Georgia on Muschamp’s mind


With a tough schedule, Will Muschamp knows things will need to fall UF’s way to get to Atlanta and the SEC title game.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 5:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 5:01 p.m.

Like many other college football teams across the country, the Florida Gators prefer to keep their season goals to themselves. But it doesn’t take locker room access (or insider information) to know what goes to the top of the Gators’ to-do list every fall.

Win the SEC East and a trip to Atlanta on the first Saturday in December.

Some years, the goal is more realistic than others. In coach Will Muschamp’s first season, for instance, winning the division seemed possible, but certainly not plausible. Two years later, the goal seems realistic for a team that came close to reaching Atlanta last season.

In Muschamp’s third season, are the Gators good enough to get to Atlanta to play for the SEC title?

“I think so,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said, without flinching. “I think we have a really good team. We’re a close-knit bunch of guys. We were so close last year, we could taste it.

“We really want to get there this year. I think we have a good chance to get there.”

The Gators were almost ready to pack their bags a year ago before a perfect season crashed in Jacksonville in a six-turnover loss to Georgia. They fell one win short of getting a shot at Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

This year, the Gators enter the season as a consensus top 10 team, a team that’s being viewed as a serious contender in the SEC and possibly in the BCS national title chase.

“We want to make it to Atlanta and win a championship,” sophomore defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “We’ve got the talent to do that.”

Other players have expressed the same opinion during preseason camp.

“Talk is cheap,” Muschamp warns. “You’ve got to do it on the field. I’m glad that our guys have confidence that (getting to Atlanta) is going to happen.

“Anytime you want to talk about a run to Atlanta, you’ve got to have things fall your way.”

Here are some things the Gators probably need to happen to reach Atlanta:

Quarterback Jeff Driskel has to show significant improvement in the passing game in his second year as the starter, and the offense needs to find a better balance between the pass and the run.

Some playmakers need to emerge at wide receiver.

UF must shore up the middle of its defense. That middle was gutted by the NFL Draft. Tackle Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam went in the first round and middle linebacker Jon Bostic in the second.

The Gators need to find some depth at linebacker and establish two new starters at safety.

Driskel and other key players, including Ronald Powell, need to stay healthy.

A capable replacement for place-kicker Caleb Sturgis must emerge.

If that all falls into place, Atlanta might just be a realistic December destination for Florida.

“I think this football team, we need to be more balanced on offense. We need to be more efficient throwing the football,” Muschamp said. “ We need to be able to create more explosives. We need to score more touchdowns in the red zone. I think we have a lot of question marks defensively at the middle of our defense.

“I think we have a good enough mixture of guys up front that have played well and can play well for us to be fine. I’m concerned about the depth and the quality experience at the linebacker position, and obviously the safety position.

“But we need to be more balanced offensively. If you had to benchmark No. 1, that is No. 1. Then No. 3, we need to shore up the inside of our defense from linebacker to safety, and then the kicking situation. If we’re able to come through with those and have productive players, then certainly I think we’ll be in contention to get to Atlanta, and we should be anyways.”

Of course, also at the top of the priority list is this: take care of the football.

The Gators didn’t do that in the loss to Georgia, turning the ball over six times, and it cost them a chance to go to Atlanta.

“I mean, obviously, we’ve had some turnover issues in Jacksonville in the last two years and that’s really cost us the football game,” Muschamp said. “You go back to two years ago and you turn it over inside your 20 twice and it results in 14 points, huge momentum swing in the game.

“When you turn it over six times and you still have an opportunity to drive down the field and score and possibly go for two to tie the ballgame, it tells you how you played defensively, and it tells you what you did in special teams. You just didn’t take care of the football.”

It also tells you how close the Gators came to Atlanta a year ago.

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