Published September 27, 2011
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida was essentially noncompetitive in its last two games against Alabama.
There was the debacle in Atlanta in the 2009 Southeastern Conference title game, then the drubbing in Tuscaloosa last season. The Gators were outplayed, outcoached and outscored by a combined 44 points in those lopsided losses.
Players surely want revenge, retribution, payback, right? Maybe, but they're certainly not saying it. In fact, the only telling quote to come out of Gainesville this week has been on Twitter.
"We ready to shock the world!" Florida safety Matt Elam wrote on his Twitter feed.
Getting the 12th-ranked Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) to acknowledge as much in person has been a tougher challenge. Player after player has repeated coach Will Muschamp's "nameless, faceless" motto this week as they prepare for No. 3 Alabama (4-0, 1-0).
Muschamp wants his players to have the same focus and preparation for every opponent, regardless if it's Alabama, North Alabama or Alabama A&M.
"That's just how we approach every game," center Jon Harrison said. "We can't approach it like, 'OK, this is so-and-so team.' It just keeps us focused on assignments and the football concepts in general, not just, 'OK, this is so and so and we have to be afraid of them.' It just keeps us focused on what we're doing."
Muschamp's motto might seem odd, especially after six years of listening to Urban Meyer making such a big deal about big games and rivalries. But players have bought in, even if they know it's more or less a ploy to keep players from slacking.
"There are certain games that bring the intensity," quarterback John Brantley said. "When I say they mean the same, they mean the same on the schedule — a win's a win. And different games bring different intensities, but we try to be as intense in game one as we are in game 10. You always want to bring that intensity."
So where does Alabama rank on the intensity scale?
"It's pretty high," Brantley said.
It should be, especially after how the Tide rolled in the last two meetings.
Alabama ran for 170 yards in last year's 31-6 victory. The Crimson Tide also forced four turnovers, knocked Brantley around so much that he had bruised ribs and an injured thumb, and returned an interception for a touchdown. Adding to the humiliation, receiver Marquis Maze threw a touchdown pass on a trick play.
Alabama's win in 2009 was even more humbling.
The Tide ran 53 times for 251 yards and three touchdowns. Florida fans still blame the loss on playing without defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who was suspended following his arrest on a charge of driving under the influence four days before the title game.
But Alabama's balanced attack — quarterback Greg McElroy also threw for 239 yards — had its way with the Gators.
"The past is the past," Florida linebacker Lerentee McCray said. "This year is a new year. Just going out and building on that. It's a new team, new year, 2011. Looking forward to building on 4-0."
Like Florida, the Tide believes the recent losses will have no bearing on Saturday's game at Florida Field.
"It's a different year, so you have to approach this game a different way than you did last year," Maze said. "They have home-field advantage this year. They have a new coach this year. They have a new drive. They're undefeated."
A victory against Alabama would be a building block for Muschamp's program. It certainly helped former Florida coaches Ray Graves and Steve Spurrier.
Graves' team upset Bear Bryant and Alabama 10-6 in 1963, snapping the Crimson Tide's 21-game home winning streak. The Gators were the first team to win at Alabama in five years. Spurrier's team edged Alabama 17-13 in 1990, setting the foundation for a decade of dominance in the SEC.
The Gators know what's at stake. They just won't say it.
"It would be a great victory," Harrison said. "But we're focused on the task at hand. Just like every other week, we're going to go out there and perform to the best of our ability. ... They're going to be a good opponent. It's going to be a great matchup and I can't wait for Saturday to come."