Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Wednesday to provide some additional thoughts on Florida’s first loss (on the road at Alabama) and the Gators’ upcoming road contest against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday at noon.
Two days after initially listing him as questionable, Muschamp ruled freshman running back Brandon Powell (hamstring) as out for his second-straight game. Redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Orr (kneee) was previously listed as inactive by Muschamp, and redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor (knee) may join him if he is unable to put together a full practice before the team leaves for Knoxville, Tennessee.
While the Gators may be without two defensive starters on Saturday, they will be getting back a starting offensive lineman in junior left tackle D.J. Humphries. Muschamp said Humphries “looked great” in practice on Tuesday and should be full-go for Saturday.
REPAIRING A DAMAGED SECONDARY
Florida’s secondary has been bad through its first three games of 2014. How bad? The Gators are ranked 110th nationally in passing yards allowed per game (287.7)…and that’s with the team giving up just 45 yards through the air to Eastern Michigan.
Remove that EMU game and UF has allowed 409.0 yards passing yards per game and 17.4 yards per completion over its last two contests. Stunning, huh?
So when Muschamp was asked what is wrong with Florida – and more specifically, his defense – he was on-point to note that it was not quarterback play or pass rush.
“Secondary. We haven’t played very well. We haven’t communicated. We’ve given up too many big plays,” he said matter-of-factly on Wednesday.
“We’ve played blocks well up front; we’ve played well enough up front. We need to get more pressure with four guys rushing. But our linebackers have hit the runs well and done some nice things in coverage and pressures and things, but we have not played well enough in the secondary. We’re looking for different combinations of guys, and we’re going to continue to do that. Guys have to go out and communicate and do things the right way.”
Durkin broke it down further Wednesday afternoon.
“Obviously we just got to get back to getting our eyes in the right place, back to technique and fundamentals in the back end. The blown coverages and the big plays, you can’t survive as a defense when you do that. Obviously now we’ve had a couple of those.”
The Gators have given up passing touchdowns of 60, 33, 25, 87 and 79 yards over their last two games. Juxtaposed to last year, when Florida’s offense played so poor that the onus was placed on the defense to win games, this season the Gators’ defense is struggling so badly that the offense is being forced to try and atone for the mistakes of the other side of the ball.
The problem? Florida’s 2014 offense is nowhere near as talented as the team’s 2013 defense, though it is as experienced with veterans at every single position.
“I think it’s a matter of experience, and from my standpoint as a coach and the coaching staff, we got to do a better job of making things a little simpler for them and making sure that doesn’t happen. I know we’re talented enough. We got guys that are willing and ready to compete. We just got to make sure we’re in the right spots,” said Durkin.
“We play some good teams. Some guys are going to make some plays against us. That’s fine. That’s always going to be the case. But we’ll win more than we’re going to lose if we’re in the right spots to make the plays.”
While the Gators’ coaching staff spent the last two weeks moving players around in the secondary to find the best combination of starters, the unit coming together on the field in a raucous environment is something that will have to be seen in order to be believed.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp on the offense’s struggles, including those of redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel: “He’s forced some balls. … He’s had a bunch of drops; we’ve had over 10 drops at the receiver position. We have a couple drops at the tight end position. Our protection has been good. But we’ve had our opportunities, and it’s not all on Jeff. We’ve got to do a better job as an entire offense executing. certianly Jeff is a part of that.”
» Muschamp on whether Florida’s confidence has been shaken: “I think we’re confident. I think that we’ve had good prep in the open week, and I think we’ve had good preparation through this week, and your preparation builds confidence in what you do. You go back and what I’ve tried to do is look at from fall camp up until this point of the positive things that we’ve done, you know? It’s obvious a lot of negativity surrounds us here. I think our guys have seen that and understand the type of football team we can have when we put it together and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
» Durkin believes the Gators’ young defense got “wide-eyed” against Alabama and was unable to bounce back after giving up some big plays, whereas more experienced players are able to rebound and get off the field on the next series. “I think they’re ready to go,” Durkin said of his defense.