CFB Preview: No. 23 Florida vs. North Texas
Florida is coming off its most convincing victory over a Southeastern Conference opponent in second-year coach Jim McElwain's tenure.
McElwain is curious to see how the 23rd-ranked Gators handle prosperity against North Texas following the 45-7 rout of Kentucky. The Gators and Mean Green clash at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field in Gainesville.
"The challenge moving forward is to see how this team is going to respond," McElwain said. "Kinda the m.o. of this program is you play really high or really low and not consistently."
North Texas represents a trap game, considering a big showdown with rival Tennessee looms in two weeks. The Mean Green (1-1) is coming off a 41-20 win over Bethune-Cookman.
That shouldn't matter, McElwain said.
"Great teams, they learn how to go about their business and prepare and be proud of the way they play regardless of the opponent," the coach said. "They realize they have so many opportunities to do this."
After struggling on offense in its 24-7 win in its season opener against Massachusetts, Florida's offense broke out against Kentucky. The Gators gained 564 yards of running and passing, their most yardage in an SEC game since gaining 571 yards against Vanderbilt on Nov. 3, 2001.
The Gators snapped a string of 10 straight games scoring under 30 points and made big plays in the passing game. Sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio passed for 320 yards and four TDs.
Del Rio said it will be important for the Gators to guard against complacency against a non-conference opponent.
"The biggest goal every week, and it doesn't change, is to go 1-0," Del Rio said. "What you learn in a game like Saturday (against Kentucky) is that it doesn't matter who you play, it matters how you execute the game plan and the intensity and the enthusiasm to which you are playing.
"If you worry about the other team and not doing your job, then you are not going to play well."
North Texas last week bounced back from its opening 34-21 loss to SMU to pound Bethune-Cookman for 329 yards on the ground. That helped give first-coach coach Seth Littrell his first victory as a head coach.
Junior running back Willy Ivery rushed for 103 of that total on 13 carries and junior Jeffrey Wilson added another 83 on 14 runs to pace the attack.
Quarterback Mason Fine passed for only 108 yards but didn't have an interception while completing 11 of 22 pass attempts in his collegiate debut. The true freshman also had a 25-yard scramble to avoid a sack and wound up on the positive side of rushing with 46 yards on eight runs.
"He did some really good things tonight," Littrell said. "His numbers may not be eye-popping, but he led us on some touchdown drives, and he really managed the game well."
Littrell sees many good things in Fine.
"He's just got it," Littrell said. "He's one of those guys who doesn't get rattled. He's extremely smart. He's a 4.0 student. He just understands the system and has that presence about him.
"Guys look to him. They follow him. He's just got it in the huddle. I'm not sitting here saying he's the coming Lord and savior or anything like that because he has a lot to work on. He has a lot of room for improvement and growth. And he will.
"The greatest thing is he knows it and he's going to work extremely hard to improve on his weaknesses."
Alex Morris, who spent that last three years as a backup at Alabama and transferred to North Texas as a graduate student, had 11 pass attempts, completing four with one interception coming off the bench after starting the opener.
Littrell, who came to North Texas after serving on staffs at North Carolina, Indiana and Arizona in recent years, isn't changing his approach for the Gators.
"Like you do every week, you go through the process," he said. "You correct your mistakes from the previous week, scout your opponent, game-plan them, and have a great week of preparation."