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October 14, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - "Cautiously optimistic."
Each week, Florida coach Will Muschamp seems to have a different philosophy for his team. This week, the above two words were what resonated the most from the squished bowels of Vanderbilt Stadium.
It seemed appropriate.
The Gators had just won what was for the most part an ugly game against a Commodores team that is now 2-4. The 14-point victory was marred by a myriad of injuries. When Muschamp speaks to media again Monday, he will have to address the immediate futures of three starting offensive linemen. Redshirt senior left guard James Wilson didn't make the trip to Nashville because of a vague "eye injury." Senior left tackle Xavier Nixon ("upper-body") and junior center Jonotthan Harrison (right arm) both left Saturday's game with injuries.
It's not out of the question to beat South Carolina with a "M*A*S*H unit" offensive line - LSU did it Saturday - but Florida would certainly prefer to have its best men on the field against the likes of Jadeveon Clowney. Four of the Gators' starters Saturday were in high school less than one year ago.
"Have we arrived?" Muschamp said. "Absolutely not. I mean, we have some serious issues we need to work out within our team. I'm talking about some personnel, some schematic -- a lot of things we need to improve on."
For Florida fans, it might be reminiscent of a certain coach who is now wearing scarlet and grey. In Urban Meyer's best years at Florida, he stood week after week and said the Gators were "a good team, but not a great team." He typically wouldn't admit the latter until after a national title was won.
Muschamp's weekly critiques are starting to ring more and more like those of Meyer.
Saturday it was penalties that needed to be cleaned up and a defense that wasn't dominant enough on third down and a passing game that is still floundering because of some shaky passing and a glaring lack of playmakers at wide receiver.
At times while listening to Muschamp, it's difficult to remember just how good of shape his team is in. The Gators are 6-0, all but one of their victories coming in Southeastern Conference play. Four of their next six games will be played inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida will not leave its home state until a possible trip to the SEC Championship game.
The Gators are ranked No. 3 nationally and sit alone atop the SEC East.
But the month of October is never forgiving. For as high as Florida is right now, it will feel equally low if the ball is dropped in the next two games against Eastern foes South Carolina and Georgia. Before the season, a 6-2 mark through October would have sounded appropriate. Now, everything seems to have a bigger purpose.
"It's personal," cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy said. "Every loss we took (last year) was personal."
So Muschamp remains pleased with what he has seen but cautious about what is to come. Florida just might be the best team this side of Alabama, but one season after 7-6, nothing seems certain. The Gators have benefited from breaks they didn't get a season ago: "Let's flip those, and I ain't a good coach anymore."
Cautiously optimistic. Sounds about right.