Gators say... Today will be better than '04
Published: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 12:54 p.m.
This time, the Florida Gators say they care.
They obviously didn't the last time they were here to face Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
Florida approached the game two years ago with apparent apathy and indifference and ended up paying the price, getting embarrassed by the Hawkeyes, 37-17.
At least one Gator wasn't the least bit surprised by the outcome. Strong safety Jarvis Herring said he saw it coming in the week leading up to the game.
"They whipped our behinds," Herring said. "I knew it was going to happen before the game even started. I think most guys did, too. A lot of guys didn't care. With some guys, it was like, 'We're just playing Iowa. We deserve to be in a better bowl.' Because that's what you expect at the University of Florida.
"Guys just didn't want to play in the first place."
It was evident a few days before the game when senior defensive backs and team leaders Keiwan Ratliff and Guss Scott missed curfew and were suspended for the first part of the game.
It was obvious during the game, where the Gators stumbled around in a listless, lifeless performance that saw some players accusing their teammates of playing with a total lack of effort.
Sitting at 8-4 after a tough loss to Florida State in the season finale, the Gators seemed to lack motivation.
The players say this is a much different Florida team and this will be a different Outback experience for the Gators.
This time they care.
"It will be a whole different environment and a whole different game this year," Herring said. "The guys take more pride in this game. They take more pride in going out and working hard in practice and enjoying being around each other.
"The attitude is a lot different now. We didn't take this game seriously two years ago. We're taking this game seriously. Everyone on the team has a different attitude the way the guys are working and hanging out."
The difference in attitude has been evident during this long week in Tampa, Herring said.
"A lot of the guys are in way before curfew," he said. "There were only a handful of guys who were out until 30 minutes before curfew. Everyone else was in a couple of hours before. It's a whole different attitude. Everyone is getting their rest and getting ready to go."
The Gators say they have plenty of motivation for this game.
They haven't won a bowl game since 2001, they haven't won nine games since Steve Spurrier's last season (2001), and they're trying to keep the momentum they gained in the 34-7 victory over arch-rival Florida State in the final game of the regular season.
"College football is momentum," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "Southern Cal is a perfect example. Once they had that momentum with recruiting and winning, they kept going and going (and won back-to-back national titles).
"Since the FSU win, we've had some momentum going. You'd hate to diffuse that. We have to prepare well and give everything we've got to win this game. A lot of times that's hard because you play your tail off at the end of the season and if you stumble in a bowl game you have to live with it for eight months. This is a critical game."
The players are saying this is a must-win game, for the outgoing seniors and for next year's team and the future of Meyer's program.
"This is a business trip," senior defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "We're businessmen and we're here to handle business. We've got to take care of our business on game day.
"We have to win this game. We have to. This will be a huge impact for the future and for the uprising Gator Nation."
The approach certainly seems the polar opposite of two years ago.
"I know we're as serious as can be right now," sophomore middle linebacker Brandon Siler said. "We want to win this game. We want to win it big time. Everyone is definitely taking this game seriously. The seniors see it that way. They want to start something good for the years to come.
"Three losses is definitely an improvement to a program that's had five losses each of the last three years. We see this as an opportunity to send the seniors out the right way and to start up something for ourselves for next year."
Meyer said the players have been focused and have put in the work this week to prepare for today's game.
This time they care.
"There are a lot of ways to measure if your football program is heading in the right direction, wins and losses being the most visible," Meyer said. "But there are a lot of fairly invisible things that I like to evaluate if it's heading in the right direction.
"Are we accomplishing a lot of things? Absolutely. Will it show up (today)? Well, there's going to be a very good football team on the other sideline that's going to be in the way of that. I'd like to think we're heading in the right direction regardless of the game. But if we win this game, I think it's been a heck of a year for the Florida Gators."
NOTES: Meyer announced Sunday that true freshman Kestahn Moore will start at tailback today. Moore started five games in the regular season. "Every day he's shown something," Meyer said. "Every day he shows up for practice. He's an impressive guy."
You can reach Robbie Andreu by calling 374-5022 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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