Gators have totally transformed
Published: Monday, November 8, 2010 at 11:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 8, 2010 at 11:55 p.m.
The last time we saw the Florida Gators in The Swamp, they were trudging toward the south end zone tunnel, beaten and bowed, their season in flames.
The next time we see them in The Swamp, they will be fired up and playing for a championship in a frenzied and electric atmosphere.
In less than a month, the Gators have gone from irrelevant to possible champions of the SEC's Eastern Division.
“If you had told me we would lose three games and still have a chance to win this last game and go to the SEC Championship Game, I wouldn't take it back for nothing in the world,” senior center Mike Pouncey said Monday.
He doesn't have to take it back. It's happened.
The Gators are playing South Carolina for the SEC East title Saturday night in The Swamp, with the winner advancing to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on the first Saturday in December.
Who could have thought it possible after that painful 10-7 loss to Mississippi State and former UF coordinator Dan Mullen on Oct. 16? It was UF's third consecutive defeat, second in a row at home, and at that low point some were even wondering if the Gators would win another game this season, much less have a shot at possibly playing for an SEC title in December.
But here the Gators are, back from the dead.
“Coach (Urban Meyer) always tells us we want to be fighting for a spot in the SEC Championship Game in November, and that's what we're doing,” junior quarterback John Brantley said. “We put ourselves in a situation we didn't want to be in (after three consecutive losses), but we stuck together and now we're fighting for our spot.”
Coming off the loss to MSU, the UF coaches used a bye week to make some critical changes. The decision was made to go to a no-huddle, hurry-up offense and play three different quarterbacks — John Brantley, Trey Burton and Jordan Reed — in an attempt to revive the running game and bring additional elements to the attack.
It also helped that two of the Gators' biggest playmakers — Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps — returned to the lineup.
The results were back-to-back wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt in which the Gators averaged 44.5 points and 465 yards of total offense a game.
The two-game turnaround has generated great momentum for the Gators — and put them in a position to win the division title Saturday night.
“I like where our team is right now,” Meyer said Monday. “I'm not talking about executing, I'm talking about development. You're either going one way or the other, and we're heading in the right direction.
“If you told me we'd play five or six games without Rainey and Demps and be down to our third kicker and have a lot of other issues to deal with. ... And still have a chance to play the best game in America before the best fans for a shot at the SEC championship, we'd take it.”
Meyer reiterated Monday that he wants to see The Swamp rocking and rolling Saturday night.
“I'd like this one to go down in the books,” he said. “Obviously, the football team has to do its part, which is the most important one. I would like to see the stadium absolutely out of control.
“We have the best home-field advantage in America. Let's use it to the maximum. Unless people have something else to do, I'd like to see a couple of hundred thousand people here, inside (the stadium) and outside, wherever it is. Our guys are going to play really hard. Really hard.”
Meyer has called for the UF fans to wear all blue (something the players will do).
The players say the noise and atmosphere will be off the charts.
“Insane,” Brantley said. “Our fans are always rowdy, especially in big games, night games. It's going to be a special sight to see here in The Swamp.”
Who would have thought it possible, just a little less than a month ago?