Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks saw a man downfield for the first time all night. He’d missed open receivers while scrambling earlier in the game, but this time he was in the pocket. He saw the open receiver. He threw it.
What Franks didn’t see was Texas A&M’s Tyrel Dodson eyeing him behind some linemen. When Franks released the ball, Dodson leaped, swatted into the air and caught it, giving the visiting Aggies (5-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) a win over the Gators (3-3, 3-2 SEC) late Saturday night.
The loss realistically ended Florida’s quest for a third consecutive SEC Eastern Division title. A week ago, when the team lost to LSU, players took solace in knowing they still controlled their season. If they won their remaining conference games, they’d return to Atlanta. But after the loss to the Aggies, that’s no longer true. So what’s their motivation now?
It would take Florida going undefeated in conference play, which includes a rivalry game against undefeated No. 3 Georgia in two weeks, for it to win the division. Georgia would need to lose an additional game, as would Kentucky. And with three losses, the College Football Playoff is unquestionably unreachable. Well, tell that to Franks.
“I don’t think motivation is a problem for us,” he said. “We have a bunch of great leaders in the locker room, and we’re going to be just fine.”
It’s unclear what he meant by “fine” given the circumstances, but Florida does still have at least one thing to play for: bowl eligibility. UF needs to be 6-5 or better to qualify, and that’s looking increasingly questionable, though certainly not impossible. The Gators should beat UAB and Missouri to get to five wins. Beyond that, though, they’ll face Georgia, South Carolina (5-2) and rival FSU, which hasn’t lost to Florida since 2012.
A discussion about bowl eligibility hasn’t been brought up yet with Florida entering a bye week before the Georgia game. Instead, the focus has been on improvements to be made with the extra time to prepare.
“We’re gonna get this thing back on track immediately,” defensive end Cece Jefferson said. “These two losses give us a lot of momentum going into the next game.”
So what will Florida do to try and pull off the upset? Coach Jim McElwain didn’t offer specifics, saying communication needs to improve and execution needs to be better. And at quarterback, where Franks struggled and Florida ranks last in the SEC with four touchdown passes, McElwain again wasn’t helpful.
“We’re going to do just what we do every week,” he said of the competition between Franks and Malik Zaire which, so far, Franks has won.
Players said they try not to think about those changes, with left tackle Martez Ivey noting it doesn’t matter who’s at quarterback. It doesn’t affect the way he’s going to play.
Most of his teammates had a similar view of the future. Regardless of what changes come or the team’s diminished chances of reaching one of its main objectives, the goal for the bye week is the same as the goal every week.
“To win the next game,” Jefferson said. “That’s our focus.”