GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Jim McElwain feels like his team’s been too up and down in two seasons.
Significant victory one week, pedestrian performance the next.
It hasn’t happened too often, but McElwain has seen it enough to know he doesn’t want it to become a trend. So he challenged his players this week to show they’ve grown, ready to better handle success.
The 13th-ranked Gators (8-2), coming off a 16-10 upset at LSU that clinched a second straight Eastern Division title for Florida, play at No. 15 Florida State (8-3) on Saturday night.
It’s a rivalry game with a revenge subplot — the Seminoles have won three in a row, including a 27-2 drubbing in Gainesville last year — but it’s also a chance for the Gators to prove they’ve changed their inconsistent ways.
“Let’s call it the way it is,” McElwain said. “I’m not sure we’ve had a decent win like this was and actually followed it up, you know what I mean? But whether you go win the game or not, it’s about the effort and the emotion and the way you attack the week of preparation. But that’s part of the growth of an organization and a program.
“So here’s another opportunity for us to learn, and we’ve got a lot of good, young players that’re playing their tails off. Now, can they keep putting it back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back? The sign of consistency is what helps you be successful in whatever you’re doing.”
McElwain didn’t offer any examples of his team’s past shortcomings. He didn’t have to. They’re obvious.
Florida beat Georgia in a rivalry game late last month and then got shellacked the following week at Arkansas, a 31-10 loss that had outsiders wondering if the Gators would win again this season.
Last season, the Gators hammered the Bulldogs and then kicked a late field goal the following week to edge Vanderbilt 9-7 and clinch the East. They rebounded the next week at South Carolina, then needed overtime to put away Florida Atlantic at home.
So it’s easy to see why McElwain would be leery with the Seminoles up next.
“We got to stay hungry,” quarterback Austin Appleby said. “You can’t exhale at all. We got an unbelievable opponent in front of us. We got everything, our goals that we set in the beginning of the season are right there for us. Our destiny is in our hands. We win and we can accomplish anything we want. We know that.
“We found a win, but we still have a lot of things that we need to build on. As long as we keep bringing that attitude, keep bringing that great focus, we will be OK.”
The Gators still have an outside shot at making the College Football Playoff. Of course, they need to beat FSU on Saturday and top-ranked Alabama in the SEC title game just to make it a possibility.
That’s no easy task. But if they find some consistency week to week, and continue playing great defense and turnover-free football, McElwain believes anything is possible for this team.
“You learn from failure, all of us do,” he said. “We learned that you’ve got to come to play. We aren’t that good to be able to just show up, and I think we’ve done that the last couple weeks. I think we’ve showed up. You’ve … If you dwell on it, it’s going to be there forever instead of, `What did I learn from it?’
“I thought our guys learned some things from it. And it’s no different than probably when you were growing up and your mom had a kettle on the stove and you wondered what that red burner was and you probably went over there and touched it and realized, `You know what, that didn’t feel very good.’ So let’s not do that again. Those are the lessons we learn in whatever we do.”
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