UF has theme to follow: start fast, finish strong

Florida coach Will Muschamp heads to another interview room during day two of the 2012 SEC Football Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., on Wednesday.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 at 4:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 at 4:38 p.m.

HOOVER, Ala. — The Florida Gators have come up with a theme for the 2012 season that seems quite suitable for their situation.

Start fast, finish strong.

"It's been a motivating factor for our kids this summer," Florida coach Will Muschamp said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday.

If the Gators hope to make this a turnaround season in Year 2 under Muschamp, they have no choice but to start fast.

In the second week, they travel to Texas A&M, where the Aggies and their fans are juiced about their first game in the SEC.

A week later, the Gators are off to Knoxville, Tenn., for an SEC East showdown with rival Tennessee.

The Gators will know where their season is headed by the middle of September.

"We've got a great opportunity sitting in front of us to get a leg up in the SEC," Muschamp said. "We have to start fast. I know that's been a really good motivating factor for our players to understand that we need to start fast.

"I look at it as a great opportunity for our football team, a great motivating factor for our players to report in shape, which they will be, and ready to go with a great mindset to have an outstanding year."

The fast start theme begins with the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green, Muschamp said.

The last time the Gators played in The Swamp, they turned in an ugly performance in a 21-7 loss to arch-rival Florida State last November.

"We have to start the season fast against Bowling Green," Muschamp said. "The last time we played in our stadium, we didn't play or coach very well. We need to do a better job for our fans. We need to get in front of our fans and play well.

"Then we go to Texas A&M and Tennessee. We have to get a leg up in the SEC race."

To get in the race, to stay in the race, the Gators also feel they have to finish strong. That's something they failed to do last season.

"We wore down. We had a hard time stopping the run in some games," Muschamp said. "We were 3-4 in games decided by one or two scores. You're in the game. You have an opportunity to win those games, and we're 3-4. If we split that and go 5-2, we'd feel a lot different about ourselves.

"We need to play better in those situations, coach better. We were outscored 72-22 in the fourth in SEC games. That goes back to the weight room and finishing. Those are things that have been huge points of emphasis for our team in the weight room.

"We can control those things. We wore down in some games and could not get off the field. That's something I think we have improved. We're better in the weight room."

This is where new strength and conditioning director Jeff Dillman and his staff come in. Under Dillman, the Gators have gone to Olympic-style lifting using heavy weight.

Senior middle linebacker Jon Bostic said the change has been obvious.

"(Dillman) brings the juice back into the weight room," Bostic said. "A lot of guys are excited and ready to get in there and get strong. I've gotten a lot stronger. Just about everyone (has changed their body and gotten bigger and stronger)."

Along with adding strength, another emphasis in the offseason has been conditioning.

That goes back to the "start fast" part of the 2012 theme.

"You better be able to start fast," Bostic said. "We've got those two (SEC) games and Bowling Green.

"Texas A&M isn't going to huddle too much, the way they get up there and snap the ball, all the plays they average a game. That's one big thing we've focused on this summer: condition. Being able to line up on the ball and knowing your assignment."

One thing Muschamp does not plan to be fast on is the decision to name a starting quarterback.

Muschamp reiterated Wednesday that true sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are even heading into preseason camp, and there's a chance both could end up playing this season.

"They're even going into fall camp. They'll get equal reps," Muschamp said. "I would like to name a starter before the season, but I'm not going to put a timetable on that. If we need to play both, that's what we're going to do. We're going to do what we need to do to win football games.

"Both guys have a similar skill set. So, it's not like there's one offense we run with one and one with another. There's a possibility you could see both in the game at the same time. Jeff and Jacoby have handled the competition very well. It's been good for our football team."

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

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