Gators in a familiar position
Florida has been in this position before. Last season, in fact.
The Gators were highly ranked and undefeated after four games in 2011 before collapsing in October.
Players and coaches don't expect it to happen again. They insist there's a completely different feeling this time around - stemming from more talent and experience, increased confidence, late-game success, a developing quarterback and several key players returning from injury.
"We are a better team," Florida coach Will Muschamp said following Saturday's 38-0 win against Kentucky. "We are a more physical team on both lines of scrimmage. I think we're deeper and more mature, and I think we handle things a lot better. We are a year older and more experienced, and I think all of those things factor in when you're dealing with young guys.
"I think we are a more talented team than we were a year ago in some critical spots, but we have to continue to press forward because we are not where we want to be."
The 11th-ranked Gators are off this week before hosting No. 3 LSU on Oct. 6. Games against No. 6 South Carolina (Oct. 20) and fifth-ranked Georgia (Oct. 27) also loom next month.
But Florida feels it's better equipped to handle the tough slate.
"Last October was rough," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "We don't really like to mention that around here. It was definitely a tough time, but we're really confident going in this year and we feel like we can really close out. Last year we got outscored by these guys tremendously in the second half and in the fourth quarter, and we've shown this year we're really a second-half team and can really finish in the fourth quarter."
Florida has been stout at times, even dominating Texas A&M and Tennessee down the stretch on the road. The Gators have outscored opponents 64-13 in the second half, including 34-0 in the fourth quarter, this season.
Driskel continues to make progress. The sophomore is keeping plays alive with his feet and maintaining eye contact with receivers while scrambling. He has completed 69.6 percent of his passes for 698 yards, with four touchdowns and an interception. He also has 148 yards rushing and a score.
Senior Mike Gillislee has been the offense's main threat, running for 402 yards and five touchdowns behind an improving line.
Defensively, the Gators have failed to generate a consistent pass rush and have had some tackling lapses. But the unit expects significant improvement with the return of defensive end Dominique Easley (knee) and linebacker Jelani Jenkins (thumb). Both should be ready to play against the Tigers.
"We haven't played our best game yet," receiver Frankie Hammond said. "We have a bye week and we're going to take advantage of it."
Injuries were a key part of last season's 0-for-October, a month in which Florida lost to Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia.
That 4-0 start raised hope that the program had returned to prominence following a dismal final season under former coach Urban Meyer. Those feelings were short-lived.
The Crimson Tide manhandled Florida in Gainesville, knocking quarterback John Brantley out of the game in the first half and overwhelming Driskel in the second.
Without Brantley, Florida also lost to LSU and Auburn. Brantley returned against Georgia, but clearly wasn't the same, and the Gators faded in the closing minutes.
Florida scored just 11 second-half points - none in the fourth quarter - in those four October losses. And the Gators were outgained 804-175 on the ground in those games.
Players anticipate different results this year.
"Any time you're 4-0 to me, it's great," defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "It's a great feeling. But I think people say that because they feel like this team is more mature and more together. We pulled these wins out together as a team and I think every guy is buying into the team concept and it's really working for us.
"Any time you can go on the road, especially being in the SEC, and pull out two road wins, it's definitely big. We've got a lot of young guys, and being able to take them on the road and a new environment like that and come out successful, it's big. It brings a team together."
And that could set the stage for a more enjoyable October.
"We're not done yet," Driskel said. "We're going to keep working hard and keep playing hard."
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