Gators have something to prove
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012 at 5:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 5, 2012 at 8:26 p.m.
After suddenly and somewhat inexplicably plunging off college football's national stage two years ago, the Florida Gators have managed to pull themselves back up on it early in Will Muschamp's second season.
For the first time since October of 2010, the Gators are in the top 10 again. They arrived there Sunday, 4-0 and feeling good. Now, the question is: are they here to stay, or is this just a temporary thing?
That answer should come Saturday against No. 4 LSU.
“Definitely,” sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer said. “Games like this — LSU, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia — they all tend to tell you where you're going to be in the season and how good you really are.”
A year ago, Alabama and LSU revealed how bad the Gators really were. The Tide gutted the Gators 38-10 in Gainesville. A week later, No. 1 LSU overwhelmed the Gators 41-11 in Baton Rouge.
So, only 12 months later, could the Gators possibly be 30 points better?
The Tigers will help them find out Saturday in The Swamp.
“Well, this is obviously a signature game for us,” UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “In any aspect, whether it's whatever position you're talking about.
“It's a good measuring stick for us to see what we're up against, or how we handle being against a ranked team, a team that has got talent across the board.”
The Gators were no match for the Tigers a year ago. But much has changed on the Florida side since then.
“I feel we're 10 times better (than a year ago). At least,” Joyer said. “We're a better team, together and as individuals.”
LSU coach Les Miles agrees — at least with the second part of Joyer's quote.
“This team is well prepared, more competitive,” Miles said. “They look like a very, very quality Florida team. I don't want to bemoan the other two teams (2010 and 2011), because to me, those guys were pretty good too, but this team is a real good Florida team.
“They've been physical. They've demonstrated that. I think (Muschamp) is really improving the team.”
Last year's Florida team looked pretty good when it was sitting at 4-0 and ranked No. 12 in the nation. But the Gators turned out to be somewhat fragile, shattering when starting quarterback John Brantley was injured in the first half of the Alabama loss.
A week later, UF went into Baton Rouge with a true freshman starting at quarterback (Jacoby Brissett), and few doubted what the outcome would be.
This season's 4-0 Florida team seems much more complete, much more competitive, much more capable of playing with a team like No. 4 LSU. At least that is the perception based on the way the Gators have played so far.
UF showed greater depth and mental and physical toughness in comeback wins on the road at Texas A&M and Tennessee. The Gators also have shown signs of being stronger on both lines of scrimmage, and being more efficient on offense and at quarterback with sophomore Jeff Driskel.
“We're much better than we were a year ago,” Muschamp said. “We're much deeper, more mature, more experienced. We're stronger. We handle adversity a lot better, and when you play games like this, there's going to be some adversity.
“Anybody that was part of watching us and being part of our organization last year and this year will notice a night-and-day difference between our football team. We've made tremendous improvement in a short period of time.
“Are we where we want to be at? Absolutely not. I'm not trying to say that we've arrived by any stretch of the imagination. But we've improved.”
The Gators say today's game will be a measuring stick to show just how much they have improved.
“Definitely,” Driskel said. “At the end of the day, it's just another game, but it's definitely a big one. It's a really good opponent and we're excited for the opportunity to be matched up with one of the best in the country.
“Coach has said all along, we're a more mature team. What that means, we get in here on our own. We watch the film. We're not going to be guys that just do the bare minimum. We all want to win and we all want to get better. That's what it takes.”
Unlike many of his players, Muschamp said he is not viewing this game as a measuring stick for his team.
“Nah, I don't know about that,” he said. “It counts as one game. It doesn't count any more than that. They've got a good football team and it's certainly a team that we're looking forward to playing.
“We've got a great opportunity sitting in front of us here at our home stadium at 3:30. That's the way I look at it. We won't put in any more hours this week than three weeks ago. I know everybody thinks that all of a sudden we're going to change everything for one game. But we're not.”
The Gators are staying the course, the one that has brought them back to college football's national stage.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.