Gators looking to clinch SEC East in Knoxville on Saturday
Their No. 1 goal heading into the college football season is right there in front of them now, attainable, theirs to achieve Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.
It’s easy to follow. If the Florida Gators win at Tennessee, they’ll capture the SEC East title and earn their spot in the conference championship game Dec. 19, likely against No. 1 Alabama.
For a team that’s been striving to become a championship program since the arrival of coach Dan Mullen after the 2017 season in which the Gators went 4-7, this is a huge deal.
“It would mean everything,” quarterback Kyle Trask said Monday. “At the beginning of the season we have all these huge goals, but the first real goal we have to accomplish is to win the East. We have a chance to do that on Saturday. We’ll definitely be playing at our top level to get that done.
“It will mean everything to get back to Atlanta. I remember it just like it was yesterday, my freshman year when we went in 2016. It goes by so fast. It would be cool to be back there and hopefully get a win.”
To have a chance to win there, they have to win in Knoxville first (or the week later against LSU in The Swamp).
The Gators want to get it done Saturday, beat Tennessee and end any drama about who’s going to win the division and move on to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.
“It’s a great opportunity for us that way,” Mullen said. “The biggest emphasis on us is finding ways that we’ve got to improve as a team. That’s the biggest emphasis. It’s a long season, it’s a tough season to make sure we have the mental toughness and physical toughness to continue to play at a high level and continue to do the things you need to do to win.
“Part of that is preparation all during the week, because the game you get to go perform. All our preparation leads up to how you’re going to perform. That’s the most important thing. That’s what we touched on this morning in the meeting, finding ways to be mentally tough to get better.”
Just like in the last three games, the Gators are a heavy favorite (16 points) Saturday. But this game is on the road, it could be very cold, and as UF showed in those last three games with some first-half struggles, the Gators are vulnerable at times, which means they are beatable.
Mullen isn’t ready to start thinking about Atlanta just yet.
“We’ve got to qualify to get there first,” he said. “That will be much more important than even thinking about that. We’ve got to focus on beating Tennessee this week. They’re a really talented team, really talented offensive line, great running backs, threats at receiver and the quarterback can throw the deep ball. Very, very veteran units on defense.
“We’ll see if (getting to Atlanta) becomes a reality. We’ll think about it then. The only reality I know we’re faced with is having to go to Knoxville, Tennessee.”
The Gators have been in control of their own destiny in the East since beating Georgia on Nov. 7. Since then, they’ve done a solid job of controlling the controllables. That’s the plan again Saturday.
“That’s always the goal, to worry about what you can control,” Mullen said. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to play Saturday and we can control the game on Saturday.
“We’ll work our tails off to go try to control the game as best we can Saturday. If we come out on top, I’ll let you know afterwards how it feels (to win the East for the first time as a head coach).”
Who: No. 5 Florida (7-1) at Tennessee (2-5)
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850