Gators highly motivated for trip to Vanderbilt
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A week ago most of the media and fan chatter regarding the Florida football team centered on the future of head coach Will Muschamp.
This week, the Gators have been asked mostly questions about overconfidence and even a few about potentially making it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
Welcome to the SEC East, 2014 version.
"If we don’t take care of our business, nothing else matters," Muschamp said Wednesday of any division title scenarios.
First, let’s address those questions about overconfidence.
Florida’s upset of No. 9-ranked Georgia on Saturday delivered the Gators a much-needed dose of hope with four games remaining in the regular season and a bowl berth still up for grabs.
Right as Muschamp and his team were being tossed overboard by outsiders, they pulled off their biggest win since defeating Florida State on the road in 2012.
Next up: Florida travels to Vanderbilt this weekend looking to avenge a devastating loss to the Commodores a season ago on Homecoming. Vanderbilt beat the Gators 34-17 to snap a 22-game losing streak in the series dating to 1989.
"There’s not really a word to describe it," defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. said. "That’s not a game you lose."
But the Gators did despite outgaining the Commodores 344-183 and picking up 26 first downs to Vanderbilt’s 12. One word: turnovers.
Florida had four of them to lose to the Commodores at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the first time since the schools played in 1945, the first game in the series.
"It means something; you know what I’m saying," defensive back Brian Poole said. "Of course we’re going to use that to motivate us."
The Gators (4-3, 3-3 in SEC) are coming off a 38-20 win over Georgia in a game they physically dominated. Florida rushed for 418 yards — the most for UF in an SEC game since a 1975 victory over Vanderbilt — and committed only one turnover after 15 in the previous four games (three losses).
Meanwhile, the Commodores (3-6, 0-5) have struggled under first-year head coach Derek Mason, who replaced James Franklin but has been unable to field as competitive a team as Franklin did in his three seasons.
The Commodores are winless in the conference and their victories are against UMass, Charleston Southern and Old Dominion. However, they have won 10 consecutive November games dating back to 2011 when Franklin got the program rolling.
After what happened last year — or last week — the Gators aren’t looking past anyone.
"We’ve traveled down that road as far as being outrushed and having four turnovers and all the things that went into that day," Muschamp said. "Those things have been addressed with our football team."
As for any division title talk, that seemed far-fetched five days ago.
However, the Gators remained alive in the SEC East race thanks to the victory over Georgia few saw coming.
They need a lot of help to get to Atlanta — most notably two more Missouri losses — but two wins in their final four games will make them bowl eligible.
Senior center Max Garcia is confident the Gators will stay focused and build on the improvements they made a week ago in freshman quarterback Treon Harris’ first career start.
Florida ran 60 times and threw only six times. The improvements were 1) Reducing turnovers, 2) Blocking up front, 3) Kelvin Taylor (197 yards) and Matt Jones (192) making something happen when Harris handed them the ball.
"We’re going on a positive slope right now," Garcia said. "We’re not worried about disappointing anyone. We’re going to go out there with complete confidence because this is all we have to play for, for each other. And we’re not going to let each other down."
That’s what Muschamp wants to hear. Florida can’t afford any more letdowns.
"You’ve got to move on. You’ve got to bury it," he said of the Georgia win. "We’re just moving to the next game. I think we have a mature enough team to handle it."