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Can The Florida Gators have a bounce back year?

For the fans in Gainesville Florida, losing seasons are not what they are accustomed to, being in the thick of the Southeastern Conference and National Championship scene is more to their liking. But last season, neither was the case and by the time the first of December rolled around, Gator fans were already thinking ahead to basketball season.

Coach Will Muschamp enters his fourth season at the helm of the Florida program, a 4-8 season a year ago has left many wondering just how much longer he will be around. Injuries, as well as a lack of production on both sides of the ball, led to the Gator season being what it was. So as spring practices move along, those problem areas need to be addressed and roster holes have to be filled. The Gators want to put themselves back into the conversation with regards to conference title hopes. A place there fans want and expect them to be.

So far, coach Muschamp feels good about how spring practice has gone. He likes how ownership of this team has developed. But he also knows that a repeat of 2013 would not be tolerated by Gator Nation, which means that the problems of this past season need to be fixed before spring ball ends. The team has a spring motto that appears to be catching on, “Shut up and go to work”, the kind of attitude that the head man hopes continues into the fall.

With Tyler Murphy transferring to Boston College, the quarterbacking duties fall into the lap of a red shirt junior named Jeff Drishel, who missed most of last season after suffering a broken leg in the third game of 2013. His numbers are not eye catching from a season ago (42-61, 3 INT’S, 2 TD), but he is ready to go after doing all the rehab work that was required to get him back on the field. He returns to an offense that struggled to score points from anywhere on the field a year ago. Florida’s offense average 18.8 points pre game, in conference play they were slightly better at 19.9 a game. In the red zone, they scored on 30 of 43 attempts, with 19 of those scores resulting in touchdowns. Numbers that must improve if the Gators are going to be a factor in the SEC in 2014. The overall numbers also need to be better as last year the Gator’s were outscored 253 to 226 for the season. In conference play the numbers were 163-159 against. They constantly put themselves in first quarter holes by being outscored 78 to 39 for the season and 61 to 23 during conference play. Not a recipe for success in any league.

Special teams became a major concern as the 2013 season moved along, as Gator placekickers hit on only 12 of 22 field goal tries. Coach Muschamp has admitted that an upgrade in this area needs to happen before next season begins and is emphasis of spring ball. So is the wide receiver position, which the coach says has depth, but not a lot of experience. Running back Matt Jones, a junior, returns after a 582 yard, 4 touchdown 2013 season. He will miss all of spring practice because of an knee injury. The offensive line is also a work in progress, trying to build depth and trusted in one another.

On defense, injuries have already become an issue for the coaching staff. Defensive lineman Leon Orr will miss spring ball due to a fractured wrist. Three members of a linebacking group that was criticized for not been very productive a season ago will also miss spring practice because of injuries. The good news is that the defensive backfield, which was hailed as the most stable part of the unit a year ago, has stayed in tack during spring and looks good. This is a group that gave up an average of 21.1 points pre game, and 20.4 in conference. The biggest problem came in the red zone, where opponents scored on 32 of 39 possessions, 19 of which went for touchdowns. The defense needs to tighten up this area in 2014.
Saturday April 12, will be the annual spring game and it will be the first chance for the Gator faithful to see what their team could look like in 2014. Making a solid impression on that day will go a long way towards easing the fear the fan base may have going into next season. It will also give coach Muschamp a chance to prove to everyone that he has the situation well under control.

 

photo by: bjmcdonald

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