GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Will Muschamp labeled his team "fragile," and not because of all those season-ending injuries.
Muschamp said Monday that the Gators, who have lost four consecutive games, have a woe-is-me mentality that's affecting the way they play.
If things go wrong early, problems tend to snowball. It happened in losses against Missouri, Georgia and Vanderbilt. The Gators trailed 13-3 at halftime against the Tigers, were down 23-3 at the break against the Bulldogs and fell behind 24-3 early in the third quarter against the Commodores on Saturday.
"We need to learn to overcome our circumstances, and that's something we have a hard time doing as far as a slow start, a turnover and overcoming those situations," Muschamp said. "It's my job to get it right, and that's what we're working on."
That's easier said than done nine games into the season.
"We've got to coach better," Muschamp noted. "We've got to find ways to put our guys in better position, better situations to overcome that — the psychological battle of getting our guys in the right situations to be successful. That's our job as coaches."
Turnovers, penalties, defensive lapses and play-calling have been problematic.
But injuries probably have played the most significant role in Florida's current state of mind.
The Gators (4-5, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) have lost 10 players, including six starters, to season-ending injuries. Linebacker Antonio Morrison is the latest to join the list.
The team's leading tackler injured his right knee against Vanderbilt and will have surgery to repair torn meniscus.
"It's definitely discouraging," said quarterback Tyler Murphy, whose four turnovers led to three touchdowns for Vanderbilt. "But we don't look to use that as an excuse. ... It's unfortunate that we've had so many guys go down, but it's an opportunity for some of the other guys and the younger guys to step up and play and get their feet wet.
"No other team is going to take it easy on just because we have a few knocked-up guys. We've just got to be ready to go."
The Gators also are playing without quarterback Jeff Driskel (broken leg), defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee), running back Matt Jones (knee), kick returner Andre Debose (knee) and offensive linemen Chaz Green (labrum) and Tyler Moore (dislocated elbow). Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries also is sidelined indefinitely after spraining his right knee in practice two weeks ago.
In the wake of the mounting injuries, the Gators have fallen to last in the league in total offense. They lead the SEC in total defense, but have given up an average of 165 yards rushing over the last four games.
The result is the second four-game losing streak in Muschamp's three-year tenure, raising speculation about his future in Gainesville.
Athletic director Jeremy Foley insists Muschamp isn't going anywhere — even if Florida misses a bowl game for the first time since 1990.
The Gators need to win two of their final three games — they play No. 11 South Carolina on Saturday, and then face lower-division Georgia Southern and second-ranked Florida State — to become bowl eligible for the 23rd consecutive year. Florida will be huge underdogs in two of those.
Being "fragile" probably won't help the Gators pull off any upsets.
Equally important, the Gators have to guard against players checking out down the stretch.
"We have to make sure that we stay on top of each other and make sure nobody gives up on the season," Murphy said. "Things can get a lot worse if we do that stuff. We have to keep things going and try to find a way to pull two out of these next three so we can make a bowl game."