GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After barely escaping Kentucky's upset bid in Game 2, Florida coach Will Muschamp said his team's problems were correctable.
That tune changed after the Gators were blown out by Alabama the following week. During the bye week UF went back to the drawing board and back to basics with some training camp-like practices to address fundamentals.
Make no mistake, time is running out for Florida to show the progress that is expected after its 4-8 season in 2013.
Here's what's wrong and how to fix it.
Subpar quarterback play
The problem: Patience is running thin with fourth-year junior Jeff Driskel. He has consistently failed in the passing game, whether it's reading defenses or giving his receivers a chance on deep throws.
The solution: No one should think true freshman backup Treon Harris, a teenager who has thrown all of two passes in his short career, is ready to replace Driskel as the starter. But a two-quarterback system is Florida's best chance at minimizing the damage that comes with Driskel's shortcomings. It should also be noted that Harris' two passes were completed for long touchdowns. He offers more accuracy and better vision. It's up to Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to develop Harris now, because he'll be needed this season.
Push from the offensive line
The problem: After giving up 66 sacks the past two years, Florida's offensive line has shown improvement in pass protection (just two sacks allowed this season). But the Gators need more from their retooled offensive line, which is benefiting from a new scheme that has the ball coming out quicker in the passing game. Florida ran for big yardage against Eastern Michigan and Kentucky but was held to 107 yards by Alabama. In order for the Gators to win games without putting too much in the shaky hands of the quarterback, the running game must step up.
The solution: The pieces are there. Senior guard Trenton Brown, a juco transfer, has improved significantly in his second season at UF and is a road-grader at 6-foot-8, 344 pounds. Redshirt freshman right tackle Roderick Johnson has been one of the Gators' biggest surprises, playing very well in two starts when left tackle D.J. Humphries was hurt. Even with Humphries expected back for the Tennessee game, Johnson should stay in the starting lineup. Moving senior tackle Chaz Green to guard would improve Florida's starting lineup and its bench.
Lack of a pass rush
The problem: The Gators have struggled to pressure quarterbacks ever since tackle Dominique Easley was hurt early last season. But with a year to improve and one truly dangerous edge-rusher in Dante Fowler Jr. to play off of, Florida should be able to muster more than two sacks a game. What's worse, the inability to consistently generate a pass rush has exposed Florida's young secondary to big plays.
The solution: The Gators have gotten almost nothing from their defensive tackles, which means Muschamp is likely to move junior end Jonathan Bullard inside more often. Bullard at least has the quickness to make a play or two. At the other end position, Florida must utilize third-year sophomore Alex McCalister, who had the team's only sack against Alabama. Senior OLB Neiron Ball has also shown some ability to get around offensive tackles. Overall, it doesn't look like there are enough pass-rushers emerging this season, so Muschamp will have to get creative with his blitz packages. It's more risky, but nothing is worse than giving a quarterback time to pick apart your secondary.
Gaping holes in the secondary
The problem: After the last three seasons of defense under Muschamp, this year's drop-off has been stunning. Busted assignments, lack of communication, missed tackles and poor coverage have led to a plethora of big plays by UF opponents. Florida saw all four of its starters in the defensive backfield depart after last season and lost both of its starting safeties to the NFL the season before that. There's no doubt a lot of the errors this season can be chalked up to youth. But aside from stalwart corner Vernon Hargreaves III, the Gators' few veterans are also making big mistakes.
The solution: Play the young guys. If the experienced players keep making mistakes, there's nothing to lose. Muschamp said as much last week: "What you’re doing is not working so you might as well try somebody else. That’s where I am right now." The Gators have some very talented true freshmen. Five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor and four-star DB Duke Dawson had the benefit of enrolling in January and participating in spring practice. Along with four-star DB Quincy Wilson, Florida has options. More playing time will only help speed their development.