Muschamp on new offense and a real spring game

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday to provide updates on team injuries, spring practice and the upcoming spring game.

INJURY UPDATES

Sophomore safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) is at 90 percent according to Muschamp, who said the Gators want to get him back as soon as possible but want to ensure that the injury fully heals first. “He needs to be a part of the spring game. He needs to get in front of the crowd and play,” Muschamp said. “He needs to be in practices 10, 11, 12, 13. I didn’t want to lose him another day [by practicing him Monday].”

Sophomore wide receiver Chris Thompson (undisclosed) has returned to practice, though redshirt freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (concussion) has not yet been given the go-ahead. Muschamp hoped that Johnson would be available to see the field on Wednesday.

RUNNING AWAY WITH THINGS

The Gators will be without junior running back Matt Jones this spring, but the productivity of Florida’s other rushers has apparently filled his void quite well.

Sophomore Kelvin Taylor is more confident running the ball and “much better in protection, which is where he needed to take some big steps,” Muschamp said. Taylor is obviously the most explosive of UF’s rushers and is easily the favorite to start the first game of the season after a strong conclusion to 2013.

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Gators 2014 Spring Football Preview: Offense

Spring practice for the Florida Gators football program begins on Wednesday, March 19 and lasts for 15 practices concluding with the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut spring game on Saturday, April 12. Below is the first of OnlyGators.com‘s two-part series that takes a look at the team on a position-by-position basis.

Due to extensive team injuries, more players started for Florida at times in 2013 than normal. In this case, the term “starter” is being used as applicable per position.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (2/2): Junior D.J. Humphries, redshirt senior Chaz Green
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson

By the time the 2013 campaign came to an end, the Gators lost three starting tackles for the season. The first of those absentees was Green, who had locked up the starting right tackle job over the summer but tore his labrum in practice and missed the entire season. Then came Humphries, who started the first six games at left tackle but missed the final five after an injured MCL kept him hobbled for the remainder of the year. Florida’s offense struggled mightily, in large part due to a weak offensive line, but Green and Humphries will almost assuredly start for UF as long as they can remain healthy. Johnson did not play in 2013 after suffering a physical setback early in camp but impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism when he was able to practice as a part of the scout team. He is a candidate to see a good number of snaps this year.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS
Returning starters (0/2): None
Fresh faces: Junior transfer Drew Sarvary, freshman Kavaris Harkless

With Jon Halapio and Kyle Koehne graduating – and Florida’s starting left guard changing positions (more on that below) – new offensive line coach Mike Summers will have the opportunity to hand-pick some players to help solidify the unit. Sarvary – a First Team All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference selection last season – and redshirt junior Trip Thurman will compete for the jobs, as will senior Trenton Brown and redshirt junior Tyler Moore, both of whom started games at tackle for the Gators in 2013. Florida’s guards are a work in progress, no two ways about it. Harkless could get in the mix as well though it is tough to know what UF can get from a freshman offensive lineman in the spring.

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Three Gators named to SEC All-Freshman Team

Three first-year Florida Gators football players were named Thursday to the 2013 SEC All-Freshman team as voted on by the league’s 14 coaches.

Running back Kelvin Taylor, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and punter Johnny Townsend were each honored as members of the team, giving Florida the second-most selections to Arkansas, Ole Miss and South Carolina (four each).

Taylor played sparingly early in the season but started the final five games of the 2013 campaign, finishing with 508 yards and four touchdowns on 111 carries. He broke out with 21 touches for a career-high 96 yards and two touchdowns on Nov. 16 when the Gators played the Gamecocks on the road.

Hargreaves, who was also named to the 2013 All-SEC First Team, saw action from the get go and registered a team-high three interceptions on the season. He also broke up a team-high 11 passes and compiled 38 tackles through 12 games.

Townsend took over the punting duties due to some early-season struggles from Florida’s incumbent and booted the ball a total of 29 times. He averaged 42.0 yards per punt, kicking five more than 50 yards and dropping six inside the 20-yard line.

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11/23: Florida vs. Georgia Southern post-game report; Muschamp places blame on Gators offense

The Florida Gators (4-7) lost their sixth-straight on Saturday, dropping their first game to an FCS opponent in program history and guaranteeing a losing season for the first time since going winless in 1979. The Georgia Southern Eagles (7-4) upended the Gators 26-20 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, dominating both sides of the ball on the way to their first-ever victory against an FBS program.

Following his team’s loss, the worst in program history, Florida head coach Will Muschamp met with the media to provide some of his thoughts on the defeat.

DEFLECTING BLAME

Though Muschamp has made a habit in the past of taking accountability and putting pressure on his own shoulders following a loss, he did exactly opposite on Saturday – even if there were times in which he squeezed in similar phrasing.

After the game, Muschamp criticized Florida’s offense, which was led by a third-string quarterback in redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg but nevertheless only generated 279 total yards and 20 points on the afternoon.

“You got to change the scoreboard offensively. You got to be able to change the scoreboard. We’ve just struggled scoring points offensively. It’s been a week-in, week-out occurrence. My job to get it fixed and it will get fixed,” he said.

“Very disappointed for our program, an embarrassment in this situation. We had our opportunities there, the kids kept playing hard. It’s very difficult for us to create explosive plays to get anything down the field. Just don’t ever do it.”

Asked to pinpoint the Gators’ offensive struggles, Muschamp explained that there was no one thing wrong with it but rather the entire side of the ball was failing as a whole. Should he somehow remain Florida’s coach after this season, Muschamp has certainly set up his offensive staff to take the fall.

“Where do you start? From a protection standpoint, the run game, being able to consistently run the ball, move the front. It’s been an occurrence really for us all season for the most part,” he said. “We just have a hard time in protection. We hit the play-action pass where the quarterback got his chin splattered when he threw the ball, too.

“It’s a combination of things. It’s just hard right now. It’s hard, as many moving parts as we’ve had, it’s difficult. It becomes infectious. It’s hard. When you give up 17 points, you hope you can score 17. So it’s hard right now. You can look at where we’ve rolled since about middle of the season to this point. That’s what’s happened to us.”

Nevermind that UF offense, indeed with a third-string signal caller and an incredibly banged up offensive line, managed to generate 20 points while the team’s defense coughed up 26 to Georgia Southern via 429 yards of total offense.

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11/19: Pease talks Florida OL and running game

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media on Tuesday ahead of the 11th game of the season against the Georgia Southern Eagles on Saturday, Nov. 23. The game is set to kick off at 2 p.m. and air live on pay-per-view.

TOUGHING IT OUT

One of the most understandably criticized units on the Florida football program has been the offensive line, but the patchwork unit played well on Saturday against South Carolina after putting together a lackluster performance just one week earlier versus Vanderbilt.

“I think they did a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage and being physical. I mean, all of our guys, they play with great effort. It’s just a matter of being a body on a body, not letting guys slip you,” Pease explained. “I think Trenton Brown has come on and gotten a lot better. By any means, were they all graded out perfect? No. It’s still, I think we need to be better adjusting along the way of when teams start adjusting to us.”

One of the most recent additions to the line is redshirt sophomore Ian Silberman, who is now the starting left guard with redshirt junior Max Garcia filling in at left tackle.

“I think he’s played a lot better, and we’ve used him,” said Pease. “He’s gotten a lot better in dealing, being nicked up here or there. But he’s gotten a lot better in practice, pass-wise. He’s an athletic kid that can run, so I’m happy with what he is doing. Continue to be more consistent.”

Garcia believes that the Gators were able to take a step forward up front because of some continuity on the line, a unit that has been in constant disarray all season.

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11/16: Florida at South Carolina post-game report; frustrated Muschamp tells fans to “get a grip”

The Florida Gators (4-6, 3-5 SEC) lost their fifth-straight game on Saturday, dropping five in a row in a single season for the first time since 1979, by falling 19-14 to the No. 10/11 South Carolina Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2 SEC) on the road at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC. Following his team’s loss, Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media to provide some of his thoughts on the defeat.

OPENING STATEMENT

“Very proud of our guys’ effort. We followed the script of what we felt like we needed to do to win the game and that was ball possession, field position, eat the clock, play good defense – which we did for the most part through the night against a very good offensive football team. Extremely proud of our players and the way they’ve continued to fight in the game.

“A lot of negativity out there and these guys pulled together and showed you a little something what those guys are about. We need to make some plays in those situations to win the game. The bottom line is winning and we didn’t do it. We did not get the job done. So that’s on me. We’ll go back and continue to work hard and get these last two. We’re looking forward to that. …

“I’m extremely proud of our staff and our players of pulling together, trying to put ourselves in a position to win the game on the road against a very good football team. We just got to come up with a couple of those plays here and there. … We have our opportunities we got to make the plays and that’s on me. We got to keep working.”

FRUSTRATED MUSCHAMP TELLS FANS: “GET A GRIP”

Suffice to say, Muschamp was fired up at halftime Florida took a 14-6 advantage into the locker room. Asked after the game while his hand was all bloody and taped up, Muschamp explained, “I hit a chalkboard. Dumb.”


Following the loss, Muschamp was asked about his team’s grit and toughness while going up against a ranked team with a third-string quarterback and a number of other replacement players due to injuries suffered by the Gators throughout the season.

“It’s not excuses. It’s real. It really is,” he said. “You can say what you want to say and you can write whatever the hell you want to write. It’s real. It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for that locker room. To hell with me. I worry about the kids. These kids have fought their butts off.

“There’s a lot of negativity out there and some of our fans need to get a grip. They really do. They got a bunch of kids in that locker room fighting their butt off. They can criticize me all you want, I’m great with that, they pay me enough money to deal with that. But those kids don’t, they really don’t. And they’ve fought their butts off. And they’ve continued to fight and play hard.

“Nobody’s ever questioned their efforts. I’m just extremely proud of them and the resolve and the fight and pulling together like Florida Gators do. Extremely proud of them. We just didn’t get it done. That’s on me, that’s my fault, nobody else’s.”

APPRECIATIVE OF THE ADMINISTRATION

On Wednesday, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley and president Bernie Machen released statements of unequivocal support for Muschamp and the job he is currently doing with the Gators football program. Given the opportunity to respond in kind, Muschamp did just that publicly.

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No. 10 Gamecocks fight back to top Gators 19-14

The No. 10/11 South Carolina Gamecocks (8-2, 6-2 SEC) withstood a ground-and-pound attack by the Florida Gators (4-6, 3-5 SEC) on Saturday evening at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, shutting out and therefore outscoring the visitors 13-0 in the second half to pull out a 19-14 victory.

The outcome left the Gators having dropped five games in a row for the first time since 1979 and losing for the first time under the leadership of head coach Will Muschamp when rushing for 150 yards or more in a game (previously 15-0). Florida also lost for just the second time under Muschamp when leading at the half (previously 18-1).

Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor led the way for UF with 21 carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns. USC only scored one touchdown on the evening but connected on 5-of-6 field goals to put its SEC East rivals away.

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Four Murphy turnovers doom Gators, Florida loses to Vanderbilt for first time since 1988

A horrible season for the Florida Gators got even worse on Saturday as the Vanderbilt Commodores entered Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, on homecoming and picked up a 34-17 victory, beating their SEC East rivals for the first time since 1988.

Vanderbilt came through with a win in Gainesville for the first time since 1945, one that ended Florida’s 22-game winning streak in the series. It was also the Commodores’ first league victory against the Gators dating back to when they joined the SEC in 1992.

Florida dropped its fourth-straight game by falling behind early and never finding a way to recover. The Gators are now below .500 for the first time since 1992 and are in the process of breaking their consecutive bowl game streak, which currently stands at 22.

After winning the toss and deferring possession, Florida allowed its opponent to pick up an opening drive score for the third-straight week. Vanderbilt gained 62 yards on 13 plays, converting two first downs in UF territory, and took an early 3-0 lead.

The Gators responded immediately with a 12-play, 48-yard drive, but redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin missed a 44-yard field goal wide right.

Florida committed another miscue just minutes later when redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy, on 1st-and-10 from UF’s 25-yard line, threw an interception that was returned to the 10. On the very next play, VU running back Jerron Seymour rumbled into the end zone to put his team up 10-0 in the first quarter.

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