As he sat comfortably in a collared Gators shirt, smiling at the wreath of reporters surrounding him minutes after his team demolished Kentucky 45-7 on Saturday, defensive lineman Caleb Brantley said something interesting.
“I just think a lot of guys (weren’t) hyped to play UMass,” he said.
Brantley was talking about the team from the week before — Massachusetts — the one that had lost 41 of its last 49 games, the same one the Gators struggled to put to sleep until the fourth quarter.
“You feel me?” Brantley added.
He was asked why Florida’s performance against Kentucky looked so different from its Week 1 showing, when the Gators’ play felt akin to slowly pulling an old bandage off a freshly scabbed wound.
In many ways, Brantley’s succinct, simple answer was right: Guys weren’t hyped.
Why should they have been?
After all, this wasn’t why UF running back Mark Thompson transferred to Florida from Junior College, to face the same type of opponents that he steamrolled over en route to 18 touchdowns at Dodge City Community College last year.
This wasn’t why senior linebacker Jarrad Davis returned to UF, to prove to NFL scouts that he could rack up double-digit tackles against UMass.
Davis can do that in his sleep.
This wasn’t why the players in Florida’s 2016 recruiting class chose to play in The Swamp. They came to play teams like Michigan and Mississippi and, moreover, simply glide through their non-conference schedule, not be tested by the UMass Minutemen in their season opener.
That may all be true. Totally possible.
But it’s also true that Florida looked lifeless for a majority of its game against UMass, and that the Gators were tied with the Minutemen throughout most of the second quarter. They were Muhammad Ali trading blows with a lightweight.
Against North Texas, the Gators can’t afford to be.
Florida needs to dominate from the start, and it needs to win overwhelmingly. There can be no doubt that Florida is the better team, from the first whistle to the last. From quarterback Luke Del Rio to martyred sophomore cornerback Chris Williamson — who gave up a 53-yard completion on a blown coverage against Massachusetts — there needs to be no doubt.
Just ask Jim McElwain.
“I’m obviously not a psychiatrist or anything, but I just think there’s a certain way you go about your business no matter what it is,” he said Wednesday. “What I would hope is guys had enough personal pride to go out and do their job at the highest level that they can.”
In McElwain’s first year, that wasn’t always the case.
His team almost lost to a 2-8 FAU team in 2015, a game that wasn’t decided until the Owls forced the Gators into overtime.
They were pushed to the brink by East Carolina until pulling out a 31-24 victory at home.
And they barely defeated a 3-5 Vanderbilt team, which only had one win in conference play, 9-7.
If McElwain wants to put an end to Florida’s inconsistencies, to stop the uninspired performances against lesser opponents and establish a tone for this season, or, how he frequently puts it, a “standard”, then it needs to begin Saturday night.
There needs to be no doubt that North Texas has no chance of winning this game.
If not, prepare for a long season.
UF defensive lineman Caleb Brantley lines up during Florida's 14-9 win against Kentucky on Sept. 19, 2015, at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky.