“It’s got to really crank up about 10 notches getting into conference play.”
That was Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen’s message following the No. 8/9 Gators 45-0 win over UT-Martin.
The shutout and offensive career day looked good on paper but Mullen told his team after the win that it was time for everything to intensify if they wanted to move to 3-0 after opening SEC play.
“Kentucky’s an excellent football team. [Head coach] Mark [Stoops] has done a great job with that program. So we have to really kind of crank it up, and it starts Monday morning when we show up. It’s got to be a greater sense of urgency for us. We have a good attitude, I just think we need to have a little more grind and sense of urgency to be exact in every one of our details.”
In the kind of full circle that sports often provides, it was a loss against Kentucky last season that really taught this Gators squad how important those details can be in determining wins.
“I think it was an eye opener. That we should never take a team lightly no matter what people say about them or anything,” recalls quarterback Feleipe Franks.
“There should be a standard at which you play at, every game no matter who you are playing. If you’re playing below that standard, then that’s not right and that’s not how we’re going to win.”
Adds senior receiver Josh Hammond. “I think guys just gotta a little bit sense of urgency about the game and who we were playing. I think the loss helped us tremendously because we knew at that point that nobody was gonna come and give us anything, we had to go work and earn everything we were gonna get so I think that kinda changed the motivation to we need to go harder in practice, we need to make sure we execute at a high level in practice and on a day to day basis in practice to continue to win these ball games on Saturday.”
That 2018 game came in Week 2, an early conference match for both teams. Kentucky won 27-16 and put up 454 yards of total offense, including 300+ rushing alone as running back Benny Snell and quarterback Terry Wilson (who was injured last week and will be out for the season) ran all over the Gators in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to end a 31 year Florida win streak. It was a humbling moment for a young team that begot a maturity leading to five straight wins and finishing with a 10 win season.
The Wildcats also enter Saturday nights game currently 2-0 but the Gators are bringing with them to Lexington the lessons learned from the loss.
“If you come out and play to another team’s level thats what is going to happen. So thats what we really focused on this week, just coming out with a high intensity and play to our standard,” says linebacker Ventrell Miller.
“It starts in practice,” explains Hammond.
“So it’s the little things, if it’s finishing blocks at practice or making sure the scout team guy knifes as hard as he supposed to knife - giving us those exact looks on how the opponent team is going to do it and get us prepared in the proper way. The biggest thing is paying attention to detail and being more focused on the little things. And guys being able to execute cleanly and properly.”
While they’re keeping the lessons, this group of Gators insist they aren’t looking for revenge. They will heed their coaches request for a more intense week of practice and increased urgency, but as Mullen explains, he doesn’t have to ask for motivation.
“I don’t have to come in and be a cheerleader to motivate our guys. They’re coming in to work out, they’re ready to go, everybody is getting ready to go, meetings, great attitude going out to practice, ready to work. It is the most minute of details of what you’re doing and whether it’s a practice, whether it’s a walk through, whether it’s a film study, just that ability to focus and make sure I’m exact on every single detail is huge.”
For Feleipe Franks, this is the most important aspect of the Florida Gators identity and the key to not replicating last years loss.
“I think that if you’ve got to tell somebody to get excited about a game, then something is already wrong. I think we have a team full of guys that are excited to go out there and play Saturday no matter who we’re playing – away, home, SEC or not SEC. You should be excited to get out there. You never want to take that for granted.
“Either you have a competitive fire or you don’t. You want to go out there and play every Saturday or you don’t. You want to win or you don’t. It’s black and white, I don’t there’s any grey area in being a competitor, ether you have the passion or you don’t.”