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Gators head coach Will Muschamp instructs players on sideline during Saturday's 37-7 loss to FSU.

Saturday November 30, 2013Muschamp and Co. Ready to Move Past "Frustrating, Difficult Season," Begin to Fix Gators

Gators head coach Will Muschamp instructs players on sideline during Saturday's 37-7 loss to FSU.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Saturday’s game against Florida State was Will Muschamp’s 38th as Florida’s head coach.

He has provided an opening statement to the media after all 22 wins, all 16 losses.

Perhaps the most straightforward one came after FSU’s 37-7 victory Saturday, Florida’s seventh consecutive loss to end a 4-8 season. It’s the program’s first losing record in 34 years.

“A very frustrating, difficult day that ends a very frustrating, difficult season,’’ Muschamp said. “That’s the best way I can sum it up.”

If you were paying attention, that statement sums up Florida’s 2013 season perfectly.

Nothing went as expected. Coming off an 11-2 season and Sugar Bowl berth in Muschamp’s second season, Year 3 was supposed to be the season the Gators challenged for an SEC title. A trip to Atlanta seemed a real possibility in late August when fall camp started.

That’s only been three months ago but after the roller-coaster ride the Gators just finished, it seems more like three decades ago.

Injuries piled up. Leadership was lost. The offense sputtered. The defense started to bend more frequently. One loss led to two, two to three, three to four, and before you knew it, the Gators walked off the field late Saturday afternoon with a seven-game losing streak.

The last time Florida lost that many games in a row was 1979, the Gators’ last losing season (0-10-1).

“We don’t ever want to feel like this again,’’ said redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg afterward. “It’s a terrible feeling.”

The game Saturday turned out as many predicted.

FSU was too talented and too deep for the Gators to hang with for long. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s right arm eventually took over and Seminoles receiver Kelvin Benjamin (9 catches, 212 yards, 3 TDs) was the main recipient.

A 3-0 FSU lead late in the first half ballooned to 17-0 at halftime and 27-0 after three quarters. Mornhinweg’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Joyer made sure the Gators didn’t get shut out for the first time since 1988.

Otherwise, the Seminoles showed why they are ranked second in the country and in line to play for the BCS national championship if they win next week’s ACC title game.

“We finished the season off the right way,’’ Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.

The Gators and their fans are just glad to be finished.

“It’s just frustrating,’’ defensive back Cody Riggs said. “We went through a lot of adversity.”

Even before kickoff Saturday the discussion focused on the future. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley met with approximately 30 reporters at an impromptu press conference in the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium press box.

He reiterated once again that Muschamp will be back for his 39th game as Florida’s head coach when the Gators open next season.

“We know what this program is all about,’’ Foley said. “I have total confidence in Coach Muschamp and have made that clear. We’ve got to fix some things. When you have seasons like this, that’s what you do – you evaluate, you analyze, you fix things.

“You don’t panic. You don’t put orange-and-blue glasses on. Obviously it’s not acceptable. It’s not who we are and what we’re about.”

In Foley’s view the program is in better shape now than when Muschamp took over in 2011. Nothing that happened this season has changed his take on Muschamp’s ability as a coach.

Asked why the longer leash with Muschamp than with former coach Ron Zook in 2004, Foley said the circumstances are different.

“I don’t think it’s apples to apples,’’ Foley said. “I’m not being disrespectful to anybody. Zooker and I are friends, but it’s just not apples to apples. It’s my job to evaluate and see where the program is headed. At that point in time, I didn’t think it was headed where we wanted it to be. This time, I think it’s headed where we want it to be. The proof is going to be in the pudding.”

Foley and Muschamp have had plenty of discussions recently on some of the improvements needed. They both agree the offense has to improve.

The Gators averaged just 14.7 points over their final seven games and entered Saturday’s game ranked last in the SEC in total offense. They were outgained by the Seminoles 456-193.

“I think we need to take a look at ourselves schematically,’’ Muschamp said after the game. “There have been some things that have happened that are very difficult to overcome. But schematically there’s no question we need to take a look at ourselves.

While Muschamp climbed the coaching ladder as a successful defensive coordinator at LSU, Auburn and Texas, the Gators still don’t have a clear offensive identity. Muschamp’s offensive philosophy is an offense built around a strong downhill run game and physical offensive line.

If his critics question whether he can adjust his outlook, he said: “Perception is not always reality. I’m willing to do what I need to do to score points and win games.”

Muschamp plans to start end-of-season evaluations Sunday. He said after Saturday’s loss to the Seminoles – Florida’s third loss to FSU in four years – he has not decided on what staff changes are in store.

Whatever changes are coming, the offense will be affected.

“I don’t think it’s any secret, and Will will tell you, we’ve got to fix that side of the ball,” Foley said. “I’m not being disrespectful to anybody, but you look at some of the games we’ve lost, we haven’t scored many points. That has to get fixed. And that’s going to be Will’s responsibility as the head football coach.”

The fixing begins Sunday.

 Before he left his postgame press conference Saturday, Muschamp made sure the room knew he liked the tools he has to work with.

“We're going to have a good football team next season,” he said. “We're gonna be fine. That's damn encouraging.”

 

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