Anyone that watched the sloppy offensive performance put forth by the No. 9/12 Florida Gators (1-1) on Saturday was aware that the team squandered multiple opportunities to put points on the board and assist a defense that struggled early in the first quarter but was stout for the vast majority of the game.
Head coach Will Muschamp would certainly agree, but he was not about to let the defense off the hook for the way it played early in Saturday’s 21-16 loss to the No. 24 Miami Hurricanes (2-0).
“Disappointed early. I thought we gave them way too much momentum and belief early in the game. I thought we should’ve played much better early in the game. Very disappointed with the first two series,” he said.
“Alignment, communication, assignment – you name it, we didn’t do it very well in the first two series. We got very discombobulated, in my opinion, defensively.”
Florida gave up 21 points on Saturday, only the third time in the last 16 games under Muschamp that the Gators defense allowed that at least that many points in a contest.
Of those 21 points, Miami scored 14 off a pair of Florida turnovers.
UM quarterback Stephen Morris led a nine-play, 50-yard touchdown drive after UF sophomore running back Matt Jones fumbled the ball on the game’s opening series.
Canes running back Duke Johnson ran for a two-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter after Gators junior QB Jeff Driskel was sacked by linebacker Tyriq McCord and fumbled the ball at UF’s four-yard line.
Muschamp was displeased with Miami’s initial touchdown drive but even more upset that Florida gave up a long touchdown on the Hurricanes’ third offensive possession, which came right the Gators had capitalized on a timely punt block.
Morris led Miami on a six-play, 84-yard drive that was capped by a 52-yard touchdown pass to WR Phillip Dorsett, who beat Florida redshirt freshman safety Marcus Maye down the middle of the field.
“The big play should not have been there. We should’ve made that play,” Muschamp explained. “We repped and practiced over and over again something that they’ve done very well since they’ve been here. Certainly we prepared for it. That was disappointing.”
After coughing up that touchdown, the Gators defense solidified. Florida dominated the line of scrimmage and was tight in coverage, holding Miami to -10 yards combined on its next five full offensive drives. At one point, the Canes gained positive yardage (one yard) just once over a span of 10 plays.
Eventually, UF let UM move the ball 50 yards on a drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters, but Miami was still forced to punt the ball back. The Hurricanes’ next two drives resulted in an interception by freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and -7 yards on three plays. Then Driskel fumbled.
The Gators defense held once again to give the offense once more chance, forcing the home team into a three-and-out on its final offensive drive of the game.
“I thought we rebounded and came back and played through some adversity and tough deals,” Muschamp said.
Though he agreed that UF’s defense kept the team in Saturday’s game, he also said it was their “job” to do so and he expects that from the unit at all times.
It was just the fourth time in Muschamp’s 28-game tenure at Florida – and the second time since the start of the 2012 season – that the Gators coughed up two first-quarter touchdowns. UF is 1-3 in those games.
“Regardless of the situation, they need to play well,” he said. “We expect that. I was just very disappointed in how we started the game.”
He added: “At the end of the day, we gave them too much momentum. We gave them belief early in the game defensively. And that’s what they needed. We gave them what they needed early in the game and that’s on our defense.
“We didn’t play worth a dang to start the game.”