Gators looking to stay focused against winless Vanderbilt

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
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Vanderbilt tight end Jared Pinkney celebrates after scoring a touchdown ahead of Florida defensive lineman Cece Jefferson in the first half of the Oct. 13, 2018 game in Nashville, Tenn. The Gators trailed 21-3 before winning 37-27.

Coming off the big, emotional win over Georgia, there was some concern last week about the Florida Gators possibly suffering a letdown and lack of focus against Arkansas.

 But not really a serious concern. With former teammate and starting UF quarterback Feleipe Franks leading the Razorbacks into The Swamp, it pretty much assured the players would be physically and emotionally invested in getting ready for the game.

 This week, different story. Much different story.

 The Gators are coming off an impressive 63-35 win and people are telling them how awesome they are and how they look like a playoff team and how Kyle Trask is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. 

 And now, with all that noise going on, Florida travels to Nashville this Saturday to play winless (0-6) and hapless Vanderbilt in a game where maybe less than 1,000 fans will be in the stands.

 How do you get up for this?

 Coach Dan Mullen has a plan, and it starts with the news flash to his players that the last time the Gators played the Commodores on the road two years ago, they fell behind 21-3 in the first half and had to fight like heck to pull out a 37-27 win.

  If that doesn’t get everyone’s attention, perhaps this will.

 “If not, I guess I'll put on a cheerleading outfit and get on the sidelines and start trying to motivate us that way,” Mullen said Monday. “But we only get 10 games this year, so you better be motivated for those opportunities and to get on the field and to go play and go make plays. Shouldn't need any more motivation than that."

 Mullen has been in situations like this, or similar to this, over the course of his coaching career, where his team is a heavy favorite and the risk is there that his players might not take their opponent seriously.

 "Absolutely. Multiple times,” he said. “It's a tough challenge. It is a tough challenge to do. We've done it and lost games because of it."

 For a team that’s in control in the SEC East and with the goal to become a championship program still very much in play, a loss (or even playing poorly and winning) would be a significant setback.

 So, Mullen has a healthy respect for the Commodores. And he’s insisting his players, and everyone else in and around the program, have it, too.

 “They’re an SEC team,” he said. “They continue to improve. Almost beat Texas A&M to start off the year, a seven-point game last week (against Kentucky). And the last time we went there we were down 21-3. So, there are a lot of different things you could point out with this (Vandy) team, the talent within and how they play hard.

 “Aspect No. 2 is, if we want to be a great team, we have to get better (this week). So, not only is the focus on your opponent, it’s on yourself as well.”

 The Monday after the win over Georgia, Mullen started stressing to his team that if it wants to be a great team, a championship team, the Gators have to stay focused and motivated to get better every week, regardless the opponent.

 That conversation has carried over to this week.

 And the players are listening, Trask said.

 "We’ve just got to treat it like any other week,” he said. “We came off the huge Georgia win, a lot of people didn't really like us against Arkansas. Some people even said it was a trap game. But we did a great job of ignoring all the outside noise and focusing on our job and what we can do and just practicing to our full potential every single day.

 “We have to do a great job of continuing to do that this week. And we're not just playing to win every game, we're playing to play to our full potential every game, which obviously includes winning.”

 With so few fans, the atmosphere will be different, but not all that different, so it should not be a significant distraction.

 “This whole entire season we haven't really been used to having a lot of fans anyways,” Trask said. “So, we've been having to create our own energy for every single game. It's just going to be another week of creating our juice from the inside out."

Up next

Who: No. 5 Florida (5-1) vs. Vanderbilt (0-6)

When: 12 p.m. Saturday

Where: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

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