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Florida Gators find second half more fruitful this season

GAINESVILLE — The numbers had been repeated so often during the past eight months that Florida receiver Frankie Hammond said he and his teammates most likely will never forget them.

That was the intention.

The numbers are 72 and 22. They represent, respectively, how many points the Gators allowed and scored during the second half of SEC games last season.

For the players, it has been inescapable since last season ended. In the training room, dining hall — you name it — it was there.

The mantra was, "Finish the game," and it's a goal that, so far, the Gators have achieved.

"We are a better second-half team," Hammond said. "Over the offseason, (strength and conditioning coach Jeff) Dillman pretty much ingrained in our minds we have to finish out games.

"We just keep that in the back of our minds, and we just want to outscore opponents and finish games. Every workout we came into, he reminded us. It stuck in our heads, and we don't want to have that score. It needs to be flipped around at the end of this season."

In its three games, Florida has outscored opponents 50-13 in the second half, including 27-0 in the fourth quarter. Florida held Bowling Green, Texas A&M and Tennessee to a combined 125 yards in the final quarter.

It rallied for road wins against SEC foes Texas A&M and Tennessee, reinforcing the belief the offseason work is paying off and building confidence for a team with a new offense and a quarterback who has started just two games at the position in his career.

"Going into the offseason, the strength staff and the coaches really drilled it into our head that we got outscored big time in the fourth quarter last year," sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "We went into this year knowing that we would have to be more conditioned, physically and mentally, to be able to handle the fourth quarter. Thus far, we're doing a good job."

The Gators scored the final 13 points against Bowling Green in the opener, the final 13 at Texas A&M and the final 24 at Tennessee. What has been most rewarding for coach Will Muschamp is the way his team has responded to the challenges.

"We emphasized the fourth quarter and winning the second half," Muschamp said. "That's a huge part of winning in our league because there's going to be so many tight games. You've got to perform and coach and play well at the end of games in order to have success.

"We've done that so far. But it's a long season, and we've got a long way to go. We haven't arrived. We need to continue to press forward."

The Gators are averaging 11.3 points and 160 yards in the first half while allowing 12.7 points and 207.7 yards. In the second half, Florida is averaging 16.7 points and 350 yards while allowing 4.3 points and 126 yards.

"That's just everybody coming together," senior linebacker Jon Bostic said. "That was one thing we had a big emphasis on this offseason. We said we wanted to play better in the second half. We've got to be able to last longer than we did last year. We kind of got tired and couldn't keep teams off the field."

UF hosts Kentucky on Saturday, a team that has not won in Gainesville since 1979 and lost last week at home to Western Kentucky. But the Gators aren't assuming comebacks are automatic, and they aren't forgetting last season.

The goal is to finish — the entire season.

"It's only Game 3, and it's a long season," Hammond said. "We still have a lot more games to finish, and we're taking it day by day, game by game."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Late bloomers

Florida's stats in the first and second half of its three games:

1st half2nd half
Points scored3450
Points against3813
Yards gained480747
Yards allowed623378

Florida Gators find second half more fruitful this season 09/19/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 8:51pm]
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