Now that they’re winning and ranked again, the Florida Gators are about to encounter something they haven’t had to contend with in quite some time.
A trap game.
That’s certainly what’s waiting for the Gators on Saturday in Nashville.
This game with Vanderbilt has all the makings of a trap game.
The Gators have won three big SEC games in a row, two on the road in hostile environments, and are coming off an emotional upset of then-No. 5 LSU in The Swamp, a win that has vaulted UF to No. 14 in the nation.
And now the Gators go to Vanderbilt for an 11 a.m. local time game in a stadium that will be less than full and lacking noise and atmosphere.
And, well, Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt. The Commodores are 0-2 in the SEC and coming off a 41-13 drubbing at the hands of Georgia.
Given the circumstances, the tendency might be for the Gators to relax, have a little bit of a letdown this week. They could be looking ahead to next week’s open date before facing Georgia on Oct. 27.
That’s what makes this a trap game.
And if there’s a letdown this week, there will be a loss on Saturday, Florida coach Dan Mullen said Monday.
“We talked about it this morning,” Mullen said. “I’ve played in games up there. It’s going to be a different atmosphere than what we’ve seen. It doesn’t have to affect our performance on the field and how we play and how we execute and how we practice all week.
“It’s not going to affect that. So, for our guys to have any thought, except for how hard I can go on the next play, would be us taking a step backward as a team. That has to be the focus of everybody within the program.”
Last week, when Nick Saban said No. 1 Alabama’s game at Arkansas was a trap game, everyone just chuckled. Because that wasn’t really a trap game. For one thing, is there even such a thing for a team as talented the Tide? Especially going against a team that has already lost to Colorado State and North Texas.
Florida’s situation is much different. The Gators are winning, but they’re still in the early stages of program development under Mullen. And this is an SEC game against a team the Gators have traditionally struggled with on the road.
Mullen was asked if he believes in trap games.
“I’m a believer in that if you don’t prepare the right way you can’t expect to win the game,” he said. “I can look at our guys this week and say, ‘We’ve played three really tough games in a row and we have a bye week the following week.’
“And the mindset can be, ‘Coach, I can’t wait to catch my breath. I can’t wait to just take one play off at practice.’ That’s where a definition of that could come. More than the opponent you’re facing, it’s yourself and your own attitude of the mental toughness of can we continually improve and get up every day.”
Mullen has already talked to the players this week about mental toughness and staying focused and continuing to strive to get better, something the Gators have done from week to week.
Mullen’s message apparently has gotten through to the players.
“We definitely understand,” junior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “We’re going to prepare, treat it as a national championship game, and come out today ready to practice and continue to get better every day.
“The thing that will be the biggest thing is to not let our improvement that we keep making slip up. We’ve got to continue to get better, get better, get better and let that propel us into the game on Saturday.”
Quarterback Feleipe Franks said the Gators aren’t going to have a letdown against the Commodores.
“It’s another SEC road game,” he said. “It’s not easy, it’s not easy to win road games, let alone an SEC game in general. We can’t take them lightly. We’re just got to keep on preparing, keep on having really good practices.
“And like Coach Mullen said, you’ve got to prepare for every team and if you don’t prepare you have the potential of losing a game. You’ve got to prepare for whoever you’re playing.”