The Florida Gators (6-4) took care of business, routing the Eastern Kentucky Colonels (9-3) on Senior Day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.
Florida’s 52-3 victory on Saturday got the Gators bowl-eligible for the first time since 2012 and also marked the second-largest win margin in any game under head coach Will Muschamp, who was able to leave The Swamp with his head held high.
BOWL GAME COACH CHOSEN
Moments after Florida’s win was finalized, the school announced that defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin would serve as interim head coach for the Gators’ bowl game this year. Durkin, the second-longest tenured member of the staff (five years) behind running backs coach Brian White (six years), will take the reigns of the program once Muschamp’s dismissal is finalized next Saturday, Nov. 29.
FINAL LESSON: A TOUGH WEEK, ROAD AHEAD
There should be no doubt that the entire Florida football team took Muschamp’s dismissal hard. Gators players spoke of him fondly on Monday after his press conference and were obviously playing with an extra gear on Saturday. Junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard even went so far as to write his coach’s last name on his eyeblack.
“I’ve just been through a lot and he’s been there for me,” Bullard said. “When I lost my grandmother, he was a big supporter; he let me go home as long as I needed. Just little things he did helping me through that whole situation, he’s just been a real good person to me. I respect him a lot, and actually, I love him. I just wanted to show some respect for him, everything he’s done for me, and show him that I appreciate it.”
Muschamp admitted Saturday that it took a while for Florida to get back in the swing of things this week. Monday’s practice was thwarted due to the weather; Tuesday the team looked “just OK” and did not show “great effort” on the field; and Wednesday was just “a little bit better.”
So Muschamp spent the Gators’ regularly-scheduled Thursday meeting speaking about much more than just the upcoming game but rather how Florida’s players need to deal with his dismissal and their futures going forward.
“I went through a situation when I played in college. I lost my coordinator and position coach after my junior year. I had walked on, I had earned a scholarship, I had earned a starting job. I was mad at the head coach; I was mad at everybody. I had earned my spot, I had earned my position, and I felt like, ‘Here I go again. I have to earn my spot all over again.’ The new position coach came in, it was a guy named Steve Dennis, I couldn’t stand him the first two weeks. And then you know what now? I still talk to the guy about once a month, and he’s a very close, loyal friend of mine,” Muschamp began.
“Sometimes change is good, and [the players] need to be very open to the change. I discussed my transition coming here, and it was hard because it was a divided locker room that had guys that didn’t want to buy into anything but what they wanted and how it affected them.
“I told them, they’re going to hire a really good coach. Jeremy [Foley]’s going to hire a good coach, so why don’t you give the guy a chance and buy in to what the guy’s trying to do instead of going through a total rocky road the first year where it’s miserable for everybody involved. Hopefully they’ll do that. They heard it from me. I told them that’s what they needed to do – they need to make good decisions moving forward. If they’re in a situation as a junior, they don’t need to just say, ‘I don’t want to play for a new staff.’ That’s ridiculous. You’re making a business decision, not a personal decision, when you do that. Buy in to what the guy’s trying to tell you. Give the guy an opportunity and buy into what he’s trying to do. That’s what they need to do.
“Thursday, for whatever reason, I had a couple of the questions asked. And then we went out there and I thought we had a very sharp Thursday. We knew we out-manned them. If we just stayed focused, we played with effort and we executed and we took care of the football, we’d win the game. These guys are all resilient. … When they hire the new guy, they’ll all come in here and talk about how wonderful he is and how great it is. That happens everywhere. What else are they going to say? We really don’t like the guy.’ No, they’re going to say how much they love the guy. That’s just part of it. That’s how these things go.”
Just like one of his players (see ‘Notes & Quotes’), Muschamp tried to be strong when asked how emotional Saturday’s game was for him. He denied it, though post-game pictures of he and his family tell a different story. “It’ll hit me when the season’s over. I’ve already switched gears to next week. That’s just what we do,” he said.
What speaks volumes about Muschamp is that he spent a large portion of his week not just getting his players prepared for their next game but also the next chapter in their lives. He is equally – if not more – concerned about their future as he is his own.
“We don’t have any control of what happened, but as players, we really appreciated what Coach Muschamp has done for us. We love playing for him and we love him as a person. It’s tough but at the end of the day, we’re happy that he came out of The Swamp with a big win,” said redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Freshman QB Treon Harris left Saturday’s game with a knee contusion, but the injury is not serious, according to Muschamp. Harris expected to be healthy and ready to start against Florida State next week. “It started swelling up on him. It was a good hit he took. It started to tighten up a bit, which is why he pulled him,” Muschamp said.
ANOTHER STARTER TURNING PRO?
Unlike classmate and junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who declared his intent to leave school early and enter the 2015 NFL Draft on Twitter last week, Bullard is taking a more measured approach to the process.
“It’s kind of up in the air. I haven’t really put too much to it. I’m not in a hurry to leave. I’m going to talk to Muschamp at the end of the season and go from there. Whatever he thinks that I should do, then I’mma do,” he said.
Bullard does plan to submit paperwork to the league in order to get a projection as to where he might be drafted if he does come out. Muschamp has instructed his players that, if they are not a sure-fire first-round pick, they should stay in school and continue to develop.
A couple of Gators did not listen to Muschamp’s suggestion last season – namely cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson – and neither was even selected in the draft. Bullard plans to heed Muschamp’s words and not overreact to the coach being dismissed, though he will certainly evaluate the situation and could definitely leave if he is considered a second-day pick. Considering he has come on strong over the latter half of the season, Bullard being given round 2-3 designation is certainly a possibility.
“I got to do what’s best for me, at the end of the day. I wish he was here to finish it out with me, but I’m going to take into consideration whatever he says. That’s who’s going to be who helps me decide what I’m going to do. I know he’s not going to edge me to go just because he’s leaving,” Bullard said.
SENIOR / POTENTIAL DEPARTURE EVALUATIONS
» Muschamp on redshirt senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar: “Quinton had a couple touchdowns there, so that was good for him getting him back in the fold. … [He’s] a guy that continued to improve. Came in here, wasn’t real sure his redshirt freshman year of how far he would help us, went through some tough times, some tough times at home but continued to battle, continued to fight. I think he’s one of the more improved guys. And then he sets into some adversity, he didn’t produce very much, he got benched midseason and then took advantage of his opportunity there at Vanderbilt when Ahmad [Fulwood] went down and did a nice job. He’s a guy that continued to work.”
» Muschamp on Driskel, who played well in extended action: “Jeff’s certainly capable. We’ve struggled a little bit with Treon throwing the ball. We just have. He threw a really nice corner route to Demarcus [Robinson], Treon did, beautiful throw and Demarucs made a fantastic play on the ball. Good deep ball there to Quinton. But Jeff is certainly capable of playing extremely well. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. Unfortunately we went through a stretch there where we just didn’t take care of the ball at the position and we didn’t move the ball consistently enough and we’ve had some success going in another direction. But I have all the confidence that Jeff, given the opportunity, will perform well.”
» Muschamp on redshirt senior WR Michael McNeely’s touchdown: “That was big. Mike’s been a guy that’s done a fantastic job for us on special teams. Everybody points to the fake against Georgia, but he’s been a really good cover guy for us on punt on kickoff, kickoff return he does a great job.
» Muschamp on senior defensive tackle Darious Cummings: “Darious has really played well this year. He plays square on blocks, he plays with his hands extremely well, he leverages blocks very well. He has really had a good year. He has really helped himself for the next level based on a lot of the information I’m getting on the way he’s played, how he’s handled himself.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp on all of the trick plays EKU tried to run Saturday: “This is what they do. They’re a multiple formation punt team. They motion and shift every down. It’s a new bag of tricks every single game, so we just told our guys to be ready for whatever comes up. … I’m pleased with how we responded to those deals.”
» Muschamp, laughing, on having two 100+ yard receivers in the same game for the first time in his career: “Yeah, I waited four years for that to happen.”
» Redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor on Muschamp and Senior Day in The Swamp: “It was both of our last days. I didn’t get emotional. I didn’t shed a tear, I promise I didn’t. Now it puts kind of a perspective on things. You’re not going to play in The Swamp no more. You look at it and you’re like, ‘Dang, what happened to all the time?’ You just have to move forward; as life goes on, you have to progress as a person. I didn’t cry. I promise you, I didn’t cry. I promise you. I had to keep Mack Brown from crying, so I promise you I didn’t cry, I swear.”
» Redshirt sophomore defensive end Alex McCalister on Florida’s performance: “You always want to send the seniors off right, especially Andre Debose being here forever, of course I want him to have a win.”