No. 10 Florida Gators football (1-0) opened the 2013 regular season with a solid 24-6 victory over the Toledo Rockets (0-1) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Saturday. Florida head coach Will Muschamp met with the media and provided some of his thoughts after the game.
ERRICT RHETT AS MR. TWO BITS
HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS
» Florida improved to 15-1 in under Muschamp against unranked opponents.
» The Gators are 80-27 all-time in season openers (65-6 in Gainesville) and have won 24-straight games to begin a season, the longest streak in the SEC and second-longest streak in the nation (Nebraska, 28).
» Florida has won eight-straight games in The Swamp and has not lost at home since Nov. 26, 2011.
» UF improved to 13-0 under Muschamp when rushing for more than 150 yards, 15-3 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points, 11-2 when an opponent rushes for fewer than 100 yards, 13-3 when scoring first and 15-1 when leading at the half.
» The Gators scored on their first offensive drive in a season debut for the first time since 2009 (Charleston Southern).
» Florida outgained Toledo 415 yards to 205 yards and dominated the time of possession 39:48 to 20:12.
» Redshirt junior Sam linebacker Ronald Powell played a college football game for the first time in 20 months. He registered a sack on the first series of the game.
» Redshirt junior running back Mack Brown registered a number of firsts and career marks on Saturday. In his first start, Brown carried the ball a career-high 25 times for a career-most 112 yards. He had a career-long 23-yard run and scored twice, including the first touchdown of his career.
» Rushers sophomore Mark Herndon and freshman Kelvin Taylor each averaged over 8.0 yards per carry. Herndon toted the rock four times for 32 yards, while Taylor entered the game late in the fourth quarter and took five carries for 43 yards.
» Redshirt sophomore RB Valdez Showers, a safety who ran the ball in high school, recorded his first rush and reception, finishing with six touches and 53 total yards.
» Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel went 17-for-22, the most efficient game of his career at a 77.3 percent completion rate. That percentage is the highest for a Gators signal caller since Jan. 1, 2010.
» Freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III recorded his first career interception.
» Redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe, a converted linebacker, earned his first career start at fullback and scored his first career touchdown, picking up 16 yards on two receptions.
» Freshman wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood registered his first reception (five yards).
» Redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin started his first game and went 1-for-2 on field goals, missing a 39-yard attempt wide left.
» Eight total Florida players earned their first career start while 15 freshman played their first career game.
Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say after the game…
COMING CLEAN ABOUT SUSPENSIONS
The suspension of sophomore Mike LB Antonio Morrison for the opener was known long ago, but Florida waited until Saturday to officially announce four more suspensions – junior CB Loucheiz Purifoy, senior defensive tackle Darious Cummings, sophomore WR Latroy Pittman and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Quinteze Williams. Those players – along with another who was incorrectly reported as being suspended – were leaked on Friday to Muschamp’s dismay. He had said Wednesday that no one aside from Morrison would miss the game for disciplinary reasons.
“I announced to our football team last Thursday we were going to be down some guys. They knew who I was talking about because they were on special teams. I told them exactly who they were and they made a mistake,” he explained Saturday. “We have consequences in our program. Our players understand that. They move forward. They’ve understood that we’re not going to make excuses at Florida regardless of injury, sickness, whatever the situation may be. We’re just going to move forward. That’s why you recruit and that’s why you have a deep roster. That’s why you recruit guys that don’t ask you about the depth chart 400 times. You recruit guys that want to come in here and compete.”
Though four of the five players above including both starters – Morrison and Purifoy – will return to the field at Miami on Sept. 7, Muschamp announced that Pittman’s suspension was for three games. “Latroy Pittman will be out the next two games, but everyone [else] will be back,” he said.
Below is Muschamp’s opening statement following the game, edited for brevity.
“It’s always good to get a win. … I’ve said all week, all training camp and when I started watching these guys … they got a really good offensive football team. And I think defensively played very well. …
“I’m really proud of how we managed the game defensively. I really liked our balance offensively. When you’re able to run it as effectively as we did, we went into the game knowing we didn’t want to take 80-90 snaps on defense. It’s a team football game and we wanted to be able to effectively run the ball. We did.
“Disappointed we missed a couple down the field. We had some shots. Very disappointed we didn’t hit those but those are going to come. I’ve seen those hitting all through camp. That’s going to happen for us.
The balance offensively, keeping them off the field. When you play a tempo team, it’s a team game, and I thought our guys did a fantastic job of that. Really played well defensively. Special teams controlled the vertical field position of the game.”
PENALTY PROBLEMS PERSIST
Ranked 115th out of 120 teams in the nation in penalties committed last season, Florida becoming more disciplined was a point of contention all offseason for Muschamp. Unfortunately, the Gators failed miserably in that area on Saturday, committing 10 penalties for 70 yards compared to just four for 45 yards by their opponent.
“The silly penalties, we got to get that out of our system, which I’ve been saying for three years,” Muschamp said.
Normally, the coaching staff would pull players that make bad penalties during the game – at least for a couple of plays – but Muschamp said Florida did not have the luxury to make that stand this week.
“Disappointed with penalties, again. We did not take guys out defensively. I was worried about [Toledo’s] substitutions and their tempo. The self-inflicted issues hurt us again today,” he said.
Muschamp is not the only one concerned as Powell discussed his displeasure with the multiple penalties his unit created.
“It can’t happen,” he said. “We got to eliminate it from me to the next guy that did it. We can’t be the best team defense that we can be if we making dumb mistakes like that. I’m responsible for one and I take the responsibility for that.”
» Muschamp said he was exceedingly pleased with junior CB Marcus Roberson and the job he did as the punt returner on Saturday. “We flipped the field several times.”
» On the play of Driskel: “I thought Jeff played well. I thought Jeff was accurate with the football. He had the ball knocked off of him twice. We got to secure the ball better in the pocket in those situations. That’s going to happen in our league. I thought he was accurate with the football down the field, had some good opportunities. Got us in and out of the run game, was pleased with that.”
» On Showers transitioning to offense and why that decision was made: “He’s different than what we have. He’s a top-end speed guy. … We almost [moved him to offense] my first year, if you remember when Jeff [Demps] went down early in the year and Chris Rainey was banged up. Mike [Gillislee] had a hip. I want to say it was the Auburn game, somewhere in there. I almost moved Valdez, took him out of his redshirt and put him at running back. I think we even practiced him 1-2 days at running back, I can’t remember exactly. I know we had extensive conversations about it. We felt like he’s a guy that’s really special with the ball in his hands. Nothing shocked me today what he did. He’s a guy that’s got really good top-end speed. He’s got good ball skills. He’s a guy that was probably going to be in the rotation of tree guys at the safety position. We just felt like it was a good move for our football team to put him on offense.”
» On Hargreaves and his interception: “He made a fantastic play on a big receiver and a good player. It was really just an outstanding play. […] Vernon is a really good player. He missed some time in camp with the shoulder. He’s a guy that possibly was going to be our starting nickel at the time, was running with our first group. What we did was let him play one position, the latter part of camp he played corner. Again, he’s a really good football player. […] Very cerebral, very smart, the game comes very easy, very well to him. And he works hard at the game. He’s up in our offices all the time watching film. It’s easy to play guys like him.”
» On Powell, who had his first sack since 2011 on Saturday: “Ronald is a really good player and he’s a guy that’s been through a lot of hardships. To see him on the field today was very pleasing to see. He’s a really good leader. Our guys respond to him. Football is really important to him and because of the injuries even more so. It’s great to have him back out on the field. I’m really, really happy for him. […] I think he’s going to continue to improve I think he had some anxiety on the field today. But that’s natural, that’s expected, that’s normal. I know just watching the game from the field, I thought he played fast, I thought he played physical, I thought he played well. He was where he was supposed to be, he leveraged the ball well, tackled well, did a nice job on the one zone play – he came across the formation, made a really nice play. Very pleased with his performance. I think he’s just going to continue to get better. We need to monitor his snaps and his reps at practice. We’ve done a good job managing that and will continue to do so.”
» On redshirt junior fullback Gideon Ajagbe: “He’s done an outstanding job blocking, protecting, catching the football. He’ll throw his face in the fan. He’s a guy that’s really blossomed in the position.”
» Muschamp said Ajagbe started over junior Hunter Joyer because Joyer is still slowed by a hamstring and missed some repetitions in practice throughout the week. “As good a player we think Hunter is, we think Gideon is a good player as well.”
Sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries was the only player who noticeably left the field with an injury. After the game, Muschamp said that Humphries sprained his MCL but “should be fine” and there were no concerns going forward.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp was not pleased the Gators started slow offensively coming out of the half, noting that Florida practiced in the offseason stopping in the middle of practice, going into the locker room and trying to play fast when coming back outside. “Start of the third quarter offensively was disappointing, to go three-and-out those two consecutive series,” he said. “We didn’t [come out and play fast], so that was disappointing.”
» Muschamp on if Florida had a vanilla game plan: “We wanted to run the ball because of what they do offensively. We did not want to get into an 80-90 play deal. Obviously we were down some defensive players today and our game plan was basically to have possession of the ball offensively, to be able to run the ball effectively and to be able to take some shots down the field, and we missed a couple. We wanted to win the game, and I didn’t want to get into a situation where we’re playing 80-90 snaps in this heat and we were short some players defensively. We were trying to rotate only about 6-7 guys up front defensively. That’s not enough. Damien Jacobs was very questionable coming into the game. I didn’t know how many snaps he was going to give. Obviously Darious Cummings was suspended for the game.”
» Muschamp on if the 2013 defense can be as good as the 2012 unit: “That’s my expectation all the time. We’ve been good everywhere we’ve been.”
» Muschamp on putting the win in perspective with so many players injured/suspended: “Your job is to go win the game and do what you got to do to win the game and that’s what we did.”
» Muschamp on how much better the Gators can be with all the players back: “They always say your most improvement is from week one to week two, so we hope that adage continues.”
» Muschamp on if he feels any better about Florida’s ability to create explosive plays: “I’ve got a lot of confidence before today and even more so after today. Because when we’re able to run the ball that effectively, we’re going to create the explosives. And we’re going to create it with guys like Quinton Dunbar and Ahmad Fulwood – who made a great third-down catch and run – Demarcus Robinson. Those guys are all guys, the more they play, the better they’re going to get and the more positive steps we’ll make forward in our program with those guys making explosive plays. … I saw it all through camp against a pretty good defense.”
» Powell on registering a sack in his first football game in 20 months: “After getting the sack, it was just a feeling of we did it. I felt like we did it with the stunts we did up front and the things we called up front to put me in the position to get that sack. It was more like we did it than anything.”
» Powell on how well the Gators defense plays together: “This team and this unit that we have on defense and offense, but specifically the defense we’re talking about, guys are hungry, man. Guys appreciate each other and they want to play with each other, and they want to fly around with each other. Whatever the coaches draw up, everybody worries about their job. Ain’t no one selfish. That’s what you’re dealing with on this unit.”
» Powell on there being empty seats in the stands: “To be honest, it’s our job to fill ‘em up. The people that were here today are great Gator fans – and not to say the people that was unfortunate enough to not be able to come [aren’t] – but it’s up to us. They’ll see and those seats will be filled. It’s up to us.”