No. 3 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and a handful of players met with the media after practice on Friday to preview the 2013 Sugar Bowl against the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals and provide thoughts on the team heading into the game.
NOT TAKING ANYTHING FOR GRANTED
On Thursday, Muschamp discussed why it was critical for the Gators to win their 12th game of the 2012 season. One day later, he explained when Florida hit rock bottom one year ago and how the program has pulled itself up by the bootstraps.
“The month of October  wasn’t a whole lot of fun,” he said. “Two games – Alabama and LSU – we got physically dominated. We had our opportunities in some other games. We didn’t make enough good decisions as coaches or players to put ourselves in position to win those games.”
Senior left tackle Xavier Nixon acknowledged that the coaching staff identified the problem soon after those losses and began working to put the Gators back together. “We had a problem with complacency and we found out how to deal with that, and we’ve become a better team,” he said.
Now Florida is back at the top of the heap, a great accomplishment for a second-year coach like Muschamp but one he promises that the program is not taking for granted.
“Certainly when you’ve hit the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, at a place like the University of Florida, it makes you appreciate things a little bit more,” he said. “That’s something where you’ve got to stay grounded in your approach as a player and a coach to understand you don’t just roll the hat out there and win football games. It takes work, it takes preparation, it takes recruiting, it takes development, it takes strength program, it takes character building, it takes all of those things to encompass to have the type of program you want to have at Florida.
“We understand that every day. I understand getting out of bed every day knowing that just because it happened yesterday doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again. You got to make it happen and that’s what I think these players understand a little bit more.”
That never-say-die attitude has defined the Gators’ season. Including the awful performance against Georgia, in which Florida was perhaps a play or two away from potentially winning the game, it always found a way to make lemonade out of lemons.
Junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins pointed to a strip-fumble made by junior safety Matt Elam on a deep pass during the LSU game as one play in particular that was a paradigm of the entire 2012 campaign.
“I think that play defined our season. It just showed that we won’t quit,” he said. “Every game we’ve showed it. That’s one play that’s come out that’s shown it. He could have gave up on the play or could have just made the tackle, but he went the extra mile to make the strip.”
That is why Wednesday’s game is so critical. In addition to giving the Gators the 12th win they are pining for, it also shows that the turnaround is complete.
“This is a very important game for the program. I believe it’s a statement game,” redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray said. “Coming out of the season last year, we had to make a statement versus Ohio State going into the season of what it was going to be. Ohio State finished undefeated. We beat them last year and we finished 11-1. It’s a big statement to finish strong in your bowl game.”
Read the rest of what the Gators had to say…after the break!
Continue Reading » 12/28: Sugar Bowl importance, Lewis’s return