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The Gators want to give the home fans two more wins to finish an undefeated season at The Swamp.

Monday November 5, 2012Gators Seek to Finish What They Started, go Undefeated at The Swamp

The Gators want to give the home fans two more wins to finish an undefeated season at The Swamp.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If you were at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium that day last November, you know exactly what Gators cornerback Jaylen Watkins spoke of Monday.

Florida had completed the SEC portion of its schedule the previous week with a loss at South Carolina. The Gators returned home to host Furman, their final game before the annual regular-season finale against Florida State.

A sleepy vibe hung over the not-quite-full Swamp that Saturday afternoon.

“We didn’t play to the level that we wanted to play,’’ Watkins said of Florida’s 54-32 win. “We know that any team can come in here and not going to lay down their hats for us.”

Before the game was 10 minutes old, Furman led 15-0. The Paladins led 22-7 at the end of the first quarter. Twitter was abuzz. Could the Gators really lose at home to a lower-division team?

The answer turned into an emphatic no as Florida stormed back with 20 points in the second quarter and then fought off the Paladins the rest of the way.

Still, it was a closer game than the Gators wanted, than the fans expected. They will face a similar challenge the next two weeks when Louisiana and Jacksonville State visit The Swamp.

The No. 7-ranked Gators (8-1) have finished SEC play and their next game on the national radar is at FSU on Nov. 24. Unlike last year when they finished 3-5 – the Gators’ first losing SEC record in 25 years – they went 7-1 in conference play and remain alive to represent the East Division at the SEC Championship Game.

Florida’s four-win improvement in the SEC matched the best one-season turnaround in school history, equaling the 1954 and 1980 teams. To get to Atlanta the Gators need host Auburn to beat Georgia on Saturday.

If not, the Bulldogs will make the short drive to the Georgia Dome since they beat the Gators 17-9 in Jacksonville last month.

Needless to say, the Gators will be keeping a close eye on the final score.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of any other SEC school, but it would be nice to see them get a win,’’ Watkins said of Auburn. “We are just going to keep pushing forward like we have everything to play for.”

Regardless of what happens at Auburn, the Gators have a goal on their wish list to accomplish. They are almost there. Only Louisiana and Jacksonville State stand in the way.

Florida is 5-0 this season at The Swamp, a place where opponents once had little chance of winning. However, in the two previous seasons, the Gators were only 9-5 at home – 4-3 in Urban Meyer’s final season in 2010, and 5-2 in head coach Will Muschamp’s first season a year ago.

But Florida’s home-field magic has returned in 2012. The Gators knocked off both LSU and South Carolina at home before electric crowds. LSU and South Carolina were each ranked in the top 10.

“We have one of the great arenas in all of sports to play in,’’ Muschamp said Monday. “It’s No. 1 because of our fans. We got a great following. It’s very important. We talk about you want to have a special season, it starts at home. It starts with winning at home.

“Having been a visitor here before, I understand how difficult it is to come in here and play well and win a game. I’ve tried to stress it from Day 1 with our players, the importance of playing well at home and defending The Swamp.”

While a win over the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana on Saturday might not produce the same kind of attention as Florida’s wins over LSU and South Carolina did, the Gators have no plans to take them lightly.

Louisiana is coming off a 40-24 win over Louisiana-Monroe, a team that beat Arkansas and nearly beat Auburn earlier this season. Ragin’ Cajuns quarterback Terrance Broadway threw for 373 yards and ran for 87 in the win over ULM.

The Gators squashed talk Monday of a potential letdown the next two weeks with opponents visiting that the Gators should be heavy favorites against.

“Every team has playmakers. They are going to have playmakers and we’re going to have to prepare well and we’re going to have to play well,’’ Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “That’s what it comes down to. We have a great season going and we can’t look ahead too much. If you start looking ahead that’s when you’re going to get upset and get shocked.”

Muschamp said there are no plans to alter the team’s approach. The players who perform best in practice this week will play Saturday, one way to keep the edge on.

“It's all the same to me,’’ Muschamp said. “This is a good football team coming in here.”

Ranked sixth in the BCS, if the Gators can close out the regular season with three consecutive wins, they would finish 11-1 and be in position for a BCS bowl bid. The SEC East title remains a possibility.

“We haven’t reached our goal yet,’’ Watkins said.

Senior running back Mike Gillislee agreed. After the troubles at home of the past two seasons – including that wobbly start against Furman last November – a perfect record at home would be a nice sendoff to Tallahassee later this month when the Gators face the Seminoles.

But first, there is work to be done.

“The goal is to be undefeated at home this season, so we’re going to treat these games like we treated all the other ones,’’ Gillislee said.


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