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Florida receivers can't seem to catch on

10/26/2014

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- You'll rarely hear Florida coach Will Muschamp criticize his quarterbacks. But his receiving corps? That's another story.

It's a chicken or the egg argument whether the Gators quarterbacks or receivers are more to blame for an offense that has stumbled and bumbled its way near the bottom of the SEC and FBS rankings.

Florida has averaged 135.7 passing yards in its last three games, and the condemnation has mounted for a group of pass-catchers that has just one player with more than 122 yards receiving in six games.

"Nobody can catch it for them," Muschamp said recently. "They've got to catch the ball. We work on JUGS [machines], we work on hand-eye, a lot of that."

Drops are a big part of the problem, but so are tipped balls that end up in opponents' hands.

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has thrown 10 interceptions in his last five games, and Muschamp has been adamant in saying "it's not all Jeff Driskel's fault."

Another Gator whom Muschamp resolutely defends is wide receivers coach Chris Leak.

"He can't catch it for them," Muschamp said.

Leak, the Gators' sixth receivers coaches in the last six years, was a graduate assistant before UF's previous WR coach, Joker Phillips, suddenly resigned in June because of possible recruiting violations.

Similarly, graduate assistant Bush Hamdan took over as Florida's receivers coach just weeks before the 2012 season opener when his predecessor, Aubrey Hill, resigned for personal reasons after his name surfaced in connection with recruiting violations at his previous stop with the University of Miami.

Former Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease, now a wide receivers coach for Washington, recently said the coaching turnover at the wide receiver position is a key element of the Gators' struggles.

"It's hard. There's no consistency," he said. "You've got to feel for the kids, what they're being taught and what their development is."

Sympathy abounds, but answers are harder to find.

Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, hired a few weeks after Pease was fired in December, feels his receivers might be trying too hard.

"I think right now, they’re like anybody else. They don’t want to let anybody down," he said. "I don’t see it as a lack of concentration for the most part. I see it as trying not to make a mistake, and it maybe leads to that."

Roper has faith in what he and Leak are coaching in practice, the way they simulate game conditions and preach that their receivers treat every play as if they are the primary target.

Pease, a proven receivers coach in his own right who has sent several players to the NFL, thinks the Gators just need some explosive passes to loosen everything up.

"I think the main thing it comes down to is just hitting some big plays, I really do," he said. "That's what changes the momentum of games."

Muschamp, who said before the season that this was his deepest and most talented group of pass-catchers, will rely on that depth and turn to the bench if necessary.

"When guys continue to not be productive," he said, "you've got to go another direction."

There's only one way to go -- up.