Georgia Southern deals Florida its first losing season since 1979

Georgia Southern deals Florida its first losing season since 1979

November 27th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

A slew of injuries, including to quarterback Jeff Driskel in the Tennessee game, has led to a slew of defeats, leaving the once-proud Gators with a 4-7 record.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

THE DOWN TIMES

Losing seasons by each of the current SEC members since 1980 (including this season):

• Florida 1

• Georgia 4

• Texas A&M 6

• Auburn 7

• Alabama 8*

• Tennessee 8

• Arkansas 10

• LSU 10

• South Carolina 13

• Ole Miss 16

• Missouri 18

• Mississippi State 19

• Kentucky 22

• Vanderbilt 30

* Alabama has had five on-field losing seasons and three others as the result of NCAA sanctions.

Head coach Will Muschamp said a lot of leaders have been sidelined by injury. "We're very thin in some areas, and it is what it is. I'm not making excuses. These are the facts, and they're real."

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Florida senior safety Jaylen Watkins was at Monday's news conference in Gainesville when he was asked about Saturday's home finale against No. 2 Florida State.

"It's a rivalry game that means a lot around here," Watkins said. "We know we can throw out the records when it comes to this game."

If only the Gators could throw everything out as it pertains to this season.

Last Saturday's 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern, a program in its final season as a Championship Subdivision member, was the most severe blow in Florida's dreadful year. A slew of injuries have led to a slew of defeats, leaving the once-proud Gators with a 4-7 record and the assurance of their first losing season since 1979.

The first loss to an FCS team supplanted the first home loss to Vanderbilt since 1945 as Florida's most humbling defeat this season.

"It's very shocking," offensive guard Jon Halapio told reporters after Saturday's loss. "The morale of this team is at an all-time low. We have a lack of leadership."

Said linebacker Darren Kitchens: "When you think about the Gator Nation, this is not what you envision."

The Gators have been competing in recent weeks without quarterback Jeff Driskel, backup quarterback Tyler Murphy, tailback Matt Jones and defensive end Dominique Easley. Ten Gators in all have been shelved by season-ending injuries, including receiver Andre Debose and tackle Chaz Green, who didn't even make it to the opener.

"I don't believe we're that far off, regardless of the results Saturday afternoon," coach Will Muschamp said Monday. "I think there are some key components to our football team that aren't playing for us right now. We're very thin in some areas, and it is what it is. I'm not making excuses. These are the facts, and they're real.

"A lot of the leaders that we have haven't played for us this year. Jeff Driskel. Dominique Easley. A lot of those guys haven't been a part of what we're trying to do as far as being on the field."

Muschamp is in his third season at Florida and has gone through the roller-coaster of a 7-6 debut year, last season's 11-2 finish and this season's plummet. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said earlier this month he was "a thousand percent convinced" Muschamp was the right man to head the program, and university president Bernie Machen quickly voiced his support as well.

It would not be a surprise, however, if offseason changes were made among the offensive assistants.

"There are some obvious reasons why we are where we are," Muschamp said, "but we're a team that won 11 games last year, and I don't think that was by accident. We have a really good football staff and some really good players on our football team, and we're going to have a good football team moving forward."

While Alabama and Auburn head into this week's Iron Bowl with offenses averaging 7.0 yards a play, Florida is averaging just 4.8 yards a snap. The Gators rank 111th nationally in total offense with 327.9 yards a game, and they are last in the SEC in scoring with 19.9 points per contest.

In last Saturday's loss to the Eagles, Florida was outgained by 150 yards.

The biggest bright spot of this year's offense has been Solomon Patton, who is part of a senior class that is 19-19 apart from last year's 11-1 regular season. Patton has 534 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns, which are two more receiving scores than the rest of the team combined.

Patton would love to pull the upset Saturday -- the Gators rolled to a 37-26 win last year in Tallahassee -- but he may have summed up the game perfectly earlier this week.

"We've lost a lot of players to injuries," Patton said, "and they still have everybody."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.