On fourth-and-1 with about two minutes left in Florida’s 24-10 win over Georgia, Gators coach Jim McElwain could have punted the ball back to the Bulldogs and been content.
With a two-touchdown lead, the game was safely in Florida’s hands.
But McElwain isn’t satisfied with just being content.
Instead, the second-year UF coach had quarterback Luke Del Rio hand the ball to running back Jordan Scarlett, who pushed his way forward for a 4-yard gain and a first down to give Florida full control of the game’s final minutes. After the play ended, Del Rio turned to the bench and Gator chomped.
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“It’s time to assert your will and don’t take no for an answer,” McElwain said after the game. “So it kind of was a little bit of a statement deal.”
Florida made a statement the entire game. Even when the offense stutters or the defense gives up the occasional play, it’s not going to fold.
Now, the Gators are 6-1, have moved back into the Top 10 of the AP Poll, and are two conference wins away from sealing up the SEC East.
“This is a good football team,” McElwain said. “The Florida Gators are a good team, all right? I’ll go with these guys against anybody. And we’ll figure out a way to get it done.”
On Saturday, as has been the case for most of the season, that was done through a suffocating defensive effort.
UF held Georgia to a paltry 164 yards of offense, marking the fourth time this season the Gators have held an opponent to less than 200 yards. Only two other Football Bowl Subdivision teams — top-ranked Alabama and No. 2 Michigan — have accomplished that same feat this season.
The Gators now rank in the top-10 nationally in all four major defensive categories: Average yards allowed (second, 239.4 yards per game), passing (second, 134.3 yards per game), rushing (ninth, 105.1 yards per game) and scoring (11.7 points per game).
“We love it,” linebacker Alex Anzalone said. “That’s just what we do. As long as we have a lead, we feel like we can win the game. That’s kind of our mentality.”
Florida will need to keep that mentality as it prepares for a grueling four-game gauntlet to close out the regular season.
The Gators travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to face a rested Razorbacks team on Saturday. After that, it’s UF’s final regular-season home game against a South Carolina team that pulled off a 27-24 upset over then-No. 18 Tennessee on Saturday. Florida’s final two games are on the road against No. 15 LSU and No. 19 Florida State.
“We’re the Florida Gators. We need to prepare like the Florida Gators,” senior linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “That name holds a lot of weight, a lot of respect in this country. We need to demand it throughout the week so we can show up on Saturday and really impose our will.”
If Florida holds its own and wins two of its next three, the Gators will once again find themselves back in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
“If we don’t believe in ourselves, who will?” Anzalone said. “So I know that there’s a lot of belief in that locker room and a lot of guys and a lot of true leaders in there that will help lead us to Atlanta and hopefully beyond that.”