Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators (6-4) held his last regularly-scheduled Monday press conference in order to discuss his team’s upcoming game against the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles (11-0) on Saturday afternoon at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida.
OPENING STATEMENT ON FLORIDA STATE
“One of the great rivalries in all of college football. Got a really good football team. We got tremendous respect for [head coach] Jimbo [Fisher] and the job he’s done, and his staff deserves a lot of credit for the games they’ve won. They won a bunch of games in a row. Last time they lost was when the Gators were up there. They’ve done an outstanding job. They’ve got a very good team in all three phases.
“Offensively, really with their team starts with Jameis Winston. He’s a great player, a Heisman Trophy winner. Arm talent, he can throw it any way you want it. He’s just got a great, strong arm. He’s able to throw the touch throws, take the ball to the right spots. He’s got a great pocket presence. He’s a very hard guy to tackle in the pocket. You’ve got to tackle him high. Great toughness for the position, you see the guy take some shots. He’s got a bad ankle, he keeps battling, he keeps playing and keeps playing. At the end of the game, he’s won a bunch of games for them, especially this year putting the game on his shoulders and winning the football game. Tremendous respect for him. …
“Looking forward to going to Tallahassee. Our guys will prepare well. Our guys look forward to this game every year and it ought to be a great atmosphere and environment.”
ONE LAST HURRAH
One of the biggest criticisms of Muschamp during his Florida tenure was his inability to win rivalry games. Well, despite being dismissed as the Gators’ head coach two weeks ago, Muschamp will have the opportunity on Saturday to complete the trifecta of beating all three of Florida’s rivals in a single season for the first time in his career.
Perhaps the Gators will be able to build on their last trip to Tallahassee, a 37-26 win over the Seminoles in 2012, for some motivation this Saturday.
“We still got a lot of guys on the team that went up there. It was a great game, they had an outstanding football team, and we played well, got out to a fast start in the game. It’s going to be critical for us there, take care of the football. We did that, we were able to run the ball, and I think that’s something that we’re going to need to be able to do come Saturday,” recalled Muschamp. “But there’s no question that we’ve been a pretty good road team as far as handling ourselves on the road and that certainly is a very SEC-like atmosphere there in Tallahassee.”
Trailing 20-13 at the end of the third quarter two years ago, Florida scored 24-straight fourth-quarter points to ultimately edge Florida State 37-26. It was also Muschamp’s first victory over Fisher, whom he coached with for four years under Nick Saban at LSU. The fact that he will be playing his close friend in his final game as coach of his hometown team is not lost on Muschamp, though he said it will not be a factor on Saturday.
“It doesn’t really change for me. It’s preparation – it’s a good football team. You turn on the tape and you don’t get real emotional. I can tell you that they’ve got a good team. When the game starts, it’s the game. You enjoy the competition,” he said. “I stood on the sidelines in Baton Rouge with Jimbo [Fisher] for four or five years, for a long time. We won a national championship together. I enjoy that competition, as I know he does as well.”
As far as the players go, Muschamp said no additional motivation is needed. Another criticism Muschamp has faced as coach of the Gators has been teaching his players to have a “the most important game is the next game” mentality, never putting additional focus or energy on a rivalry opponents. He also said that he did not plan to change that policy this week, though if the way Florida got up for Georgia a few weeks ago was any indication, perhaps that’s something he’s hiding from the public.
“They don’t need fireworks to get ready for this one. They’ll be ready to go. Our guys are excited about this game,” he said. “Our guys aren’t dumb. They turn the tape on. They’re able to see. But we got some competitive young men in that locker room, and they’ll turn the tape on and understand the type of team we’re going against and the preparation that’s going to take place.
“I told them in the locker room when the [Eastern Kentucky] game was over: We’ve had a week to feel sorry about this, that or the other when all we can control is the controllables and that’s getting ready for Florida State, a really good football team. We need to prepare better than we did this past week. We need to practice better than we did last week. And they all agreed to that, they understood that. We need to prepare much better than we did this past week.”
“GO DO YOUR JOB”
Saturday will be the end of the road for Muschamp at Florida, but the rest of his coaching staff will still be employed, at least through early January. To that end, the Gators on Saturday named defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin the interim coach for Florida’s bowl game, and Muschamp threw his support behind the five-eyar veteran of UF’s staff.
“He’ll do an outstanding job. He’s a really good football coach, he sees the big picture, he’s an outstanding recruiter, he’s got a tireless work ethic and he does a great job with our players. He will do a fabulous job,” Muschamp said.
Muschamp also divulged the comments he shared with his staff last week following his dismissal.
“I told the staff, ‘Do your job. Do your job. You get hired by the University of Florida to do your job and that’s coach and that’s recruit and that’s represent this university first class, and that’s what you do.’ I haven’t been involved in any recruiting since it happened, but our staff needs to continue to recruit and represent Florida. It’s a great place to come to school and play football and that’s what those guys are doing. They continue the phone calls and all that, and on Sunday after Florida State, they’ll be out recruiting for the University of Florida and getting ready for a bowl game. You get hired to do a job and that’s your job. ‘Go do your job.'”
QUARTERBACKS STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
Quarterbacks freshman Treon Harris and redshirt junior Jeff Driskel each made some big plays Saturday, though Driskel led the way by completing 9-of-11 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, adding a fourth score on the ground.
Driskel actually saw extended playing time in the contest after Harris got pulled from the game with a contusion on his knee, though Muschamp said Saturday night and reiterated on Monday that Harris is fine and will start against FSU.
Nevertheless, Harris still has a ways to go from a throwing standpoint, and Muschamp was not shy about pointing that out on Monday.
“Well, I don’t think we’ve thrown it as well as we needed to throw it. That’s the bottom line. We’ve had some opportunities against South Carolina for some deep shots and we missed on a couple. We got to give the guy an opportunity to make a play on the ball. Early in the game, a little bit shaky. There is no question, in my opinion, in the South Carolina game he was affected throwing by his hand. That was very evident, especially later in the game,” he said. “But the corner ball he threw to Demarcus [Robinson] was probably as well as you could throw it, to drop it in there and Demarcus made a fabulous play. Just more consistent in the throwing game is what we’re going to need, and he knows that.”
Driskel will not necessarily see more time than planned if Harris continues to struggle throwing the ball, though Muschamp did say that a plan will be in place to play the upperclassman if the opportunities present themselves. Driskel “should be confident after the way he threw the ball” against Eastern Kentucky and may be able to have some of that carry over to Tallahassee.
“We’ll see as the game goes. We’ll always have some sort of package for him in the game. He performed [on Saturday] the way we felt he certainly is capable of performing. Depending on the situation, we’ll see how the week goes and what our preparation is,” Muschamp said. “I haven’t sat down with the offensive staff today and gone through anything in what we’re looking at and what they want to do. We’ll move forward in the week and see where that progresses.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On the support he received from the Gators players on Saturday: “I really appreciate it. You spend a lot of time with these young men and that’s part of your job when you want to be a football coach. It’s not just about Saturday afternoon. It’s about Sunday through Friday. It’s about a grandmother passing away and handling it the right way. It’s about doing a lot of things that people have no idea that your job entitles. That’s something that, you know, you enjoy being a mentor-slash-father figure-slash-friend-coach. You wear a lot of hats in our job and that’s part of it.”
» On whether Florida will take more risks against FSU in Muschamp’s last game: “We’re going to do what we need to do to win the football game.”
» On Ron Zook winning this game in a very similar situation 10 years ago: “I’ve kind of heard that story, go ahead. I appreciate you rehashing it for me. … It is what it is. I mean, that isn’t going to help us win the game, I can assure you of that. So we’ll prepare well and we’ll go up there and play well. That’s what we need to do.”
» On whether he’s had job offers after being dismissed by Florida: “No one has reached out to me.”
» On the Gators’ secondary progressing through the year: “I think we’ve steadily improved throughout the year. On 3rd and 25 against LSU, wasn’t good, but past that since the Alabama game, we’ve played extremely well. … We’ve kind of progressed through the year and still played well against some guys who throw the ball pretty well. South Carolina threw it as well as anybody and I think he was under 50 percent and 200 yards passing against some very talented guys on the edges. I feel very comfortable about where we are in the secondary and how we’ve played and how we’ve improved as the year has gone on. So I think we certainly have a huge challenge in front of us with the experience and talent at the quarterback position, and with the talent that they have on the edges, there’s no question about that. It’s our biggest challenge on the year.”