GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Hours after defeating division rival Georgia, Florida benefitted from another SEC East contest as South Carolina pulled off a shocking upset over Tennessee.

The Gators players who watched couldn’t help but smile talking about seeing the Volunteers lose.

“It was awesome to see South Carolina be able to take care of them,” center Cam Dillard said. “It’s always good to see Tennessee lose. No one likes Tennessee.”

Defensive end Bryan Cox shared Dillard’s happiness with the outcome, but the senior leader knows it’s far too early to start popping champagne.

“I watched most of the game,” Cox said of the Gamecocks’ win. “Obviously whenever Tennessee loses, it’s nice. It definitely helped us, but we’re focusing on what we have to do. All we have to do is take it week by week and do our thing, and we’ll be in a good position.”

Quarterback Luke Del Rio predictably sounded like a coach’s son assessing the Gators’ outlook.

“No, I didn’t watch it,” Del Rio said of the South Carolina-Tennessee game. “I saw the highlights. But it’s an SEC team, an SEC game. You know, we’re kind of focused on ourselves. We have to win out. It’s not like, ‘OK, now we have breathing room.’ You know? We don’t really care. We’re not going to go into a game and be like, ‘Ah, it doesn’t really matter if we lose.’ That never enters our mind. Ever. I don’t really think you’re a championship-type team if you think that way.”

The reality is that the Gators do have breathing room. Two weeks ago, no one (including this writer) expected the Volunteers to drop a third SEC game. Most analysts prematurely concluded that Florida would need to win all its remaining conference games in order to win the SEC East and make it to Atlanta.

As of Saturday night, UF can now lose one of its three remaining conference games – Arkansas, South Carolina or LSU – and still make it to the SEC Championship Game.

Ever since the Gators took the lead in the division on Oct. 15, when they beat Missouri and Tennessee lost to Alabama, they’ve bought into a do-or-die mind-set that started with the Georgia game. It’s obvious that Del Rio’s concern is the potential loss of that competitive edge in November. Coach Jim McElwain knows that the set-up for a possible letdown is a question that will surround the team this week.

“That’s a human nature question,” McElwain said. “I think it’s not just the way the Florida Gators are and wherever we’re at, more so, any time you become comfortable and start to look ahead and not take care of the now, that’s when you get in trouble. That’s why I think this is a great opportunity to define kind of what we’re all about.

“You hear the clichés and all that kind of stuff, but it really does. 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 at and we’ll find out.”

The program in many ways is still trying to recover from the end of the 2015 season, in which Florida lost three straight to Florida State, Alabama and Michigan. The losses by a combined score of 97-24 took the Gators from a potential playoff contender to a Citrus Bowl loser. Dillard believes the team has learned from the humiliating finish.

“That’s something that we keep in the back of our minds,” Dillard said. “You want to start the season strong and finish strong. That’s what we preach all offseason, is finishing. That’s what we’re going to try to do throughout the remainder of the season, is finish.

“I feel like the leadership on this team is a little bit different than it was last year. And I just feel like the cohesiveness between everybody is just we’re all in a good place right now.”

To stay in that good place, the Gators need to follow their quarterback and pretend they don’t have room to breathe.