Gators eye consistency


The Florida Gators sing after the game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida defeated Vanderbilt 26-21.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, November 11, 2011 at 5:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 at 5:47 p.m.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Like a lot of young teams adapting to a new coaching staff and a new philosophy, the Florida Gators have found consistency to be quite elusive this season.

One game they rush for more than 400 yards. The next, they have trouble getting back to the line of scrimmage.

For two quarters it looks like they can hang with the SEC's elite. For the next six, they appear out of their league.




They dominate the first half, then disappear in the second.

They stuff the run for a game, then they can't stop anybody.

For those who follow the Gators, it's been a maddening experience trying to figure out what's going on and what might happen next.

Consistency. It's just not been there.

But Will Muschamp says he sees some. Watching the games and sifting through all the tapes, he said he's discovered something very consistent about his team, something that tells him better days are ahead.

“Our approach and our preparation each week has been outstanding, in my opinion,” the UF first-year coach said. “The way we've gone at it in practice and practiced well and approached it the right way.

“That, to me, is the most promising thing. And watching the film and seeing us perform, we've improved our football team regardless of the results after the game. Everyone wants to focus on that. I do. I know it's important.

“It's also seeing the big picture, where your football team is headed. Our competition has been good and our preparation has been very good.”

Muschamp has said he thinks the 5-4 Gators are not that far off from being a championship-contending team in the SEC. At times, you can see that, but those moments can be fleeting.

Two weeks ago, the Gators dominated most of the first half against Georgia, which appears on its way to winning the Eastern Division, but then struggled to get only one first down in the second half in a 24-20 loss.

Last Saturday, UF looked like a polished and proficient team building a 17-0 halftime lead against Vanderbilt, a team that nearly upset No. 8 Arkansas a week earlier. Then the Gators went soft in the secondary in the second half and had to hang on for a 26-21 victory to snap their four-game losing streak.

With the Gators, you never know what you're going to get. Each game is an adventure, each game a step forward, Muschamp said.

“I do think we're making positive strides,” he said.

The Gators have a chance to take another today against their former Head Ball Coach (Steve Spurrier) and the 7-2 Gamecocks.

USC is ranked No. 15 in the nation and is still very much involved in the race for the division title, but this is another SEC opponent that UF appears to matchup fairly well against. This likely will be another competitive game (like the last three against Auburn, Georgia and Vanderbilt) where the Gators will have a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

“(Spurrier) always coaches well against us,” UF quarterback John Brantley said. “It's going to be a challenge. We have a chance to build off the momentum from this win this past week (against Vanderbilt). We've got to go in there and play well and play with confidence.”

Brantley is one of the keys for Florida. In the two games he missed (LSU and Auburn), the offense slipped into neutral. The offense has started moving again with his return.

He was so limited by his injured ankle that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis put him in the shotgun with an empty backfield in the Georgia game. With better mobility last week, Brantley lined up in the pistol formation (in the shotgun, but closer to the center, with one or two running backs behind him) and it seemed to spark UF's ground game, especially between the tackles.

“I wanted to be able to run downhill in the game,” Weis said. “but I wanted to take the first three steps (by the quarterback) out. So, that's really what you end up with (the pistol).

“You end up with Brantley back five yards and the halfback, instead of being back seven yards, he's back eight yards so you don't run into each other. It just fits with what we do, whether we're in a one-back or we have a fullback offset to either side. It fits better.”

The pistol formation allowed the Gators to go back to running the offense they were running before Brantley was injured in the Alabama game, with the play-action passing game being a staple.

“It's the same offense we've been running. It's just from the shotgun,” Brantley said. “It's the same I-formation, we're just in the gun.

“Nothing changed at all. I just had to change my footwork a little just because we were going from the gun.”

Brantley missed the final five minutes of the Vanderbilt game after taking a shot on his throwing arm. He said the arm is fine. He also said his ankle continues to improve and there's a chance he may be able to go under center at times today.

“I'm close (to being 100 percent),” Brantley said. “The ankle is feeling better and better each day. When we feel that I can (go under center) at 100 percent, then we'll do that.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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