It was a long time ago on a Saturday night when I approached a wise man and told him, “You guys couldn’t have beaten Tennessee today.”
(I told you it was a long time ago).
And he said, “We weren’t playing Tennessee today.”
That has always stayed with me and I repeated the story to UF’s president Dr. Kent Fuchs on the field last night when he asked me if these Gators are ready for what’s coming.
Florida wasn’t playing Auburn yesterday or LSU or Georgia. They were playing the team in front of them and rolled to a less-than overwhelming shutout win.
Then, they started getting ready for the biggest week of the year so far.
It’s not just Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on CBS that matters. It’s everything leading up to it.
“If we’re looking for another gear,” said center Nick Buchanan, “it has to come from practice.”
That gear. Oh, that gear.
Does this team have one?
Or is this simply what these Gators are?
“We’re certainly going to find out next week, aren’t we?” Dan Mullen said. “We’ve taken care of business so far. Whatever the situation — good or bad — we’ve taken care of business to this point.
“It’s going to go to a whole new level.”
Can Florida go with it?
Certainly, there is a chunk of the fanbase who thinks this is their team, a bunch of guys who have to overcome as many missed assignments and missed tackles to find a way to win.
These Gators so far have had the sex appeal of vanilla ice cream without the sprinkles. There is good and there is bad and then there is winning with both and a side of ugly.
And the narrative is going to be the same all week — the team that went unbeaten in September could be in for a rough October.
But these guys and their coach aren’t hiding from anything.
They know that they need to find another level.
“I know we still have something left in the tank,” said linebacker Jon Greenard, who had a pick on a deflection Saturday.
That’s the thing — these guys understand that September’s performances won’t cut it in October. But they were still optimistic Saturday night, mainly because they are ready to welcome back some major pieces that have been missing.
Guys like CJ Henderson and Jabari Zuniga, all-SEC types who could have played Saturday if Florida wasn’t playing Towson. But because the Gators were, the two defensive stalwarts got an extra game off.
“We get everybody back like we had in camp and we can be pretty good,” Greenard said.
Look, this is Gator Nation where you can shut out an opponent and still hear, “yeah, but …” ringing into the night.
Shoot, Towson didn’t even bring a band and the Gators were giving up chunks of yardage at times. (No, these two things have nothing to do with each other but stay with me.)
Florida may not be impressing anyone on the national level and you can almost hear the naysayers climbing over each other to pick Auburn next week.
But, again, it depends on whether you believe the team you have seen since late August is the team that will show up for the next stretch of games.
It has been five uncomfortable wins. It’s a pretty healthy sample size.
Are these your Gators?
Or do they have a turbo button?
“Sometimes we can play down to the competition,” Greenard said. “Next week, we’re going to have to play up.”
“We’re going to have to play better,” Mullen said, “and the fans are going to have to be louder.”
I have no doubt that part of the equation will happen. But I’m still not convinced this is a team that has greatness in its DNA.
On the bright side, I’ve been wrong before.
“We all know what we can do,” said receiver Trevon Grimes. “When it comes to big-time games, we always step up. We’re going to do good.”
As Mullen said, we’re about to find out.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.