Martez Ivey wasn’t descriptive when asked what the locker room was like after Saturday’s loss to LSU. There were probably slammed doors and aching bodies, damaged egos and cuss words, but fans will never know. Instead, Ivey emphasized one emotion.
“It hurt,” he said of the 17-16 defeat. “I’m hurt. Everybody’s hurt.”
But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing to Ivey. He seemed to share that way of thinking with some of his teammates, who were certainly visibly hurt by the loss, but also expressed hope about the future. Specifically, they believe hope can take root in the disappointment. That their frustrations can incubate their desires and help them grow.
“It also,” Ivey added of the pain, “shows how much we care.”
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However, with two losses, caring only means so much. The Gators (3-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) are almost certainly done as far as College Football Playoff aspirations, as no team with two losses has ever made the four-team format in its first three years of existence. And while the SEC is still winnable, it’s going to take improvement on both sides of the ball, improved health and more urgency.
Coach Jim McElwain expressed his disappointment with his team’s performance late in Saturday’s game, noting how it didn’t seem to care.
“A sense of urgency,” he said, “it's pretty obvious that we didn't have it there."
Moving forward, he said that needs to change. But he also said he believes in his players, who he said will be tested this week as they prepare for Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1 SEC) to travel to Gainesville this weekend.
“We're going to find out a lot about leadership as to where we go,” he said. “We need to come back, have a good week, get ready to put this one to bed and then get ready to play our next opponent.”
That was the attitude of many UF players. Defensive tackle Khairi Clark, for example, said the team’s leaders will keep players motivated because “we still have a whole season left to go.” Again, that’s not exactly true. The Gators are now halfway through their regular season schedule, and they’ve probably played their way out of the playoffs. They’ve also been dealt a wicked string of injuries and suspensions, which got worse after the LSU game.
Starting/leading wideout Tyrie Cleveland missed the game with a high ankle sprain and his return timetable is unknown. Safety Chauncey Gardner hurt his ankle, though he spoke with reporters after the game and seemed OK. Walk-on special teamer Garrett Stephens hurt his knee against the Tigers, and McElwain said he’ll be out. Freshman playmaker Kadarius Toney “had a shoulder and a shin,” and McElwain said he just wasn’t himself late in the game. Starting left guard Brett Heggie left at halftime with a concussion and is undergoing concussion protocol. Starting safety Nick Washington left the game with a shoulder injury. And starting linebacker Jeremiah Moon hurt his ankle as well.
“This will be interesting,” McElwain said, “because after a loss, you know, little knicks, injuries, things like that, some things take longer to heal, and we don't have the time to let it heal.”
All that is in addition to losing safety Marcell Harris and quarterback Luke Del Rio for the season, along with the nine players suspended while the State Attorney’s Office decides whether to charge them in cases of credit card fraud.
Despite all those missing pieces, players are confident in a bounceback. Especially with another SEC East title still graspable.
“There’s going to be downs,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said, “and it’s just how you respond when you’re down.”
An Oct. 28 showdown against Georgia will likely determine who represents the eastern division in the SEC Championship game. Assuming Florida and Georgia win the rest of their SEC games, a Florida win over the Bulldogs would give both teams one conference loss, but UF would have the tiebreaker thanks to the head-to-head win. A win for Georgia would deal Florida two conference losses and give UGA the tiebreaker. The Bulldogs would have to lose their remaining three games to not reach Atlanta.
And that’s enough motivation for Ivey.
“We’re gonna be ready for our next opponent,” he said. “We’re gonna have an energy to us. We’re gonna have a swagger… We’ve gotta keep going. We still control our own destiny.”