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Gators Have Cutthroat Talent, Still Looking For Killer Instinct Mentality

Can the Florida Gators develop a killer instinct? Photo Courtesy, SEC; Credit- Hannah White

There were 88,034 fans in attendance for a battle of unbeatens. Granted, it was week two and the Gators were playing East Carolina, but 88,034 people packed The Swamp.

What a time to be alive. 

Despite a piss-poor matchup against the ECU Pirates, a Jim McElwain-led Gator squad kept it close through four quarters. 

In just his second game at Florida, McElwain had the Gators white-knuckling a 24-17 lead with under seven minutes to play. 

But Florida running back Kelvin Taylor had something to say about that. 

From the 7-yard line, Taylor collected the handoff from Treon Harris before bolting ahead to the end zone to add some cushion to Florida’s lead and seemingly put the game on ice. 

Taylor, in front of an end zone full of fans, quickly slid his left hand across his throat. 

“I took it as the game was over,” Taylor later said. “It’s a wrap.” 

It’s a miracle Taylor lived to tell the story after the spitting tirade McElwain gave him in return. 

But now, five years removed from Taylor’s “incident” and the head coach of the Gators is asking his team to be cutthroat. 

“I think it’s growing,” Dan Mullen said of his team’s cutthroat mentality. “I don’t want to downplay that we don’t have it.” 

But the reality is, if the Gators do have a cutthroat mentality, it hasn’t exactly shown in week one and two. 

Like in 2015, the Gators were widely favored to win their first two games. And they did.

In 2020, especially in a conference-only schedule, 2-0 is a great start. 

However, it’s no secret that something has been missing. 

That little extra oomph isn’t there.

Dameon Pierce knocks a defenders helmet off during a run. Photo Courtesy, SEC

Last Saturday, though Florida was up on South Carolina 38-14, the Gators looked like a green driver learning how to drive a standard — they were putting their foot on every pedal but the gas. 

According to Mullen, not including plays from victory formation, the Gators ran nine plays on offense after their final touchdown with 4:44 to play in the third quarter. 

“You know I don’t count the take-a-knee at the end of the game, but you know I mean, nine plays, 11 yards, three-and-out and a turnover. Defensively had 40 plays for 160 yards, more than a third of their yards came after we were up 38-14. Gave up 10 points and then stopped them on a goal line play at the end.” 

Come the fourth quarter, South Carolina’s offense owned the football for 11 minutes and 12 seconds of the 15 minute quarter. 

In Florida’s 3:48 of possession, the Gators earned two yards on six plays in two drives that ended in an interception and a punt, respectively. 

Meanwhile, Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks put together 113 yards on 29 plays. 

“You’ve got to be efficient on offense,” Mullen said. “That’s a big thing we always harp on. You don’t know how many plays and opportunities you’ll get. Obviously, our last couple possessions offensively were very disappointing, really the whole second half very disappointing offensively of the game.”

It’s bizarre to hear someone call Florida’s offense disappointing. 

Through just two games this season, the Gators’ offense ranks 13th in FBS rankings of total offense. 

With 127 plays and 990 yards, the Gators are averaging 7.8 yards per play, a stat in which they are only behind BYU, which has averaged 8.1 yards per play. 

The Gators’ offense, which touts two *early* Heisman hopefuls, has been successful. And in a game like football, where everything works hand in hand, one must ask if the fingers should be pointing at the defense. 

Just two games into the season, and Florida’s defense has been a whipping post for criticism. 

Missed tackles, lack of pressure on the quarterback and soft coverage in the defensive backfield are all issues that have surfaced. 

And those on defense haven’t been shy about criticizing themselves. 

Burney’s role on UF’s defense has grown, and so has his sense of leadership. And part of being a leader is self-criticism . Courtesy of Jordan Herald/UAA

“The defense has to go out there and start making stops instead of just giving the team life back,” Florida linebacker Amari Burney admitted. “I’ve got to step it up. These last two weeks have been unacceptable for me, personally.” 

Instead of giving opposing teams life, the Gators are grappling with finding their killer instinct — something that can’t be coached. 

“I just think it comes from playing, you know what I mean?,” Mullen said of teaching the intangibles. “It’s getting back into that whole game mindset. It’s like at practice, ‘Hey, we get it taught. I’ve got it figured out. I know we got this period. I got it, coach. I’m kind of going through the motions.’

“It’s got to be addressed with every aspect and every member of the team, start to finish the effort we give and the looks we give, whether I’m on the scout team, whether I’m a backup or I’m a starter. It’s got to start at practice with just that mindset of complete while we’re playing, everything we do, maximum effort to finish.”

Mullen has always harped on his team having relentless effort… keeping on the gas… being cutthroat. 

Back in 2018, after an early season home loss to the Kentucky Wildcats—the first in over 30 years—Dan Mullen publicly called his team out and famously told the world the attitude needed to be, "if you wanna thumb wrestle me right now, I wanna beat your ass."

Florida went on win 10 games that season and defeat Michigan in the New Year's Six Peach Bowl.

And the Gators certainly have the talent to do that again. They just need to find the attitude to match it. 

Just like Kelvin Taylor did on Sept. 12, 2015. 

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