Five reasons this 4-0 start is different


Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel throws a pass against the Kentucky Wildcats during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 in Gainesville. Florida defeated Kentucky 38-0.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 10:30 p.m.

With the win over Kentucky last week, the Florida Gators find themselves right where they were a year ago — 4-0 and getting ready to open a tough October schedule against the nation's No. 3 team in The Swamp.

Facts

UP NEXT FOR THE GATORS

Who: No. 3 LSU (4-0) at No. 11 Florida (4-0)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. TV/radio: CBS/WRUF

The consensus seems to be that this year's 4-0 team is much different last year's and much better equipped to handle what's coming up next month (LSU, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Georgia).

Last year, the Gators plunged into October with high hopes. But the course of the season changed when UF lost starting quarterback John Brantley in the first half against No. 3 Alabama and lost the game 38-10.

The humbling defeat started what would become O-for-October — consecutive losses to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia that put the Gators on the path of a disappointing 6-6 regular season.

Will it happen again this October?

Or is this 4-0 team heading for something better?

Here are five reasons why this 4-0 UF team is different (in a positive way) than last year's:

1. The situation at QB

When Brantley went down with a high ankle sprain late in the first half of the Alabama loss, UF's season basically crashed. With two true freshmen behind Brantley (Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett), the Gators had no choice but to go with a quarterback who was not ready to successfully compete in the SEC. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis had to dramatically simplify the offense, and the UF attack was borderline inept in the second half against Alabama and in the losses at LSU and at Auburn. Brantley returned for the Georgia game, but was limited by his tender ankle. This Saturday against LSU, if Driskel is injured, the Gators have a quarterback who is ready to play at a high level. Driskel and Brissett were in a dead-heat for the starting job for eight months before Driskel was finally declared the starter after the opener against Bowling Green. If Brissett is that close to Driskel in ability, the offense should be fine if he has to take over.

2. The early schedule

The Gators were all fired up about their 4-0 start last season, thinking they had a legitimate shot to knock off Alabama in The Swamp. The reality is Florida had not been seriously tested in the first four games. The Gators opened the season with four unranked opponents (Florida Atlantic, UAB, Tennessee and Kentucky), and three of them were severely out-manned. The other (UT) was a heavy underdog in The Swamp. This year's team is much more battle-tested, and as a result, better prepared to take on the nation's No. 3 team Saturday night. In the second week of the season, the Gators had to travel to Texas A&M for the Aggies' first game in the SEC, and the atmosphere was electric. The following week, it was more of the same with a trip to Tennessee. The Gators showed mental and physical toughness in coming from behind in the second half to win both games.

3. It's a line of scrimmage league

Will Muschamp has been saying it since he first arrived at Florida: the SEC is a line of scrimmage league. To succeed, you must be strong on both lines of scrimmage. The Gators weren't very strong on either last season, especially on the offensive line. This year's offensive line appears stronger and tougher, and capable of creating opportunities in the running game. The defensive line also has that more classic SEC look about it. The Gators appear better equipped on the line of scrimmage this season to compete with the league's elite teams.

4. A new play caller

With the injury to Brantley, Weis was somewhat limited in his options during the four-game losing streak. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease seems to be in a much better place. He's put more on Driskel's plate in each game, and Driskel has responded favorably. And Pease has involved all kinds of skill players in the offense. In last week's win over UK, 10 different receivers caught passes. Now, that's spreading the ball around. Pease has all kinds of options, and he's shown he going to use them all in an attempt to put the ball in the hands of the playmakers.

5. More experience, maturity, depth

The Gators had all kinds of first-year starters last season, and while they were highly ranked players coming out of high school, many of them (especially from that heralded 2010 recruiting class) had not seen significant playing time at this level. Those players have experience now, and it's showing in their performances. With experience comes maturity, and this appears to be a much more mature (and confident) team than a year ago. Depth also is considerably better, allowing the coaches to keep fresh players on the field for the full 60 minutes — a luxury they did not have a year ago.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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