Gators gearing up for UT

Satisfied? Not even close. Moral victory? No way. Florida football fans and a national television audience might have been impressed with the Gators' performance against heavily favored Miami, even though the Hurricanes rallied for a 38-33 victory two weeks ago.

But after blowing a 23-point lead in the second half at the Orange Bowl, the Gators didn't want to talk about how much they benefited from having Miami on the ropes and in jeopardy of a rare home loss. Instead, they were lamenting a lost opportunity.

At the same time, the experience provided a dose of confidence for Florida, the kind that has the Gators pointing to the future with optimism.

After walloping Florida A&M 63-3 on Saturday, the focus is squarely on Tennessee. The two teams meet Saturday in a game that both teams desperately need to win to stay near the top in the SEC East standings. The Gators, who proved they could play with the best on the road, are highly motivated for the Vols at home.

''I feel we can play with anybody,'' Florida running back Ran Carthon said. ''No one gave us a chance against Miami, but we knew down deep that we could beat that Miami team. I think we made some believers around the country.

''Coming off an 8-5 season last year and having a lopsided score against Miami last year, people have been calling and saying they are proud of us. But we don't have any moral victories around here. You either win or lose, and we lost. We have to rebuild, and we start rebuilding now.''

The Gators genuinely believe they should have defeated Miami. The loss did not make their swagger disappear. The offense proved it can be effective with a two-quarterback system featuring Ingle Martin and Chris Leak. If not for a defensive collapse in the second half, Florida would be undefeated heading into the Tennessee game.

''We should have won the game,'' defensive tackle Kenny Parker said. ''We made some mistakes. We know what we did and we know we can play with anybody in the nation. It's a real big motivator to keep working and keep playing.''

Florida head coach Ron Zook also believes his team has a right to be confident.

''I told them now is the time to understand why we are pushing and driving so hard, because sometimes you have to see it, what the coaches are trying to tell you,'' he said. ''We have a chance to be a good football team and we are going to be a good football team. Do we have a lot of work to do? Absolutely. But so does every team in the country. But now they see they can be a good football team and can stand toe-to-toe with any team. That's part of the learning process. I know we are on the right track.''

There were a number of positives to focus on after the Miami loss.

''Sometimes you just have a wakeup call that lets you know that you can be as good as you want to be,'' center Mike Degory said. ''All we have to do now is start to focus. We may not have a lot of big names, but we have a lot fo skill and we have great team unity. We all get along. We are starting to bond as a team.''

A bright spot for the Gators has been the play of running back DeShawn Wynn, who rushed for 100 yards in only the second game of his career.

''He is going to get better and better,'' Zook said. ''He had never played in a situation like that (Miami game). He will get better as he gets used to the situations that this football team plays in.''

Playing at home will no doubt present an edge for the Gators, much as the Orange Bowl did for the Hurricanes.

''Any time you are away from the Swamp you want to be back in the Swamp,'' Carthon said. ''You can control the crowd. To be back home will allow us to make more line calls and changes, which obviously gives us a better chance.''

But Florida coach Ron Zook doesn't expect an easy victory. He even commented in a Sunday teleconference that the Vols look like a better team than the Hurricanes.

''They are a good team,'' Zook said. ''They look better than Miami, and we know how good Miami is. Tennessee seems to be better than they were last year.''

Despite a second-half collapse by the Gators' defense at Miami, Zook is happy with the overall play of the unit. He said the defense regained its confidence against Florida A&M.

''I think they have played well,'' he said. ''We got a little sloppy against Florida A&M in the fourth quarter, but we were trying to play everybody. That will help us down the road.''

Zook knows improvement is still needed if the Gators are to experience the kind of season they aspire to.

''We have to continue to get better,'' Zook said. ''We are getting ready to start the SEC schedule and we have got to stay hungry. I want to see consistency, a lack of errors and improvement on special teams.''

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