The Florida Gators (5-4, 3-4 SEC) finally got off the schnide after a winless October with a 26-21 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores (4-5, 1-5 SEC) on Saturday. Florida played a home game for the first time in over a month and held on to a victory after leading by double digits late in the fourth quarter. OGGOA takes a look at some of the notable occurrences before, during and after Saturday’s game along with notes and quotes from head coach Will Muschamp and the players.
MUSCHAMP THANKFUL FOR FANS, PLEASED WITH EFFORT
At the start of his media availability, Muschamp made it a point to show his appreciation for the support of the Florida fan base. “I want to thank our crowd. We had 90,000 plus for a 12:21 p.m. kick and we have not performed very well on the field up to this point. So I am really proud of our fans and proud to be a part of the Gator Nation. It shows how powerful of a place this place is,” he said.
He also expressed his appreciation for the mentality his football team has had all season long. “I’m really proud of our team from the standpoint of continuing to push, practice and compete, which they do. They do every day in practice. I’ve never been disappointed with our effort or how we approach regardless of the negativity of what’s happened,” Muschamp said. “More than anything, I’m really happy for our team because these guys have really forged together with what we’re trying to do and where we’re headed with this thing. Their effort has been outstanding, and they really needed this today.
“They continue to fight. These guys have pulled together. Adversity either creates division or it unifies you. These guys have pulled together, they really have pulled together. You couldn’t walk on our practice field on Monday or Tuesday of this week – if we ever opened it – and see the team and know the difference if we were 5-4 or we were 9-0 by the way they compete on the practice field. I’m very proud of the effort that they put in. We’re building our battle scars right now, and we’ve got a bunch. I know one thing – we’re going to have a tough group as we continue to move forward with this. Some guys are going to be tight together in what they do. We will benefit from the tough times that we’re traveling through, and [our opponents] better enjoy it while they’ve got it.”
INJURIES AND ABSENCES
Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley played for a second-straight after injuring his ankle on Oct. 1 against Alabama and said it felt “strong” throughout the contest. However, Brantley suffered another injury in the fourth quarter that will be discussed further on Monday. Neither Muschamp nor Brantley would comment on it after the game, though Brantley did admit it came after a shot from a Vanderbilt player.
Also returning at full strength on Saturday were senior running back Jeff Demps, junior RB Mike Gillislee and redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis, who connected on a 55-yard field goal in the game after missing a 49-yard attempt earlier in the contest.
Unlike Brantley, redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey (ankle), redshirt freshman tackle Chaz Green (ankle), redshirt sophomore Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (concussion) and redshirt junior Sam linebacker Lerentee McCray (shoulder) were all held out of the game Saturday. Rainey was dressed and a game-time decision, but the other players did not dress and were ruled out until next week.
PLAYING SOFT AND NEARLY GIVING IT UP
“When you get put in those situations – i.e. a two score game with 2:13 to go – you still play coverage. We were calling coverages we had been calling and had success with the whole game. Our guys felt like – just don’t get beat deep. That’s not what you can do in these situations,” he said. “It’s a great learning experience. Believe me, Monday morning at 6:00 a.m., we’re going to learn that you can’t play that way at the end of a game. You’ve got to continue to play the game.
“A lot of what I saw is very correctable, in my opinion. Any time you give up some yardage passing – it’s kind of like a sack on offense – everybody wants to point a finger on the offensive lineman. Fourth-and-12 we lose contain[ment] on the quarterback and he holds the ball for three days. That’s the defensive line’s issue. We’ve got to get a lot of things straightened out, some of our underneath coverage. The big emphasis this week, in my opinion going in, was to stop the run game and stop the quarterback runs. I felt like, for the most part, we did a decent job of that.”
He touched on the subject again later, saying that the mistakes that players in the secondary made were mostly due to youth and inexperience – not discipline.
“It has to do with exposure to the situation. To understand it’s a two score game that doesn’t mean it’s a pass skeleton. We still are trying to compete to get the ball off people and make plays,” Muschamp said. “I was thoroughly disappointed with how we [played]; we’re not coaching them to play soft. You let them just throw the ball down the field? That’s not what we’re trying to do.”
“We couldn’t cover a bucket of water on the last drive,” Muschamp joked.
DISCIPLINE ON PENALTIES IMPROVED BUT JUST A SMALL STEP
The most penalized team in the country heading into Saturday’s game, the Gators continued to search for ways to become more disciplined each week. Florida committed just three penalties against Vanderbilt, down from their near double-digit average per game this season.
“It’s been emphasized every week. It’s like all results – you can go out and beat your chest this week and say you must have done a good job coaching penalties. When I was at Texas two years ago, we led the country in turnovers. We don’t coach turnovers any different than we coach today,” Muschamp said.
“Was I a better coach coaching turnovers two years ago than I am now? I don’t think so. We just had some balls bounce our ways a couple times, we got a couple tipped passes, they put the ball on the ground a couple of times. We’ve emphasized discipline in our program. We talk about it all the time. We talk about focusing a little better. We talk about taking a guy out if he jumps offisdes or lines up offsides in situations. We’ve tried to do that in some situations. We’ve explored all of the options. Over a period of time hopefully it’s helped. This is one game. I’m not ready for one game to be ready to waive the flag that we’re disciplined now. We need to work on it day in and day out because we haven’t been consistent all year.”
ANSWERING YOUR QUESTIONS
Below are a number of questions that have been Tweeted, e-mailed or left in the comment section regarding the game with Muschamp’s respective response.
What has been the problem with the running game recently and how were you able to rectify that this week?
Muschamp said that the team only has 9-10 healthy scholarship offensive linemen active right now. Combining that with a number of injured running backs and it has been tough for the Gators to improve in that area each week. He also touted the newly installed pistol offense (QB in shotgun, RB lined up behind him) as a big help. “Being able to get in the pistol and run the ball a little bit downhill helped our team in this football game. Being able to create some of that downhill running game instead of all the lateral running game, which is sometimes tough in our league.”
Were you going to go for it on the fourth down play that Vanderbilt wound up jumping offsides on?
“We were going to go for it. We were going to win the game.”
Why has the offense been stalling in the second half?
“As much as anything, we didn’t get some stops defensively – that threw us out of our rhythm offensively. You affect each other, whether we think we do or not. [...] You complement each other in every game. I think we had some critical, critical times in the game where we could have made some stops defensively and we didn’t. We got to keep our guys in a rhythm offensively.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp on the five-point win: “We made it interesting there at the end; we shouldn’t have.”
» Muschamp on the offense stepping up this week: “Our game plan offensively was really good – to get to the line of scrimmage, see the pressures, bring the receiver in, block the edges, change the run game from one side to the other. We were very effective in doing that. You have to credit our offensive staff and Charlie; I thought they did a really good job with that.”
» Muschamp on the downfield passing opening up: “There’s no question – I’ve said it in our game against LSU and obviously in our game against Auburn – we struggle for a number of reasons to be able to throw the ball vertically down the field. When people in this league are able to outnumber you, you can’t get a hat-on-a-hat sometimes in the run game and you have a hard time running it. We’ve faced that. When John’s in there and you have the extra dimension of seeing coverage, taking it to the right spot, getting it to the right people, timing of the passing game, the timing of the offense, getting us in and out of the right protections, seeing the pressure coming off the edge, check the protection. We’re able to do a lot more of that because of a fifth-year senior and a guy who has played a lot of football for us. There is no question that John is a huge part of that.”
» Muschamp on removing redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison from the game in place of redshirt junior center Sam Robey: “We just need to be more consistent with our snaps, and we’ve had issues throughout the year so I felt like we needed to make the change. [...] We’ve had some inconsistencies before in practice. Our decisions are pretty calculated.”
» Muschamp on freshman QB Jacoby Brissett coming in: “I’ve said it all along – not just Jacoby, Jeff Driskel as well – we have the utmost confidence in both of those players that they’re going to be outstanding players.”
» Muschamp on Demps returning: “Every time he’s been healthy for us this year he’s been very productive. [...] He works hard every day, gives you everything he’s got. That’s what being a student-athlete is all about.”
» Muschamp said that over 20 former captains visited this past weekend for a special dinner and to celebrate homecoming.
» Muschamp on not ending a long home winning streak against Vanderbilt: “I don’t think a game in 1945 had anything to do with a game today.”
» Muschamp on if he wavered about trying the 55-yard field goal: “When you get to that 37-38 yard line, I’m kicking a field goal. There’s not a whole lot of kickers in the country you can say that about. [...] In normal situations you might have to get to the 25 to attempt a field goal. When you’re able to have a guy like Caleb, it certainly helps your football team.”
» Redshirt junior defensive end Earl Okine on seeing the field and playing well: “It took me a while to keep progressing. Every week and every day it’s been a grind. Coach Muschamp and Coach Dan Quinn have been pushing me the entire season, and that’s why I’m improving.”
» Okine on the mood of the locker room after the game: “Ecstatic. Ecstatic. Everybody was very happy, relieved, all of the above positive emotions.”
» Demps on getting back out on the field: “It was definitely a good feeling. The offensive line did a great job of opening holes all game, and the wide receivers did a great job on the perimeter blocking.”
» Demps on having just a few games left in his final year: “I’m going to play my last three games here and give it all I got. I enjoyed the whole ride. It’s been tough but anybody can win. When you lose it’s how you face adversity.”
» Demps on the team being close: “We’re definitely a tight group. Throughout the whole offseason, the summer and the spring, I wasn’t around much but when I was there were leaders stepping up all over the place. That really bonded everybody. Even though we’re having a tough season like we are, we have each other’s back. We were there when we started and we’re going to be there at the end.”
» Sophomore safety Matt Elam on the significance of the win: “We got our confidence back. After losing the whole month, a win is a great feeling.”
» Elam on correcting the penalties: “I know there’s been a lot of stuff about us being young and undisciplined. Coach Muschamp is very hard on that, trying to make us more disciplined.”
» Elam on if the win was a relief: “It was a relief we got our win. We got another win, man. It’s been a long time. We ain’t sing the fight song in a long time. It was a great feeling.”
» Elam if the team matured over the losing streak: “We learned. Everybody stuck together. We stuck together and we continued to fight. Everybody went out and practiced hard.”
» Elam on how the secondary will play in 2012: “No, we won’t have those problems.”
» Gillislee on seeing the field again:“I had to just continue doing what I was doing, get back healthy to 100 percent and go out there and produce. Our rushing yards were low the past few games, so we knew we had to go out there and prove a point that we could run the ball.”
» Brantley on picking up a win: “The month of October was rough for us. To get this first win – the first game of November against a good Vanderbilt team – was huge because we’ve got some good teams ahead of us.”
» Brantley on the pistol offense: “It’s easier to establish a downhill run game in that formation. We did a great job all week preparing. The o-line did a great job blocking. You noticed today that Gillislee and Jeff ran hard.”
» Brantley on the penalties being cut down: “It felt really good. We focused on that and focused on our mental discipline all week and it paid off.”
» Brantley on having just three regular season games left: “We had our captains dinner last night. They just kept stressing that we have three more times to run out of the tunnel. That set home on us. We’ve got to cherish these moments, go out there and play our hardest.”