As wins pile up, Gators staying focused
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — They keep on winning. Even in October.
Remember that popular storyline at the start of the month?
You know, the one that replayed the past two seasons for the Gators. They started 4-0 in 2010 and lost three of four in October. In Will Muschamp’s first season a year ago the Gators started 4-0 and went Oh-for-October.
Three games into this October — aka the heart of the schedule — and Florida is unbeaten after Saturday’s 44-11 win over South Carolina, seventh in the BCS standings.
“I like this better,” Muschamp said.
The Head Ball Coach’s team was done in from the first play, when Gators cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy drilled South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw. Florida linebacker Lerentee McCray recovered Shaw’s fumble, and three plays later the Gators scored.
They never trailed on a gorgeous afternoon at packed Florida Field, improving to 7-0 and likely maintaining their grip on No. 2 in the BCS standings.
Not that that matters to the Gators. The victory put them in the driver’s seat to win the SEC East, but to get to Atlanta they will need to beat Georgia next week in Jacksonville.
Muschamp stressed that point immediately after the Gators walked off the field Saturday after their second win over an SEC team ranked in The Associated Press top 10 in three weeks. And like they did against LSU on Oct. 6, the Gators didn’t allow the Gamecocks in the end zone.
Muschamp’s message: The Gators haven’t accomplished anything. He urged them to ignore the hype and stick to the plan.
“We’re playing to play the next opponent,” Florida defensive tackled Sharrif Floyd said. “We’re playing to get as far as we can.”
They took another step in the right direction by stomping on South Carolina’s SEC East title hopes. Florida converted three first-half Gamecocks fumbles into 21 points. Despite managing only 29 yards of offense in the first half, the Gators led 21-6 at halftime.
The rout was enough to make Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier toss his famous visor, a stark contrast to two years ago when South Carolina clinched the SEC East with a 36-14 win over the Gators and Spurrier was carried to midfield at the stadium he once called home.
“It was embarrassing for us, very embarrassing the way we played,” Spurrier said. “The only thing you can hope is that your guys give it their best shot and not just lay the ball down and basically say, ‘Here Florida, we don’t want to win. You guys take this fumble and this fumble and this fumble.’ So it was sad.
“Their defense stuffed us.”
The Gators limited South Carolina to 88 yards in the second half and 191 for the game, enough to offset their modest total of 183 yards. According to the University of Florida athletic department, the Gators are the first FBS team to score 40 or more points with fewer than 200 yards of offense in the BCS era.
They did it in familiar fashion. They took care of the ball (no turnovers), forced four turnovers, played tough defense and got several big plays on special teams.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel passed for 93 yards, the third consecutive game the Gators have failed to reach triple digits in passing yards. They won all three times.
“Won the game. That’s Goal 1,” Muschamp said of Driskel’s performance. “That’s what I look at.”
The Gators face Georgia in Jacksonville next week and can clinch the SEC East title with a win. They shouldn’t expect to hear about it from coaches all week.
That’s not Muschamp’s style. He met with the team last Monday and told the players to stay grounded as they got questions about the BCS and the polls and the national-title chatter and all the hype that builds when a team has a season like the Gators are having.
Center Jon Harrison sounded like he was listening.
“I’m not going to look too far into the future,” Harrison said. “That’s how you lose focus.”
In a span of three weeks, Florida has defeated LSU and South Carolina at home. Both of those teams dealt the Gators painful losses a year ago as their season went from hopeful to frightful.
The turnaround remains an unfinished body of work, but after a 15-11 record the past two seasons, Florida has already matched its win total from Muschamp’s first season and needs one win to match its total in Urban Meyer’s final season in 2010.
“Last season was a true wake-up call,” Harrison said. “Now we’re on our way to what Florida used to be, what Florida was known for.”
Receiver Quinton Dunbar caught a 13-yard touchdown pass in the first half Saturday. After he grabbed the short pass from Driskel, Dunbar fought off a pair of defenders to make it to the end zone.
The Gators seem to always be willing to put up a fight, taking on the blue-collar mentality of their head coach.
“What we do in practice we bring it to the game,” Dunbar said. “Muschamp always gets on me in practice after I catch a ball, ‘Get up field and run five yards.’ So that comes with practice.
“We’ve got a chip on our shoulder from last year. We feel like we owe a lot of people so we just fight.”
The Gators are winning those fights they got knocked down in the last two seasons. Regardless of how the game starts, or whether they are behind at halftime, the Gators believe in the plan.
They keep fighting to the end.
“We think we are going to win every game and that’s how you’ve got to look at it,” Driskel said. “If you don’t go in confident then there is no chance.”
Floyd finished with four tackles on Saturday in a game Florida’s defense dominated after halftime. That’s another common theme to unfold in this comeback season for a program, a team, and a fan base that is starting to believe, too.
Floyd doesn’t want to look forward too far, but he didn’t mind looking back. Not after the Gators made another loud statement in the SEC.
“It felt great. It’s one of the games we had marked on our schedule,” Floyd said. “We got embarrassed by them last year, we got embarrassed last year by LSU. It’s just one of those games you put down, ‘OK, this is where you show where your team is. This is where you show where you’re family is.’ “
By what transpired Saturday, the Gators are doing all right.