GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The fate of the University of Florida’s football season may be out of the team’s hands after Saturday’s defeat against Georgia, but there’s still an entire month of November to go, starting with the Southeastern Conference finale at home this weekend.
“It is what it is,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said at his weekly Monday news conference in summing up the turnover-plagued (four fumbles, two interceptions) loss to the Bulldogs in Jacksonville less than 48 hours earlier. “I’m disappointed with the results, but not the effort of our football team. I’m very proud of the guys continuing to fight in the game. We just didn’t get the results that we need and that’s on me.”
Now it’s on Muschamp and the eighth-ranked Gators (7-1, 6-1) to move on and forget about the SEC Eastern Division and focus instead on what they can control, starting with a date with Missouri (4-4, 1-4), a Southeastern Conference newbie that will bring an element of intrigue to Florida Field this weekend.
It’ll be a league game against an opponent very few in the UF locker room -- with the exception of Muschamp, courtesy of his time as a defensive coordinator for Texas in the Big 12 Conference -- know much about.
“Like playing Texas A&M,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said.
In a way, yes.
When the Gators met the Aggies back in Week 2, it marked the first meeting between the two teams since the 1976 Sun Bowl.
The last time Florida faced Missouri, Steve Spurrier was the quarterback -- not coach -- of the team and the Gators lost 20-18 to the Tigers in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his 1965 junior season.
Forty-seven years later, Mizzou will roll into “The Swamp” with a spread offense that has had difficulty making the Big 12-to-SEC transition, averaging just 317.4 yards a 24.4 points per game, with their lone league win a 33-10 handling of Kentucky on Saturday.
Muschamp cautioned, though, that Tigers playmaker James Franklin figures to be back under center after Coach Gary Pinkel decided -- somewhat surprisingly -- to send his talented quarterback with a sore knee into the game against the Wildcats.
Franklin had missed most of the previous two games with a knee strain and was listed as “doubtful” against Kentucky. But Pinkel benched Corbin Berkstresser in the third quarter and let Franklin’s leadership take the Tigers home, mostly with handoffs to Kendial Lawrence, who rushed 23 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Franklin threw just nine times, completing six for 16 yards.
Now, if the Mizzou offensive statistics aren’t cause for Florida fans to get overly concerned, maybe this one will catch you eye.
The Tigers lead the nation in forced fumbles with 14.
Anyone notice UF’s ball security last time out?
Driskel had four turnovers himself.
“Hopefully, I got it out of my system,” Driskel said. “You've got to learn from mistakes. Get the mistakes out of the way. Learn from them and try not to make the same mistakes again.”
The Gators have some other issues to consider, starting with a running game that this time two weeks ago was averaging 233.3 yards per game. The last two games (against very good South Carolina and Georgia defenses), Florida rushed 88 for just 164 yards. That’s less than 1.9 yards per attempt.
Senior tailback Mike Gillislee has just 114 yards on 41 carries (or 2.8 a pop) in those games.
“I think people have done a better job of adjusting to some of the things we’re doing, some of the extra lineman,” said Muschamp, whose team certainly saw enough of Georgia over-stacking the line and jail-breaking its linemen, linebackers and oftentimes defensive backs. “In our league they catch up pretty quick with you as far as the things you’re doing.”
The Gators need their offense, specifically the passing game, to do some catching up. After three straight games of less than 100 yards through the air (all wins), Driskel hit 14 of 26 passes for 185 yards against the Bulldogs, but had the two picks, was sacked five times and the offense failed to get in the end zone for the first time in 14 games.
Quinton Dunbar was the lone true wide receiver to catch a pass against the Dawgs (Trey Burton and Omarius Hines combined for three receptions for 23 yards from their flanker or tight end spots) and senior wideout Frankie Hammond was held without a catch for the first time this season.
“Defenses were bringing pressure and when they bring pressure it turns into a quick [passing] game,” Hammond said. “A couple times, they got there before Driskel could get the ball out.”
Muschamp spoke after the loss about “winning downfield.”
That concept will be emphasized in practice this week.
“It’s a lot of things. It’s protection. It’s getting open. It’s taking the ball to the right spot,” Muschamp said. “Protection ties in to more than just our offensive line. It ties into our backs, our tight ends, our receivers seeing a hot [read] when they overload a pressure on a certain side and being able to get the hot off. There’s a lot of things that go into getting the ball downfield.”
Those things and more will be analyzed and scrutinized in meetings and on the field over the next several days. For the players and coaches, they likely will be long and anxious days, as the Gators chomp with anticipation of putting the ugly loss behind them.
As Muschamp said Monday, colleagues Billy Donovan and Kevin O’Sullivan have it better in these circumstances.
“The tough thing about football is you’ve got to wait seven days,” he said. “Billy and them may lose on a Wednesday and they can go back out Saturday and play. Or ‘Sully,’ they play a double-header in the morning and then again in the afternoon and can get a win and get it out of their system. But we can’t.”
So they’ll wait.