Gators showing fight to the finish


Florida defense swarms an incomplete pass during the second half against LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville on Saturday.

Doug Finger/Staff pPhotographer
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 12:13 a.m.

A few hours after Florida's big win over LSU on Saturday, offensive coordinator Brent Pease felt compelled to send a text message to the contributor many considered to be the Gators' MVP.

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Florida defense swarms an incomplete pass during the second half against LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville on Saturday.

Doug Finger/Staff pPhotographer

No, not tailback Mike Gillislee. Strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman.

“I sent him a text Saturday night after the game, to him and (strength assistant) Jesse (Ackerman) both, saying ‘Hey, when I look down there and they've got their hands on their hips and our guys are still raring to go, I mean that's a product of what they've done from the summer on,' ” Pease said.

“Obviously, he believes in what he's doing with the conditioning, the core stability, the strength, the lifts that they're doing. I really felt and I believe our guys got stronger as (the game) went along.”

They did.

On a steamy afternoon in The Swamp, the Gators shut out the Tigers in the second half and took command of the game with a power running game that wore down the LSU defense. The Gators outscored the Tigers 14-0 in the second half and pitched a fourth-quarter shutout for the fifth time in five games.

This is exactly what Will Muschamp had in mind when he hired Dillman last winter and challenged him to make the Gators stronger and tougher, a team capable of winning the fourth quarter in crucial SEC games.

Last season, the Gators stalled in the second half. Now, they're steamrolling. UF has outscored its five opponents 78-13 in the second half and 41-0 in the fourth quarter. Florida is the only team in the nation that has not given up a fourth-quarter point this season.

“I don't think there's any question that a huge amount of that credit goes to Jeff and his staff,” Muschamp said Wednesday. “They've done a fantastic job. As much as anything, when we went back to old core lifting that I was accustomed to, the transformation in their bodies, and the players began to build confidence in what they're doing when they saw themselves getting stronger.

“They saw themselves and they understood in the spring we were a more physical team. They saw themselves improving as a football player. So like anything else, when you invest time in something then you start to realize it's working for you and you're benefiting from it, it motivates you to do it more.

“So, I think the motivational level in there was at an all-time high since I've been here. So, again, I want to go back and say we're a year older. We're a year more mature. We're able to handle certain circumstances a lot better. We're able to handle adversity much better, which again is a credit to the weight room and Jeff and his staff.”

Quarterback Jeff Driskel said all the offseason lifts and running sessions under Dillman were geared toward one goal: making the Gators stronger in the second half, especially the fourth quarter, where UF was outscored 72-22 in SEC games a year ago.

“It's been drilled into our heads, second-half team, got to be a second-half team, got to come through in the fourth quarter,” Driskel said. “You could tell that we were more in shape than (the LSU players) were. We were ready to go on our long drives.

“Our offensive linemen weren't breathing as hard as their defensive linemen, and it really showed. It comes down to conditioning in the offseason and how much work we put in.”

Driskel said the offseason conditioning program was demanding, daunting, sometimes painful, but worth every bit of the sweat and strain.

“Every day we were in the weight room working hard and then we would be outside running,” he said. “We ran a lot of 110-yard sprints. It was hard. He said it was going to be hard, but it's going to pay off, and you're going to see the results during the season.” We're definitely seeing them now.

“We're obviously going to be confident if we're down at any point in games from now on because we know we have the ability to come back, and we know we'll be ready to go come the second half.”

Cornerback Jaylen Watkins said Dillman gave the players his standard advice going into the LSU game.

“The game is 60 minutes,” Watkins said. “Just keep punching them in the mouth and keep going out there and hitting them, and our conditioning that we started out there in the summer would show.

“He said, ‘Just keep swinging. Swing first, and swing last, and we'll come out on top.' ”

Dillman is getting much of the credit for the Gators becoming stronger finishers this season. Another “D” word also is involved.

Depth.

Dillman and depth are making a big difference.

Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said the Gators played 23 players on defense in Saturday's win.

“A big factor is that we have a little more depth this year maybe to go into games longer,” Quinn said.

The Gators played numerous offensive and defensive linemen against LSU. The result was the Gators were fresh in the decisive second half, while the Tigers seemed to be fading.

“We're able to play blocks better up front because guys aren't playing as many snaps,” Muschamp said. “You look at some of our guys — Earl Okine, Leon Orr, Jon Bullard and Dante Fowler playing upwards of 20, 25 snaps in the game. And (starter) Sharrif Floyd now playing (only) 40 snaps a game.

“There's no question (depth) has helped our team as we've moved forward. And we've been able to play more offensive linemen in the game as well.”

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

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