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Saturday April 7, 2012Blue Squad Hangs on to Defeat Orange in Wild Finish in the Orange and Blue Debut

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After what the University of Florida fan base endured last year, anything resembling an offense would have sent the Orange & Blue Debut crowd home ecstatic Saturday.

So how about 34 points in the fourth quarter?

Or 279 yards and four touchdowns in the final six drives?

It took a while for the Gators -- under new offensive coordinator Brent Pease -- to find their collective rhythm, but in the end there was entertainment, a handful of big plays (albeit against some defenders buried deep on the depth chart), but reason enough for optimism exiting the spring and heading toward September.

“I’m not really looking for style points,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said after the Blue squad’s 21-20 win in front of 38,100 on a sun-splashed afternoon at Florida Field. “I’m looking for production.”

Muschamp is also looking for a starting quarterback and he was more than happy to see sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel perform well in their extensive spring action, thus guaranteeing their spirited QB competition will continue into fall practice.

“It’s great. I love it,” Brissett said of his duel with Driskel, who two years ago at Oviedo Hagerty was the top-rated dual-threat quarterback prospect in the nation. “Coming out every day competing against the No. 1 quarterback in the country a couple years ago, it don’t get no better.”

“We’re friends,” Driskel said. “We won’t let the rivalry ruin that.”

Building on their respective spring performances should only enhance that friendship. And rivalry.

Brissett, the 6-foot-3, 229-pounder from West Palm Beach Dwyer, got the first series of the day and combined to complete nine of 16 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns seeing time on both the Orange and Blue squads. The 6-4, 232-pound Driskel, also playing for both squads, went 12 of 14 for 147 yards and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard sneak with 53 seconds remaining to give the Orange a 21-14 lead.

But Brissett answered for the Blue with a two-play, 70-yard drive, capped by a beautiful 34-yard scoring strike to Trey Burton with 23 seconds to go. The Blue went for the two-point conversion -- and the win -- but Brissett sailed a pass high for Solomon Patton and out of the end zone.

“I’m really pleased with where we are at this point,” Muschamp said. “I feel much better standing here today than I did a year ago as far as where we are as a football team, our physicality as a team and our togetherness as a team as this moves forward. We’ve got the right kind of guys. We just have to get better.”

For context, think how far the Gators have come in the last 12 months.

In Muschamp’s first spring game -- and with Charlie Weis in charge of the offense -- the highlight was a 39-yard touchdown pass from walk-on Chris Provancha, one of two touchdowns in a 13-10 game. John Brantley, the eventual starting quarterback for the 2011 squad, went 4-for-14 for 45 yards in that one.

It was a day that foreshadowed an offense that went on to finish 105th out of 120 FBS teams.

Twelve months later, much has changed. Most notably, the lead characters on offense and the guy, Pease, scripting the plays.

“I think Brent and I are philosophically on the same page with what we want,” Muschamp said of the former Boise State coordinator. “We want to be a physical football team that’s able to run the ball when we need to, that still has the gadgets and the tricks and [is] efficient in the passing game and [with] what we need to do as far as converting third downs and stretching the ball down the field like we did today -- and we made some plays down the field today. ... We’re a year older and have a lot of guys back that have played now in the [Southeastern Conference] for a year. I think experience is something we’re certainly benefiting from at this time.”

The bulk of that experience is built into a defense that returns 10 starters from a unit that ranked eighth in the nation. Five of those starters were held out with injuries Saturday, but UF’s depth on that side of the ball was evident as the two offensive squads totaled just 227 yards and one touchdown -- a 4-yard Brissett-to-Quenton Dunbar pass -- through the first half.

“We have a lot of versatility,” sophomore linebacker Mike Taylor said of the defense.

That’s what Muschamp wants on offense, but he wants it based on a power, downhill running game, rather than the perimeter ground schemes the Gators have run the last few years with their stable of smaller backs.

That element was far from dominating Saturday, with tailback Mike Gillislee, who emerged from spring as the starter at that spot, carrying six times for 35 yards for a Blue team that averaged four yards on 18 attempts. The Orange squad, boosted by a 30-yard slot-around dash from Patton, totaled 137 yards on 26 carries, nearly 5 yards a pop.

“The offensive line is probably the strength of our offense,” Driskel said. “That’s a good thing.”

For sure, Muschamp praised the progress being made the offensive front under new coach Tim Davis, who is building some depth and togetherness up front.

“These guys have played before,” Muschamp said. “They need to understand how close-knit a group you have to be as an offensive line to have success. But experience is No. 1. Tim’s done a really good job and I think these guys realized last year across the board that not anyone played to their potential, which means we didn’t do a good job coaching them. And we need to do a better job playing.”

Everyone does.

Saturday was the start.

The next step, Muschamp said, is for the coaches to step away -- per NCAA rules -- and turn the team over to the quarterbacks to organize offseason workouts over the next four months.

“Right now [that is] a huge, huge indicator to see who takes a leg up and see who's going to get our football out there and do team drills, 11 on 11, and what we call 'PRP,' a player-run practice.” Muschamp said. “They've got to take control of our football team.”

They’ve already made it more interesting.


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