Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, offensive coordinator Brent Pease, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and a number of players spoke this week ahead of Saturday’s road game against the Kentucky Wildcats scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. from Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY, and air on ESPNU.
Below are some notes and quotes that fell through the cracks and did not make it into one of the 10 posts already published here on OnlyGators.com (see links).
Monday: Updated depth chart released | Muschamp talks injuries, rushers and more | Special teams not so special (exclusive)
Tuesday: QB Tyler Murphy focused on preparation, leadership
Wednesday: Muschamp updates injures; Steve Spurrier and Mark Stoops join him on SEC teleconference | Ousted Kentucky coach Joker Phillips making an impact at Florida | QB Jeff Driskel undergoes successful surgery | DT Dominique Easley out for the season (torn ACL)
Thursday: CB Vernon Hargreaves III making an early impact | Gators hope BUCK Dante Fowler, Jr. continues to dominate
GETTING THE RUNNING GAME GOING
The Gators are currently ranked 48th in rushing offense, averaging 199.7 yards per game. It’s not exactly where Florida wants to be at this point in the season, and the coaching staff has altered its approach on how carries will be divided up going forward. Rather than having sophomore running back Matt Jones automatically take the bulk of the carries, UF will go with the hot hand each game.
“We know what Matt is capable of and he’ll be fine. What he can’t do is get down on himself emotionally,” Pease said on Tuesday. “He’s still part of the game pan. You just got to understand you just go back and work harder. Kids think everything is always going to be perfect all the time. No, it isn’t. There’s ups and downs, peaks and valleys. What he did last year, he obviously worked himself where he was pretty consistent where he was at. … Now you’re an every-down guy so your expectation of execution is much higher on a play-to-play basis on consistency, performance. He’s fine. He’s a good player. He’ll be alright.”
In addition to giving more carries to redshirt junior Mack Brown, Florida wants to get freshman Kelvin Taylor more involved. Pease believes consistency is the main issue holding Taylor back from making an impact at this point.
“He’s a kid that has good quickness, good strength. He’s got good running instincts and abilities, so we want to try to get him in the flow on some things,” he said. “We got him in the other day. Based on the flow of the game, sometimes you want to get him more [involved]. But with some things we were running, Mack was doing a good job for us.”
Running backs coach Brian White sits next to Pease in the booth during games and usually has a “good feel of which kids are playing well,” so he will help determine who gets extra touches as the game progresses.
As far as junior defensive tackle Darious Cummings is concerned, Jones and Brown alone are already a dynamic duo that could take college football by storm as the season progresses. “Honestly, I feel like it’s the best duo in college football, to be honest. And then you got Kelvin Taylor that can come in and he can slash you sometimes too. I feel like once he gets going, the backfield is going to be crazy,” he said.
SENIOR WIDEOUT STEPPING UP
Senior wide receiver Solomon Patton admitted that he is excited to finally be getting his shot and making a lot of plays for the Gators. Patton, who totaled just 100 receiving yards and never caught a touchdown in more than 30 career games, already has 212 yards and two touchdown receptions on the season. He reiterated a statement made by Muschamp last week, confirming that it was up him to take charge of his career.
“Like Muschamp said, he asked me do I just want to be that type of guy or do I want to be a receiver, too? I came here to be a receiver and I took the role as a jet sweep guy. But obviously I wanted to play receiver. I just took exactly what he said to me and used it as motivation to do what I had to do,” he said.
SAFE AT SAFETY
The demotion of redshirt freshman Marcus Maye from starting safety to back-up was an obvious one considering the missed tackles he committed and big play he gave up against Miami on Sept. 7. Replacing him with senior Jaylen Watkins, an experienced and versatile defensive back, was another no-brainer.
“That’s a huge value to have on the back end. Not many guys can do that, to move from safety to cornerback to safety,” Durkin said. “There’s not many guys that can do that both understanding the defense and being able to play in it and having the ability level to do that. Having a guy like that is really a luxury.”
Though Maye was knocked down a team, he still saw plenty of action against Tennessee and registered an interception at the end of the game. Durkin noted that his confidence in Maye is unchanged, and he expects the player to do some big things throughout the rest of the season.
“Marcus will be fine. … His teammates and the coaching staff have all the confidence in the world in him,” he said. “Things happen in a game. You’re never going to play a perfect game. All we want from Marcus is to play really fast and not worry about making mistakes, because he’s going to make another one. Every guy on that defense is going to make another mistake at some point and more than one. … He’s a great kid and he’s really bought in to what we’re doing.”
Watkins, happy to be starting again, praised UF’s secondary for its ability to shift around both before and during games. Florida still had plenty of talent on the field despite playing with a banged-up unit last Saturday.
“It just shows how much depth we have and how we can count on each other to step up when somebody else goes out,” he said. Vernon [Hargreaves III] has been playing great. And when Loucheiz [Purifoy] went out, then I go back to corner. We got guys behind me that can play safety. So it’s not an issue for us when someone goes down.”
SECOND-RANKED DEFENSE CAN IMPROVE
Muschamp and Durkin demand perfection from their defense, this much has been known since the former took over the program and the latter was promoted to his new position. The duo discussed the extent of that desire over the course of the week.
“Any time you watch the tape, in my opinion, and you look at plays that you gave up because of eye control because of alignment, assignment, whatever the case may be, it’s one thing when you’re getting beat physically. It’s another thing when you’re getting beat on something that can be correctable,” Muschamp explained.
“That’s what I try to always point out to the players. ‘This is a correctable mistake. This is a mistake that…is this really because of what they did offensively or is it because of how we handled it defensively?’ I think our players understand those mistakes and the correctable mistakes that are made.
“If it’s a talent issue or a scheme issue, that’s on us. But when we give up a play because we don’t have our eyes in the right spot or we’re guessing on a route, those are things we need to correct and I think that’s what the players see.”
Durkin also wants to see greater consistency and noted that eye control was an issue prevalent in his film study as well. It has been a sticking point for the defense all season.
“Having your eyes in the right place gives you a chance but if your eyes aren’t in the right place, you’ll get out of position really fast. It’s a crucial part of playing defense. It’s something we talk about every day and talk about good and bad in practice,” he explained.
The players have bought into the coaches’ demand for perfection with Cummings noting that the defense can get much better if it locks things down.
“He expects, like, perfection. And if you can’t get it perfect, he expects you to go 100 percent,” he said of Muschamp. “He tells us to play hard and play fast and don’t worry about anything. And that’s the type of coach you want to play for, and that’s one of the reasons why I came here.
Muschamp admitted Monday that he will never be totally happy with a defensive performance no matter how many turnovers Florida registers or the number of points the Gators limit an opponent to scoring.
“No,” he said matter-of-factly. “I think, again, it’s something you sit down at the end of the year and you reflect on what you did well and what you didn’t do well. I know in this business how easy you can travel from the outhouse to the penthouse in a second or the outhouse to the penthouse in a second.”
Cummings explained that though Muschamp is demanding, the defensive players do get some appreciation from time to time. “We haven’t played a perfect game yet and that’s what he demands. He gives us a smile here and there, but he’s a good coach. He [smiles] every now and then,” he said.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Pease on returning to Kentucky, where he served as offensive coordinator from 2001-02: “I got a lot of friends there. Obviously I worked there. It’s a great place. I’ve gone back there to see…I always go back to horse races and I still got a couple close friends there that stay in touch with my family and my wife.”
» Pease on the best thing about Lexington: “The horse racing. Horse racing is awesome. It’s a great city though. It’s clean, atmosphere, beautiful countryside and stuff. I like the university. The university was a very pretty school and a good institution. The Rupp Arena, they had god players at the time when Tubby Smith was the coach.”
» Pease on Driskel’s mindset and recovery: “He’s a strong kid. I guess I look at it as one of my kids. I called him up. I felt bad after the game. He got out of there quick. He hurt his ankle and his leg, he didn’t want to be hearing a lot of things at the time. He’s growing up. He knows how to handle things like that. He knows it’s part of the game. Called up, make sure we understand what the next step is in what we’re going to do here in getting ready, getting healthy and still being around. But he’s mature. It’s not like he’s disappearing or he’s out of our plans or anything. It’s just communication like when he had his appendix, I was up there to check on him. It’s not just him but anybody, all of our kids. You kind of look at them just like your own kids.”
» Durkin on preparing for the Wildcats switching quarterbacks during the game: “I just think we have to be prepared for both. … I think both guys have maybe a different skill set but a strong skill set. They both look like they’re executing what they want them to do on offense. They’ve been able to move the ball and do well. We’re obviously watching to see who’s in there and what they like to do with each one. I think there are some similarities but there are also some differences.”
» Durkin on sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard: “He has shown improvement in every game. I think he’s gotten better and better as we’ve gone. That’s the mark of a good player and a guy that works hard at practice. I see him continuing that. He’s been very productive for us in what we’ve asked him to do. He’s a guy that’s had to play both inside and outside. Maybe sometimes that takes away a little bit from a guy production-wise, just having to know both positions and not feeing as comfortable. But i think you’re seeing now, he’s feeling better and better with it as we go. He’ll continue to do that – both play inside and outside – and that’s what our defense needs. He’s an unselfish guy and he embraces that and he’ll continue to get better.”
» Durkin on sophomore Mike linebacker Antonio Morrison: “I think Antonio has improved in every game. Obviously not playing in the first game, missing a part of camp. It’s a slower start for a guy than being involved from the get go. Antonio is a guy that practices hard every single day, prepares well in the meeting room. He’s really involved with watching film. He loves football and he loves preparing. He’ll continue to improve and get better and better. That’s what makes him a great player.”
» Watkins on what Murphy has shown him over the years: “Tyler was my roommate on campus. I’ve witnessed him put in work consistently, even being a third-string quarterback. He always prepared like his chance was going to come. That’s why it’s not surprising to everybody and we’ve seen him produce in practice. When Jeff was down in camp, he had a good camp. When he went in the game, nobody was scared or nobody was shocked at what he was doing.”
» Powell on how defensive line coach Brad Lawing has helped him improve: “He’s a good dude, a stern dude. He’s real smart. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s a little different from my position coach before, a guy like Dan Quinn. Altogether, we all have the same goal.”