GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida coach Jim McElwain calls it a character test, a chance to see how his players react to being five-touchdown favorites against a team that has lost 13 of its last 15 games.
Others refer to it as a trap game.
Either way, it’s reality for the 23rd-ranked Gators (2-0).
Coming off a lopsided victory against Kentucky and playing at rival and No. 15 Tennessee next week, Florida will try to avoid joining a long list of college teams to endure a letdown this season when it hosts North Texas (1-1) on Saturday.
“I don’t know how you can ever do anything and not go out and do your best,” McElwain said. “That doesn’t mean you’re ever going to be perfect. No one’s ever perfect. But the energy and the way you prepare to go out against anybody, it doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter if it’s football or if it’s tiddlywinks or if it’s going to the ice cream truck really fast.”
McElwain took it a step further while making his point, saying there’s “historical precedence” at Florida of teams seemingly playing to the level of competition and adding “we’re not good enough to just show up against anybody.”
It’s certainly been the case in recent years, evidenced by the Gators needing to eke out wins against Louisiana-Lafayette (2012) and Florida Atlantic (2015) as well as losing to then-lower-division Georgia Southern (2013).
“This has been something that’s been a little bit of an Achilles’ heel for Florida football,” McElwain said. “So I stressed to our guys this is an opportunity to create your own identity and be different. We’ll see on Saturday.”
The Mean Green also are trying to create an identity under first-year coach Seth Littrell, an assistant at North Carolina the two previous years.
“What an opportunity,” Littrell said. “You look across the country week-in and week-out, go out and compete. … We don’t fear anybody. We’re never going to fear anybody. We’re going to go out and compete and play the game the way it should be played, and at the end of the day, we’ll see where we stack up.”
The Gators should have an idea, too, at least against what should be an overmatched opponent.
“We just got to make sure we don’t play to their standard and play to ours, and just push each other instead of like worrying about the name of our opponent,” Florida linebacker Daniel McMillian said.
Some other things to know about North Texas and Florida as they play for the first time since 1947:
LOSING STREAK: North Texas is 1-46 all-time against ranked teams, including 37 consecutive losses since upsetting San Diego State 14-9 in 1974.
INJURED GATORS: Florida receiver Antonio Callaway is “highly questionable to doubtful” to play because of a quadriceps injury. Callaway leads the Gators with 13 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-long 78-yarder against Kentucky last week. Florida will be without starting right guard Tyler Jordan (eye) and backup linebacker Jeremiah Moon (thumb).
SEVEN-FIGURE PAYDAY: Florida is paying North Texas $1 million to make the trip, a significant payday that will help the Mean Green fund their program.
BIG D: The Gators are tied for third in the nation with nine sacks. Equally impressive, they haven’t allowed 200 yards in either game. The defense will try to extend the streak against the Mean Green, which was outscored 141-44 in three games against ranked teams (Iowa, Western Kentucky and Tennessee) in 2015.
GOOD COMPANY: Luke Del Rio is well on his way to becoming Florida’s most proficient passer since Tim Tebow. Last week against Kentucky, Del Rio became the first Florida quarterback to have 300 yards passing and four touchdowns in SEC play since Rex Grossman accomplished the feat in 2001 against LSU. “It’s nice to throw for a bunch of yards and a bunch of touchdowns,” said Del Rio, who wasn’t sacked. “But to be honest, I did the easy part. I was back there with all day to throw. … There was nobody around me.”
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