tbo: Tampa Bay Online.
Wednesday, Aug 16, 2017

Gators shift from rebuilding into contending

GAINESVILLE This is how you know things are getting a little more intense. Danny Wuerffel and Chris Leak have Jeff Driskel's cell phone number, and both called Florida's newest quarterback sensation shortly after the Gators beat LSU 14-6 on Saturday, lifting an unlikely team near the heights in both major polls. So, what did the former national championship quarterbacks say to Driskel? "Just general stuff, just keep the team rolling and don't look back, you've got to focus on the teams ahead," Driskel said, adding he wanted to keep most of the conversations private.
But it was time for those calls. Florida is 5-0 for the first time since 2009 and one win shy of matching last year's regular-season total. In head coach Will Muschamp's second season, the Gators have the only defense in the nation that has not allowed points in the fourth quarter. According to Muschamp, the unit has missed a total of seven tackles in its past three games. Florida, which hasn't allowed a touchdown in its past two games, is fourth in the AP poll, sixth in the coaches poll and on Saturday travels to Vanderbilt, an opponent it owns 21 straight wins against dating to 1989. Good stuff? For sure. Guess what? Now the real work starts. Getting to the top has never been an issue at Florida. The real problem is trying to stay there. And the odds look almost impossible with the Vandy game followed by a home date with South Carolina on Oct. 20, a meeting with Georgia in Jacksonville the following weekend and a trip to Florida State on Nov. 24. The real key? How will Florida, after back-to-back seasons of 8-5 and 7-6, handle success? "I think we'll be fine," Driskel said. "Like we've been saying all along, we have a more mature team this year. We're not going to be satisfied. We know that there's corrections to be made and improvements to be made. We're going to handle this week like any other week." Vanderbilt has given UF fits over the years, including a tense 26-21 battle last season in Gainesville. The Commodores are coming off a 19-15 win at Missouri. Jordan Rodgers, brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has thrown for 831 yards and has the top receiving duo in the SEC in yards per catch in Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, who combine for 170.8 yards per game. Meanwhile, Florida has outscored opponents 65-6 in the second half this season. Tennessee scored the only second-half touchdown against UF on a 1-yard run by A.J. Johnson midway through the third quarter on Sept. 15. The Gators then scored the final 17 points and haven't allowed a second-half score since — a span of 82 minutes, 33 seconds. "I don't think that last year we had a lack of effort," Driskel said. "I think we're more conditioned this year and we're more mentally ready to go during games. But I don't think that we ever lacked in effort last year. I think our effort level has been the same." What this team seems to have is more of an edge to it. "We're still taking it game-by-game. But I think it's a big statement," defensive back Josh Evans said of the LSU win. "A lot of people look down on us and don't think we're quite there yet. But hopefully this is a good spot and a good position we're in. We opened up a lot of eyes to show we're on the rise." NO. 4 FLORIDA AT VANDERBILT  

Saturday: 6 p.m. TV: ESPNU

Weather Center

10Weather WTSP