating Vanderbilt, Missouri and Georgia. McElwain has come to his players’ defense this week, quite possibly trying to convince them they’re talent matches their lofty ranking.
“There’s something about having confidence in yourself,” Sherit said. “Something Coach Mac talks about a lot is we’re a good team and some guys don’t realize how good we are, how good we can be.”
The Gators can clinch the Eastern Division and a berth in the SEC title game by winning two of their remaining three league games. That should provide plenty of motivation down the stretch. Not enduring a repeat of last season — or what happened against Tennessee six weeks ago — also should be a huge incentive.
“Every Saturday is a brand new event,” McElwain said. “I like where our guys are at as far as taking care of business. I think that second half of that one ball game down in Knoxville, I’m telling you, it was an eye-opener for guys. And to make you realize that you’ve got to play with energy every single snap and you can’t let the past affect the future. We’ll see what we learn.”
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