Outlook changed, approach same

Gators try to remain focused as fans dream of bigger things

Updated: October 12, 2012, 10:09 AM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- All it took was a little less than three-and-a-half hours for everything to change.

Nobody was expecting much out of the Florida football team in 2012. Coach Will Muschamp is in only his second season. The Gators have a new offensive coordinator and a young quarterback. The receivers aren't very good. The team floundered late in games in '11. Realistically, 8-4 was as good as it was going to get.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
AP Photo/John RaouxWill Muschamp admitted Florida's win against LSU was big, but he knows there is still work to be done.
Then LSU rolled into the Swamp. Three hours, 23 minutes later, Florida had battered the Tigers for a 14-6 victory and there was a different opinion of the Gators. Tough. Physical. Smart. Opportunistic.

Forget 8-4, fans bubbled. How about Eastern Division champions? And Alabama isn't invincible, so an SEC championship isn't impossible. And we all know what happens when teams win the SEC title: They play for national titles.

Whoa, Muschamp said. Slow down.

"It was a great win, so I'm not trying to take anything away from the win," he said. "But it counts as one, and we have a long season ahead of us."

Muschamp's task as the fourth-ranked Gators (5-0, 4-0 SEC) head to Nashville, Tenn., to face Vanderbilt (2-3, 1-2) on Saturday is to keep those opinions and expectations from seeping into the locker room, especially with games against No. 3 South Carolina and No. 14 Georgia later this month.

His plan is to not do anything differently now than he did in the first week of the season. Same practice schedule, same amount of film study, same attitude.

"You don't want to put too much emphasis on one game in my opinion, because then you start having a lot of peaks and valleys with your football team, because your emphasis means this must be an important game, because Coach Muschamp's really revved up this week," Muschamp said. "Well, I try to be revved up all the time, because they understand they're all important. And the consistency of your play as a player is what makes you a good player."

It appears the players have gotten his message.

"We knew that [higher expectations] was going to happen when, or if, we beat LSU," left guard James Wilson said. "We can't change what we do preparation-wise to keep the thing going."

Cornerback Jaylen Watkins said the players haven't mentioned the LSU game since they returned to practice on Monday.

"We're still hungry," he said. "It's easy for us to come off that game and be still pumped about it and talking about it, but yesterday nobody talked about the game. That was the weekend, and now we're focusing on Vanderbilt."

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said it'd be ridiculous for the players to get caught up in outside expectations and the talk of an SEC title.

"We set expectations, and we talk about how to handle them, what our standards are," Pease said. "It shouldn't change. We go back out, and we start over just like it's a new week. It doesn't matter who we're playing. Cover up the scoreboard, put new-colored jerseys on and you go get ready for the next game.

"It's how you handle success. You start all over."

Quarterback Jeff Driskel said last year's team wouldn't have handled this situation well because it wasn't mature enough. This team, however, learned a lot from last season's disastrous October and understands that the big victory over LSU only makes the rest of this season tougher.

"I think we'll be fine. Like we've been saying all along, we have a more mature team this year," Driskel said. "That's why players come to Florida, to play in big games like that and get big wins. It's always fun to win, and it's really fun to be in that locker room after a game like that. Everybody's excited, emotions are crazy. But we're not done yet. We have to keep going. We still have a long way to go."

And how will we know if he, Watkins and Wilson are correct and this team is capable of managing the ramped-up expectations?

"We'll see Saturday night," Muschamp said.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter