Gators out to keep momentum
Published: Friday, September 21, 2012 at 5:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 21, 2012 at 5:56 p.m.
In analyzing potential and performance, football coaches today like to refer to the arrow. It’s either pointing up. Going sideways. Or heading down.
At the moment, the Florida Gators’ arrow is pointing up. Way up. The No. 1 goal today is to make sure it remains pointed in that direction against Kentucky.
“I think it’s really important for us to show that the arrow is going up in terms of our improvement,” UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “It’s really important. As a player, it’s important to keep improving your skills. And now, collectively, if you do that and I do that and the next guy does that, our team will get better as well.”
That’s the way its played out so far for Florida this season.
The No. 14 Gators (3-0, 2-0 SEC), along with sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, have shown improvement — dramatic improvement — from week to week, game to game. It has been a positive and promising trend that UF hopes to see continue today against Kentucky (1-2).
That’s why, from a Florida perspective, this game isn’t so much about Kentucky or the 25-game winning streak against the Wildcats or the fact the Gators are a 23-point favorite. Today’s storyline is about getting better as the Gators dive deeper into their SEC schedule.
“This is a platform for us to get better,” senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. said.
“It’s real important to keep that confidence up and keep going, winning games,” junior offensive guard Jon Halapio said.
UF’s confidence, like its arrow, is pointing way up at the moment. The Gators are coming off impressive road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee. And last week’s 37-20 victory in Knoxville is the best overall performance the Gators have put together under Will Muschamp.
This is a team that seems to be growing — and growing up — with its young quarterback. And the process seems to be moving forward at an accelerated pace.
Each game, offensive coordinator Brent Pease has put more on his quarterback, and Driskel has responded positively each time. Last Saturday, he was the picture of poise in Knoxville, completing 14 of 20 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 81 yards as the offense rolled up 555 total yards.
“It’s a maturing process as a player, especially at that position,” Muschamp said. “The game has slowed down for him. He’s able to anticipate things more. He’s able to see more things.
“I think he’ll continue to play well. The thing about Jeff is he’s going to work at it. He’s a humble guy. He’s going to come in and he’s going to understand the things he did well and why they worked and the things we need to improve on as a football team.”
Last week’s game was one of those feel-good wins that seems to have the Gators (and their arrow) pointed in the right direction. But it was by no means a perfect performance, and Muschamp was quick to point that out to his players this week.
“After a win, it’s never as good as it seems, and after a loss, it’s never as bad as it seems,” Muschamp said. “We’ll continue to face better opponents throughout the season. We need to improve. We have a lot of improvement to be made.
“It’s easy to coach hard off the film after a win. Very technical about it, what you did well, what you didn’t do well, and be realistic where you are and what you’re going to get hurt on. We’ve got to improve in some areas.”
One obvious area where improvement is needed is in short-yardage situations on offense. The Gators have had almost zero success with their inside running game on third-and-short. They were stuffed twice in the red zone in the UT game and had to settle for field goals.
In the closing seconds of the first half, the Gators had a second-and-goal at the 1-yard line, but tailback Mike Gillislee got stuffed on consecutive runs up the middle, losing two yards on his second attempt.
“We’ve just got to get in and block our gaps better, especially on the goal line,” Pease said. “I probably did a bad job on the second call down there. I thought we could get it in from the 1. The next call, I probably should have done something different than putting the kids in the situation I did.
“I can help them out. I kind of go back and look at the calls. But we’ve still got to up front cover people up, get our cleats in the ground and move people. We should be able to move people in that situation with the kids that we have.”
Here’s another thing the Gators need to work on: playing better at home.
UF lost two games (Alabama and Florida State) in The Swamp last season and performed poorly in its last three games at Florida Field (Furman, FSU and Bowling Green).
“Playing better and coaching better (at home), and that’s been emphasized from day one from me,” Muschamp said. “Playing at home, in our league, especially at our place, is critical. You’ve got to have great success at home in order to win in our league and use home field as an advantage.
“We lost two games at home last year, and that’s not something we were accustomed to here, I can assure you of that.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.