Most football coaches would like to think their team will show significant improvement from week one to week two in the season. But in the case of Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators, it’s probably going to be difficult to gauge.
For one, the Gators have sort of skipped week two and gone straight to week three following the early start to the season Aug. 24 in Orlando against Miami, followed by an open date last week.
For another, UF will be playing a team that compares almost in no way to Miami and is a whopping 41-point underdog in The Swamp tonight.
Given those circumstances, it may be hard to tell exactly how much, if any, the Gators have improved from game one to game two.
But Mullen has his gauge.
“I look at it like this: Are we playing to our standard?” Mullen said. “If you look at certain things in game one, we did play to our standard. In other things, we didn’t play to our standard.
“If we are not improving and maximizing ourselves within our performance and how we do it and play to our standard, it will catch up to you. And you never know when it will catch up to you. It could be this Saturday.
“Hopefully, we continue to improve where we find a way (to win) and we continue to play to our standard and improve our standard from one week to the next and we have a great season.”
It was obvious where the Gators failed to live up to their standard in the 24-20 victory over the Hurricanes.
Offensively, the Gators turned the ball over four times and failed to generate a running game, averaging a meager 1.8 yards a carry. Three of those turnovers — a fumble and two interceptions — were on quarterback Feleipe Franks.
Defensively, the Gators missed double-digit tackles and committed a rash of major penalties that kept Miami in the game, including a late hit on the sideline by linebacker James Houston and fourth-quarter pass interference calls on Trey Dean and Marco Wilson.
That opening-night performance has given the Gators a great deal to work on this week in preparation for what almost feels like a second season opener.
“Hopefully our preparation is better this week than it was for the Miami game, and that preparation translates to a little better performance on the field,” Mullen said. “And that we continue to see that steady growth that you always want to have throughout the season.
“Did we make some critical errors (against UM) with penalties, with turnovers, red-zone scoring, the missed tackles? Some of that wasn’t to our standard. So are we cleaning those things up. That’s been the biggest focus to me.”
The biggest negative on offense was the turnovers. The two first-half fumbles, one inside the UM 10, killed two potential touchdown drives that would have given the Gators some breathing room.
The goal against UT Martin — against every upcoming opponent — is to take care of the football.
“Yeah, we can’t turn the ball over four times,” senior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “That’s the biggest thing, and being more efficient with the ball. We were able to move the ball pretty well at times, I think the biggest thing was just turnovers — that’s something that we can’t do as an offense.”
“We have the two turnovers in the first half, it could have easily been 21-3 at that point, and we could have easily put the game away right then and there. It’s hard when you have those turnovers in the beginning in a tough game in a tough environment, so hopefully try not to have turnovers and be in those situations.”
While the offense was turning the ball over four times, the defense failed to recover several fumbles in the second half and produced no turnovers for the game. But the Gators did play with great effort and passion, coming up with 10 sacks and saving the game in the fourth quarter.
But the defense has to tackle better and avoid the dumb penalties that put the UM game in jeopardy in the second half.
“The biggest thing when you watch the game is obviously we’ve got to improve our tackling on the edge, and it’s really down to angles, just running through guys and those kind of things,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “The next thing is we’ve really got to make sure that we make good choices throughout the game when the ball’s snapped, whether it’s with our eyes and what we have to do.
“When you watch the game we really did a lot of good things in the sense that we played to our identity, we made plays and we didn’t flinch. And those are the reasons we won the game.
“So, we’ve just got to build on the things we did well and understand the things that we need to improve upon. We’ve got to as we move forward in a difficult schedule in a very tough conference.”