Gators on business trip
Published: Friday, November 23, 2012 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 23, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Because they can't control what happens in southern California or other parts of the college football world today, the Florida Gators have determined they are going to focus on something other than a possible climb in the BCS standings. Their full attention is on closing the gap with their closest rival, Florida State.
“Sure, that's important,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “There are a lot of things that I think when you take this job that you need to do, and you need to beat your rivals.”
In his second year with the Gators, Muschamp has closed the gap between UF and the elite teams in the SEC. Now, he's trying to do the same thing with the Gators' two biggest rivals at the moment — Florida State and Georgia.
Work needs to be done.
Under Muschamp, the Gators are 0-2 against Georgia and 0-1 against Florida State.
UF is riding a two-game losing streak to the Seminoles, and neither game has been close. FSU drubbed UF 31-7 in Urban Meyer's last season, and the Seminoles gave Muschamp a rude welcome to the rivalry a year ago, physically pushing the Gators around in The Swamp in a 21-7 win.
Winning championships is a huge goal at Florida. So is beating your rivals.
“Beating your rivals is important,” Muschamp said. “Winning your division is important, going to Atlanta is important. There's a big list of them. That's one of them.”
That is THE one today.
The fact this is a huge rivalry game, the fact UF has lost two in a row in the series, should be enough to keep the Gators from being distracted by all this BCS talk and the growing belief Florida actually has a chance to reach the BCS Championship Game if certain things fall its way in the next two weeks, including Notre Dame falling to Southern Cal on Saturday night.
The UF players and coaches have been adamant this week that their focus is on only one thing — the Seminoles, and winning this rivalry game.
“This game is important for a lot of reasons besides any ranking that's involved or anything outside of that,” Muschamp said. “It's an important game for the University of Florida. It's important for your state to win this football game.
“There are a lot of other reasons that come first and foremost in my mind as opposed to the external situation out there.”
Muschamp has been saying the same thing to his players, and they're all in with that approach to today's game.
“Really, what he talked to us about is we can only control what we can control,” junior center Jon Harrison said. “We can't worry about everything else going on. Our next step to the BCS is beating FSU. That was his point of emphasis in the whole meeting (Monday).
“We obviously can't control a lot of those factors. What we can control is us and worry about our next game. We can't worry about anything past FSU. We have to worry about preparing for FSU. (Muschamp) said, ‘Beat FSU, worry about FSU.' We can't worry about any external factors.”
Reaching the national title game is a goal that is still floating around out there for the Gators, but they would need help from some other teams. Just as motivating, maybe even more so, is the fact the Seminoles have dominated the Gators in the past two games in the rivalry.
After last year's loss, Muschamp called his team out for being mentally and physically soft. So, the Gators have plenty to prove today that's way outside the BCS box.
“It's a big game,” senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. “There's a lot riding on this game. Anytime you play a rival, it's going to be fun. It's going to be a hard-fought game. The team that makes the least amount of turnovers and mistakes is going to win the game.”
Every loss to the Seminoles is hard to stomach. Last year's was really tough, especially from the defense's perspective. UF held FSU to 95 yards of total offense, but that wasn't good enough because the Gator offense turned the ball over four times (all interceptions) and was ineffective for most of the game.
“Defensively, it was kind of a game where we were behind and they did a good job, too,” UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “They finished when we had a chance to get some takeaways and we didn't do it. That was the one thing when you look back and say, ‘Man, we may have missed some opportunities.' ”
This year's FSU defense is No. 1 in the country in total defense, while the staggering Florida offense is having problems stringing together two or three first downs, much less scoring touchdowns. But Muschamp said the Gators have a better chance today to cope with the strong Seminole defense.
“We're very different,” Muschamp said. “We're definitely more equipped this season than we were last year. I think we're much better on the offensive line. That's really where we struggled against this group last year.
“They rushed four guys and were able to stop the run and were able to play guys in coverage and force the quarterback (John Brantley) to throw the ball off rhythm. We're much better equipped on the offensive line and we're better than we were last season.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.