NCF Nation: Quinton Dunbar

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ask Florida coach Will Muschamp about rebounding from an atrocious 4-8 2013 season and he’ll nearly bowl you over with an almost immediate answer.

“We gotta get better on offense,” he said.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxJeff Driskel, now healed from a broken fibula, is immersing himself in learning a new scheme.
Mushchamp’s straight to the point and doesn’t really have to add much else. The Gators lost seven straight games with the SEC’s worst offense and one that ranked as one of the worst in the entire country, averaging 316.7 yards per game, 4.8 yards per play and 18.8 points per game.

The Gators had the unfortunate task of trying to manage their way through the SEC with a rash of injuries that ended the seasons of starting quarterback Jeff Driskel during the third game of the season and starting running back Matt Jones a few weeks later. Before the season even began, starting right tackle Chaz Green was lost for the year with a torn labrum. Players dropped like flies, and Florida’s offense sputtered to an embarrassing finish.

Muschamp has to be realistic about his evaluation of the 2013 team –- specifically his offense -– but he refuses to lean too heavily on the injury crutch.

“We could have managed it better -- done something differently, changed more,” Muschamp said. “There are a lot of things that I look back and thought we could have done this, but at the end of the day, sometimes it was hard.”

This spring, Muschamp wants to see his offense trend upward with a new offensive coordinator and what should be a more spread attack with much more shotgun sets. And it has to. Florida can’t win any games this spring, but it can lose some if players don’t buy in and meticulously take to the offensive overhaul that spring practice has essentially become in Gainesville.

Former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and former USC offensive line coach Mike Summers were hired for both a quick and long-term fix for Florida's offense. To Muschamp, the main objective this spring is to install Roper's new offense and immerse players in a new scheme that carries so much weight in terms of getting this program back on track.

Roper helped direct a Duke offense that averaged 100-plus more yards a game than Florida and nearly doubled the Gators in points per contest. The Blue Devils also set a school record for total touchdowns (54) and became the first team in program history to post 20-plus rushing and passing touchdowns in the same season.

“Just from watching Duke last year, they’re going to run inside-zone; that’s the play,” said Driskel, who has successfully returned from a broken fibula. “I don’t think we’re trying to hide that. We’re going to have a lot of quick pass plays to get the ball out of our hand.”

It isn’t exactly what Driskel ran in high school, but it suits him better because he’s a shotgun quarterback. He can see the field better and he can utilize his legs better when he’s farther away from the line of scrimmage to start a play.

During their 11-win 2012 season, the Gators were more successful on offense when Driskel used his feet more on zone-read plays. Driskel hopes that continues under his third offensive coordinator in four springs.

“I’m real excited about going into the no-huddle-type offense,” he said. “It’s really easy to get into a groove as a quarterback when you’re in the no-huddle offense, and we have the players to be successful [with it].

“When you’re under center, you’re not a run threat. When you’re in the gun, the defense has to account for the running back and the quarterback as run threats.”

But Driskel has to have someone -- or two -- to catch his throws. As Driskel continues to develop as a more fluid passer, he’ll have to generate better chemistry with a receiving corps that returns one receiver with 20-plus catches from a year ago in redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar (40) and one with a touchdown reception (Ahmad Fulwood, 1).

Muschamp sees potential in Dunbar and Fulwood, who will be a true sophomore this year, and is waiting to see how guys like Chris Thompson, Andre Debose, Demarcus Robinson and Letroy Pittman improve during a critical spring.

The fourth-year Gators coach also says he has the players in place to be successful and believes that Roper can mold the offense around their abilities. That’s why the offense is different. That’s why the ground-and-pound theme of this offense has been tweaked. That’s why Roper was hired.

“Since he’s been here, the biggest thing I would say [he brings] is a positive energy for the players, a positive energy for the staff,” Muschamp said of Roper.

Now, Muschamp needs that positivity to turn into production.

Loss to Vanderbilt turns up heat on UF

November, 9, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ron Zook called it "noise in the system" when negativity swirled around his third and final season at Florida. But Zook never lost to Vanderbilt, much less by blowout in the homecoming game.

That would be Will Muschamp's Gators, who lost their fourth consecutive game, an emotionally draining 34-17 loss served up on a platter for Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4 in the SEC) on Saturday. It was the Commodores' first victory in Gainesville since a 7-0 victory in 1945, the first game of the series.

"You're not going to win many games turning it over four times and spotting the ball on the 10, 22 and 4," a dejected Muschamp said after the loss that dropped the Gators (4-5, 3-4) below .500 during the season for the first time since 1992.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWill Muschamp and the Gators lost their fourth game in a row, and their first to Vanderbilt at home since 1945.
"We're not good enough to overcome critical mistakes like that. You hold a team under 200 yards. ... Emotionally, it takes the wind out of your sails when you turn the ball over. You throw it to them, you give it to them inside the 10-yard line three times, you're not going to win. We're not good enough to overcome those things. We've got to take care of the ball."

The obvious scapegoat was quarterback Tyler Murphy, who was responsible for all four of Florida's turnovers. He threw three interceptions -- each returned deep into UF territory -- and gave Vanderbilt a sack-fumble just before the first half ended.

"I didn't play well," Murphy said. "I mean, when you throw three interceptions, you put the defense in a bind. You kill your momentum offensively. I've got to play better."

Murphy, who took the reins of the offense after Jeff Driskel was lost for the season in Week 3, is one of many Gators backups who have been thrust into starting positions. Florida has lost nine players for the season to injury, including five starters.

But Muschamp, Murphy and his teammates refuse to use the injuries as an excuse. The Gators and their fans expected even a hobbled team to defeat Vanderbilt.

The Commodores came to Gainesville with the nation's 85th-ranked scoring defense (30.3 points per game). Murphy took advantage with a career-high 305 yards on 30-for-46 passing, but much of that production came with Vandy safely ahead in the second half.

The expected advantage for Florida's defense, which entered the game No. 5 in the nation in total defense, was even more pronounced.

Vanderbilt came to Gainesville as one of the slowest-starting teams in the country. The Commodores were outscored 85-24 in the first quarters of its first eight games. On Saturday, however, the Commodores scampered through openings in a mistake-prone Gators defense, intercepted Murphy deep in UF territory and took a 10-0 lead, setting an ominous tone.

Murphy's second interception was just as damaging. The junior, who has been struggling with a shoulder injury sustained against LSU on Oct. 12, lofted a long pass into the swirling wind and badly underthrew Quinton Dunbar. Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler easily corralled the ball at the 50 and set up the Commodores offense at the Florida 22. Four running plays later, the Gators were looking at a 17-0 deficit just over 20 minutes into the game.

After a penalty gave them the ball at their own 9-yard line, the Gators finally showed some life with one of their clock-chewing drives. On the 13th play, freshman running back Kelvin Taylor ran for 10 yards to set up a first-and-goal, but Murphy checked out of a straight-ahead run to a short-side option that he fumbled out of bounds. After two incompletions, UF settled for a field goal amid a shower of boos from the stands.

"It was a miscommunication between me and the line," Murphy said. "That's just once again [where] we shot ourselves in the foot in the red zone. We got a field goal and needed a touchdown.”

Murphy's nightmarish day continued on the third play of the second half. His throw behind Trey Burton was bobbled into the arms of Vanderbilt safety Andrew Williamson, who followed the first-half script and returned the ball 38 yards to Florida's 4-yard line to set up the Vanderbilt offense for another easy touchdown and an insurmountable 24-3 lead.

After voicing their displeasure, the fans left in droves throughout the second half. Afterward, Muschamp took full responsibility for what they had witnessed.

"I’m a competitor. I don’t like losing. I certainly don’t like the product we are putting on the field, and that’s my responsibility. I take full credit for that," he said. "When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s not good, it’s not good, and it hasn’t been good. And that’s on me. We’ll make the decisions to move forward that we need to do to help this football team in the latter part of the season as we move forward. That’s my plan. I’m not asking for anybody to be happy. I’m not asking anybody to give a pass.

"My expectation, I’ll guarantee, is as high or higher than anyone sitting in those stands. There’s nobody more let down or hurt or competitive edge dented a little bit by this run. So it’s on me. We’ll get it turned. I can assure you that."

The players took a less defiant tone and were more stunned at what their season has become.

"Very shocking," Murphy said. "We come here, everyone in that locker room came to Florida to win and we're not winning, and you know that's unacceptable. As players we know it's unacceptable, and we're just going to keep fighting and keep pushing. We're going to try to make the best out of this season."

With the heat rising after every loss, Muschamp said he is not worried about his job and plans to consider staff changes at the end of the season, as he has done before.

"You evaluate everything at the end of the season and that’s certainly what I will do," he said. "I’ve done that my first two years and I’ll do that this year. I'm not worried about that."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A little more than six minutes into Saturday's game with Tennessee, Florida's worst fears entering the season became a reality.

Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel -- the only quarterback on the roster to attempt an official pass during his college career -- went down with a broken leg that ended his 2013 season.

The team that has one of the smallest margins for error in the SEC just lost its starting quarterback and would have to rely on total inexperience in its SEC opener.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFlorida's coaching staff runs out to quarterback Jeff Driskel after he broke his leg throwing a first-quarter pass against Tennessee.
Then, Tyler Murphy took the stage, looking to dig the Gators out of an early 7-0 hole. The way Florida's offense has moved this season, it seemed uncertain.

But a funny thing happened when Murphy, a former two-star recruit who owned few college offers during his senior year of high school, took the field: The offense actually went forward. There were some hiccups and gaffes along the way, but Murphy was able to lead the Gators to 17 straight first-half points in Florida's 31-17 win over the Vols.

He threw for 134 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 84 yards and another score. After a mostly laughable first half filled with turnovers and head-scratchers from both teams, Murphy looked poised and controlled in his first career win.

"It wasn't the way I wanted it, but an opportunity is an opportunity," said Murphy, who was a very late addition to Urban Meyer's 2010 recruiting class.

It was a cruel outcome for Driskel, who was already having an up-and-down start to the season, and Florida coach Will Muschamp understands the blow this is for his team. Despite Driskel's inconsistencies, he entered the game with a 10-3 record as a starter, and was slowly progressing in Florida's passing game.

"I hurt for him, I hurt for us right now," Muschamp said. "Jeff's a good football player and it's going to hurt us. He's a guy who's won a lot of ball games here, so I'm disappointed for him right now."

Now, Murphy, who had sat behind five quarterbacks in his career before Saturday's game, has the chore of leading the Gators for the rest of the season. The question is what changes and what stays the same.

Shortly after Murphy's exciting debut, Muschamp and his players agreed that most of the offense won't change going forward, but Muschamp hinted that there could be tweaks in the passing game to fit Murphy's skill set. With both being running quarterbacks, the Gators' game plans going forward shouldn't be too different.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsBackup quarterback Tyler Murphy ran 10 times for 84 yards and a touchdown.
After a shaky start, Murphy showed real poise in the pocket. What really loosened him up was his 52-yard touchdown pass to receiver Solomon Patton on a screen that made it 10-7 Florida early in the second quarter. The in-game development really showed when he led the Gators on back-to-back 79-yard touchdown drives. During the first one, he connected with Quinton Dunbar on a beautifully placed 31-yard, over-the-shoulder pass down the right sideline. He totaled 115 yards off offense on those drives.

"I was able to eventually get comfortable and get into a little groove and try and manage," Murphy said.

Murphy said his preparation doesn't change, but the pressure is on. This is his team now. His name was trending on Twitter on Saturday night, and Florida students chanted his name late in the fourth quarter. Considering the circumstances, Murphy performed well, but Tennessee's defense surrendered nearly 700 yards and 59 points to Oregon last week and is still a work in progress.

Remember when Driskel was regarded as a true up-and-comer after he registered 300 yards of offense and two touchdowns against Tennessee last year? He ended the season averaging just 137 passing yards and carried a mountain of criticism into this season.

For all the fans wanting to see a change at quarterback, they got their wish Saturday. But they shouldn't expect life without Driskel to be easier. Tennessee's defense is nothing special, and Murphy hasn't seen or been through anything Driskel has in two-plus years. Life as the starting QB at an SEC school is very foreign to Murphy, but he at least has a lot of support from his teammates.

"We have all faith, all trust in Tyler Murphy," center Jonotthan Harrison said. "He's been here longer than Driskel, and he's real in tune with the offense. He knows what's going on, and that's what we love about him."

Before Saturday, Murphy had spent his entire career waiting in the wings, but he said he treated every rep like he was the starter. He got valuable time with the first team during fall camp after Driskel's emergency appendectomy and took more reps with the first-team during the bye week when Driskel was sidelined with a sprained knee.

When Driskel went down again, Murphy was there to clean things up. It was an improbable outcome for a player buried on the depth chart for years, but it was a testament to the work Murphy has put in away from game time.

"One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity," Muschamp said. "Tyler Murphy certainly took advantage of that opportunity today with his snaps.

"He took the circumstances and defied what you would think a lot of backup guys would do in that situation and went in there and didn't just manage our team; he produced. He had great production in critical situations in the game."

It's all about offense for the Gators

September, 21, 2013
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It's sounds like a broken record, but if Florida is going to make a run to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, it has to figure out a way to get into the end zone more.

If this offense can't score, it'll be sitting at home in early December.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel has been more productive throwing the ball but needs to avoid red zone turnovers.
No. 19-ranked Florida (1-1) has actually moved the ball down the field better through two game this season (averaging 414 yards per game) than it did for most of the 2012 season. The Gators had 399 yards outside of the red zone in their Week 2 loss to Miami and averaged more than six yards a play. But inside the red zone, Florida mustered just 14 yards, one touchdown and turned the ball over three times.

Saturday's matchup with Tennessee (2-1) is flying under the radar nationally, but it's a crucial game for the Gators. They can't afford to make the same mistakes -- like going 2-for-6 in the red zone -- that cost them a win against the Hurricanes. They can't afford to complicate things close to the end zone, as Tennessee leads the SEC in red zone defense and takeaways.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel has to protect the ball better and has to have more confidence near the end zone. He's throwing the ball down field more, but he has to play bigger the closer he gets to the end zone. He might be averaging more than 200 yards per game passing (after throwing for just 137 per game last season), but both of his interceptions have come in the red zone.

Guys such as Solomon Patton, Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton have stepped up as reliable receiving targets, combining to catch 19 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown against Miami, so Driskel has options. And the running game will be better with the return of a fully healthy Matt Jones.

Florida won't be perfect, but it has to make strides offensively against a Tennessee team that gave up nearly 700 yards and 59 points to Oregon last week. The Gators aren't Oregon, but they have the pieces to generate points. A good showing by the offense -- and more points -- could go a long way in the confidence department for a team looking to be much more consistent with the ball in its hands.

Clutch gene missing from UF's offense

September, 10, 2013
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As Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel trudged off the field inside Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, he couldn't help but hang his head. Looking at the ground had to feel better than looking up at the scoreboard or at his teammates.

For most of the 60 minutes of actual football action, the junior who many felt coming into the season could be the SEC's most improved player left a lot to be desired with his play in the clutch.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxJeff Driskel is helping Florida move the ball, but he can't lead the Gators into the end zone.
The 21-16 loss to Miami showed so many different things about Florida, but the main area of concern was the red zone. Six times the Gators entered Miami's 20-yard line, four times they failed to come away with points. Three times they turned it over -- two by way of a Driskel interception.

If Florida is going to make any sort of charge in the SEC East, the mental errors, turnovers and ugly mistakes that plagued the Gators Saturday have to get corrected, like yesterday, and it all starts with Driskel.

Last year, Driskel was in his second season at Florida with his second different offensive coordinator. This year, he and everyone around him have talked about increased confidence. They've insisted that there's more chemistry with receivers. Driskel is more comfortable in the offense.

In all honesty, you've seen all of that through two games. Driskel was 12th in the SEC in passing last year, averaging 137.2 yards per game and threw 12 touchdowns to five interceptions. Two weeks into the 2013 season, he's averaging 222 yards per game and has two touchdowns to two interceptions.

Driskel even threw for a career-high 291 yards in the loss to Miami, which was lost in his three turnovers.

Florida's offense is in a weird position. It can move the ball, but can't score points. Through two games, the Gators are averaging an SEC-low 20 points per game.

Driskel looked like a deer in headlights when the Gators got inside the red zone Saturday, but for the most part, he played pretty well inside the other 80 yards. He had command of the huddle, wasn't afraid to take a few shots down field (though he missed a few that were wide open) and is still owning the read-option. But his decision-making the closer Florida got to the end zone has to be concerning. And when the running game, which averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, shut down between the tackles, Driskel became too inconsistent with the ball.

The Gators are still searching for a consistent offensive playmaker, but Solomon Patton, Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton combined to catch 19 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown Saturday. Patton caught six passes for 118 yards and a touchdown and wowed fans with his awkward, over-the-shoulder 46-yard catch in the first quarter.

But when it was time to put the ball in the end zone during crucial moments, Florida couldn't deliver. Burton fumbled. The coaching staff called a bizarre two-point conversion (that failed) in the first quarter. The Gators went for it on a fourth-and-1, leaving three valuable points on the board early. Oh, and there were two interceptions.

It had to be extremely frustrating inside that locker room knowing how close, yet how far this team was from pulling off a comfortable victory. However, you can't go 2-for-6 in the red zone, turn the ball over five times, and expect to win.

How were the Gators outside the red zone? Well, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Florida ran 65 plays for 399 yards there. That's an average of 6.1 yards per play. Inside the red zone, Florida ran 12 plays for 14 yards (1.2 yards per play).

Florida gave the ball to Miami three times in the red zone after having just three red zone turnovers last season (two interceptions and a fumble).

It might be hard to grasp, but the offense has moved the ball better for the most part. The Gators went back-to-back games with 400-plus yards of offense for the first time since the first two games of the 2011 season.

The problem is the inconsistency at crucial times. The Gators just aren't scoring points. Penalties cost them in Week 1, and turnovers killed them in Week 2. In two games, Florida has scored on six of 12 red zone visits.

The clutch factor isn't there for Florida, yet, and neither are the points. It hasn't hurt the Gators in SEC play, but Florida can't afford another Miami-like performance if it wants to return to Atlanta.

Expect excitement from the SEC East

September, 7, 2013
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Georgia's thrilling 41-30 win over No. 6 South Carolina inside Sanford Stadium Saturday night set a familiar tone for the SEC Eastern Division: No lead or team is safe.

The 12th-ranked Bulldogs (1-1) went from being outmuscled a week prior in their heartbreaking loss to ACC foe Clemson, to doing most of the pushing around, as the Bulldogs catapulted themselves to the top of the East standings.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall, Aaron Murray, Kolton Houston
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia had plenty to celebrate in its win over South Carolina, but there's a long way to go before the Dawgs can think about celebrating an SEC East title.
"The team that loses this game is waiting for the other's bus to break down," Georgia coach Mark Richt said Saturday. "We've been chasing them the last three years. South Carolina has a very good team, and this year, we get a chance to sit in the driver's seat. … We haven't been 1-0 in the league in a while because South Carolina's been getting us. Today, we got them, and I'm so thankful."

The road to Atlanta for the SEC championship game yet again has to go through Athens, but the Bulldogs are far from perfect ... just like the top contenders looking up at the Dawgs.

While Georgia's defense has given up 68 points and allowed an average of 460.5 yards to opposing offenses in the first two games of the season, South Carolina's defense struggled mightily on Saturday after Florida's offense developed a fear of the red zone in its unsettling 21-16 loss to Miami.

Georgia is in the driver's seat for its third consecutive SEC East title, but the East certainly hasn't been won two weeks into the season. If anyone should know that, it's Georgia.

The Bulldogs have a lot of flaws on defense. Things cleaned up against South Carolina, but the Gamecocks (1-1) still churned out 454 yards of offense, including 226 rushing yards, Saturday night. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw continues to show that he's a true gamer and he's helping those receivers grow more and more.

On the flip side, the Bulldogs showed that they can hang with anyone in any SEC shootout. Georgia piled up 538 total yards, watched Aaron Murray throw four touchdowns, and have a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Todd Gurley (132 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries). Scoring points won't be a problem for the Bulldogs, but stopping them could be.

That's the opposite predicament No. 12 Florida (1-1) finds itself in after a bad loss to the Hurricanes. There's no question that the Gators have an elite defense, but even it couldn't save the offense like it did so many times last season. The offense, which registered 413 yards of offense (the most by Florida since gaining 403 yards against Vanderbilt on Oct. 13 last year), was totally inept inside the red zone.

The Gators took six trips inside Miami's 20-yard line and came away with just nine points and four turnovers. Two were Jeff Driskel interceptions, one was a Trey Burton fumble and another was a turnover on downs on a very questionable fourth-and-1 call.

Adding more salt to the Gators' wound, they missed a puzzling two-point conversion after their first touchdown.

"We moved the ball. We had more than 400 yards, mixed the run and pass well, did some good things at times,'' Florida coach Will Muschamp told reporters after Saturday's loss. "Bottom line, you can't continue to shoot yourself in the foot and give another team an opportunity, especially on the road."

Those shots came in the form of three lost fumbles, two interceptions and red zone failures. While Florida rediscovered the art of actually moving the ball down the field (and might have found capable receiving targets in Quinton Dunbar, Solomon Patton and Burton), mistakes and poor play calling ruined the Gators' chances of beating a less-talented Miami team.

But fear not Gators fans! The East is still in reach. A Miami loss means nothing in conference standings and that defense is only going to get better. By the looks of what Georgia and South Carolina did defensively, the Gators have a chance to squeak out some points against them.

For now, the attention is on Georgia and South Carolina because they have offenses that don't shrink near the goal line (well, minus that failed fourth-and-1 by the Gamecocks late Saturday). They have capable quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. We still don't know if the Gators do. But without a loss in conference play, Florida actually has the advantage over South Carolina, which now has to root for two Georgia losses.

However, the trio at the top still has some other hurdles to conquer. You have to wonder if Vanderbilt or even Missouri or Tennessee can help derail their trains to Atlanta. Nonconference cupcakes aside, Missouri and Tennessee are the only unbeaten teams in the East.

We know Vandy will challenge everyone going forward, but Mizzou and Tennessee still remain relative enigmas this early in the season. With far from perfect teams at the top, any one of these three could serve as a pesky pothole on the road to Atlanta. South Carolina gets its first taste of the rest of the East next week with a visit from Vandy.

Then there's the obstacle that is LSU that Florida and Georgia both face. The Tigers look like they could challenge for the Western Division title and should pose threats both offensively and defensively for the Gators and Dawgs.

Georgia is ahead of the pack, but if we've learned anything from the past few years, the East race to Atlanta is far from being paved in red and black.
Loucheiz Purifoy might want to have an IV of both water and Gatorade hooked up to him once spring practice ends. He's about to spend the next few months running his tail off as he prepares to be one of those rare two-way college football players this fall.

[+] EnlargeLoucheiz Purifoy
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida Gator fans could see Loucheiz Purifoy playing on both sides of the ball in 2013.
Will Muschamp kicked off spring by announcing that he'd be experimenting with Purifoy, who is one of Florida's best overall defenders and the most physical cornerback on the team, at wide receiver for the first seven practices. He made it clear that he needed Purifoy on offense in order to help the Gators out with depth at a position that has gaping holes. But Muschamp has also made it clear that Purifoy could be in the mix for playing time on offense to go along with his defensive and special teams duty.

"He's an athletic freak and he's a guy we want to get the ball, and he's done a good job so far," quarterback Jeff Driskel said of Purifoy. "He's really embraced the challenge and done a good job."

Purifoy won't be the next A.J. Green or Julio Jones at receiver, and chances are that he won't be the next Champ Bailey if he really does play both offense and defense, but he will get every chance to be a difference maker for the Gators.

The plan is to have Purifoy play more corner than anything, but if the Gators can't find consistent players at receiver, Muschamp might have to turn to Purifoy more than expected. Yes, Purifoy is a better corner than receiver, but when it comes to what might help the Gators more this fall, there's a chance he could be more valuable at receiver.

But a lot has to happen in order for this to be true. Florida's receivers have to fall behind in their development and the coaches have to feel comfortable with Purifoy's replacements. One player who could make a possible Purifoy transition easier is incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III. Many feel Hargreaves, who was a five-star prospect and the top corner prospect in the 2013 recruiting class, is ready to play at the college level right now.

Obviously, throwing a true freshman out at corner is a little dangerous, but with some vets around him, the Gators won't have to rely on just Hargreaves once he arrives.

In all likelihood, Purifoy will stay a starter at corner, but if Muschamp is serious about playing him for around 60 snaps a game and getting him into the offensive playbook more this summer, there's a real chance Purifoy could be a nice offensive weapon for the Gators because he's extremely physical and can stretch the field.

The thought of a corner taking reps away from receivers has to motivate this relatively unproven group of pass-catchers. Five true freshmen, including ESPN 150 early enrollee Demarcus Robinson, will compete with vets Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose, and rising sophomores Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades for playing time this fall.

Dunbar is turning heads this spring, but we've heard that before, and Debose is still struggling with consistency. This position is wide open and Purifoy will get another crack at it in 2013. He'll go through a world of pain this summer to get his body in proper shape and if he continues to progress at receiver, the coaches won't hesitate to use him if the Gators really need him.
The recipe for a national championship in the SEC has been pretty simple of late: Coaches either win one in their second or third year.

Urban Meyer did it at Florida in Year 2 (2006). Gene Chizik did the same thing at Auburn in 2010. Alabama’s Nick Saban and LSU’s Les Miles did it in Year 3 following a double-digit-win season and a BCS berth.

That means Florida’s Will Muschamp should feel pretty good about his third year in Gainesville. After a mediocre 7-6 debut in 2011, Muschamp guided Florida to 11 wins and an appearance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl -- the same bowl Saban and Miles went to in their second years.

If recent history means anything at all, Muschamp and his Gators are basically two-thirds of the way from hoisting one of those shiny crystal footballs out in Pasadena, Calif.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesCoach Will Muschamp would like to use Florida's ground attack to set up explosive plays in the passing game.
Of course, it really isn't that easy, but Muschamp understands expectations are high. He has plenty of talent returning and there is no shortage of questions surrounding other teams in the SEC East. If not for an embarrassing loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, the hype surrounding Florida might be through the roof.

Even with all the offensive questions, a lot is expected from the Gators in 2013 and anything short of an SEC East title might be considered a disappointment.

“We all want to go to Atlanta and play for the championship, but that’s not the focal point,” Muschamp told ESPN.com in a phone interview earlier this month. “The focal point for us is understanding what it takes to get there. That’s what I’m trying to make sure our players and staff understand.”

And to understand that, Muschamp has to ram home the message that things have to be better in 2013. The defense must replace five starters, including two possible first-round draft picks, and the offense has to find some sort of spark in the passing game.

Florida might have as much work as any other team in the SEC to do this offseason because of how bad the passing game was in 2012. It cost the Gators two wins, and it might cost them even more this fall if there isn’t vast improvement.

“It’s not just one position, it’s a combination of things in the throwing game that we need to improve on,” Muschamp said.

That means quarterback Jeff Driskel, who enters his third year, has to do better than 137 yards per game, the offensive line has to be better in protection, and someone has to step up at wide receiver.

Florida still has veterans Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose, but neither has lived up to their billing. Dunbar made strides last season and was second in the team in receiving, but Debose went from 16 catches for a team-high 432 yards and four touchdowns in 2011 to three catches for 15 yards and zero scores last fall.

That means the pressure is on five freshmen receivers who signed this year. If none of them set themselves apart, the Gators could be in real trouble this fall. Muschamp refuses to abandon his pound-the-ground offensive mentality, but he knows he can’t get through another season without a better passing game.

“We’re going to be a physical football team that’s going to be able to create explosive [plays] down the field in the passing game because of how we run the ball and be able to create a better balance and be able to spread the field a little more,” he said.

History has the Gators sitting pretty, but if the Gators want glamorous rings and confetti showers, they’ll have to earn them. Florida has the potential to make a title run this fall, but Muschamp’s crew must keep building.

“The end result is great, but we have to understand how to get there,” he said. “We’ll let the Gator Nation worry about the end result. We just need to worry about how we’re getting there.”
It's all about numbers for Will Muschamp when it comes to recruiting.

He isn't counting stars or ESPN 300 members he's trying to sign. For Florida's second-year coach, he's always building, and for every position, there's a certain number he wants to reach in order to combat injury and attrition.

“That’s why I have certain numbers,” Muschamp told ESPN.com in a phone interview earlier this week. “It’s not always perfect, but I want to have that at every position and we’re really close to that on the offensive side of the ball.”

Where Muschamp really hopes he struck gold in 2013 was at wide receiver, where glaring holes at that position made the number five so important.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Robinson
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comThe Gators may need to count on their freshman receivers, such as Demarcus Robinson, to step up in the passing game.
Muschamp hauled in five receivers in his recent class and with the way the passing game struggled in 2012 -- and the shape Florida’s receiving corps is in -- they might all have to play immediately.

“I want them all to contribute. I want them all to start,” Muschamp said. “But they’re going to determine that, not me.”

Muschamp thinks all five give him a good base to work with.

Muschamp doesn’t like to single players out, especially true freshmen, but the star of the group is early enrollee Demarcus Robinson, who was an ESPN 150 member and ranked as the No. 8 receiver nationally in the 2013 class. He’s a dynamic athlete who can stretch the field and is dangerous in space. Being on campus now doesn’t mean he’ll start, Muschamp said, but it will give him a leg up during the installation process in a more relaxed learning environment that is spring practice.

Robinson brings that play-making ability that the Gators desperately need at receiver. Quinton Dunbar led Florida receivers with just 36 catches in 2012. Frankie Hammond Jr. was next for receivers with 22 catches. They were the only receivers with touchdowns and neither reached 400 yards.

As the Gators look to put more emphasis on the passing game this spring, Robinson is expected to be a crucial element in Florida’s offense.

His help arrives this summer, starting with ESPN 150 athlete Alvin Bailey, who played Wildcat quarterback in high school. He resembles a bigger Chris Rainey and is what Muschamp calls “just a play-making guy.”

ESPN 150 member Ahmad Fulwood stretches the field vertically, while ESPN 300 WR Marqui Hawkins is a bigger, more physical receiver who could be moved all around the offense. And Gainesville native Chris Thompson can really run and “take the top off of coverage,” Muschamp said.

“All five guys have been multisport athletes and can do a lot of things, have a big competitive edge, and can hopefully continue to progress forward in a positive way here at Florida at receiver,” Muschamp said.

It’s tough for true freshman receivers to make immediate, positive impacts, but it’s been done. Look at Percy Harvin, Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Malcolm Mitchell in recent years. Do any of these players have that same ability? It’s unknown, but they’ll have to do something this fall for a Florida team that was last in the SEC in passing (146.3 yards per game) and lost its best pass -atcher in tight end Jordan Reed (45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns).

Dunbar is the lone returning receiver with double-digit catches from last fall, so it’s obvious quarterback Jeff Driskel needs a lot of help. Muschamp wants to continue to be a physical, tough offense, and he certainly has the rushing pieces for that, but he understands his team has to throw it more and throw it more efficiently.

The plan is to concentrate more on the passing game this spring and take what he calls a “different approach” to throwing the ball, and that will only improve when these youngsters start working. It’s a lot to ask of freshmen, but without their help, Florida’s offense could be even more one-dimensional this fall.

“Against some of the defenses we’re going to face on our schedule, now, there are going to come some days when you’re going to have to do some different things as opposed to just lining up and running the power and the counter,” Muschamp said. “We understand that we’re going to have to be more multiple on offense.”
Will MuschampDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsWill Muschamp must evaluate the Gators' offense this offseason following a rough Sugar Bowl loss.
NEW ORLEANS -- It's funny how the perception of a team can change so quickly.

Most of the time leading up to Florida's bout with Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl involved conversations about how good the Gators could be in 2013. The overwhelming thought from pretty much every side of the college football spectrum was that the Gators would handle a talented, yet, overmatched Louisville team and then wait to see how high they would rise in next year's preseason polls.

With a chunk of talent returning on defense and an offense that just had to get better, Florida was looking at being a legitimate national title contender in 2013.

However, all that talk ceased when Louisville's Terell Floyd intercepted Jeff Driskel's opening pass and took it 38 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinals an immediate 7-0 lead. At the time, the play looked harmless in the grand scheme of things, but it proved to totally break the Gators' offensive concentration.

From there, Florida panicked offensively (star running back Mike Gillislee ran the ball just nine times), and Driskel's composure and pass attempts became harder and harder to watch.

The offense rarely wowed in 2012, but during its first appearence in 2013, with a month of work, it totally collapsed, leaving the Gators with a load of question marks entering spring practice.

That Gators always found a way to bounce back with its mediocre offensive attack, but had no answers against the Cardinals. Now, it really is back to the drawing board for Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

But what does Florida do? Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett is still unsure if he'll return, but if he leaves, players have to have more confidence in Driskel than they had this fall. The rhythm and timing has to improve or this offense isn't going anywhere.

Driskel became a major scapegoat for the offense in the Twitterverse Wednesday night, but as former Florida quarterback Chris Leak told me after the game: It's hard to do much of anything when there isn't much of anything around you. Driskel might have composure issues in the pocket, but he has just one consistent receiving weapon in tight end Jordan Reed, who got injured Wednesday night. He also played behind an offensive line that was wildly inconsistent in pass protection.

Pease has said that the offensive line will be better in 2013, but that might not matter much if the Gators don't find a couple of consistent receiving threats. Reed is still on the fence about coming back, and if he doesn't, Florida will enter spring with only one player who caught 30-or-more passes in 2012 -- wide receiver Quinton Dunbar (36).

Pease and new receivers coach Joker Phillips have to find someone who can catch the ball on a regular basis, with or without Reed in the lineup. The Gators just can't run their offense effectively next year without it because teams won't respect the pass next year. They were too respectful at times this fall.

With freshmen Adam Lane and Kelvin Taylor coming to help Matt Jones and Mack Brown, the Gators will look to be run-oriented again, but as LSU has taught us, you have to have a threat to pass or you'll get eaten up against tougher defenses. And the use of the "Wildcat" will have to be greatly scaled back because it really has lost its effectiveness.

Teams respected the running game in 2012. They will look to clobber it in 2013 if a receiver doesn't step up. Will it be a freshman? Dunbar? Tight end Kent Taylor? Who knows, but everything this offense got away with in 2012 won't fly next season.

Florida has the defensive talent to make another strong run through the SEC, but if the offense doesn't really evolve in the next nine months and if Driskel still isn't comfortable for a majority of the time, scenes like Wednesday night's might be a recurring theme.


Reaction to Louisville's 33-23 win over Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl:

It was over when: Louisville cornerback Andrew Johnson intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone and returned it 22 yards early in the fourth quarter. Florida was close to scoring a touchdown and cutting Louisville’s lead to 30-17, but Jeff Driskel threw a bit behind receiver Quinton Dunbar and the ball bounced off Dunbar’s hands. The Cardinals converted that turnover into a 33-yard field goal and a 33-10 lead. That lead turned out to be insurmountable.

Game ball goes to: Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater shredded Florida’s defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency. The sophomore from Miami, Fla., completed 20 of 32 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Bridgewater was rarely pressured and pretty much had his pick of open receivers all night.

Stat of the game: Louisville was fantastic on third down and Florida wasn’t. The Cardinals went 9-for-14. Florida went 3-for-10 and the Gators didn’t get their first third-down conversion until the fourth quarter. Florida had entered the game fourth nationally in third-down defense (28 percent).

Unsung hero: Kick returner Andre Debose gave the Gators a glimmer of hope in the fourth quarter when he took a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to cut Louisville’s lead to 33-17.

Best call: It turned out to be meaningless in the final outcome, but the Gators scored their lone touchdown on a fake field goal late in the first half. Florida split several linemen out wide left but had fullback Trey Burton, running back Matt Jones and kicker Caleb Sturgis lined up behind the center. Burton took the snap and gave the ball to Jones on an option play and he scored from 1 yard out.

Second guessing: Florida coach Will Muschamp called for an onside kick to begin the second half trailing 24-10. It turned out to be disastrous. Not only did Louisville recover the ball, there was a skirmish after the play. Special teams standout Chris Johnson was ejected for throwing a punch, Loucheiz Purifoy was also penalized for a personal foul, and the Cardinals took possession at the UF 19-yard line. They scored a touchdown on the following play for a 30-10 lead.

What Louisville learned: The Cardinals program is in good hands with coach Charlie Strong and appears ready for its move to the ACC in 2014. Louisville is loaded with young talent -- 26 of the players on the two-deep depth charts on offense and defense are freshmen or sophomores -- and most importantly has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Bridgewater. The Cardinals gained a huge measure of momentum for next season with Wednesday night’s rout and will almost certainly be a preseason top 10 selection.

What Florida learned: The Gators didn’t learn anything new about their offense. The offensive line needs work, Driskel needs to improve, and there is a dearth of playmakers at receiver. However, it appears the Gators may not be as set on defense as they may have thought. Especially in the secondary, which was supposed to have been the team’s strength. The Gators were unable to slow down Louisville’s passing attack and the loss of Purifoy to an injury in the first half showed that the Gators don’t have much depth at corner.


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Here's a quick look back at No. 4 Florida's 37-26 victory over No. 10 Florida State on Saturday in Doak S. Campbell Stadium:

It was over when: With seven minutes left in the game, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Quinton Dunbar to put the Gators ahead 30-20. In five plays, the Gators went 32 yards to score -- a short field that was set up by Marcus Roberson's 50-yard punt return. It was a huge special-teams play that put Florida in position to separate itself and gave the Gators the momentum.

Game ball goes to: Florida's defense. It lived up to the billing, as the Gators forced five turnovers, and held Florida State to just 112 rushing yards and well under its season average of 42.91 points per game.

Stat of the game: Florida State turned the ball over five times -- two lost fumbles and three interceptions. Overall, Florida scored 10 points off FSU's turnovers. EJ Manuel's fumble in the fourth quarter led to an immediate score for running back Mike Gillislee, a 37-yard run that put the Gators up 23-20.

What it means: Florida still has an outside shot at playing for the national championship and further stated its case for a BCS bowl. It also snapped a two-game losing streak to coach Jimbo Fisher. For Florida State, it was a squandered opportunity to prove it deserves to be higher in the BCS standings and make an argument against the computers. It also was another letdown for the ACC on a national stage.

Nine games into Florida’s season and it’s pretty clear there’s a great wide receivers famine in Gainesville. And the Gators have two weeks to feed their passing game.

Florida might sport an impressive 8-1 record (7-1 SEC), but what it doesn’t sport is much of a threat to pass. There’s an abundance of speed and athleticism at receiver, but no complete packages.

When the Gators take on No. 10 Florida State on Nov. 24 in Tallahassee, something has to be different or they won’t stand much of a chance -- not with FSU owning the nation’s No. 1 defense and the fourth-best pass defense.

That leaves two weeks of cupcake ball against Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State for the Gators to fine-tune that passing game and find some weapons not named Jordan Reed.

[+] EnlargeFrankie Hammond
Kim Klement/US PresswireFrankie Hammond got off to an explosive start, but he and his fellow Florida WRs have been mostly quiet in 2012.
Outside of the junior tight end and his 33 catches, the Gators really don’t have any true receiving threats. Reed, who has been quarterback Jeff Driskel’s saving grace this season, leads Florida with 371 receiving yards and has three touchdowns. He’s the only receiving target with more than 20 receptions and more than 230 yards. He's Florida's only player with more than three catches in multiple games this season.

You can’t have your tight end be your best receiver and expect the offense to be balanced or threatening against good defenses, but that’s what the Gators are stuck with.

Since the Tennessee game on Sept. 15, Driskel has averaged just 122 passing yards with six touchdowns (four in the South Carolina game). He’s taken a good amount of criticism for his decision making, and some of it has certainly been appropriate, but if fans are going to groan about him holding onto the ball for too long, they should also groan about the lack of separation taking place down the field.

“We’re going to have to be more explosive,” Driskel said.

Yes, and more reliable.

“It is what it is,” coach Will Muschamp said about his passing game.

“It’s easy to go pick at that and that’s what everybody’s decided to do at this point.”

Very easy.

It’s obvious this part of Florida’s cupboard is pretty bare. Florida is last in the SEC in passing and is the only SEC team that doesn’t have a wide receiver with more than 20 catches this year. Right now, Quinton Dunbar leads all Florida wideouts with 20 receptions. He’s failed to record more than three catches and 40 yards in a single game.

Frankie Hammond had that 50-yard catch-and-run in the opener and a 75-yarder against Tennessee, but has caught just nine passes for 66 yards and a touchdown since.

Utility man Trey Burton has 11 receptions for 126 and no touchdowns. Omarius Hines has moved between tight end and running back, but has 12 catches, and Andre Debose, who has loads of talent but poor work ethic, has just two receptions on the season.

All of these players have been on campus for at least three years.

True freshman Latroy Pittman shined this spring, but has managed just two catches this fall.

Harp on Driskel's play all you want, but nudge some of that animosity over to the receivers as well.

Nothing exemplifies the Gators’ receiving woes quite like the past month. Florida went three games without 100 yards passing in that span and have just one touchdown in the past two games, including the 17-9 loss to Georgia.

Imagine Florida's SEC championship game hopes with a decent passing game.

It hasn’t helped that the Gators have had a lot of receiving recruiting misses over the years, starting with major ones from the Urban Meyer era. Muschamp also whiffed on two big 2012 recruits in ESPN 150 members Stefon Diggs (signed with Maryland) and Nelson Agholor (USC).

All decent offenses have at least one guy quarterbacks can rely on to make plays in the deep game. Florida doesn’t have that, and it’s hurting the creativity in Brent Pease’s offense. It’s hard to fool defenses when they don’t respect your passing game and continuously load the box without repercussions.

There’s no magic pill or new formation. This one comes down to outplaying your man and creating opportunities … and it can’t continue to only be Reed.

What the Gators have done this year has been very impressive. Soon, they’ll be 10-1. But if Florida is going to have a chance at a BCS berth -- or a bowl win -- the passing game has to improve. And that means the wide receivers have to show up.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 9

October, 28, 2012
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Alabama is still really, really good, and we have a new king of the East:

1. The East is Georgia's to lose: After being counted out heading into their big matchup with Florida, the Bulldogs are now atop the East again. That brutal loss to South Carolina appears to be nothing more than a distant memory in Athens. All those "for sale" signs fans gathered for Mark Richt's house will have to be used for more constructive means after Georgia topped Florida 17-9. The win didn't clinch the East for the Bulldogs, but they are firmly in the driver's seat with Ole Miss and Auburn as their only remaining SEC opponents. The Rebels are much better than they've been in two years, but Georgia likely will be a heavy favorite in that game, while Auburn continues to stumble along this season. House money is on Georgia to take the East, and if the defense feeds off its performance Saturday, the Bulldogs should cruise into Atlanta.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAJ McCarron was efficient Saturday in throwing for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
2. The gap between Alabama and the rest of the country is widening: It might take an NFL team to stop the Crimson Tide. Alabama feasted on No. 11 Mississippi State on Saturday night with its 38-7 win over the Bulldogs. Such is life for opponents who walk into that Crimson buzz saw. Alabama is allowing just 3.5 yards per play and is outscoring opponents by 32 points a game. Oregon has looked great and is still scoring in its game against Colorado, while Kansas State and Notre Dame look more impressive every week. But Alabama is on a different level. It's the most disciplined team out there, and it's getting better. The Tide might not be as flashy or score as many points as Oregon or Kansas State, but they doesn't need to. They're too busy running on cruise control in the second half of games to care about scoring margins.

3. Florida needs more playmakers: The Gators have lived and died by running and smothering. But Saturday proved that if Florida is really going to rub elbows with the elites in college football, it has to find more offensive playmakers. Running back Mike Gillislee has been good, but he needs help from the passing game because teams are starting to crowd the box to key on him. Right now, tight end Jordan Reed is the only real reliable receiving target. Ironically, his fourth-quarter fumble sealed the Gators' fate against Georgia, but at least he was there to make some sort of play happen. Wide receivers Quinton Dunbar and Frankie Hammond Jr. have been wildly inconsistent, while utility man Trey Burton just hasn't been very effective since the Tennessee game. Jeff Driskel will take a lot of heat for his critical errors and turnovers on Saturday, but he wasn't getting much help. Someone has to emerge to take the pressure off Driskel and Gillislee.

4. Hugh Freeze was the right choice: Some weren't sure whether Ole Miss got it right with Freeze. He wasn't a sexy name in the coaching world, and many thought the Rebels could do better. Well, after Ole Miss' 30-27 win over Arkansas, the Rebels are one win from being bowl-eligible for the first time in two years and matching their win total from the past two years combined. Freeze has totally changed the culture at Ole Miss and has made the Rebels relevant again. The offense has been fun to watch, and this team has real fight in it. Players admitted to giving up during games last year, but this year's team has really bought in to playing for four quarters. This team wasn't supposed to be remotely close to the bowl picture. Now, it's a win from the postseason, and Freeze is a major reason. He deserves to be considered for SEC Coach of the Year.

5. Another loss could seal Dooley's fate: If the magic number for wins for Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is eight, the Vols will have to win out to get there. That means getting through November unscathed. It's manageable, with Troy, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky left, but it isn't close to a guarantee. The Vols have to really be hurting after that three-point loss to South Carolina. The defense was abused again, and two Tyler Bray turnovers were costly. This team hasn't won a game in October under Dooley and now has to have a perfect November to reach a bowl game. This team swept November in Dooley's first year and has to do it again if it is to have a chance at eight victories.

Florida is an enigma, like 2006

October, 15, 2012
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Halfway through the 2012 season, the comparisons are already coming: Is this Florida team destined to repeat what it accomplished in 2006?

It sounds crazy, it really does, but the similarities are there. The offense isn’t exactly pretty, but the defense is stellar. Both running games have bulls in the backfield (2006 had a young Tim Tebow and power back DeShawn Wynn). Urban Meyer used more of a pounding spread, while Will Muschamp (also in his second year, like Meyer) has his team grinding along and outplaying everyone in the second half.

[+] EnlargeChris Leak
Bob Leverone/Sporting News via Getty ImagesChris Leak was a legitimate threat throwing the ball for the 2006 Florida team, something that lacks in this season's version.
The 2006 team didn't really feel like a true national championship contender halfway through the season because it never blew anyone away with the offense dragging along.

But somehow, the wins kept piling up, as toughness, not flash, got it done ... just like this year's team.

But can these Gators make a run to the national championship, or even the SEC championship? Can a team that has averaged 69 passing yards in its past two games really make it through the rest of its SEC schedule and beyond?

So far a mediocre passing game has been enough with that tremendous defense and rugged running game. But for this team to get on the 2006 team’s level, some things have to change, especially with No. 7 South Carolina venturing into the Swamp on Saturday.

For starters, the Gators have to be a threat to throw. In 2006, Chris Leak, who eventually became Florida’s all-time leading passer, was very much a passing threat. He didn’t throw for a lot of yards, averaging just 210 yards a game, but defenses had to account for a balanced Gators offensive attack.

This year’s team doesn’t really have that in Jeff Driskel. He’s a tremendous athlete and can throw a good ball, but he’s averaging just 139 yards a game and has four touchdown passes.

Now, Driskel doesn’t have the receiving threats Leak had. Frankie Hammond Jr., Quinton Dunbar, Jordan Reed and Andre Debose just don’t generate the same excitement as Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker and Cornelius Ingram.

Sure, the Gators haven’t exactly needed to throw the ball with their running game and defense, but when Driskel has to pass against good defenses, will he be able to? It’s still a mystery, and that has to be concerning.

When you compare the defenses, the pass rushes are very different. The 2006 team had Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey, who combined for 18.5 sacks. That team had 34 sacks. This one has just 12. Quick passing teams hurt Florida’s pass rush to start the year, but it has to be more consistent in SEC play.

This year’s team does win the kicking battle with All-American hopeful Caleb Sturgis, and you could argue that the running game is stronger with Mike Gillislee.

Even with Tebow and Harvin helping out Wynn, those Gators averaged 160 rushing yards a game. Having more of a passing game cut into the rushing numbers, but Wynn wasn’t Gillislee, who leads all SEC running backs with 615 rushing yards and is one of only two backs to average 100 or more yards a game (102.5). Wynn finished the 2006 season with just 699 yards.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Kim Klement/US PresswireMike Gillislee is averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season.
Add Driskel, Omarius Hines, Solomon Patton and Trey Burton, and these Gators are second in the SEC in rushing, averaging 233.3 yards per game and 236 in conference play.

When it comes to points, both teams are pretty even. The 2006 team averaged 29 points and gave up 9.5 through the first six games (all wins as well), while this year’s team is scoring 27.8 and allowing 12.3. This year’s team is also averaging around 20 yards fewer (378.3) and giving up 40 more yards (297.2).

So the similarities are obvious, but this team doesn’t have the experience the 2006 team had, and you have to wonder if that will eventually catch up to it.

I have to admit I was very surprised to see Florida at No. 2 in the first BCS standings. Don’t get me wrong, the Gators have been impressive with those back-to-back SEC road wins, the second-half pushes, the win over LSU, and that defense and running game.

But No. 2?

In the right light, is this Florida team really a 2 or is it more like a 4, or even a 5? We’ll find out with South Carolina and Georgia next.

Florida might be a tough team to truly figure out, but the 6-0 start is a pleasant surprise. A team that was expected to be nothing more than a distant third in the East could be playing in Atlanta in early December.

That’s something the 2006 team would be very proud of.

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