This Saturday is a little different. Nothing that happens on Saturday can impact the Gators’ standing in the Southeastern Conference. Florida clinched the East in its last game with a 9-7 win over Vanderbilt.
Every game in league play so far has meant movement in the league standings. If Florida won, it was one game closer to Atlanta. If Florida lost, it meant there was a lot more work to be done. But that motivation was always there.
They now hit the road to South Carolina this weekend knowing that their berth in Atlanta is safe regardless of the outcome. So what’s the motivation?
“It’s more of a self-motivation thing,” Florida defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr. said. “If you really want to be great, you don’t just settle winning the east. You want to win the whole SEC, so we try to go and win all of our games and do it that way.
“Are we peaked out? Do we have what it takes to go out there and win again at a consistent level and do what we set out to do, which is to win as many games as we can. We’re just trying to go out and finish the schedule out.”
Florida players did admit that it can be a challenge this week, but they remain focused on the remaining schedule with a ‘one game at a time’ mindset. Their focus all season has been on restoring the order and bringing the Florida program back among the elite in the country, conference and state.
Through nine games, that’s exactly what they have done. They’re 8-1 and ranked No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings that were released on Tuesday. However, bringing all of that to Columbia and then dropping the matchup with the Gamecocks would set the Gators back and take some of the excitement from the season.
“Each game, each week is a big game for us,” Florida safety Marcus Maye said. “We don't look past anybody. We don't look at who we're playing against. It's a challenge because you can't have that mindset where you just roll your hat out there. You've got to go out and play. They're going to show up and play. It's going to be a game. They're going to play tough. We can't just act like they're going to give it to us. We have to go play tough."
The players are hoping that squeaking out a win at home over Vanderbilt can serve as a wakeup call. The defense was dominant, just as it has ben all season. The offense was far from it. Florida’s inexperienced offensive line was exposed worse than any other game this season. The Vanderbilt defensive line set the tone from the beginning of the game and dominated from start the finish.
The Gators were able to scratch out enough points to win, eventually settling for a game-winning field goal from Austin Hardin with 2:22 remaining to secure a 9-7 win. But games against Vanderbilt aren’t supposed to be that close, especially for a team with dreams of making the College Football Playoff. The players are hoping it’s exactly what the team needed.
“Hopefully this past week was a wakeup call that we need to really be ready to bring it,” Florida tight end Jake McGee said. “We’ve got to be honed in on our assignments, our effort and really do what we can control and really not give that opportunity to our opponent to steal one.”