Updated at 2:45 p.m.
Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators (2-1, 1-1 SEC) met with the media for the first time this week on Wednesday with his team currently in the middle of its first off week of the 2014 season. He discussed issues on both sides of the ball and updated Florida’s injury list 10 days ahead of the program’s next game on Oct. 4 at Tennessee.
The Gators could be without two starting defensive front seven players next week as redshirt seniors defensive tackle Leon Orr (meniscus) and linebacker Michael Taylor (knee swelling) were both listed as questionable by Muschamp on Wednesday. Orr had a knee scope on Monday and has a minor tear in his meniscus (along with a bone bruise), though Muschamp said he was walking around on Tuesday and looked to be recovering well. Taylor is dealing with a bothersome bone bruise as well.
Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries (ankle) remains on track to return to practice on Monday and play next week after missing two games, Muschamp said, though he is not the only banged-up offensive lineman the trainers are keeping track of during the off week. Redshirt senior Chaz Green and senior Trenton Brown, who both suffered ankle injuries against Alabama, are “going to be fine” and were listed as probable for next Saturday.
The Gators are also dealing with injuries to two of their running backs. Junior Mark Herndon tore his ACL during a kickoff on Saturday and will be out for the season. Freshman Brandon Powell tweaked his hamstring during an unspecified practice and will likely be sidelined for a couple more days.
Muschamp also clarified Wednesday what injury sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was dealing with on Saturday, noting that Hargreaves was dealing with a bruised Achilles that swelled up on him after it had been kicked previously.
THE BEST OPPORTUNITY TO WIN
Muschamp stuck to his guns on Wednesday, once again reiterating that redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel gives Florida “the best opportunity to win right now.”
That’s not to say Muschamp did not sit down with Driskel after the Alabama game and let him know, matter-of-factly that ne needs to play better. While that may be the case – Muschamp pointed out that Driskel “pressed and forced some throws into coverage,” needs to take some check downs and must play better overall – he also pointed out that not everything that happened Saturday was completely Driskel’s fault.
“Jeff needs to play better, and I think he’d be the first person to tell you that. I thought he forced 4-5 balls where in some situations you check the ball down or you take the ball somewhere else,” he began.
“[His wide receivers also] had four drops that I thought were all critical downs, especially the second or third series of the game. You got a third-down conversion, the ball’s on the money and you got to catch the ball. The wheel route to Andre [Debose], you got to catch the ball. The seam ball to Latroy [Pittman, same thing]. We got four drops. That’s hard. We had three other situations where we didn’t run the route at the correct distance. … So, Jeff throws the ball and it looks like it’s an errant throw; it’s really on the receiver in three other situations.
“But I do think he pressed on some balls that he probably shouldn’t have, trying to make something happen. I thought he made a great throw to Latroy on the first drive; their player made an outstanding play to come across and knock him out of bounds. But Latroy caught the ball. You couldn’t have thrown it any better. The deep ball to Demarcus [Robinson], Demarcus needs to go get that, in my opinion. But Jeff needs to play better, he understands that. He certainly forced some things that we can’t afford to do, and especially on two of the interceptions.”
While Muschamp gave no indication that he has even considered replacing Driskel as UF’s starting signal caller, he did praise freshman second-stringer Treon Harris and indicated that there may very well be some opportunities for him to get in the game and make an impact beginning in two weeks.
“[Treon Harris] continues to improve and continues to do some nice things – game \by game, give him some opportunities. We’d like to have him have some snaps, depending on the situation in the game,” he said. “I have all the confidence in the world in Treon. When he has his opportunity, he’ll play well.”
Former Gators running back Emmitt Smith, a Pro Football Hall of Fame member and one of the best players in school history, ripped Driskel on Saturday via his Twitter account.
“Put Jeff Driskel on the bench please, I have seen enough,” Smith wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted.
Though many fans may agree with the premise of Smith’s tweet, he never should have sent it in the first place. It is one thing to be critical of the team, but a legend like Smith calling out a young player in public like that carries much more weight and consequence than he likely intended.
Smith apparently admitted as much to Muschamp and Driskel.
“Emmitt called to apologize – to me, to Jeff Driskel and our football team. He was frustrated. He wants us to win. He wants us to be successful,” Muschamp said on Wednesday.
“He’s a great Gator. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. And I appreciate Emmitt calling and saying the things he said, I really do. He’s a class individual, and he’s about all the right things.”
NO ONE IS SAFE
Florida’s secondary has been terrible over the last two games, giving up 899 yards and seven touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks. Anyone with a set of eye balls can see that the Gators need to make significant changes in the defensive backfield, and Muschamp appears to be well-aware of that.
“Extremely disappointed – two games in a row of giving up the big plays we’ve given up defensively. We’ve got to get some things tied together better on the back end, that’s the bottom line,” he said. “We’ve just got to tie some things together on the back end, play better with our eyes, better with assignments, urgency to our line, get where we need to get.
“We’re looking at a lot of different guys in different spots – can’t continue to do the same things. … The mistakes we’ve made in some situations back there are inexcusable. It’s on me. We’ll get it fixed. We’re going to work through it. [I] haven’t been through this before very often, I can tell you that, but [it’s] extremely frustrating.”
Florida lost four starting defensive backs – Loucheiz Purifoy, Cody Riggs, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins – from the 2013 season. Three are currently on NFL rosters, the other is starting for Notre Dame after transferring as a graduate student.
The biggest issue looks to be with UF’s safeties, where sophomore Keanu Neal continuously gets turned around and senior Jabari Gorman keeps blowing coverages.
“Disappointed with Jabari [as] he missed some tackles in some situations; you just can’t do that. He got beat against Kentucky; those things can’t happen, so we need to move forward and just improve the play, improve the urgency in the group to understand the expectations and how we’ve played here.”
But Muschamp appears to be even more disappointed with the play of junior Brian Poole or redshirt sophomore Marcus Maye in the slot, and he is considering using some younger players to push the veterans and potentially take the job long-term.
“I think that Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson continue to improve at corner. We need to give him some more opportunities. Duke Dawson is a guy that athletically we’re bringing on as quickly as we can,” he said.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On how he feels about the Gators after Saturday’s game: “I think we have a very good football team. We didn’t always play that way or coach that way on Saturday and that falls on my shoulders to get it fixed. That’s what we plan on doing. I feel as confident as I did before the Alabama game about this team and where we are.”
» Muschamp said UF will spend a lot of time working on third downs this week with first-string players going up against each other. “[Giving up] big plays defensively, you can’t afford to do that on the road. Execution offensively and third down really hurt us on both sides of the ball. We need to do a better job.”
» Alabama QB Blake Sims dominated Florida on Saturday, but Muschamp chalked a lot of his success up to UF’s own failures. “We didn’t do a whole lot. We stuck on defense, so we didn’t defend very well. But you got to give him credit, too. He made some throws. .. You give him credit. His legs definitely hurt us in the game, there’s no question.”
» Muschamp said the Gators are looking at using Powell in the slot in order to take advantage of his speed.
» On how redshirt freshman OT Roderick Johnson played on Saturday: “He played extremely well. He’s a very good athlete and has handled himself, other than getting a little excited in the Kentucky game on the goal line, he has really handled himself extremely well. He has played well. … There’s no question Rod is playing good football for us.”
» On how well the offensive line has played as a whole: “I’ve been very encouraged, not surprised I wouldn’t say, by how we’ve played up front. I felt like we had some talented guys.”
» On his evaluation of Florida’s pass rush through three games: “It’d be nice to get more rush. Right now, I feel like that Dante [Fowler Jr.] has been very effective. Jon Bullard has been very effective from an inside rush standpoint. And past that, we have not been very effective. We need to give Alex McCallister more opportunities to rush on the edge. Most of the pressure we’ve been able to generate is with five guys rushing, so our four-man pass rush needs to improve.”
» On whether the Alabama game has affected recruiting for 2015: “I think guys look at the total body of work, how they’ve been recruited by a school. I think it goes a lot further than wins and losses. Obviously, winning helps. I’m going to say that it doesn’t, but again, I think it’s a total body of work and those sorts of things in recruiting. I think there’s a lot of factors that go in and all situations are not the same.”
» On whether he told offensive coordinator Kurt Roper certain plays to call on Saturday: “I didn’t interject at all. We talked about going some tempo. We had the plan to go into the game. We weren’t playing well defensively.”
» On Florida’s first defensive play of the game and what exactly happened: “We put Antonio [Morrison] in a bad situation to start the game. Bottom line, he shouldn’t have been in that situation. That’s on me, and we should’ve been rolling over top of [Amari] Cooper. That’s what we had planned in those situations based on that formation and based on that call and we didn’t. … The frustrating part I have is those are things we had practiced and we had gone over but obviously we didn’t go over them enough and that falls on my shoulders.”