The Gators recorded an emotional win in a rivalry game on Saturday in Jacksonville, pounding Georgia 27-3 to move to 7-1 on the season. The next challenge is handling it the right way. In first-year coach Jim McElwain’s constant focus on the details, he’s hoping his team has learned this season that preparing the right way is the season they’re the favorites in the SEC East with a chance to win the conference title and have a chance to appear in the College Football Playoff.
The Gators having a chance to secure achievements is only being talked about because they’ve prepared the right way this season and taken care of business on Saturdays. This Saturday at noon presents a new challenge against Vanderbilt, who brings a 3-5 record and 1-3 conference record to Gainesville for Florida’s homecoming game.
“The way they handle this week is really going to be interesting to me with homecoming and a ton of distractions from the standpoint of people coming back, no school on Friday and all that kind of stuff,” McElwain said. “To me, this is an opportunity to see how far we’ve come as an organization. It’s become more than just getting your belly rubbed at this point. Let’s call it the way it is, we’ve got an opportunity to go win a ballgame and solidify us being in Atlanta. That’s the way it should be. That’s why you come to the University of Florida.
“Yet, we have obstacles ahead of us in how we prepare, how we go about our business. How we handle this will be really good to see. “There are a lot of reasons that we might not play good this week.”
The Gators have had multiple opportunities for letdown games so far this season but haven’t fallen into the trap yet. After pounding then-ranked No. 3 Ole Miss in Gainesville, the Gators hit the road for Missouri the following week against an unranked team in a hostile road environment. Florida scored early to take a 14-0 lead, sucked the energy out of the crowd and cruised to an easy win.
The Florida players see a clear factor in handling their success. They have to block out the external distractions and prepare the same way.
“There's too much fun stuff going on around here right now to really want to look ahead,” Florida tight end Jake McGee said. “Every game has been a blast. There's been electric stadiums, fan support has been great. It's something that I don't see why you would want to look a month ahead when there's a lot of fun and a lot of football left to be played. We can accomplish something each week, and it really doesn't matter who you are playing.”
As McElwain met with the media on Monday, he was already preparing his message for the team when they met together for the first time this week on Monday afternoon. The Gators can clinch the SEC East with a win on Saturday, but if that’s their sole focus, Atlanta could become unlikely.
"They'll know we aren't looking towards Atlanta because if we do we won't get there," McElwain.
Florida left tackle David Sharpe is “probably” out for Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt with a foot injury. Mason Halter will move from right tackle to left tackle.
Left guard Martez Ivey sounds questionable after his knee swelled up following the game. McElwain didn’t give a clear answer about his availability.
“Whoever lines up on the offensive line, they will do a heck of a job and I’ll be excited for them to play,” McElwain said.
Linebacker Jeremi Powell (knee) went down during the Georgia game and is questionable to play against Vanderbilt.