FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
Despite playing each other only three times in the last 15 years, don’t tell Florida and Miami fans that the rivalry is dead.
The two passionate fan bases have gone after each other on social media all offseason over a myriad of topics, such as Miami quarterback Tate Martell’s shorter stature, Florida’s offseason transfers, recruiting rankings and even whether or not palm trees grow naturally in Gainesville (they do).
Clearly, the fans are fired up and ready to go for the Gators and Hurricanes’ season opener in Orlando on Aug. 24.
What about Florida’s players? Do they view the Week Zero showdown as a monster rivalry game or just the first game on the schedule? It depends on who you ask.
“I’m excited,” running back Malik Davis said. “I know it’s a big, rivalry-type game. I know the fans have been talking trash back and forth on social media. I’m excited. I’m ready to play.”
Offensive lineman Jean Delance said winning this game would go a long way toward accomplishing one of the team’s goals.
“We’re trying to win the state as a whole,” he said. “We beat Florida State last year. We got Miami. We’re trying to win the state. Obviously, that helps bring in recruits and just put us on a bigger stage and a bigger pedestal.
“It don’t get no bigger than this. Just like Florida State, no matter the record of either team, we could both be 3-3 at the time, it’s always going to be a big game.”
Other players at Media Day on Thursday, however, opted to play it safe it safe and said they’re only focused on their own team right now and aren’t even thinking about Miami.
EIGHT PART ANONYMOUS PLAYER PARTING THOUGHTS SERIES
- The McElwain years
- The end of McElwain
- Start of the Mullen era
- More on Mullen
- Strength and Conditioning
- (FREE) Dishing on the facilities
- Offensive rundown
- Defensive rundown
Junior cornerback Marco Wilson should be at the top of the list of players fired up about this game. He’s coming off an ACL injury that caused him to miss most of the 2018 season. His father, Chad Wilson, played at Miami in the 1990s, and he grew up around a lot of Miami fans in Fort Lauderdale. The battle in Orlando will mark his first game in nearly a year and likely his only shot to leave his mark in the rivalry’s history. If he holds any animosity toward the Hurricanes, he didn’t show it on Thursday.
“I’m going to try not to go into the game with too many emotions because that might take your head off of what you really need to be doing,” he said. “So, I’m just going in there with a straight mind focused on ‘I need to go in here and handle business, make plays and just be effective.’”
Regardless of whether they’re willing to publicly admit that this is a huge game or not, just about everyone agreed that the game has helped fuel their intensity and focus throughout offseason workouts.
Unlike the weaker competition that the Gators usually play in the first game, Miami is a team that could beat them if they’re not prepared. The game serves as a light at the end of the tunnel, a visible reminder to keep straining and pushing through fatigue.
“It’s definitely been a big motivation, just knowing that we’ve got to be ready on day one, week one, week zero,” receiver Josh Hammond said. “We definitely worked really hard from day one, January, in the offseason because we knew we didn’t have any slouch games at the beginning. The biggest thing for us is just work hard and let everything else take care of itself.”
Win or lose, the game will show the Gators exactly what they need to improve on, as mistakes won’t fly under the radar like they would against an inferior foe.
“It’s the University of Miami,” receiver Freddie Swain said. “It’s an old-time rivalry for the state. You got to come with your ‘A’ game. You can’t really slack off because, at the end of the day, it’s the University of Miami. It’s a good team.”
However, there are some potential negatives to playing a team like Miami in the opener as well. Florida’s offensive line features four new starters, and that’s a unit that usually requires a good amount of chemistry and cohesion. Miami’s front-seven could be one of the best the Gators see all season. Delance said it’s going to come down to chemistry and consistency.
“We’re in our playbook hard,” he said. “You got to have those one, two, three guys behind you that can play multiple positions, so at this point, it’s just building depth. Obviously, we’re replacing four different guys who started on the offensive line last year, but we’ve got good chemistry. [Christopher] Bleich is a guy that’s up there with that starting five. But, he still got good repetition in just that year, last spring and last camp, and now we’re going into another camp. We’re good.”
UF’s juniors and seniors have experience playing in a marquee opener, albeit one they’d likely rather forget. The Gators played Michigan in Arlington, Texas, to open the 2017 season and were routed, 33-17. They believe that they learned some things from that game that they can apply to this game.
“We don’t need any distractions heading into the game,” Hammond said. “Two years ago, we had the big credit fraud thing or whatever. So, I think that was a big distraction. That kind of got guys off track of what our goal was, which was to go and win the game. I think having that issue definitely kind of threw that off a little bit. So, I think the biggest thing is to try to not have as many distractions and just focus during camp.”
Safety Shawn Davis got burned for a deep touchdown against the Wolverines in his first collegiate game. He said the key to playing a big-time opponent on national television is to not let the environment get the best of you.
“You just got to tune everything out and not think a lot and just play,” he said. “Do what you got to do and just play.”
While the fans might be losing their minds over this game, Wilson said the objective is the same as it is every game.
“It doesn’t matter if we play Miami or an unranked team, we’re going to be focused either way, real serious during camp,” he said. “No matter who the team is, you got to go out there and perform well, and you can’t embarrass yourself on that field.
“No tune up this game. We’re going at it. We’re excited about it, and we’re ready to go out there and make some plays and just put on a good show for the country.”