After Florida’s effectively ugly 24-14 win over South Carolina, first-year coach Jim McElwain expounded on “the art of winning.”
He heralded his team’s resolve and called them “winners.”
“You’ve got guys playing with a sense of purpose and a sense of pride,” McElwain said.
“Right now, they refuse to be denied. Let’s give that football team the credit they deserve. They’re Eastern [Division] champions.”
The Gators, ranked No. 8 in the latest Associated Press Top 25, have shocked the college football world by sweeping the SEC East and positioning themselves for a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff. They finish the regular season at home against Florida Atlantic and Florida State.
Florida (9-1, 7-1 SEC) is dreaming big by duplicating the same formula that worked so well just three years ago.
In 2012, the Gators rode a dominant defense, a meat-grinder offense and an impressive turnover margin to a BCS Bowl berth.
The blueprint blew up the last two seasons, though, yet McElwain has embraced a similar style with a flawed team.
The Gators’ defense remains unrelenting, but the offense still runs hot and cold. But although the plan and players are largely the same, Florida’s new sheriff has instilled a different attitude.
A winning attitude.
“Last year, we didn’t know how to win,” star sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor explained.
“You saw us in a lot of close games — LSU, Florida State, South Carolina — we just didn’t know how to win the game. That’s all last year. This year, after going through that, we learned how to win the game.”
In former coach Will Muschamp’s final two seasons, Florida lost seven games by a touchdown or less. The Gators were known for not making the key play.
The Gators have won four one-possession games in McElwain’s first season, and that doesn’t include Saturday’s close call against the Gamecocks.
They coach and play aggressively. They don’t panic, either.
On Saturday, Kelvin Taylor’s 53-yard run to set up the dagger touchdown was simply the latest in a laundry list of plays UF has made this season.
It started against East Carolina when defensive end Alex McCalister strip-sacked the quarterback deep in Florida’s territory late in the fourth quarter.
The momentum simply snowballed from there.
The next week, Jon Bullard made a game-saving sack against Kentucky, and then Antonio Callaway darted 64-yards to stun Tennessee.
In the previous game, Austin Hardin, a career 48-percent kicker, drilled a 43-yard field goal to knock off Vanderbilt.
“[McElwain] knew he had a good team. He knew he had good players,” Tabor said. “He just wanted to get us focused on the little details, so we could go out and win a ballgame.
“We’re deep at every position. … We always had the talent, but we just didn’t know how to win those games last year. Last year could have been a whole different outcome. Those three games that I talked about. If we had won those games, we would have been in the top 10 in the country, only had two losses, but we didn’t know how to win those games. Now we know how to win those games.”