GAINESVILLE, Fla. One by one, Florida football players and coaches stepped to the podium during a press conference Monday and began talking about their opponent this week.
They are a good team," defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. They pushed Georgia to the limit. They pushed Arkansas to the limit."
Linebacker Jon Bostic agreed that Vanderbilt, this years homecoming opponent, is not a cupcake easily squashed.
From what Ive seen on TV, they seem like a very different team," Bostic said.
First-year Florida coach Will Muschamp, a veteran of the Southeastern Conference as a player and assistant coach, sounded as if he might be talking about Alabama or LSU.
We have our work cut out for us," Muschamp said. Watching these guys on tape, they play hard, theyre very well-coached."
Coming off a brutal October schedule that resulted in the Gators first four-game losing streak in 23 years, the Gators open November against Vanderbilt on Saturday in their first game at The Swamp since a loss to Alabama on Oct. 1.
Normally, the Commodores might offer a perfect early Thanksgiving feast for the Gators. But this isnt your normal Vanderbilt team.
Like the Gators, the Commodores have a first-year coach, James Franklin. Like the Gators, they started the season strong -- three consecutive wins -- before the schedule toughened up. And like the Gators, the Commodores have a 4-4 record and are on a mission to close the season strong and earn a bowl bid.
Florida has won 20 in a row against Vanderbilt, its last loss to the Commodores coming during its last four-game losing streak in 1988. That year, the No. 20 Gators and sophomore running back Emmitt Smith went to Nashville and lost 24-9, the second defeat in a stretch that included four losses in a row.
This years Florida team is out to make sure its recent skid stops at four games. But to walk off Florida Field with a victory on Saturday afternoon, the Gators cant just show up and expect Vanderbilt to be Vanderbilt and Florida to be Florida.
We cant overlook Vandy one bit," Hunter said.
Two of Vanderbilts four losses have been nail-biters against Georgia and Arkansas. Like Florida, Vanderbilt got soundly beaten by No. 2-ranked Alabama. The Commodores other loss came to No. 10-ranked South Carolina.
With Jordan Rodgers now the starting quarterback, the Commodores offense has averaged 437 yards and 33.3 points the past three games. Vanderbilts 462 yards of total offense Saturday against Arkansas marked its most in an SEC game in five years. On defense, Vanderbilt is ranked sixth in the SEC overall and second in the conference with 15 interceptions.
Franklins enthusiasm and constant selling of the program to recruits, to fans and to the media have created a new atmosphere around Vanderbilts team. The Commodores have nine players trying to do something no other letterwinners in school history can claim: make multiple bowl appearances in their career.
The Commodores are in the mix for their first bowl bid since 2007.
I know our coaching staff and our team are excited to go play there," Franklin said of visiting The Swamp. The turnover battle is going to be very, very important. We're ranked fifth in the SEC; they're ranked 12th. And we'd like to keep it that way, and that should be an advantage for us.
I'm a details guy, so the details are what's going to allow you to be successful as a team, as an organization, as a company. It's who does the little things better."
Thats an area the Gators have struggled at during their four-game losing streak.
One of the biggest culprits has been penalties. Florida is the most-penalized team in the conference and committed 14 penalties for 106 yards last week in a 24-20 loss to Georgia. The Gators did force their first turnover in four games, but they are minus-8 for the season in turnover margin. Two fumbles led to short Georgia touchdowns in Jacksonville.
Weve got to do the little things right," Bostic said. The little things right now are what is killing us. We had penalties everywhere. We cant really blame it on one side of the ball.
Were happy to get back home in front of the home crowd and give them a show.
If the Gators do give the fans a show on homecoming, they will have to play better than they did in October. After all, they know this isnt your typical Vanderbilt team coming to town.
Theyre multiple offensively in what they do and they give you a lot of different looks," Muschamp said. Defensively . . . theyre a pressure outfit, and come after you a pretty good bit. They do a nice job as far as mixing things up with the different ways they try and pressure you, and attack you in special teams. They had a nice fake against Georgia that helped them out in the game.
It feels great to get back home. Im looking forward to a better showing of our football team; the last time we were here was not very good. I have really challenged our players to do a good job this week."