Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators (2-1, 1-1 SEC) met with the media on Monday as his team begins preparations for the Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 SEC). Florida will look to extend its nine-game winning streak against Tennessee on Saturday at noon when the Vols will host the Gators at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.
While Florida’s injury issues are nowhere near as bad as they were in 2013, the team is certainly dealing with some injured Gators one-quarter of the way through the season.
Redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Orr (meniscus) will be sidelined for Saturday’s game as expected, though Muschamp hopes he will be able to return against LSU. Junior Jonathan Bullard will take many of his snaps on the interior.
Florida’s defense may also be without redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor (knee swelling), who is listed as “questionable-to-doubtful” this week. Freshman running back Brandon Powell (hamstring), who has not played since the opener against Eastern Michigan, received a similar designation from Muschamp on Monday.
There is good news for the Gators offensive line, however, as junior left tackle D.J. Humphries (ankle) is expected to return to practice Monday and play on Saturday. Additionally, senior Trenton Brown (ankle) should be good to go on Saturday; Muschamp hopes to see an up-tick in performance when he gets back out on the field.
Humphries’s absence provided redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson a big-time opportunity to start at tackle, and he made the most of it against Alabama. Though Muschamp has Humphries and redshirt senior right tackle Chaz Green penciled in as starters against Tennessee, Johnson could potentially unseat Green if he has a great week of practice.
OPENING STATEMENT / TENNESSEE EVALUATION
“We had a good off week. We started with them on Thursday, had a good fundamental practice Tuesday and Thursday, got some recruiting done last week, got a good start. I think it all starts offensively with Justin Worley. I think he’s playing very well, completing over 60 percent of his passes, averaging about 250 yards a game. They’re really improved themselves at the receiver position Marquez North and Jason Croom. … Pig Howard’s a slot guy that’s also played the X and made a ton of plays for them. … They have some new faces up front offensively, but certainly the strength of their team lies in their skill people and the quarterback position.
“Defensively, third down they’ve gotta be leading the country. They’ve got about three conversions in the last two weeks, two against Oklahoma and one last week, so they’ve done a nice job of getting off the field on third down, which has been an issue for us offensively and defensively on both sides, which we worked on a lot on in open week. Hopefully we’ve made some progress there. They’re led by A.J. Johnson, who’s a really good football player, instinctive, tough he’s around the ball a lot. He’s played a lot of football for them. Curt Maggitt’s a good football player. Cameron Sutton has really caught my eye he’s a corner, a guy that runs extremely well makes nice plays on the ball but they’re very good on special teams.”
FEELING THE SUPPORT
Gators fans may be down in the dumps about Florida’s play – and Muschamp’s coaching – but athletic director Jeremy Foley came to his coach’s defense once again last week, promising to give Muschamp the full 2014 season before making any type of decision about his status with the program.
That means a lot to the embattled coach.
“Well, certainly, it’s positive. I appreciate that,” Muschamp said on Monday. “I’m really concerned with what happens in the building. Those are the things that concern me the most, as our football team and what we need to do to continue to approve and get better. I certainly appreciate it.”
With that, Muschamp is adamant that UF’s loss to Alabama was just a speed bump and not a rail deterring the team from its mission this season. He also scoffed at the notion that the UT contest, in particular, is a “must-win” match-up.
“All the goals are still there, got a lot of football to play. Everything’s out in front of us. Let’s go get it. They’re all must-wins. When has it ever changed? I mean, really.”
PRIMARY FOCUS: SECONDARY
Muschamp was adamant after the Gators’ last game and during the off week that changes will likely be coming to Florida’s secondary ahead of its next contest.
Asked what those adjustments would be on Monday, he did not have much in the way of specifics:
“We’re still working through that right now. Brian [Poole]’s repping some in the nickel. Duke Dawson’s repping some at the safety position. You know, between Jalen [Tabor] and Quincy [Wilson] at corner, trying to find the right combination there and continuing to rep Marcus [Maye] in the nickel and at safety as well. Keanu Neal has done a nice job with some things, and Jabari [Gorman]…we’re just continuing to find the right combination. We’ve got a whole week of practice this week, so we’ll make those decisions probably the latter part of the week, probably Friday or Saturday.”
Muschamp deflected an opportunity to put some blame on UF’s pass rush for giving the secondary too much time to make mistakes, noting that their failures were their own fault in the last two games.
“The best pass defense in America’s a [good pass] rush, so that’s something you like to have a lot better handle of, but I would put more of the onus on the secondary not playing well at times and being able to cover down in some situations,” he said. “Because to get some more rush at times but we’ve had our opportunities and we need to play better in the secondary.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On senior punter Kyle Christy returning to form: “When he’s able to flip the field the way he can, he certainly is a huge weapon for us. I think more than anything [it has been his] confidence. I think the issue is his confidence got shook a little bit last year. I think Coleman Hutzler has done a really good job fundamentally with him as far as getting back to the basics as opposed to trying to tweak and change his swing every time something didn’t go right. You just got to get back to the basics and fundamentals when things aren’t going well. His drop was an issue last year. That’s what hurt him in some situations where he didn’t punt the ball well, and then he pressed a little bit in some situations and he got to where you lose confidence in what you’re trying to do. I think he’s got his confidence back as far as punting the ball.”
» On whether the SEC East is better than experts say: “I think so, but you listen to the ESPN folks, they don’t think so. But that’s all right; I don’t really listen to them anyways. I think there’s good football teams in this league. I think there’s a lot of parity in college football. I don’t think there’s a lot of division between a lot of different people in college football right now. And on any given day, you got to go play well. You got to go execute on offense, on defense, on special teams. You got to take care of the ball. You got to do all those things to have success right now. … Every team matches up a little differently against other teams.”
» On whether he is hearing “Rocky Top” in his head: “Hopefully [the song won’t there] very long, that means they’re not playing it very much. We hear it in practice every day. We’ve got to listen to that. [I was] humming it walking in, I can tell you that.”
» There are no changes coming to Muschamp’s plan for Florida’s kickers, as he reiterated Monday that redshirt senior Frankie Velez will handle all field goals from 42 yards and closer, while redshirt sophomore Austin Hardin and his stronger (but still inaccurate) leg will take care of field goals from 43-50 yards out. “The order of that has to do with who’s kicked well throughout the week. Those guys have really been very close in their competition in what they’ve done. So, there’s nothing that wouldn’t say Austin could kick all the time in all situations,” he noted.