Friday Final: Florida Gators prepare for emotional Senior Day in The Swamp

In this week’s edition of Florida Football Friday Final, OnlyGators.com takes a look at the Florida Gators (5-4) as they prepare to play their second-to-last game under head coach Will Muschamp against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels (9-2) on Senior Day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday. The game will kick off at noon and air live on the SEC Network.

THIS WEEK ON ONLYGATORS.COM

Story: Will Muschamp earns praise, talks dismissal with class
Story: Dante Fowler Jr. declares for NFL Draft on Twitter
Story/Notebook: Gators lose two linebackers for season; two defensive backs return for Saturday’s game
Story: Florida coordinators talk Muschamp firing, EKU, future
The Silver Lining: Answering reader questions about the Gators’ future

SENIOR DAY IN THE SWAMP

Lost among the firing of a head coach and subsequent start of a search for a new one are two simple facts: the Gators are one victory away from bowl game eligibility, and Muschamp will not be the only one who spending his last Saturday on Florida Field.

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Florida-South Carolina post-game report: Gators coaches, players failed when it mattered most

A 23-20 overtime defeat at the hands of the South Carolina Gamecocks (5-5, 3-5 SEC) cost the Florida Gators (5-4, 4-4 SEC) plenty on Saturday and may ultimately result in a change in the job status of head coach Will Muschamp.

Florida aimed to “take back The Swamp” against South Carolina, looking to reverse its fortunes at home and avoid dropping three-straight contests at Florida Field for the second-straight season. Instead, the Gators floundered in the fourth quarter at overtime with the coaches and players all contributing to a meltdown that should have ripple effects over the next few days, weeks and months.

AN ALL-AROUND MELTDOWN

Florida’s failures were multiple on Saturday. They started and ended with the coaching staff, but the Gators on the field were not above blame either, despite UF’s defense making a number of crucial stops in the fourth quarter.

In the end, a coach who played not to lose – lost, and a team that had a game well in hand did not make the plays they needed to actually win it. Here are seven things that went wrong over the fourth quarter and in overtime.

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South Carolina fight back in The Swamp, defeats Florida 23-20 in overtime

Two blocked kicks – first on a field goal, then on a punt – kept the South Carolina Gamecocks (5-5, 3-5 SEC) alive, and a powerful running game allowed the visitors to pull out a 23-20 overtime victory over the Florida Gators (5-4, 4-4 SEC) on Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Florida spoke all week about its plans to “take back The Swamp,” and the Gators appeared to have the game well in hand until late, when after failing to gain a first down that would have run out the clock, UF had a punt blocked with 39 seconds remaining. USC rumbled into the end zone a couple plays later to force overtime and eventually outscored the home team 6-3 in the extra period to end the contest with a win.

The Gators dropped an overtime game for the first time in five tries and are now 4-3 all-time in such contests including 3-2 in The Swamp and 1-1 this season. UF is also now 22-7 against unranked opponentsa nd 13-5 against unranked Southeastern Conference teams under head coach Will Muschamp.

Muschamp falls to 1-3 against South Carolina and head coach Steve Spurrier, and his ability to keep his job is in serious question after another late meltdown cost UF another win at home.

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The Silver Lining for Tuesday, October 21, 2014: Will Muschamp, alma mater, Steve Spurrier

The Silver Lining will return to its regular Wednesday afternoon slot next week. With the only Florida Gators football media availability of the week set for Oct. 22, I felt it was best to bump this column up one day.

Will Muschamp’s Failure

I like Will Muschamp. I did not always feel that way, but I have for the last year-and-a-half. He is a disciplined and passionate man, especially when it comes to football. He wants nothing but the best for his players, fellow coaches and the kids he recruits.

His goal in returning to his hometown and taking the Florida job was to heal a fractured program and return it to glory, an admirable mission and one that, if we are being honest, he half-accomplished.

There is no discounting the change of culture in the Gators’ locker room. As much as Urban Meyer preached and delivered a family atmosphere, Muschamp had to instill a tough-love approach that has kept his players out of trouble and in good academic standing with the school as soon as he took over in 2011.

Three seasons later, after an injury-plagued 4-8 campaign that broke the team down the line of scrimmage, Muschamp had to find a way to bring the program together. The result? Florida’s players are adamant this season that they are closer than ever before, a testament to the effort made by Muschamp and the rest of his coaching staff.

Unfortunately for Muschamp, as uplifting as it is to know that the Gators’ are staying out of trouble, getting good grades and truly coming together as a single unit inside the locker room, what makes or breaks a football coach – especially at a program like Florida – are the results between the sidelines on the field.

And when you take into account the on-field results during the same aforementioned time period, the only determination that can be made is that Muschamp is simply not the right man to be head football coach at the University of Florida.

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9/29: Muschamp talks injuries, support, secondary

Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators (2-1, 1-1 SEC) met with the media on Monday as his team begins preparations for the Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 SEC). Florida will look to extend its nine-game winning streak against Tennessee on Saturday at noon when the Vols will host the Gators at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.

INJURY UPDATES

While Florida’s injury issues are nowhere near as bad as they were in 2013, the team is certainly dealing with some injured Gators one-quarter of the way through the season.

Redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Orr (meniscus) will be sidelined for Saturday’s game as expected, though Muschamp hopes he will be able to return against LSU. Junior Jonathan Bullard will take many of his snaps on the interior.

Florida’s defense may also be without redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor (knee swelling), who is listed as “questionable-to-doubtful” this week. Freshman running back Brandon Powell (hamstring), who has not played since the opener against Eastern Michigan, received a similar designation from Muschamp on Monday.

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9/15: Muschamp reviews UK, previews Bama

Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) met with the media on Monday to open up game week ahead of his team’s first road contest of the 2014 season. Florida will travel Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0, 0-0 SEC) on Saturday, Sept. 20 at 3:30 p.m.

OPENING STATEMENT

“It was a great team win as far as picking each other up. Parts of the game, defensively, [we] played really well early in the game, did some nice things offensively, moved the ball, did not score in the red zone, had a couple issues on third down – two drops, two protection issues – that hurt us in the first half.

“Field position killed us in the first half; average staring on the 15-yard line, but we moved the ball, that was the encouraging thing. I felt totally in control of the game until the 60-yard touchdown pass that gave them some energy. But our guys fought back and overcame those situations. Right now on the season, we’re +7 on the year in turnover margin, +13 in explosive plays. That’s a good combination to have.

“Going back offensively, field position really hurt us. We need to score touchdowns in the red zone; we had a couple issues down there, third down, but we stayed balanced in what we did. I thought the offensive staff did a nice job with adjustments in the second half of getting in some 12 personnel and running the ball. We were able to create some holes in there. I thought our offensive line did a really good job of movement upfront and handling all that stuff. …

“Overall, as a team, handled some adversity well. That was the first time we had to deal with it this season, so it was good to condition ourselves moving on the road.”

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Robinson, Jones lead Florida Gators to 36-30 win over Kentucky in 3OT thriller

Updated at 1:35 a.m.

In the first three-overtime game in school history, the Florida Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) defeated the Kentucky Wildcats (2-1, 0-1 SEC) with a late rushing touchdown from junior running back Matt Jones serving as the deciding score in the 36-30 victory.

Jones, whose tremendous effort was a boon for the Gators throughout the evening on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, rumbled for a game-high 156 yards on a game-high 29 carries. When he crossed the goal line on his fourth-straight carry in the third overtime, Jones not only scored the game-winning touchdown but accounted for all 25 yards of Florida’s offense that drive.

Sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was an even brighter star for the Gators on Saturday, hauling in a school record-tying 15 receptions for 216 yards and two touchdowns, all game-highs.

His 15 receptions tied a record first set by Carlos Alvarez in 1969, while his 216 yards were the fourth-most ever amassed by a Florida wide receiver in a single game.

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8/26: Optimism and confidence surround Florida as Muschamp kicks off game week vs. Idaho

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday to open up game week ahead of the first game of the season against the Idaho Vandals at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel and redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor also shared some comments to kick off game week.

This post was updated Wednesday will comments Muschamp made during his weekly appearance on the Southeastern Conference media teleconference.

OPTIMISM AND CONFIDENCE

A new season is on the horizon for the Gators, and Muschamp knows that his team is ready for the opportunity to prove to doubters that 2013 was a fluke and not how Florida football is supposed to be played. He has seen the renewed drive and dedication from his team on the field, in meeting rooms and during events outside of the facility. Now he just hopes that UF will be able to put it all together on Saturday.

“Any time you go through a tough time in your life, you reflect and you get humble and you work hard and you pull together and you understand that people around you are close to you. Certainly in the building, number one, but within that locker room, number two, I’ve seen a very close-knit unit,” he said.

“In that locker room, there are a lot of guys that know how to practice, know how to practice the right way. They know how to compete and get after each other but also how to take care of each other. It’s been a lot of fun in training camp. I’ve really enjoyed being around the guys. You can see the camaraderie and togetherness in this football team, and I really look forward to seeing them competing in front of our fans.”

Taylor said the excitement around the program is palpable, and the Gators have an opportunity to ride the wave of momentum into the season by pulling off a victory over the Vandals.

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