Florida Gators are eager for more success

Florida Gators are eager for more success

July 17th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Florida coach Will Muschamp talks with reporters during the SEC football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

SEC MEDIA DAYS QUOTES

"We appreciate our friends from Ohio making sure we are compliant with NCAA rules. They certainly know a lot about NCAA rules."

- Florida coach Will Muschamp on his program being turned in recently by Ohio State, which is now headed by former Gators coach Urban Meyer. The NCAA investigated and found no wrongdoing.

"He's not a sitting duck back there, but you can see it in his eyes that he's scared of our D-line. We know coming into the game that we've got him shook already. He's scared every time we play them. I know he's probably listening to this right now, but I'm telling the truth."

- South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney on Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd

"I would like to see him come out early before our game."

- Muschamp on Clowney, the consensus top pick for the 2014 NFL draft

"That's been a blast going down there three years in a row. In college football, how can you ever play three times in a row anywhere?"

- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel on having to play at Texas A&M each of the past three seasons

"I was hog-hunting with my girlfriend. She went. She got one. We both got one."

- Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel on what he was doing when he learned the Boston Red Sox had taken him in the 29th round of last month's baseball draft

"We cannot ignore the recent off-the-field incidents involving both current and former student-athletes. Not all student-athletes fulfill the high expectations we have for them. While the negative actions of a few garner headlines, the fact is that the vast majority of these young people conduct themselves appropriately."

- SEC commissioner Mike Slive

HOOVER, Ala. -- Florida won 11 games, shut down Johnny Football and beat Florida State in Tallahassee during the 2012 college football season, but the Gators are having a difficult time calling the year a success.

"It wasn't, because the way we finished was not how we planned," senior guard Jon Halapio said Tuesday as the Southeastern Conference's annual media days opened. "That was definitely a night that we will never forget. We are using that as motivation for this summer so that can be something we never experience again."

The Gators defeated Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State last season, compiling more quality victories than any other team nationally, but what should have been a banner year was soured in a 33-23 upset loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Quarterback Jeff Driskel had an interception returned for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, and the Gators were trailing 33-10 midway through the fourth quarter before a couple of cosmetic scores resulted in a less gruesome tally.

Florida was the first team to go before the media Tuesday, and the first question for coach Will Muschamp recalled the debacle in New Orleans.

"I blame myself, because we got away from our formula," Muschamp said. "Our formula is playing good defense, and we struggled on third down mightily. We also got away from what we should have been on offense. We were struggling on defense, and we needed to make a change.

"I probably pressed too early in the game, and I shouldn't have done that. When I look back at it now, we needed to stick to our formula."

Florida's formula last season was tailback Mike Gillislee pounding the football, stout defense and opportunistic special teams. What the Gators seemed to lack each week in style points, they more than made up in the win column.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel managed just 51 second-half yards against the Gators, and South Carolina was overwhelmed by Florida's special teams in a 44-11 shellacking. Florida's only blemish in the regular season was a 17-9 loss to Georgia, which cost the Gators a berth in the SEC championship game, but the 11 victories were a far cry from Muschamp's 7-6 debut season.

"We made some strides in our second season," Muschamp said. "As you look back from year one to year two, obviously the record was better, which is good, but more than anything, the roster in our locker room is much better."

Florida turned a minus-12 turnover ratio in 2011 to a plus-15 last season, and the Gators outscored opponents by 41 points in the fourth quarter last season after getting outscored by 50 in the final quarter two years ago. The Gators posted eight comeback victories last year, which led Muschamp's wife to suggest he make better pregame speeches instead of waiting until the half.

Driskel returns for his junior season, which will also be the second straight under coordinator Brent Pease. Sophomore Matt Jones is expected to take the torch from Gillislee, and junior Quinton Dunbar is hoping to provide a receiving threat the Gators haven't possessed since Tim Tebow was under center.

"Having the offensive coaches come back will help us a lot," said Halapio, one of three returning offensive linemen. "They know what they can expect from us, and we understand the scheme and the game plans. We understand why the coaches are doing what they're doing, and I think we're in good shape talent-wise, too."

Muschamp said that tight end, where Jordan Reed must be replaced, may be the only spot offensively where the Gators won't be as strong compared to last season.

The schedule is again taxing, as the Gators travel to LSU and South Carolina within the league and face Miami and FSU out of conference. Attaining 11 wins again will be a challenge, but Florida is hoping its most recent game will provide a lesson worth learning.

"We didn't play to our ability," senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley said. "We took off a game, and that's something we won't allow ourselves to do ever again."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.