Without Sturgis, UF needs a leg to stand on


Florida kicker Brad Phillips reacts after missing a 25-yard field goal attempt against Missouri during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Nov. 3.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 22, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.

In the one-minute drill at the end of practice Friday morning, the Florida offense found itself on the 42-yard line with 13 seconds to go and one timeout remaining.

In the past, this would have been a simple call for offensive coordinator Brent Pease: Come up with a five-yard play on a hitch or a curl to reach the 37 and then send Caleb Sturgis in to kick a field goal, which was close to an automatic three points.

With Sturgis no longer around, Pease had to reach deeper into his playbook Friday to get well within the 37. The play failed, and the offense came away with no points.

Not having Sturgis, UF's most consistent offensive weapon the past two seasons, is forcing the Gators to take a different approach to situations like Friday morning's.

“It changes your approach, changes your calls,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “We were saying the offense was down three, ‘All right guys, we've got to get the ball to the 37-yard line with Sturgis on the sideline.' Now, we need to get it a lot closer.

“Your confidence factor is a little different. It changes everything. When you're on the 42, Brent's calling a hitch, a slant, a diagonal curl, a combination route — ball's out quick. Now, you've got to call a vertical route (to get more yards).

“The situation this morning, his call was a lot different than it would have been a year ago. It changes the game.”

Of all the talented players who have departed from last year's team, including projected top-five NFL Draft pick Sharrif Floyd, perhaps the toughest of all to replace is Sturgis, one of the greatest field-goal kickers in school history.

Over the past two seasons, Sturgis converted 46 of 54 attempts and was especially efficient from long range. Last season, he made all three of his attempts from 50 yards or longer and was 8 of 9 from 40 yards and out.

“People don't realize. It's the luxury knowing the 37-yard line anywhere on the field, because he was very good from both hashes and the middle,” Muschamp said. “Some kickers are only efficient from one hash. They want to get the ball to a certain area on the field with a nice grass patch.

“Sturgis, it didn't matter. Let's put it down and go kick it. That's what his attitude was.”

Sturgis was pretty much a sure thing. Now, there is a huge element of the unknown when it comes to UF's kicking game. The Gators don't even know who their kicker is right now.

Brad Phillips, a senior walk-on from Buchholz, and redshirt freshman Austin Hardin are competing for Sturgis' old job, but neither has exactly distinguished themselves yet.

“No, we've got to get better,” Muschamp said. “Yeah. I mean, you lose the best kicker I've ever been around, so there's no question. It's a concern, and we need to get better.

“You lose a guy that you had such confidence in, and the team had such confidence in, and now you're a little bit of the unknown. The unknown for a coach is never good. That's kind of where we are right now.”

Phillips missed his only field-goal attempt last season. In 2011, he was 2 for 3, his highlight being a 43-yard field goal in a loss to Georgia. Hardin, rated the No. 1 kicker in the nation by ESPN coming out of high school, redshirted last season.

“We need to get confidence in them, and they need to get confidence in themselves,” Muschamp said. “We've also got to work out some snaps and we've got to hold better. There are a lot of operation things.

“I think we're protecting better than we did a year ago. We've changed some things there I feel comfortable with. We need to hold better, we need to kick better.”

Muschamp said he's not comfortable with the kickers yet, but that has a chance to change over the next few weeks, and months.

“Brad has kicked in big games before, and Austin is very talented,” Muschamp said. “I think they're going to be fine. We just have to get more consistent.

“The ability is certainly there. I have total confidence in those kids as far as their ability is concerned. They just have to do it, they have to be more consistent.

“We need to hold the ball better at times. There have been some hold issues. We have to be more consistent with our swing. There are a lot of things we need to improve on there.”

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

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