GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Define definition.
It’s the act of making something definite, distinct or clear. It’s been hard to put a finger on No. 10 Florida (6-1 overall, 4-1 SEC) thus far, but we’ll find out a lot about this football team Saturday at Arkansas.
“This is a great opportunity to define kind of what we’re all about,” Gators coach Jim McElwain said. “I just like where this team’s at. And yet, here’s this next step that we need to take to kind of solidify where our program is a little bit and we’ll find out.”
The Razorbacks (5-3, 2-3) might be the unranked underdog, but they’ve lost to three teams ranked in the top 11. Is Florida as talented as Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M? This will be a good measuring stick.
The Gators’ last trip to Arkansas propelled them to a championship run. It was 2008, and UF was coming off a stunning 31-30 loss to Ole Miss at home.
That led to Tim Tebow’s famous “Promise” speech, which is immortalized on a plaque outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
His speech motivated Florida for the rest of that season, starting with its next game at Arkansas. Running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey both rushed for 103 yards as the Gators ran away with a 38-7 victory.
They would outscore their remaining regular-season opponents 414-97 before defeating Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and winning the program’s third national title. Tebow’s promise was kept.
“Everything’s based on momentum, confidence and that swagger that people talk about,” Tebow said after the Arkansas game.
The Gators are still trying find their confidence and swagger in 2016, especially on offense, but a win Saturday could give them momentum heading into the final quarter of their schedule.
“I think momentum’s a big deal,” defensive end Jordan Sherit said. “There’s something about having confidence in yourself. Something Coach Mac talks about a lot is we’re a good team and some guys don’t realize how good we are, how good we can be.
“So I think that getting a big win away (could prove that). When their fans clear out of the stadium, it’s a good feeling. Hopefully, we can do that on Saturday.”
Florida has not played well in away games this season, losing at Tennessee with a second-half collapse and sleepwalking past Vanderbilt in a 13-6 win. In order to beat LSU and Florida State on the road, UF must gain confidence at Arkansas.
“We’re going to a place that I don’t think anyone (on the team) has ever been to,” linebacker Alex Anzalone said. “I think it’s a different environment and a different team than what we’re used to playing.
“It should be a good matchup and just a big game that will show the true character of our team. … We haven’t really had a big road win yet, so I’m looking forward to it. It’ll help our team moving forward.”
The Gators don’t have the offensive firepower they had in 2008, but that hasn’t subdued their championship aspirations this season. They’re catching both LSU and FSU in a down year, and winning those games could put them in the mix for the College Football Playoff.
But that’s a moot point if Florida doesn’t take care of Arkansas, and McElwain said he isn’t sure how his players will respond to the road environment in Fayetteville.
“I don’t know how we’re going to react,” he said. “The thing you do when you’re playing on the road is you play off the fact everybody hates you. I mean, that’s kind of fun. And the louder the stadium gets, the more excited you should get. Now, we’ll see what happens Saturday.”
“We’ve got to be right … and take another step. That’s really what it’s all about. Take another step and an opportunity to define a little bit who we are and what we’re all about. So I look at it as a definition.”