Dooley: Gators at 7-0 in unusual way
Published: Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 9:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 9:01 p.m.
There was a hint of a grin on Will Muschamp’s face as he looked at the stat sheet before meeting with the media Saturday night.
Yeah, coach, we are having a hard time believing it, too.
It was that kind of a stat sheet, one of those that makes you want to go watch the replay just to see how they did it. They took a giant step toward a possible SEC East title and went to 7-0 in the strangest way.
Someone who didn’t watch the game will look at the score and say, “Hey, those Gators may be the second-best team in the country.”
Maybe they are.
“We did what we had to do to win the game,” Muschamp said.
They did. They did in the spring and summer and during each week in this magical start. They got tougher and they got smarter and they got better.
They turned the disastrous turnover margin from last year into one of the nation’s best this year.
“Our turnover margin has flipped our season,” Muschamp said.
It certainly flipped Saturday’s game against South Carolina.
In the first half, Florida led 21-6 and had two first downs. But it had set the tone on the first play with a blitz and a sack and a strip and the ball at the South Carolina 2-yard line while their fans were screaming so loud they were leaking the brain cells they hadn’t killed at the tailgate parties.
And then, to start the second half, they stepped on the throat of any momentum South Carolina had established with a late field goal drive. The Gators marched down the field and into the end zone as if they were playing Kentucky.
“That was huge,” said quarterback Jeff Driskel. “The three TDs in the first half were one-shot things. We needed a big drive.”
Said center Jon Harrison, “We wanted to show them we were here. We were here for the whole 60 minutes.”
We shouldn’t have been surprised, even after a first half with almost no offense for the Gators. The way Florida has dominated the second halves of games this season, you should have assumed it might be over at the half with the Gators holding a 15-point lead.
You had no idea how over it was.
In a dominant third quarter, Steve Spurrier benched his quarterback and Florida found its offense. And by the time the quarter was over, the last 15 minutes were reduced to a battle to see which band could play louder.
I wasn’t surprised to see Dylan Thompson trot out there to take the first snap of the second half. During the week, Spurrier told me he was frustrated that starter Connor Shaw wasn’t throwing the ball on throwing plays and he wasn’t afraid to go to the backup quarterback.
Now he has two losses and a quarterback controversy.
And Georgia has what it wanted — the mighty Gators next week. The Dogs were rooting on Twitter for a Florida win. You got it. But this isn’t the team you rallied against a year ago, Bulldog fans.
This is a team that has improved in every area of the game, especially on the mental side.
“We understand,” said junior Sharrif Floyd. “It’s all about understanding. We understand what we have to do and how we have to be there for each other.”
It took them 13 games to win seven times a year ago and none of them resonated nationally. It has taken seven games to win seven times this year and there were a handful of national writers on hand for another big Florida win.
They don’t need no stinkin’ offense. Not when special teams are so dominant and the defense keeps two top-10 (LSU and South Carolina) teams out of the end zone.
This story is about so many coaches, players and support staff. It’s about a strength coach who made them stronger and a defensive coordinator who made them smarter and a guy like Loucheiz Purifoy who is making so many big plays we don’t have too look up how to spell his name any more.
It’s about a guy like Kyle Christy who struggled as a freshman when the coaches wanted him to get rid of the ball quicker.
“I’m not used to talking to the media,” he said after the game when we huddled around a guy who should be called “The Flipper” for the way he keeps flipping the field.
This story is about a team that has learned how to be a team.
And it’s still not finished.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.