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Sunday October 14, 2012Gators Maintain Momentum in Familiar Grind-It-Out Style

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The game had been over for more than 30 minutes when Gators senior linebacker Jon Bostic emerged from the locker room late Saturday night.

Florida's 31-17 win over Vanderbilt was in the books. The No. 4-ranked Gators improved to 6-0 and would soon depart for the return trip home with sole possession of the SEC East lead thanks to South Carolina's 23-21 loss at LSU.

Bostic stood on the field showered by cheers from a few Florida fans still camped out in the south end zone at Vanderbilt Stadium. Some of Bostic's teammates relaxed nearby, chowing on their postgame meals.

Another day's work was complete.

Bostic said the Gators never panicked when they fell behind in the first quarter to the Commodores, who lost for the 22nd consecutive time to Florida. He said they remained confident despite playing without three starting offensive linemen. When Vanderbilt wouldn't go away in the fourth quarter, Bostic never sensed the Gators about to crumble.

They lost games like this last year and the year before. Two difficult seasons that Bostic uses as motivation.

When reminded that Saturday's win matched the Gators' regular-season win total from a year ago, he smiled. He hadn't thought of that.

Still, he offered some perspective on how fast Florida's turnaround has come.

"That's good for us,'' Bostic said. "We weren't happy with our results from last year. We had plenty of chances to win games last year and penalties, and all types of stupid mistakes hurt us.

"This year we have been playing a lot smarter but we've still got to keep improving."

There is plenty to improve upon from Saturday.

Florida committed 10 penalties, finished only two of 11 on third-down conversions, and for the second consecutive game, sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel (11 of 20, 77 yards) passed for less than 100 yards.

When is the last time that happened and the Gators won both games?

Most outsiders looked at Saturday's trip to Vanderbilt as a classic trap game for the Gators.

Senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said that's not the way the Gators approached it coming off an upset win over then-No. 4 LSU last week and with a home game against South Carolina on tap next weekend at The Swamp.

"Any time you come off a big win at home and you come to a place like Vanderbilt, people think your expectations are going to be lower,'' Hunter said. "To us, it was a huge game."

The Gators didn't dominate Vanderbilt the way they have over the years. But they did enough to record their fourth SEC comeback victory of the season.

Driskel ran for 177 yards -- a single-game rushing record for a Florida quarterback -- including touchdown runs of 37, 13 and 70 yards. Caleb Sturgis added three field goals and the Gators erased the early deficit when Trey Burton scored on a two-point conversion after Driskel's first touchdown run.

The Gators did what they had to do to get the job done. Another grind-it-out SEC road win.

"That's our style,'' Hunter said.

Gators coach Will Muschamp will take it. He knows road wins in the SEC don't come easily and the Gators now have three of them.

This one featured Driskel's legs and a defense that kept Vanderbilt at bay while the Gators scored 21 consecutive points following the Commodores' early score.

"There is a very, very fine line between winning and losing,'' Muschamp said. "There really is. You take Jeff's [70-yard] run right there out of the game. It's a fine line between winning and losing. We made the plays when we had to make them."

Now the spotlight will shine even brighter on with South Carolina and former Gators coach Steve Spurrier coming to town. While the Gamecocks' loss dampened the hoopla that would have come with both teams being undefeated, the Gamecocks can still win the SEC East.

They will try to start by beating the Gators, who passed another test Saturday by not folding when Vanderbilt kept pressing.

"We've got a lot of season to go and some tough opponents starting next week with South Carolina,'' Muschamp said. "I'm very pleased with where we are. Have we arrived? Absolutely not. We have some serious issues we need to work out within our team.

"I'm talking about some personnel, some schematic, and a lot of things we need to improve on. We need to continue to work and the good thing about our guys -- and I say it all the time -- they will work."

That's the biggest difference Muschamp sees in his second Florida team than his first. The players are driving the ship more. They believe they can overcome any obstacles thrown their way during a game.

"That's where we are a different organization,'' Muschamp said. "I feel very comfortable about how our locker room is going to be handled right now. I didn't feel that way last year."

The results have proven that.

So has the team's mindset. Falling behind early on the road in the SEC often turned into a defeat last year. Not now.

"The game isn't won in the first quarter,'' Bostic said as he began the long walk toward the bus following another win.


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