Every few moments while the clock was ticking down on Saturday, between hugs and smiles on the sideline, the expression on the face of Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp visibly changed. As excited he was to win his first Florida-Georgia rivalry game in eight tries (four as a Bulldogs player, four as the Gators’ coach), as revealed as he felt to not have to worry about his job status on Sunday, Muschamp knew deep down that something was missing from his team’s 38-20 victory.
“I’m just really happy,” he said in his post-game press conference. “I wish my father was here; that’s what I thought about late in the game.”
Larry Muschamp, who passed away in May, would have been proud of Will and his Florida football team on Saturday afternoon.
Had he been able to watch the game, the father would have seen a group of young men completely buying into his son’s game plan, rallying around his son when he needed their support the most and subsequently working their tails off to ensure that the Gators ended their three-game losing streak to the Bulldogs and Will Muschamp remained their coach for at least one more week.
“It’s a big win [not only] for him but for all of us. I feel the same way Muschamp feels. I never beat Georgia neither. It’s my first time beating them, too, so I’m ecstatic,” said junior left tackle D.J. Humphries.
“I’m happy Champ got a ‘W’ and we were with him; we helped him take it all the way through. I’m so happy for Champ, man. I feel like he’s a part of our team just like I feel like the rest of the guys that line up with me. I feel like that’s a father figure for me, so I was happy for him.”
The stress and pressure was visibly lifting off Muschamp’s shoulders as Florida (4-3, 3-3 SEC) piled on the points and the clock ticked closer to zero. Unsuccessful runs were met with a shrug – rather than a hand over the face – and questionable penalty calls received a disappointed look and a shake of the head – rather than a rage face and a screaming fit.
Once he left the EverBank Field playing surface – following an extended celebration with his players – and finished up in the locker room, Muschamp was pleased to do something he usually dreads – meet with the media.
“First of all, let me get this off my back,” he quipped upon entering the room, referring to his finally being on the winning side of the rivalry game.
He later added: “I’m happy to win it. It feels a lot better than the other side. I don’t think they’re going to induct me into the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame or anything. I’m not sure I’m on the ballot now.”
Muschamp then got the opportunity to discuss something other than his job status, what actually occurred on the field: the Gators playing the exact brand of blue-collar football he envisioned when deciding to return home to Gainesville, Florida.
His team was dominant running the ball, taking 60 total carries for 418 yards and five rushing scores. It was equally devastating defensively, basically eliminating the Bulldogs’ rushing attack from the second quarter on while getting consistent pressure on the quarterback throughout the contest.
That’s why, as much as Saturday was an important day for Muschamp both personally and professionally, he stayed true to himself and gave his players all the credit for doing everything necessary to prove they were the better team.
“Just extremely proud of our football team and how they came out and performed,” he began. “For the guys to pull together to show – against a good football team, a top 10 football team – to come together and understand what’s at stake as far as our season’s concerned, as far as three-[losses]-in-a-row, as far as sending our seniors out the right way, all of the things that are really critical and really important about this rivalry, and our guys understood it. We were able to make the plays when we needed to in the game. …
“Very happy for our players in understanding what we needed to do to be successful in the game and that was dominate both lines of scrimmage, try to stop the run … Just extremely proud of our players, I really am. And I’m really happy for our fans; the Gator Nation gets to sit and enjoy that. It was great to see our side still full at the end. For our fans to be able to enjoy and bask in that, I’m really happy for that as well. And I really appreciate their support.”
In the end, no matter how well a team plays in a game, there is no such thing as a perfect performance. Similarly, despite the fact that Florida dominated Saturday’s contest and got the team, its players, its fans and Muschamp the win that was so desperately needed, it was not a perfect day for the head coach.
Nothing accomplished on the field could have made it such, because something more important was missing off of the gridiron.
“You can imagine how tough it is.”
Photo Credit: Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press