UF out to reverse trend
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012 at 3:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 1, 2012 at 3:49 p.m.
An uncomfortable chill settled in over Gator Nation on Monday, and it had nothing to do with the approach of fall. It was the fact that the calendar turned to October.
This has been a chilling and haunting month for the No. 10 Gators the past two seasons.
This is the time of year when the leaves change — and so does UF's season.
Last season, the Gators were a confident 4-0 heading into October, and came out of the month a shattered 4-4.
The year before, they were 4-0 going in and 5-3 coming out.
It adds up to a two-year October record of 1-7.
And, so, October has arrived again, the Gators are 4-0 again and the schedule is daunting again — No. 4 LSU, at Vanderbilt, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 5 Georgia in Jacksonville.
“I think we're as prepared as we can be going into this month,” senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. said. “We're trying to prevent (what happened last season). We've got a week to prepare, and we're getting ready for it.”
The Gators felt they were ready to step onto the national stage and make a statement a year ago on the first Saturday in October. But the only statemate turned out to be the Gators were still not ready for prime time — losing their starting quarterback (John Brantley) and losing big (38-10) to No. 3 Alabama.
That bad night in The Swamp sent UF's season into a downward spiral.
Things only got worse a week later when the Gators, starting a true freshman at quarterback (Jacoby Brissett) were humbled at No. 1 LSU 41-11.
After perhaps an even more promising 4-0 start this season, including big road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee, the Gators seem to be a different and stronger team heading into October this time.
UF coach Will Muschamp says the perception is reality.
“I think we're much better than we were a year ago,” Muschamp said Monday. “We're much deeper, more mature, more experienced. I think we're stronger. We handle adversity a lot better. When you play games like this, there is going to be adversity.
“Anybody that was a part of watching us and being a part of our organization last year and this year will notice a night and day difference between our football team. I think we've made tremendous improvement in a short period of time.
“We addressed issues that we needed to shore up. Are we where we want to be? Absolutely not. I'm not saying we've arrived by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think we've improved.”
The Gators do seem better equipped to head into the tough October stretch. The offensive line, a weakness a year ago, has been a strength. UF's running game is more consistent. Sophomore Jeff Driskel is making plays and coming into his own at quarterback. The offense is creating more big plays. The defense is creating more turnovers and big plays. Overall, there is more depth and experience.
It all adds up to this 4-0 team believing it is better than last year's.
The Gators will have a chance to find out Saturday in The Swamp against an LSU team that basically had its way with UF in last year's 30-point win in Baton Rouge.
“Going into last year, we definitely felt like we had a shot,” Driskel said. “We didn't go in last year saying, ‘Hopefully we don't lose by 20 points,' or, ‘We'll try to keep it close.' We go into every game thinking we have a shot and knowing we have a shot.
“But this year, we're definitely confident. It will be a lot closer, that's for sure. It won't be like last year. We're a confident team. We've gotten better each and every game, and we're going to do the same this week.”
UF was no match for LSU in last year's game. The Gators managed only nine first downs and 213 yards of total offense, while the Tigers rolled up 453 yards and pretty much dialed things down offensively in the second half.
It was not a pretty scene in Baton Rouge for UF. But it is a loss and an experience that has helped this year's team grow, Muschamp said. And not just that loss, but all of last October.
“I told the guys all along in the offseason and while it was going on, don't ever forget the feeling you have right now,” Muschamp said. “As a competitor, it ought to motivate you. If you're truly a competitive guy, it ought to really motivate you not to be in that situation again.
“I try to continually remind them about October, about the fourth quarter, about not being outscored, about all those things. As a competitor, and to be a competitive organization, those are things I constantly bring up.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.