After spending the week trying to repair the multiple mistakes that helped lead to their downfall against Miami, the Gators have turned their attention to the SEC opener this week against Tennessee with a renewed sense of urgency.
"Going into this game, we definitely feel we're going into a new season, the SEC," sophomore RB and former Armwood High standout Matt Jones said. "We've got to go undefeated in the SEC to get to the national championship. It's definitely a different preparation knowing that we can't lose, and we work hard every day."
It starts from within, the players said. Which is why there was so much emphasis on themselves this past open week.
"Kind of just taking care of ourselves," QB Jeff Driskel said when asked about work done during last week's bye. "No one's been able to stop us when we haven't had a turnover or a penalty, so just worry about us first and then taking care of the other team second. If we can handle us, we'll be fine. That's what we worked on (last) week. On an off week you do work on yourself before you get into your opponent, so it timed out well for us."
FOND MEMORIES: In his 50-year-plus career at Florida — from sports information director to his current role as Gators historian — Norm Carlson has seen his share of athletes come through the program. Which is why his thoughts on former Gator Rick Casares, who died this past weekend at 82, spoke volumes about the Tampa legend.
"I think he was the best player to come through here," Carslon said Monday morning. "The best I've ever seen."
Carlson and Casares lived at Buckman Hall on campus during their time as UF students in the 1950s. Carlson said what made Casares special was his combination of size and athleticism. And his ability to run.
"He was 6-foot-3 and could probably run 10-flat in the 100 if he wanted to run track," he said.
Carlson said Casares was "tough" but a good guy with an incredible kind streak. In the annals of Florida football, he said Casares will always be considered among the greats.
"He was an intelligent football player," he said. "He played quarterback here at times. They'd put him in at quarterback or fullback. He could have played anywhere. He had great athletic skill. He had grown up playing sports and he understood what it took to play. And he never got tired. He just had tremendous endurance. He could play every down.
"He'd play offense, defense, he punted. He was our punter at times, placekicker. And he was always the guy that they turned to in the clutch. Always. And he always came through. He was unbelievable. … But the greatest thing he ever did in his life was marry Polly. She's a great woman."
HALAPIO'S RETURN: Senior OL Jon Halapio is expected to play for the first time this season when the Gators host Tennessee this Saturday and would start at right guard. A St. Petersburg Catholic alum, Halapio missed all of fall camp and the Gators' first two games recovering from the injury he sustained just before the start of camp. His return is critical for the Gators, who have sustained injuries to several members of the O-line during camp and the first two games. Halapio practiced Thursday for the first time with contact.
"Jon Halapio will start at right guard," coach Will Muschamp said. "He looked good last week."
UF-UK UNDER THE LIGHTS: The Sept. 28 Florida-Kentucky game will kick off at 7 p.m. It will be the first night game of the season for the Gators. The game will be televised nationally on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.