Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Season report card: Florida
By Chris Low
It was a very rough season in Gainesville in 2013, and Florida's final grade reflects that:
Florida coach Will Muschamp was left searching for answers after a 2013 season that saw losses to in-state rivals Miami and Florida State, as well as a loss to FCS Georgia Southern.
The Gators never really got their offense going last season and struggled all year to find consistent playmakers. A plethora of injuries, including a season-ending leg injury to quarterback Jeff Driskel, didn't help, either. Injuries at quarterback, running back and the offensive line left Florida with the SEC's worst total offense (316.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (18.8 points per game). Florida ranked 12th in the league in passing (170.9) and 13th in rushing (145.8). Florida watched backup quarterback Tyler Murphy leave late in the year with a season-ending injury, and the Gators failed to score more than 20 points in its final seven games (all losses).
The Gators were as good as anybody in the SEC on defense the first month of the season, but injuries took their toll, particularly when defensive tackle Dominique Easley went down for the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL in practice in late September. Cornerback Marcus Roberson also missed several games. And to be fair, Florida's defense wore down some after having to carry a woeful offense all season. The Gators still finished eighth nationally in total defense (314.3 yards per game) and 15th nationally in scoring defense (21.1 points per game). They didn't give up more than 21 points in their first six games, but gave up 34 or more in three of their final six games. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was one of the best true freshmen in the country, and sophomore end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. also had a big season with 10.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
It was a mixed bag for the Gators on special teams, which has typically been one of their strengths. Solomon Patton was seventh nationally in kickoff return average and led the SEC. He took one back 100 yards for a touchdown against Missouri. Florida also led the SEC in kickoff coverage. Otherwise, there wasn't a lot to like on special teams. The real mystery was Kyle Christy, who was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2012 as the country's top punter, but was inconsistent this season and ultimately benched in favor of a freshman. The Gators finished 10th in the league in net punting and also struggled on field goals. They used three different place kickers and were a combined 12-of-22 (13th in the SEC) on field goals, including two that were blocked.
It's rare that a team with the caliber of defense like Florida's is as bad as the Gators were, but they were an absolute train wreck on offense and went into every game with no margin for error. It didn't help any that they were 12th in the SEC in turnover margin. There's no question that injuries gutted this team, but there's no excuse for losing to Georgia Southern or being as limited as Florida has been on offense, really, for the past two seasons. It all caught up to the Gators in 2013 and resulted in their first losing season since 1979. The pressure is squarely on Will Muschamp to turn it around next season ... or else.