Fifth-year senior Omar Hunter knows Florida still has plenty to prove.
Hunter has been around for the good times, the trips to Atlanta and national championships. He has held the crystal, and he also has held his head in his hands in embarrassing defeat — like after last season’s 41-11 loss at the hands of LSU.
“We got beat really bad. Really bad. It was a sick feeling,” he said. “Coming out, we were ready for that game, or we thought we were. We thought we prepared pretty well, and coming out and losing in the way we did really hurt.”
The Gators never recovered, losing four games in a row and finishing the regular season 6-6.
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So even though Florida is once again 4-0 entering the month of October and has improved in the areas that caused the team problems in 2011, Hunter said the No. 10 Gators (4-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) are going into Saturday’s matchup with the No. 4 Tigers (5-0, 1-0) with a different mindset.
Physical and mental toughness, maturity and depth were all absent last season as LSU rolled to 41 points, 453 yards of total offense and 35 minutes of time of possession by dominating UF up front. The Tigers were up 14-0 after the first quarter and pushed the Gators down every time they tried to fight back, finishing with 238 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns.
“Guys have really been putting in the extra work this year, compared to last year,” Hunter said. “This year they’re really going above and beyond what’s asked of them, and it’s really working out well for us.”
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said LSU flat-out played better than UF last year, riding the quick start to a dominating win.
“It was a game for us that when you look back, that is a hard one to go and watch,” he said. “They did a good job of coaching and playing and running it, and we didn’t in that game.”
Although Florida must again avoid falling behind by two touchdowns early, players believe this year’s team is much more capable of keeping the game close and winning late if necessary. The Gators trailed at halftime of both road wins against Texas A&M and Tennessee before controlling the game late and winning the fourth quarter.
“We’re much deeper, more mature, more experienced,” coach Will Muschamp said. “We handle adversity a lot better. And when you play games like this, there’s going to be some adversity in the game. I think anybody that was a part of watching us and being a part of our organization last year and this year will notice a night-and-day difference between our football team.”
Also, Florida enters this year’s game fresh after an off week to get healthy and prepare for LSU, whereas last season the Gators were coming off a loss to No. 1 Alabama before going on the road to play the Tigers of LSU and Auburn in back-to-back weeks.
And then there’s the quarterback position, where last year Florida started true freshman Jacoby Brissett against one of the best defenses in the nation after injuries to starter John Brantley and fellow freshman Jeff Driskel against Alabama.
This year, Driskel is the guy. He’s healthy. He has shown he can be a playmaker with both his arm and his legs. And he said he thinks this year will be different.
“We’ve gotten better each and every game, and we’re going to do the same this week,” he said.
“This year we’re definitely confident. It will be a lot closer, that’s for sure. It won’t be like last year.”