The hearts were willing and the state of mind was strong, but the Florida Gators just didn’t have the juice. And their offense was ghastly. It’s beginning to look like a mercy killing is ahead in Atlanta.

I’m not sure he shouldn’t have gone for the field goal, but I loved Jim McElwain’s chutzpah, going for it on fourth and goal at the FSU 2 during Florida’s opening drive, but it was also a commentary on what he knew about his offense: Gator touchdowns are a rare commodity. They wound up without one.

It wasn’t the same Florida offense we saw against LSU. And Saturday night’s poor showing in the 31-13 loss in Tallahassee left more questions than answers as the Gators head into the Alabama Execution Chamber, AKA the SEC Championship Game in the Georgia Dome.

As I Tweeted after the Gators’ offensive debacle: “Jim McElwain needs to buy a vowel from Vanna before he leaves for Atlanta. And it’s not A, E, I or U.”

When a team can’t score a touchdown or convert a single third down in 12 tries, that’s beyond inept. Especially coming on the heels of such an impressive day at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge – an even tougher venue than Doak Campbell.

We know what these Gators are capable of doing. It’s puzzling for everyone, including the coaches. The fans have short memories and have long ago forgotten one of Florida’s epic moments in the victory over LSU: The Great Walk-off, Goal-Line Stand.

Therefore there are many more questions about the offense. I have at least five of these questions – and many others – that need examining:

1. How much is poor play-calling or bad execution when a team fails to convert a single first down? Is it a broken offensive philosophy? What kind of changes need to be made, aside from personnel?

2. Where was that straight-ahead, power running from the LSU game powered by Jordan Scarlett?

3. Didn’t it seem, after watching Austin Appleby cock his arm to pass from the shotgun, that we still had time to go to the kitchen for a beer, come back and see him still holding the ball — about to eat another pigskin sandwich?

4. Where was the explosiveness of a Florida offense that struck for a 98-yard bomb the week before? And was this the same quarterback this week who finished with just 179 yards on 18 completed passes in 34 attempts?

5. Would the offense be better served with Appleby under center? If it is going to ever have a real rhythm – I know, sounds like a joke, right? – the quarterback must eventually go under center, take a 3- or 5-step drop and fire.

I suppose Appleby gave all he had – including the 98-yard bomb last week. But surely he must have gotten tired of the taste of pigskin.

I’m hearing a lot of grousing, even about a team making its second straight trip to the SEC Championship Game. The natives are restless again, which seems odd when you consider the disasters in Knoxville, Oxford, Fayetteville, etc.

I asked my friend Steve in Boulder, Colo., a diehard Gator and follower of the Colorado Buffaloes and Denver Broncos, if the glass was half-full or half-empty, and he said: “Empty in G’ville … full in the Rockies with Buffs and Broncos … that was simply pathetic …  Worse offense than the days of Dickey or Zook for heaven’s sake.  While I appreciate the effort, the talent and plays are just average …”

So how do they develop a quick case of amnesia and start over in the Georgia Dome?

Even McElwain had to wonder: “I don’t know if they will come back or not. It’ll be a heck of a test.”

I’m not sure what game Appleby saw, but I’ll give him an A for efforting to be optimistic: “We’re going to get everything fixed, and we’re going to come back and win a championship next week.”

For sure Florida will be packing a heavy load to take to Atlanta as a three touchdown-plus underdog to face one of college football’s fiercest dynasties at its peak.

Maybe everybody would be better served Saturday by a running clock.