Muschamp never satisfied on defense


Despite Florida's impressive defensive numbers, coach Will Muschamp knows there are still areas the unit can improve upon.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 5:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 4:31 p.m.

Will Muschamp and Steve Spurrier reside on opposite ends of the coaching spectrum, of course. Muschamp’s a defensive coach. Spurrier is a Fun-’n’-Gun guy.

But the two seem to share one coaching trait: They are perfectionists who rarely (if ever) seem satisfied with their side of the ball.

Back in the day, Spurrier once said the Gators played like a “bunch of losers.” And that was after Florida had defeated Alabama in Tuscaloosa 16-10 in 1998.

Muschamp can probably relate to that.

As good as the Florida defense has been this season — and it has been very good — Muschamp is not satisfied. He says the Gators can play better, and his players seem to agree.

When Muschamp was asked earlier this week if he is capable of being happy with his defense, he said, “No. I think that’s something you sit down at the end of the year and reflect on what you did well and what you didn’t do well. I know in this business how easy you can travel from the outhouse to the penthouse in a second, or the penthouse to the outhouse in a second.”

At the moment, Muschamp’s defense is living in the penthouse.

Literally.

The Gators rank No. 1 in the SEC in a whopping seven defensive categories: total defense (212.3 yards a game), yards per play (3.88), scoring defense (14.7), rushing defense (55.3), passing defense (157.0), pass efficiency defense (82.9 percent), third-down conversions (18.9 percent) and first downs allowed (11.3 a game). They rank No. 2 in the nation in total defense.

Despite all those lofty statistics, Muschamp and the Gators say there is room for improvement.

They point to the early minutes of the loss to Miami, when the defense gave up a long touchdown pass that gave the Hurricanes momentum they carried for the rest of the game.

They point to the second half of last week’s win over Tennessee, where the Vols opened the third quarter with a field-goal drive, then had success throwing the ball downfield against an injury-depleted secondary on a TD drive in the fourth quarter.

“You watch tape and look at plays that you gave up because of eye control, because of alignment, assignment, whatever the case may be,” Muschamp said. “It’s one thing when you’re getting beat physically. It’s another thing when you’re getting beat on something that can be correctable. That’s what I always try to point out to the players.

“Our players are understanding the correctable mistakes that are made. When we give up a play because we don’t have our eyes in the right spot or we’re guessing on a route, those are things that we need to correct. I think that’s what the players see.”

They do.

“Here, we strive to get better every day,” junior outside linebacker Ronald Powell said. “It's some things you don't see and other people don't see just looking at the game from the outside in. We know we have to correct things and we know what we have to do to keep going forward and eliminate the mistakes that we make that could cause us big problems in the long run. Because we have one goal here, and that's to get to Atlanta and win a SEC championship.

“I mean, just the little things, you know. Just the little missed assignments or whatever, things like that. We come in on Sunday, Monday and we get it corrected.”

The defense has been dominant at times, like it was in the first half against Tennessee, limiting the Vols to three first downs and 31 total yards. At other times, the Gators have given up plays, committed some crucial penalties and allowed teams to put together scoring drives.

“I really feel like we can be more consistent with what we’re doing,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “For the most part, we played well in this past game. We came out in the second half and didn’t play up to our standard. We made some mistakes with eye control and some mistakes in the front end and back end that we need to clean up. I think our guys know that.

“We’re going to point out when things aren’t right out there, and there are plenty of times when it’s not. I think the overall thing is playing with great energy and effort that we’ve been playing with, then you make up for those mistakes. But, in the meantime, we’ve got to clean those up.”

The ultimate goal is perfection.

So, what would constitute a perfect performance?

“A shutout, when their offense doesn't score,” safety Jaylen Watkins said. “A shutout is what we want.”

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

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