Florida coach Urban Meyer isn't used to losing two games in a row. It's only happened twice in Meyer's five-plus years at Florida. But the Gators will look to break their first two-game slide since 2007 in Saturday's homecoming game against Mississippi State.
"That's something you never want to get used to, obviously," Meyer said. "We have been very fortunate around here not to have to deal with it very often."
A myriad of problems have been exposed in back-to-back losses to Alabama and LSU. Predictable play-calling, breakdowns in execution in the red zone and turnovers (six in the last two games) have kept the Gators from reaching their full potential.
Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio's dive-plays up the middle were soundly booed by fans in the fourth-quarter of the LSU loss.
"Football is a team effort, so you don't want anyone pointing fingers at any position group or at any coach," Florida senior offensive lineman Carl Johnson said. "We're all in it together,"
Meyer is keeping his focus on Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, under second-year coach and former UF offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, are coming off a 47-24 win at Houston.
"We have an upstart team coming to our stadium and we have to play very well," Meyer said. "They had a lot of yards last week against Houston. They're a spread option football team, throwing the ball better than they have."
Mullen's return is a subplot in a must-win game for UF to remain in the SEC East title hunt. Mullen was Florida's offensive coordinator from 2005-08 and had worked together with Meyer since the two were assistants at Notre Dame in 1996.
"We're competitive people," Meyer said. "(He's) a very good friend of mine and I think he's a hell of a coach. But, yeah, we compete in almost everything we do."
Florida coach Urban Meyer said WR Andre Debose could see an increased role in the offense. "We tried to throw a fade down there and it was a PI (pass interference) against him going into the end zone," Meyer said. "I want to say we threw two down there. Threw down there, and there were two interference penalties. We're trying to get that ball in there, trying to have someone go make a play. Obviously, Debose is fitting in to that equation a lot more than he had in the past." Debose had an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against LSU.
Meyer said he remains confident that Steve Addazio can handle the dual role of offensive line coach and offensive coordinator despite some of UF's recent struggles on offense, Fans booed some of Addazio's play calls during the fourth quarter of Saturday night's loss to LSU. "I think he has a tough job," Meyer said. "I think he can handle it. Obviously, he has shown it a year ago. I gave the stats for a lot of reasons because that's what I do. I try to evaluate everything. I have a lot of confidence, and I'm very involved in the offense as well."
Meyer called the LSU game a "blitz-a-thon" and said Florida running backs were inconsistent in picking up the blitz. "There's a couple ways to defeat a blitz," Meyer said. "Number one is you protect the quarterback and throw it and someone goes and makes a play. Number two is you free release people and get the ball out quick. And then the third one is running option football. Right now, we're not doing either real well, and that's something we've got to strive to improve on."
SERIES HISTORY: Florida leads Mississippi State 33-18-2 (last meeting, 2009, Florida 29-19).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Florida coach Urban Meyer evaluated the offensive line play as "average" against LSU. The line struggled to open holes for the running game, which was stuffed for the second straight week. Florida had just 89 yards rushing on an average of 2.8 yards per carry. Meyer also is concerned about execution in the red zone after failing to score any points from the one-yard line for the third time in two weeks. "Red-zone efficiency is not where we started the season, (which was) pretty strong," Meyer said.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Meyer wasn't pleased with UF's red zone defense, which gave up 24 points (three TDs and a field goal) in four trips. Florida failed to get pressure on LSU's quarterbacks, getting just one sack. For the season, Florida has 13 sacks, and just 4.5 from its defensive ends. UF's secondary play also was shoddy, giving up 224 yards and two TD passes against LSU.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a stressful time. It's kind of a delicate situation ... the good thing is that we still have that spark of light at the end of the tunnel and we can still succeed in some of the goals we have set, as far as trying to get to Atlanta." -- Florida senior linebacker Brandon Hicks, on UF trying to stay alive in the SEC East race and reach the SEC title game in Atlanta.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Mississippi State at Florida, Oct. 16 -- Florida (4-2) is looking to regroup from its first two-game losing streak since 2007 in its homecoming game. The game will mark a homecoming of sorts for Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, who was UF's offensive coordinator from 2005-08 under current UF head coach Urban Meyer.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Florida needs to get its offense on track after two subpar weeks of execution in the red zone. Getting the running game on track would help. Florida has lacked balance in losses to Alabama and LSU, rushing for less than 100 yards in each game. On defense, Florida needs to be wary of Mississippi State's play-action passing game. Look for the Gators to stack the line to stop the run first and force MSU quarterbacks Chris Relf and Tyler Russell to try to beat them through the air. Mississippi State is coming off a 415-yard rushing performance in its 47-24 win at Houston.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:QB John Brantley -- Brantley showed some toughness on UF's go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth, but failed to pass for more than 200 yards for the fifth time in six games. Brantley said he's OK with not taking many shots throwing the ball downfield. "I trust (offensive coordinator Steve) Addazio," said Brantley, who is still nursing bruised ribs, a sprained thumb and a sore shoulder.
WR Carl Moore -- Moore has been one of the few bright spots in UF's offense this season. Moore is second on the team in receiving yardage with 261 yards on 17 catches. He's come up biggest on third down and made another big catch for 51 yards on third-and-long against LSU.
C Mike Pouncey -- Pouncey said he feels like he's snapping the ball better, despite some that quarterbacks Trey Burton and John Brantley have had to reach for in recent weeks. But Pouncey's holding penalty at the 1-yard line was critical in the LSU loss, especially since the Gators failed to get any points from the drive. Pouncey will need to show leadership by better play on the field to keep a struggling UF offensive line together.
LB Jelani Jenkins -- Jenkins is coming off one of his better games, with six tackles and his first career interceptions. But Florida will need Jenkins to be sound and disciplined against a Mississippi State spread option offense that looks to establish the run first.
ROSTER REPORT:WR Chris Rainey is back practicing with the team after charges were reduced in his arrest for aggravated stalking. Rainey will not play against Mississippi, and Florida coach Urban Meyer said he will have to "earn his way" back on to the team.
Meyer said Jeff Demps felt better Sunday after sitting out Saturday's game against LSU with a sprained foot. "He was just not ready to go in that game," Meyer said. "He's a tough guy that's fighting it. It's a painful injury, and we're hoping that we have him this week."
OL John Halapio is doubtful with a fractured finger that required surgery.
OT Matt Patchan (broken wrist) remains week-to-week.
S Matt Elam is day-to-day with concussion symptoms.
WR Deonte Thompson is day-to-day with concussion symptoms.
QB John Brantley (bruised ribs) is probable.
DT Brandon Antwine (knee, shoulder) is day-to-day.
Mississippi State is 4-2, which in and of itself is an accomplishment. The Bulldogs haven't had such a record since 2007. And State hasn't won three straight games -- as it has now -- since 2000.
So it's safe to say the Bulldogs, coming off a 47-24 win at Houston, have some confidence going to No. 22 Florida this week.
If that confidence pays off with a win in Gainesville, look out. State's schedule is set up to run to 7-2 with home games against UAB and Kentucky coming up to close out October before an open date.
But first things first: beating Florida. The Bulldogs put a scare into the Gators last year in Starkville, but this time it's in the Swamp. And while MSU faithful are boasting about back-to-back 40-point efforts heading into the game, those were against Alcorn State and Houston, after all.
But the Gators themselves may provide the most ammo to the optimism machine at State this week. Florida has lost two in a row and doesn't seem to have the high-powered offense for which it has been known. An offense that was, after all, coordinated by State coach Dan Mullen from 2005 to 2008.
If Mississippi State wins at Florida, it'll be the school's first four-game winning streak since it opened 1999 at 8-0.
Halfway through State's season, 11 different Bulldogs have one or more rushing attempts and 14 have at least one catch.
State has outscored opponents by 43 points in the second half this season.
SERIES HISTORY: Florida leads, 33-18-2 (last meeting, 2009, Florida 29-19).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Vick Ballard has emerged as one of the nation's most productive tailbacks this season, which isn't a complete surprise considering how excited State was to have signed him out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College last year. Ballard has scored 12 touchdowns, including at least one in each game. For all of the hype about Dan Mullen's offense as a passing attack, the rushing game has thrived under his watch with Anthony Dixon last year and Ballard this year.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: It should be no surprise who the playmakers are on defense this year for the Bulldogs -- LB Chris White and LB K.J. Wright. Both are senior team leaders. White leads the Bulldogs and is seventh in the SEC with 7.5 tackles for loss. His 46 tackles lead the team and are sixth in the SEC. Wright leads the SEC with seven pass breakups and has 42 tackles.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know if it's more of a hornet's nest than any time you walk into the Swamp on a Saturday night to play a football game." -- State coach Dan Mullen on playing at Florida, where he once coached.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Mississippi State at Florida, Oct. 16 -- The Bulldogs will look to win their fourth straight for the first time since 1999, but the competition is a noticeable upgrade from the last three games. Florida, though, has shown some weaknesses this season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Have Manny Diaz and Chris Wilson's attacking defense send pressure to Florida QB John Brantley, who is under the microscope. Continue the top-notch offensive line play, which has led to a rushing game that is the best way to win on the road. Don't have a single turnover, and allow the crowd to get into the game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:QB Chris Relf -- He's been tested in many different ways, but playing in front of 90,000 rabid Florida fans in the Swamp is a different deal. Relf has developed physically as both a passer and runner. We'll see if he's developed mentally.
LB K.J. Wright -- If anyone has ownership of this team from a leadership perspective, it's this senior linebacker. Though his on-field play has been a big reason for State's defensive success this year, he might be more valuable in Gainesville for what he'll do or say inside the locker room before the game and at halftime.
PK Sean Brauchle -- Could be Derek DePasquale here, too, as State continues to search for answers at placekicker. If Saturday's game comes down to a kick to win the game, there's not as much confidence as was once held that either of these two can get it done.
ROSTER REPORT:WR Leon Berry underwent surgery for an ankle injury Monday, according to GenesPage.com. State coach Dan Mullen says he's out for the rest of the regular season but may be able to return for a bowl.
C J.C. Brignone is expected to play at Florida after suffering a knee sprain, according to GenesPage.com.
CB Corey Broomfield is tied for the national lead with three career interceptions returned for touchdowns.