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Imperfect Gators enjoying the ride

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The last time Florida coach Urban Meyer turned on his computer was sometime before the Tennessee game back in September.

It was his way of getting away from the distractions, or as he calls it, the outside stuff.

There’s been plenty of it, too, going all the way back to January.

Concussions. Fines. Verbal jousting with Lane Kiffin. Players caught on tape trying to eye-gouge opponents.

“If I want to know what’s going on in the world, I ask my wife, ‘How’s it going?’” Meyer said. “I do not turn my computer on. I think some of our players have taken that from our staff, too. We’ve got our face pointed right in the right direction.

“We have plenty to work on. We don’t have time to be worrying about what else is going on.”

What’s going on, to quote the late, great Marvin Gaye, is that the No. 1 Gators are inching, plodding, grinding (whatever you want to call it) toward a chance to play for their second straight national championship.

Every team has an identity, a personality.

This team’s identity, quite simply, is just getting it done.

“We always want to play our greatest game,” Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “We struggled a little bit today. But when one side of the ball struggles, the other side steps it up.

“That’s how a team works; at least this team.”

Florida got it done in the fourth quarter Saturday thanks to defensive end Justin Trattou’s game-changing interception and navigated its way out of Williams-Brice Stadium with a 24-14 win over South Carolina, which fought its guts out defensively, but met an all-too-familiar fate this time of the year.

The Gamecocks have now lost three in a row and are in danger of a third consecutive late-season collapse unless they can knock off Clemson in two weeks.

As for the Gators, their work in the SEC is done. They’re 8-0, only the 12th team in SEC history to go 8-0.

And while even the Gators are the first to admit they’re not playing pristine football, they’re playing winning football.

When you’re No. 1 in the BCS standings at this point in the season, that’s all that matters.

“We did not play perfect,” Meyer said. “I’m not sure we have played perfect in quite a while, but I think that’s 20 [wins] in a row, and I’m awful proud of those young guys in there.”

All that’s left now for Florida before its showdown with Alabama in the SEC championship game is Florida International at home next week and then Florida State at home in the regular-season finale on Nov. 28.

Barring anything unforeseen these last couple of weeks, the Alabama-Florida game on Dec. 5 in Atlanta will be a play-in game for a berth in the BCS National Championship Game for the second year in a row.

What the Gators have tried to do, at least ever since the Mississippi State game three weeks ago, is enjoy the ride a little more.

That’s been Meyer’s message to his team: Play hard. Play together. Don’t worry about pleasing anyone outside that locker room.

“There’s no point in being 10-0 if you don’t take the opportunity to live in the moment and enjoy it,” Dunlap said. “You only get to live it once.”

Florida junior cornerback Joe Haden said this team has done a better job of keeping everything in perspective after a clear-the-air meeting following the Mississippi State game.

“You could tell in the locker room today,” Haden said. “Even though we didn’t win by as much as we thought we should, this was the best locker room after a win so far this season. We just have that confidence about us.

“It doesn’t matter if the other team has it on the 1-yard line, the 2-yard line, wherever. We feel like the next play is our play.”

And, yet, the perfectionist in Meyer grimaces when he thinks about what the Gators aren’t doing.

In short, they’re still not getting much in the way of a downfield passing game, at least not consistently. There were two deep balls, in particular, that just missed to Riley Cooper. That’s after he opened the game Saturday with a 68-yard touchdown catch.

“I’m so tired of seeing balls go off fingertips,” Meyer said. “We all know what’s coming down the road, and we have to make those.”

Still, there’s something to be said for the plays the Gators are making.

“We found a way to win that game as opposed to not finding a way to win that game,” said Meyer, who in moving to 32-8 in SEC games (.800) became the winningest coach in SEC history among coaches with a minimum of five years experience.

“In '07, we found a way to lose a couple of those games. In '08, we found a way to win them, and in '09, we’re finding a way to win them.”

And enjoying the ride, too.