Jim McElwain doesn’t define his team by statistics.
“Stats come when you win the game,” he said.
But there is a number that stands out to McElwain as his 13th-ranked Gators prepare to play No. 15 Florida State: One.
One game at a time. One win at a time. Playing as one unit.
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These are mantras McElwain has stressed since taking over the UF football program before the 2015 season.
And now that the Gators are fresh off their biggest win of the season — an SEC East-clinching 16-10 road win over LSU that is arguably the biggest win of McElwain’s two-year tenure at UF — Florida (8-2) is going back to those mantras as it prepares to face the Seminoles (8-3) at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
“We just keep moving forward,” quarterback Austin Appleby said. “This is the most important game of the year because it’s the next one for us. We have a great opponent that we’re going to be traveling up to Tallahassee to play.”
But in order to make the most out of the game and leave with a win, Florida will have to do something it has struggled to do as of late: Win consecutive games when they matter.
Look no further than this season.
After starting the season 3-0, Florida fell apart in the second half against Tennessee en route to a 35-28 defeat. After defeating Georgia 24-10, Florida went into Arkansas the next week and struggled to make a play on either side of the ball. UF lost 31-10.
“Let’s call it the way it is: I’m not sure we’ve had a decent win like this was and actually followed it up,” McElwain said. “But whether you go win the game or not it’s about the effort and the emotion and the way you attack the week of preparation.”
And should Florida come away with a win at FSU this weekend — which would be the Gators’ first win over the Seminoles since 2012 — and find a way to upend No. 1 Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship a weekend later, the Gators just might find themselves in consideration for the College Football Playoff.
But that’s not the focus yet. It’s one game at a time for right now.
“We’ve got to stay hungry,” Appleby said. “You can’t exhale at all. We got an unbelievable opponent in front of us. We got everything that we, our goals that we set in front of us, that we set in the beginning of the season are right there for us.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Safety Nick Washington is the latest UF starter to get the injury bug. McElwain said the redshirt junior, who injured his left ankle against LSU, will be out this week against Florida State. With his absence, McElwain said true freshman Chauncey Gardner will likely step up and start at safety opposite Marcell Harris against FSU.
▪ Washington isn’t the only guy hurting. He’ll be one of eight starters, McElwain said, who will be out this week. The others: quarterback Luke Del Rio, center Cam Dillard, guard Tyler Jordan, defensive lineman Bryan Cox, safety Marcus Maye, and linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone, all of whom were out against LSU last week.
▪ Three UF players earned conference honors Monday. Freshman linebacker David Reese (team-high 12 tackles) was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week, kicker Eddy Pineiro (3 for 3 on field goals) was the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week and wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland (three catches, 124 yards, 98-yard touchdown) was named the SEC Freshman of the Week.