Monday, November 25, 2013
Changes are coming at Florida
By Jeff Barlis
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Another week, another crushing defeat for Florida, and not even an FCS opponent could remedy what ails these Gators.
An epic losing streak pock-marked with the kind of history no team wants to make has reached six games. The end of the season can't come soon enough, and the negativity and pressure to act are growing as this season of misery threatens to implode.
The questions being asked are damning in and of themselves:
Have the players given up on the season?
Is the offense so debilitating it's affected the rest of the team?
The answers have steadily shown up in recent weeks.
Frustration has reached an all-time high for Will Muschamp and the Florida Gators after a loss to FCS Georgia Southern on Saturday.
After losing in the Swamp two weeks ago to Vanderbilt on homecoming, Florida's first home defeat against the Commodores since 1945, some of the Gators' upperclassmen acknowledged the need to guard against giving up on the final three games.
"We definitely need to look out for that," senior guard Jon Halapio said. "I feel like maybe younger players would have that mentality. I know the older players are trying to keep the team together. That’s something we’ve got to guard against with the younger players. We’re trying to keep everybody up and keep everybody together."
Halapio said he's seen it before, because he checked out when he was a fresh-faced Gator. His first season in 2010 was Urban Meyer's last, and UF slogged through a demoralizing four-game losing streak midseason. The following season, the first of Will Muschamp's tenure, saw Florida go 6-6 in the regular season.
Halapio, now a veteran who is expected to lead, says the young players need to follow the older players' example.
"When the older players come around they see you’ve got that look on your face like you don’t want to do anything this week," he said, "an older player comes around and says to pick it up this week and come together. The leadership on this team needs to take over."
Two weeks later, it still hasn't happened.
After losing to Georgia Southern on Saturday, Halapio did the veteran thing and faced the media again. There was nothing to sugar-coat after the program's first loss to an FCS team.
"Very shocking," he said. "The morale on this team is at an all-time low. We have a lack of leadership. We just really need to tighten up as a team."
Muschamp has obviously seen the same issues and pointed out the lack of leadership. He's no stranger to issuing blunt, public criticism. A year ago he called his offensive line soft. This season he has decried a lack of mental toughness throughout the team.
But look more closely and you'll see a defensive-minded coach who is past the point of exasperation with an offense that continually puts his defense in no-win situations.
After his quarterback, Tyler Murphy, threw three pivotal interceptions in the Vanderbilt game, Muschamp pointed out the ripple effect his offense had.
"We didn't take care of the football. And when those things happen, emotionally it's a killer. It's a killer for your entire organization," he said. "So when you spot them the ball on the 4-yard line, right now we're not strong enough mentally to handle that. A year ago, maybe early in the year, we were. Right now, we're not. It's a 'woe is me' mentality right now. We've got to overcome that. Our leadership needs to step forward."
Even with three games remaining, a .500 record and a 22-year bowl streak still on the line, Muschamp was concerned his offense might submarine the team's attitude.
"You can play with more of an edge than I believe we did," he said after the Vanderbilt loss shook many a Gator's faith. "Not saying we didn’t play hard. I think we did play hard. We competed and fought to the end. But at the end of the day, you cannot give them those opportunities. It’s just a complete emotional letdown.
"You can’t throw it to them. That helps you check out."
The implications of an inept offense were laid out even more bluntly after Florida's offense couldn't keep up with Georgia Southern on the scoreboard this past Saturday.
"You’ve got to be able to change the scoreboard, and we just struggled scoring points offensively," he said. "It’s been a week-in, week-out occurrence, and it’s my job to get it fixed, and we will get it fixed. Very disappointed for our program. An embarrassment in this situation. ...
"We’re struggling offensively and it has infected our entire team right now."
With another season almost in the books and an offense that continues to rank among the nation's worst, it's obviously not a comfortable time to be an offensive assistant at the University of Florida. After the Vanderbilt loss, offensive coordinator Brent Pease admitted "it's human nature to probably think about" job security.
So what is left to do? Muschamp has promised he will evaluate his staff at the end of the season, as he has done the previous two years.
"What we’re doing so far is not working," he said. "Keep doing the same stuff, you’re going to get the same results."
Whether it's players or coaches, changes will come. You can bet the same people won't be doing the same stuff much longer at Florida.