- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp's hair was pretty mussed up. It was sticking up and out while he was standing at the podium during his postgame news conference.
It was most likely because of the celebration after the wild finish in the Gators' 27-20 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. It's not often that teams win games by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown with two seconds remaining.
But it also could have been because of the way his offense played.
No. 6 Florida (9-1) managed just 162 yards passing and 311 total yards against a ULL defense that was giving up 294.6 yards per game passing and 433.2 yards per game in total offense, stats which ranked 114th and 89th, respectively, nationally. And the Gators had starting quarterback Jeff Driskel running the offense for nearly three quarters before he left with an ankle injury.
Watching the Gators flounder and stumble around Florida Field the way they did against one of the nation's worst defenses is enough to make even a former defensive coordinator want to pull his hair out. Then again, you'd think he'd be used to it by now.
Florida's offense hasn't been the same since a 38-0 rout of Kentucky. The Gators gained more than 276 yards once in their next five games (403 against Vanderbilt) and posted a season-low 183 yards against South Carolina. The same issues that plagued the Gators against ULL (5-4) have been present in each game: receivers not getting separation, the pass protection breaking down, the quarterback holding onto the ball too long, and the line struggling to consistently open holes in the running game against stacked defensive fronts.
Add in undisciplined penalties, dropped passes and poor throws, and you've pretty much covered every reason why the Gators are having trouble moving the ball and scoring points -- even against non-BCS opponents.
And it's not likely to get better, regardless of whether Driskel returns (Muschamp said Saturday he was unsure of the severity of the sprain). The Gators play host to FCS Jacksonville State on Saturday and then make the trip to Tallahassee, Fla., to face rival Florida State, which entered the weekend ranked in the top four in the four major defensive categories -- including No. 1 in overall defense (227.11 yards per game).
It's a personnel issue more than problems with the offensive scheme. That's what Muschamp inferred when he talked about the Gators' performance against the Ragin' Cajuns. For the first time since he called his players soft after the loss to FSU last season, Muschamp called out his players. It was mild, but the message was there.
"You get a 13-yard run, we get called back for holding," Muschamp said. "We line up in a bunch set for a touchdown, a touchdown pass, we don't have a guy on the line of scrimmage. That's a play we've repped 100 times. We need to rep it 105. Eventually the players need to understand that they need to take some responsibility to know what to do and have a little bit more urgency about what to do. And that's what I told them in the locker room. We've got to get over this. We've got to get over jumping offsides on third-and-10. Eventually as a player you've got to look in the mirror and realize, 'I need to play smarter than that.' "
There have been injuries along the offensive line -- LT Xavier Nixon has missed the last two games with a knee injury, LG James Wilson has been bothered by a left knee injury, and C Jonotthan Harrison has been wearing a brace on his injured right elbow for three games -- but RG Jon Halapio said that is no excuse.
Regardless of who's in the game, they can't jump offside or get penalized for holding. They've got to pick up stunts and blitzes. All of those are things the line has struggled with all season.
"We're really killing ourselves," Halapio said. "Just the snap of the ball or just dumb penalties -- we're really killing ourselves. If we can just do a better job with that stuff, I think we'll be better off.
"Monday we'll get it corrected. We'll look at our mistakes and see where we went wrong and correct it."
The Gators, though, are running out of time. Maybe it's something that needs an offseason worth of work.
5dDavid M. Hale