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Strong finishes lead to fast start for Florida

Associated Press Modified: September 17, 2012 at 8:32 pm •  Published: September 17, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No. 14 Florida had two numbers plastered around its football facility during the offseason.

Players saw them daily. Coaches repeated them for motivation. They became as ingrained as the playbook.

Those numbers, 72 and 22, were what opponents and the Gators scored, respectively, in the fourth quarter of Southeastern Conference games last season. They offered a clear picture of coach Will Muschamp's team, the one he called soft in November and the one that wasn't nearly competitive enough late in games.

The message was delivered repeatedly over eight months.

Now, the Gators are doing something about it. Florida, which hosts Kentucky on Saturday, has gotten off to a great start by finishing games.

"It stuck in our heads. We don't want to have that score (again)," receiver Frankie Hammond said Monday. "It needs to be flipped around at the end of this season."

At Florida's current pace, it would end up even more lopsided.

The Gators have outscored their three opponents 27-0 in the fourth quarter this season and 50-13 in the second half.

"That's huge for us," said quarterback Jeff Driskel, named the SEC's offensive player of the week. "Going into the offseason, the strength staff and the coaches really drilled it into our head that we got outscored big time in the fourth quarter last year. And we went into this year knowing that we would have to be more conditioned, you know, physically and mentally to be able to handle the fourth quarter.

"Thus far, we're doing a good job."

Florida's second-half success is about more than just conditioning, though.

The Gators have added depth, which helps keep players fresh. And maybe more importantly, Muschamp and his assistants are making the right adjustments, players are executing them to perfection and everyone on the sideline is on the same page in crunch time.

Muschamp also credits experience and maturity.

"We're a more experienced football team than we were a year ago," he said. "We're a little more mature football team at times, from the standpoint of understanding what it takes to be successful and buying in with each other. I think that a lot of that camaraderie, those things are certainly much improved. But experience and maturity has a lot to do with that."

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