Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Will Muschamp Make it Through the Season?

It is beginning to look more and more like the 11-2 season in 2012 was the anomaly and not the norm. In his fourth year as the head coach of the Florida Gators, Muschamp has compiled a 24-17 record, with almost half of his victories coming in that one year alone. People knew from the moment he was hired that it was a tall order to replace Urban Meyer, the guy who won two national titles in a three year span. But even after a very average 7-6 campaign in his first season, there was some decent sense of optimism that things might just be okay. The 2012 season provided some familiarity and comfort to Gators faithful. Florida beat four ranked teams that year by a combined score of 132 to 63 and only lost the two games by a combined total of 18 points. They were ranked as high as number three in country before losing a tough game against Georgia, and were beaten in the Sugar Bowl by future first round pick Teddy Bridgewater. No shame in those losses.

Florida also gave us this iconic image against
Georgia Southern.
Yet for as good as 2012 was, 2013 was a dumpster fire. The Gators only won four games and lost their last seven is miserable fashion. The low point came when they lost at home to Georgia Southern despite Georgia Southern not even completing a single pass in the game. Looking back, it makes one wonder how the hell they were ranked 10th going into the season. Muschamp is known for his stout defenses, but last year was absolutely brutal on both sides of the ball. They gave up an average of three touchdowns a game which doesn't seem that bad, but giving up 26 to Georgia Southern and 36 to Vanderbilt on your own turf is just brutal. A lot of the defensive woes can be attributed to the rash of injuries that they suffered, but there's no excuse for giving up that number of points to schools that can't even hold a candle to Florida's recruiting ability. Worse than the defense was offense which was barely able to scratch 19 points per game last year, exceeding 21 points only four times (all of which came in their first five games).

To fix their offensive woes, Florida hired former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to get the offense flowing again. The offense seemed to be clicking in the first two games, putting up 65 against Eastern Michigan in a warm up game and 36 against Kentucky in a triple overtime game (yet only 20 in regulation). Yet Saturday's game against Alabama was a throw back to the ineffectiveness of this offense and goes to show how truly dreadful they can be. Alabama has always sported a good defense, but this year they have a very inexperienced secondary that a skillful quarterback can exploit. Is that a tall order against a Saban led defense? Absolutely. But Jeff Driskel was insanely terrible in this game. He connected on just 9 of his 28 passes for 93 yards and two picks. This right here is the source of Florida's struggles over last few years. A few of my good friends are Gators fans, including Justin who writes the pro section of this blog, and I can tell you with certainty that they cannot wait for him to graduate. Even during the 2012 season, Driskel was never anything close to what a quarterback playing at the UF should resemble. Kurt Roper's arrival does not seem to have done much to improve his play. But one has to wonder now if it is more systematic rather than the failures of a single player on offense.
Even Driskel's own receivers want him gone.

Last year, Driskel went down due to injury and Tyler Murphy was forced to start. Murphy transferred after the season to Boston College to be closer to his family where he already lead an upset over #9 USC. Before getting hurt at Florida, he was unspectacular, throwing for six touchdowns against five picks and never looking in control of the offense. Its not as if he is in the Heisman race now that he is at BC, but he is playing with more confidence with less talent surrounding him. The problem at Florida lies in the development of offensive talent. Driskel is the face of that, but it goes much deeper. Since 2012, Muschamp has hauled in three consecutive top ten recruiting classes and in those classes has brought in 14 wide receivers or tight ends ranked in the top 250 by Rivals. Yet these guys just simply have not produced. They obviously have the athletic talent, but they aren't being developed into the play makers that they should be. The leading receiver through three games has 23 receptions, but 15 of them came against Kentucky in a triple over time game. Even the running game has been inconsistent throughout his tenure at Florida. Defensive minded head coaches typically like to lean on the running game. Again, Florida has recruited some good talent at running back and offensive line but hasn't seen too much of the benefits of it.

This season it looks like it could be another rough one for the Gators. They started off pretty well, but a triple overtime victory against Kentucky was definitely concerning. Kentucky doesn't have nearly as much athletic talent on either side of the ball and shouldn't have been able to keep it that close. While the Gators put up 532 yards of offense, they had some trouble actually punching it into the endzone. And despite having arguable the best corner in the country in Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida's secondary has been torched the last two games. They gave up 370 yards to Kentucky to go along with three touchdowns (albeit with three interceptions too), and then gave up over 400 yards to Alabama quarterback Blake Sims who had looked remarkably average in his first few starts. From here on out, it doesn't get any easier for the Gators. In the next four weeks, Florida travels to Neyland Stadium where the Volunteers have the receivers to stretch the secondary, play at home against LSU, take on reigning SEC East champion Mizzou at home, and play in Jacksonville against arch-rival Georgia. I think the best case scenario is that they split those four games. Most likely, they'd beat Tennessee since they have had their number for a decade, and then take down LSU as they were recently exposed by Mississippi State. Yet even after that brutal four game stretch, they still have to play South Carolina and play at Florida State. There is a real possibility that they could actually lose all of those games given the offensive woes. If Florida loses their next four (as I mentioned, its a real possibility) and is on a five game losing streak, I sincerely doubt Muschamp will still have his job. 

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