Gators enter bowl with a lot of confidence, high expectations
Published: Monday, December 31, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 7:59 p.m.
NEW ORLEANS — A Florida offense that was stumbling and staggering down the stretch somehow found its footing and broke into a liberating sprint at a most unlikely time, in a most unlikely place.
Florida (11-1) vs. Louisville (10-2)
What: Allstate Sugar Bowl
Where: New Orleans
When: Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.
On TV: ESPN
On radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850
And it has changed so much.
Perception. Outlook. Confidence. Expectations.
That’s what can happen when you run over the nation’s No. 1 defense on its home field, which is exactly what the Gators did Nov. 24 in Tallahassee in their 37-26 victory over arch-rival Florida State.
The Gators scored 37 points, rolled up 399 total yards, 21 first downs and gutted one of college football’s best defensive fronts, clearing the way for tailback Mike Gillislee to rush for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Did anyone see that coming?
Now, the same offense that took so many timid and tentative steps throughout the season appears confident and eager to zoom off to a better place.
“Oh, definitely,” sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “When you put up 37 points against a team like that, and you run all over them, especially in the second half, that’s a great deal of confidence for us.”
It eluded the offense for so much of the season. Now, the Gators seem to have their arms wrapped around it.
“Confidence is a huge part in athletics, certainly on either side of the ball,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “We’re seeing a little bit more of the reps starting to take place (on offense). You’re seeing a lot of, instead of thinking, reacting in a lot of situations. That’s the most important thing.”
Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, the former UF defensive backs coach under Urban Meyer, certainly is wary of the Gators’ new-found offensive confidence. He’s also aware of the talent and potential UF has on that side of the ball.
“They’re playing with a lot of confidence,” Bedford said Sunday. “You look at those guys. … I know a lot of those guys, by the way. The offensive line is big and athletic. I think right now, the quarterback position, they’re playing better. You could see the confidence building every game.
“The receivers are starting to step up. They’re making plays and did an outstanding job against Florida State University. And Mike Gillislee is playing lights out. We’re very concerned about that running game.”
Bedford said he’s also worried UF’s offensive performance in the FSU game is just the start of something big for the Gators, that they will be looking to build on it in a big way in the Sugar Bowl.
“When you have a great defense and great special teams, you play to your strengths. That’s what they’ve done (all season),” Bedford said. “When you get to a bowl game, you let the reins out and just go out and have some fun.
“You have a great horse, let him go run. Let the reins go. This is the finals, turn him loose and see what happens. That’s what you’re going to see.”
Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease actually started loosening the reins against the Seminoles. He came out aggressively, throwing the ball early, a move that knocked the FSU defense off balance and created opportunities on the ground, especially in the second half, when Gillislee and true freshman tailback Matt Jones had touchdown runs of 37 and 32 yards, respectively.
“It gives (the offensive players) a lot of confidence,” Pease said. “It shows that they’ve hit a point where they are breaking through the consistency we kind of wanted to strive for.
“It didn’t really surprise me because our team has been like that all year. We kind of respond at a certain point in time. As coaches, we have kind of developed the confidence, ‘OK, they’re getting ready.’ You can see the build-up process.
“We haven’t been a fast-starting team and that’s what we’ve got to work to be better at and the kids understand what our liabilities are of what we want to do. I was proud of them that way.”
Coming off the breakthrough performance against the Seminoles, Driskel said the offense is eager to get back on the field Wednesday night.
“We’ve been making plays throughout bowl practice, so we’re excited for our next game,” Driskel said.
Offensive tackle Chaz Green said the Gators are anticipating a strong follow-up performance against the Cardinals.
“We got called out (going into the FSU game),” Green said. “We are one of the teams that rises to the occasion. When somebody says we can’t do this, we step up. They said FSU had a great defense and we couldn’t block them, so we made an effort to prove people wrong.
“We want to set the tone in this game like we did against Florida State.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.