GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – There is more buzz around Florida’s game against LSU on Saturday than perhaps any other game since Will Muschamp took over the Gators.
For the first time in Muschamp’s tenure the Gators are ranked in the top 10. That’s the highest a Florida team has climbed in the polls since Week 5 of the 2010 season. Meanwhile, the 5-0 Tigers are ranked fourth in the AP Top 25 poll, setting up the first clash between top-10 teams at The Swamp since the Florida-LSU game in 2006.
Here is how Webster’s might categorize this one … Big game (noun): A game of significant importance such as Florida vs. LSU on Saturday, Oct. 6, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
However, while the hype meter runs high for those outside Florida’s locker room, on the inside the tone is somewhat more grounded.
Muschamp wants to keep the Gators focused on what they can control.
“This counts as one game; it doesn’t count for any more than that,’’ Muschamp said Monday. “We’ve got a great opportunity setting in front of us here at our home stadium at 3:30 [Saturday]. That’s how I look at it. We won’t put in any more hours this week than we did three weeks ago.
“I know everybody thinks that all of a sudden we’re going to change everything for one game, but we’re not.”
The Gators have been here before. They have carried 4-0 records into each of the past two Octobers only to limp to seven losses in eight games over that span. This is an opportunity for the Gators to tell everyone they are truly back.
Senior receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. remembers how last year’s 4-0 September turned into a 0-4 October, including a 41-11 loss at LSU.
While the record is the same as last season when the calendar flipped to October, the mood is different after back-to-back SEC road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee and the emergence of sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel.
“I think we’re as prepared as we can be going into this month,’’ Hammond said. “We definitely don’t want that same outcome as last year. We’re trying to prevent that.”
Following a bye week, part of that preparation includes keeping the LSU game in perspective. A victory would certainly be a huge win for the Gators and move them up in the rankings. However, a loss won’t spoil their season or knock them out of the running for the SEC East title.
That is part of Muschamp’s message to keep his team focused. Still, they know what Saturday could mean in the big picture.
“It’s definitely a big game,’’ Driskel said. “I’m sure there’s going to be recruits all over the place this weekend. I know that if I was in high school, I would be at this game. It’s fun to attend games like this, see the atmosphere. This is really what the SEC is all about.”
Driskel did not play in the loss at LSU last season after injuring his ankle against Alabama. He has seen enough of the Tigers’ defense to know what to expect.
“They’re a team that’s going to try to go one-on-one,’’ Driskel said. “They think they have better players across the board, and they do have very good players. They’re going to try to be one-on-one in the secondary and just bully up front.
“We think we have outside receivers and tight ends that can create mismatches, so you kind of got to find the mismatch and go there.”
While the Gators shut out Kentucky 38-0 in their last game, LSU struggled early in Saturday’s 38-22 win over Towson. The prior week the Tigers escaped Auburn with a 12-10 win.
Muschamp is aware of LSU’s recent struggles – the Tigers fumbled five times against lowly Towson – but isn’t putting too much stock in them.
“We won’t see the same LSU team,’’ Muschamp said.
Tigers coach Les Miles touched on the fumbles at his Monday press conference.
“I can’t imagine that won’t get addressed and fixed,’’ Miles said.
Since the disastrous October of last season, Muschamp has reminded the Gators often about how they felt during a stretch of four consecutive losses, the program’s longest losing streak in more than 20 years.
“Don’t ever forget that feeling,’’ he tells them.
Muschamp said Monday the Gators are a better team than last October, a deeper team, a more mature team. He said they are a stronger team, one better at handling adversity. He added that the Gators have another year of experience, which should help them on Saturday when LSU visits.
The matchup is undoubtedly a big game – a big game for the fans, a big game in the national polls, in the SEC race, and for both programs.
And yes, it’s a big game for Muschamp. But don’t expect him to change Florida’s routine.
“We’re going to do what we do,’’ Muschamp said. “Your guys have to play fast and physical in a game like this. You don’t want them thinking, you want them reacting. So we won’t do anything extraordinary for the game, I can assure you of that.”