GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Will Muschamp is no stranger to the game-day scene in and around Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The Gainesville, Fla., native grew up spending Saturdays walking to The Swamp, waiting in angst for the Gators to rush out onto the field.
But Saturday, Muschamp wasn’t just going to the show, he was part of it.
He jogged out of the South End Zone tunnel, for his first real game-like situation as Florida’s new coach with an announced crowd of 53,000 peering down on him.
Every move his team made was critiqued and carefully analyzed during a game failing to last two hours and finishing with walk-ons scoring more points than starters as the Blue team defeated the Orange 13-10 in the Orange and Blue Debut.
Muschamp, who spent the past five years as the defensive coordinator at Texas and Auburn, felt anxious, goose bumps littering his arms, as adrenaline rushed inside and around him. But for Muschamp, switching roles from coordinator to head coach didn't make him nervous, he's just like that around football.
“You know what? I get that way when I walk on the practice field,” Muschamp said.
With everything that happened (or didn’t) Saturday, it’d be easy to understand if Muschamp lost the charge he entered the stadium with.
Marred by injuries, Florida displayed two makeshift offenses, with walk-on defensive back Malcolm Jones filling in at running back and offensive linemen sharing time between both teams.
There wasn’t a touchdown scored until the fourth quarter, when backup quarterback Tyler Murphy’s dump-off pass went to walk-on running back Ben Sams for a 10-yard score, making it 10-6 Orange with 9:49 left.
Starting quarterback John Brantley started the game 0-for-6 passing, with two batted down at the line, and finished 4-for-14 with 45 yards for the Blue.
Not surprisingly, the loudest cheer of the day came when former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, who was on hand for Florida’s unveiling of Heisman statues, picked up an incomplete pass from Brantley in the end zone and effortlessly hurled it back at him.
The game wasn’t thrilling, but it was a chance for Muschamp’s players to work inside the new offensive and defensive schemes and to be “fast, compete and play physical.”
“I just want to see great competition and see guys getting after each other, and I think we did for the most part,” Muschamp said.
What will be scrutinized is the offensive production. The teams combined for just 340 yards of total offense. By design, Brantley played just the first half.
The scapegoat for a lot of Florida’s offensive failures last season, Brantley was praised by Muschamp and players this spring. Despite Saturday’s efforts, Muschamp said he’s been very pleased with Brantley, who had completed nearly 70 percent of his practice passes.
“If we started the season today,” Muschamp said, “John Brantley would be our starter.”
Orange defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who tied for a game-high four tackles and led with three for loss, said Brantley’s issues were attributed to the pressure the defensive line provided.
“I wouldn’t call John Brantley’s play today a struggle. I would call it, ‘Not enough room,’” Floyd said. “Me and Dominique Easley collapsed the pocket, and that’s one of our main goals. We forced offensive linemen into his face, and he had to roll out.”
Brantley, who has embraced the opportunity to work with new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, said he’s a better fit for Weis’ more pro-style offense.
“I feel pretty comfortable,” he said. “There’s a lot more to learn, and coach Weis and everyone will get us ready for that, but right now, coming out of spring, we have a good basis for what we’re going to do in the fall.”
Murphy led the Orange with 68 yards and a touchdown on 7 of 11 passing. Much ballyhooed early enrollee Jeff Driskel split time between teams, going 3-for-8 for 58 yards.
The offense wasn’t sharp and it’s still too early to tell on Florida’s defense, but Muschamp came away pleased with his first spring at the helm.
Now, Muschamp is relying on his players.
With spring over, NCAA restrictions on coach-player interactions will put more responsibility on the players as far as workouts, and Muschamp hopes this is where his team takes the next step on its own.
“I challenged some guys in the locker room. It’s time for them to step up,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be a senior.
“They need to understand it’s their football team, not mine. We will only be as good as we are with the work ethic that takes place.”