GAINESVILLE -- The bumpy road to Atlanta — technically — runs through Gainesville.
No. 22 Florida — down five starters with a daunting schedule ahead — hasn’t lost hope of winning the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division title for the first time since 2009.
Despite all the season-ending injuries, ugly warts on offense and special team’s snafus, the Gators (4-2, 3-1 SEC) control their own destiny.
“All of our goals are still in front of us,” senior guard Jon Halapio said. “But if we don’t handle business and play like how we usually play, then those goals don’t mean nothing.”
Florida was manhandled in Baton Rouge last weekend, as LSU dominated both lines of scrimmage en route to a 17-6 victory. The Gators — built on swagger, toughness and physicality — must reestablish their control up front if they have any hope of ever actually reaching the Georgia Dome.
But there’s no let-up in the schedule, starting with undefeated No. 14 Missouri (6-0, 2-0) on Saturday in Columbia, Mo.
The Tigers — the SEC’s most improved team and the league’s unlikeliest story this season — are hot off a 41-26 upset victory last weekend at then-No. 6 Georgia.
Mizzou lost starting quarterback James Franklin late in last Saturday’s win, and redshirt freshman Maty Mauk will make his first-career start against Florida.
But Florida is concerned with its own offensive question marks. Nevertheless, there is an odd sense of bravado for a team that failed to score a touchdown and registered just 240 yards against LSU.
“We have to come out scoring,” starting tailback Mack Brown said. “There’s a lot of people saying the offense isn’t doing good. I feel like we’re going to show people this week.”
To date, the Gators haven’t shown much progress on offense, ranking 13th in the conference in total offense (367.8 yards per game) and last in yards per play (5.29).
Although UF controls its own destiny, it’s 0-2 against ranked teams this season — with another four ranked foes (Missouri, No. 15 Georgia, No. 11 South Carolina in the SEC and No. 5 FSU) remaining on the schedule. The Gators’ three SEC wins are against teams with a combined league record of 0-8.
“I think Coach [Will] Muschamp hit it right that here on out it’s a one-game season,” Halapio said. “So we’ve got to play every game like it’s our last.”
But for the previous two seasons that hasn’t worked out so well. In 2011, Florida lost to Georgia and South Carolina after controlling its own destiny. The same thing happened last year in another defeat in Jacksonville to the Bulldogs.
“You know when you can control your own destiny you don’t have to hope and pray for somebody else to lose. Knowing that if you win every game that you can reach all your goals that’s always a good thing,” junior linebacker Michael Taylor said. “You know we were in this position last year. We were in this position the year before that. We’ve blown it two years in a row, so like we’ve all been saying, we’re not going to blow it this year. We’re going to take advantage of the opportunities that we have this year and not blow them like we did in the past.”