Gators fully understand LSU's predicament

Mike Degory has a pretty good idea how the LSU Tigers are feeling right now. The defending national champions have two more losses than anticipated, and they're coming off their worst game of the year, a 45-16 loss to Georgia. "In a lot of ways I'm thinking that's us last year," said Degory, Florida's 6-6, 305-pound center from Melbourne Palm Bay, at the Gators weekly media day. "Where we were last year is where they are right now."

Florida was all but given up for the dead last year, 3-3 and coming off an unexpected loss to Ole Miss, but the Gators turned their season around in dramatic fashion, rebounding from the depths of defeat to win on the road at LSU and Arkansas before beating Georgia in Jacksonville. The turnaround was more impressive because the Gators were underdogs in all three games. Rather than the 3-6 record through nine games that was expected after the Ole Miss loss, the Gators gathered momentum each week, racking up five straight wins before a regular season ending loss to FSU.

"We went into that game (LSU) last year feeling we had nothing to lose," said Degory, "and we turned it around. Right now they're probably feeling exactly the same way. They've got nothing to lose now. I don't even think they're out of the race for the SEC West."

When the Gators had their backs to the wall, hearing the criticism from all angles, the team bonded together. Rather than point fingers, they became close, a band of brothers on a mission. An us against the world mentality took over, renewing their sense of purpose and responsibility. That high strung what's going to happen now attitude was replaced with a loose, let's get it done approach. Each week coaches and players had fun, won games and won converts among Gator fans who thought the sky was falling.

"Last year we never felt like we were out of it," said senior linebacker Travis Harris. "We just all stuck together. We felt like we had something to prove. The LSU game got us started."

Because the Gators have been where LSU is now, backs against the wall, feeling the need to make every play and every game count to salvage a season, Florida's players have a much better understanding and even greater expectation of the LSU team that will take the field in The Swamp Saturday night.

"They are the defending national champions," said Coach Ron Zook. "There's no question they are very talented. We will get their best effort."

Florida beat LSU 19-7 last year in Baton Rouge. It was the only loss the Tigers would sustain on their way to the Southeastern Conference championship and a shared national title with Southern California. For Florida, the victory was validation that the Gators were a good team and the springboard to success the rest of the way.

The Florida offense got its spark in last year's game from Ciatrick Fason, who just a couple of games before had considered leaving the team because he wasn't contributing. After a heart to heart with Zook, Fason renewed his commitment to the team. Against LSU, he had a breakout game, scoring a pair of touchdowns to lead the Gators to the victory.

Although the big production against LSU really jump started Fason's career at UF, he refuses to dwell on it, keeping his eye instead on a wounded Tiger team that everyone figured to be 5-0 at this point of the season, not 3-2.

"Every year is a new year," said Fason, who leads the Southeastern Conference with 458 yards. "You can't reflect on the past. We know they're coming off two losses, but we know that they're the defending national champions. They're coming out here to play hard and get a new winning streak going."

Degory and his mates on the offensive line consider LSU to be the best defensive team the Gators have faced this year. LSU's defensive line is big, strong and very mobile. In last year's game, they sacked quarterback Chris Leak six times.

"They are the most physical defensive line we will have played," said Degory. "Obviously they have a good scheme. They play whistle to whistle very hard. They have a lot of talent, but it's pretty obvious they have a lot of heart, too. They run a lot of blitzes and they'll come after us on every play.

"We know they're a good team. Believe me, nobody here is taking them lightly."

While Harris can understand what it's like for a team to have its back to the wall, the last thing he will concern himself with is the Tigers emotional state.

"I don't know how LSU feels and I really don't care," said senior linebacker Travis Harris. "If they came in here undefeated or with a couple of losses, they would come in here to play hard and to win. We just have to get ready to play hard and beat them."

MEDIA DAY NOTES: Degory said much of the Gators success on the offensive line can be attributed to getting some rest during the game. "We've got eight or nine guys rotating in and out and we're all fresh," said Degory. "I think that has a lot to do with how well we're playing right now." ... Wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius, who caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Chris Leak against Arkansas, believes Florida's multitude of talented receivers makes it extremely difficult for opposing defenses. "They can't really focus on one player because we have so many people who can make big plays," said Cornelius. "They can't double team all of us. If they take one of us out, someone else is going to be open. We have a lot of guys who can make big plays now." ... Prior to last week's two touchdown game against Arkansas, Dallas Baker had been hearing it from Fason. "I'd been telling him ‘they call you Dallas Baker, Touchdown Maker' but you haven't been scoring too many touchdowns lately, have you?" Fason said. "He got his shot and he made the most of it. He's going to have a lot of games like that." ... Players say the offense really hasn't changed all that much this year. The plays are the same ones that were in last year's playbook, just that Larry Fedora has injected his personality into the way the game is called this year. "He's a very high energy guy," said Cornelius of Fedora. Said offensive guard Lance Butler, "Coach Fedora is an up in your face kind of coach. I think we're playing offense like that right now."

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