“It’s not one thing, I don’t think. I don’t think you can put your finger on it and say, ‘This is it.’”
That’s Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp on Saturday responding to a question about what his team needs to do to get over the hump and become a legitimate contender in the Southeastern Conference in the near future.
And that answer is precisely his problem.
There is not only one thing wrong with Florida.
It’s not just the fact that the Gators have suffered arguably the worst string of injuries in the nation.
It’s not only that Florida is ineffective offensively and on its way to being one of the nation’s worst offenses for the third-straight season.
It’s not solely that the Gators continue to commit an obscene number of penalties each week, miscues that often play a deciding factor in whether UF wins the game.
And it’s not even the fact that Florida has been failing in areas that Muschamp claimed would be pillars of his program – winning at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, running the football with great success, getting off the field on defensive third downs and ending games by maintaining possession and playing keep away.
The problem, in fact, is that there is so much wrong with the Gators three years into Muschamp’s tenure that no one could legitimately expect him to go so far as to point out a singular issue.
There are simply too many of them.
That being said, not every trouble Florida is currently facing falls squarely on Muschamp’s shoulders.
Most of the Gators injuries, apparently, are of the non-contact variety. Torn anterior cruciate ligaments and labrums can be freak occurrences.
Florida was not left with a full cupboard of offensive playmakers when Urban Meyer departed, and only three of the nine offensive commitments from the 2011 recruiting class – junior quarterback Jeff Driskel being the lone playmaker – are currently on the roster. The Gators did not do well offensively from a recruiting standpoint in 2012 either, but Muschamp’s 2013 and 2014 classes look to be supremely talented on the offensive side of the ball, which is a refreshing occurrence.
Also, if Muschamp’s research staff is to be trusted, UF’s penalty problems are not a three-year issue but rather more than a two decade-long concern.
“In the last 24 years, the University of Florida, we’ve led the SEC in penalties 20 out of 24 – either first or second. That’s long before I got here, so it’s interesting, but it is what it is,” he said after Saturday’s loss.
But while those facts undoubtedly put some of Florida’s struggles in necessary perspective, it remains the responsibility of a head coach to find the correct medicine for each headache he encounters over the course of a season.
The Gators offense struggled in a similar manner in 2010, but then-head coach Urban Meyer used the bye week before the annual showdown with the Bulldogs to employ a three-quarterback offense that beat Georgia 34-31 in overtime and scored 55 points the following week at Vanderbilt.
UF was suddenly one win away from a third-straight trip to the SEC Championship, but a meeting with South Carolina squashed the complete turnaround.
While Muschamp’s Gators made in-game adjustments a hallmark of their success in 2012, Florida has not made any noticeable changes during its three-game losing streak. UF started the UGA game playing as bad – if not worse – as it had been over the last few weeks and closed the contest in the same manner.
Muschamp is not an idiot. He has a great football mind and is incredibly passionate about the game that has enveloped his life. He’s also one of the best defensive coaches in the nation, gets along with his players and appears to be one hell of a recruiter.
But coaching is more than Xs and Os and both building and maintaining relationships. It’s about rolling with the punches, putting together the best possible staff, and ensuring your fan base is both entertained and enthusiastic.
It’s also about eliminating problematic areas one-by-one and making drastic changes, when necessary, to put your team in the best possible position to win games.
And right now, Muschamp is failing mightily in that charge.