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The Gators went from 3-5 to 7-1 in the SEC in head coach Will Muschamp's second season.

Sunday November 4, 2012Gators Notebook: Florida's Turnaround, Fowler and Bullard, Purifoy's block, plus more

The Gators went from 3-5 to 7-1 in the SEC in head coach Will Muschamp's second season.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp is on record saying a Southeastern Conference season that doesn’t end with his team in the league championship game, frankly, is a failure.

The Florida coach was reminded of that statement after Saturday’s 14-7 defeat of Missouri, a win that improved the seventh-ranked Gators to 8-1 overall (one more win than the seven from a season ago) and wrapped his club's SEC slate at 7-1 (a year after finishing a disappointing 3-5).

"I’ve made my comment on how I feel about that, about your season if that is not accomplished," Muschamp said of the big game in the Georgia Dome. "We’ve made strides, but we’re not where we want to be."

After Georgia dismantled Ole Miss 37-10 Saturday night, the Gators are even less likely to be where Muschamp wants them next month -- in Atlanta for the SEC title game. For that to happen, the Bulldogs must lose in two weeks at Auburn, which has yet to win a conference game.

So in the interim, Florida will worry about Florida, a concept Muschamp speaks constantly to his players about. For now, that means taking care of business against Louisiana (5-3) at homecoming this weekend, then turning focus to Jacksonville State for Senior Day on Nov. 17 before the Florida State hype even begins.

After dispatching of the Tigers Saturday, Muschamp told his players in the locker room they should be proud of their resolve and fight after becoming just the 12th team in UF history to win seven SEC games. He then reiterated that point to the press in his post-game news conference.

Should the Gators hold serve against their two upcoming non-conference foes, the 2012 team will join those other 11 as the only teams in UF history to win at least 10 games. Given where this team was a year ago -- a sub-.500 record in league play; and most total losses in 24 years -- that’s a considerable carrot of progress to dangle.

"We need to be realistic. We've won the close games this year," Muschamp said. "Last year we were beaten [badly] by two better teams -- LSU and Alabama -- and other than that we were in every game. We had opportunities in every game to win the game and we didn't get it done. You are what you're record is. When you're 7-6, you're an average ball coach. That's the bottom line."

This team is 8-1 and, regardless of what Georgia does, co-champions of the SEC Eastern Division. Much better than average, with much work to do and plenty of room to grow.

That’s the bottom line.

INJURY UPDATE

Earlier in the week, the Gators were dealing with a flu bug.

Then came the injury bug.

UF lost two players, kicker Caleb Sturgis (ankle) and wide receiver/kick returner Andre Debose (knee), in their Friday walk-thru (though Sturgis attempted a field goal against Missouri that was blocked).

The Gators were without linebacker Lerentee McCray (ankle) and offensive tackle Xavier Nixon (knee) heading into the game, then had safety Matt Elam (heat exhaustion), offensive linemen Jon Halapio (ankle) and James Wilson (knee), plus backup running back Mack Brown (undisclosed) go down during the game.

But as the Gators like to say, "Man down, man up."

"We’re mentally tough," said sophomore right tackle Chaz Green. "We never feel like it’s time to throw in the towel."

The injured players were expected to check in Sunday to be evaluated. Muschamp will address their status at Monday's meeting with the media.

FANTASTIC FRESHMEN 

The defense was supposed to be the strength of the Florida team this season, but it says something about the depth of the unit that true freshmen Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler have put their imprint on such a veteran squad.

Against the Tigers, they were terrific.

"They add a lot to our defense and they are going to do great things for this program," defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. "I was excited to have them out there, just listening to how they react to big situations and the mental approach they take to it."

The 6-foot-3, 263-pound Bullard, from Shelby, N.C., and 6-3, 261-pound Fowler, out of St. Petersburg, combined for eight tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and 3 1/2 tackles for loss.

Muschamp credits the upperclassmen for grooming their freshmen brothers on the UF way, especially when it comes to effort.

"It's very difficult for a freshman to walk into a situation at a place like Florida to really contribute and play quality, quality snaps," Muschamp said. "I think the older guys have done a great job with them. They've made them accountable to learn what to do and how to do it and they've understood the mental intensity you've got to play with."

HUGE PLAY THAT NO ONE REALLY TALKED ABOUT 

The Gators tied the game on a 36-yard touchdown run by Omarius Hines when Missouri marched 68 yards in 11 plays before stalling at the UF 7 and summoning kicker Andrew Baggett for a short 25-yard field goal.

Baggett makes that and the Tigers take a 10-7 lead, along with the game’s momentum.

But sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy stormed from the right edge and thumped the kick out of bounds, preserving the tie.

It was UF’s third blocked field goal this season.

"How big was that?" defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "They really worked hard at it all week. They put it in, worked on it and hit it at the right time when we really needed to make a play."

Special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin knew the Tigers would focus their protection inside -- where Floyd and Earl Okine often get push -- and thus created a soft spot on the outside. Purifoy exploited it at the perfect time.

QUOTES OF NOTE 

 

  • “I just don’t think they ever blink. They just kind of understand the circumstances and understand what we need to do. They have a very calm demeanor with our staff. Our guys understand what it takes to win the game. That is something we talk about all the time." -- Muschamp on UF’s staging its fourth SEC win when trailing at halftime this season. 
  • “It was really important. It was emphasized at every practice and every meeting that we had. The coaches made note of it." -- UF offensive lineman Jon Harrison on protecting the ball after six turnovers in last week’s loss to Georgia. The Gators had just one turnover against Missouri. 
  • “Against a great team like that, you’re going to suffer for it.” -- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel on his team throwing four interceptions. 

 

 

ETC. 

Since 1991, when the Gators won their first SEC championship, UF has won at least seven conference games 12 times, a mark that easily tops the league during that stretch. Next is Tennessee (7), followed by Alabama (5), LSU and Auburn (3). Dating to the SEC’s inaugural 1933 season, the Gators and Crimson Tide are tied for most seven-victory seasons with 12. ...The 1-yard touchdown run by Missouri tailback Kendial Lawrence was the first TD surrendered by the UF defense at home since the season opening defeat of Bowling Green. ... Missouri was the seventh opponent this season that completed less than 50 percent of its pass attempts. Quarterback James Franklin was just 24 of 51 (47.1 percent) with the four picks. ... Those four interceptions were the most by a UF defense since picking off five in the Outback Bowl against Penn State -- Coach Urban Meyer’s last game -- following the 2010 season. ... The Gators have outscored their SEC opponents 125-31 in the second half, including 61-20 in the fourth quarter.

 

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