The start of spring practice is less than a month away for Florida, and it can’t get here soon enough for Will Muschamp.
His first season as Florida’s coach is in the books, and it wasn’t what anybody in the Gator Nation wanted -- and that includes the Head Gator.
Florida was forced to play a pair of true freshman quarterbacks during the teeth of the schedule, and there was very little depth to speak of in the line of scrimmage. Muschamp has also conceded that the chemistry on the team was poor and that players were pulling in different directions.
The result was a 7-6 finish, including an 0-6 record against teams that finished the season with a winning record, not to mention losses to Eastern Division rivals Georgia and South Carolina in the same season for the first time since the Gamecocks joined the league in 1992.
If that’s not enough, it was only the second time in the past 30-plus years that Florida had lost six games in a season. They finished 6-6 in 1987.
So forgive Muschamp if his focus is on the future, although that doesn’t mean he’s oblivious to what went wrong in Year 1.
He knows exactly what has to change if the Gators are going to go from a 7-6 team to a team that has a chance to be in Atlanta playing for the SEC championship in 2012.
“The No. 1 thing defensively is that we have to create some turnovers,” Muschamp said. “We were probably the worst in the country for whatever reason. I’ve been the worst and the best, so I’ve got to figure out what we did that year we were the best at Texas. That’s the first thing.”
Indeed, the Gators were 113th nationally in turnover margin last season with 14 gained and 26 lost. Only seven teams in the country generated fewer turnovers.
In 2009, Muschamp’s Texas defense forced 37 turnovers, which tied for the most nationally.
The other thing at the top of Muschamp’s agenda is playing better up front, particularly on offense. The Gators were eighth in the SEC last season in rushing offense.
“We have to be able to run the ball more effectively when we need to,” Muschamp said. “We didn’t do that.”
He feels better about his running game in 2012 with just about everybody coming back in the offensive line, and the Gators should also be bigger and more physical at running back.
“We really don’t lose anybody that played for us last year in the offensive line, and they get another year within our system of moving forward,” Muschamp said. “We’ll also be bigger in the backfield. I love Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps and the job they did at the University of Florida. But at the end of the day, you do get limited in some of the things you want to do as far as the inside run game is concerned.
“You can only take so many runs into a game, so you have a lot of the perimeter runs they were able to do and some of the inside runs they couldn’t do we should be able to do now with Mike Gillislee, Trey Burton, Mack Brown and Matt Jones, the freshman coming in.
“That’s where we’re headed.”
Brent Pease takes over as Florida’s offensive coordinator, and certainly Muschamp wants to be more physical across the board on offense. Along those lines, you’re probably going to see more multiple tight end sets and the Gators trying to create some matchup issues.
“We’ll let it play out,” Muschamp said. “When we know, we’ll know. I think, again, I have a lot of confidence in Brent and the offensive staff and my judgment on who the guy will be to lead this football team. At the end of the day, it’s a long season in the SEC, and we’ve got to have all hands on the deck and be ready to roll.”
The other area of emphasis, and one that killed the Gators last season, will be red-zone offense.
In the losses to Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina, Florida was 1-of-7 in the red zone in scoring touchdowns.
“I attribute a little bit of that back to running the football,” Muschamp said. “Our production offensively has to increase -- period. We have to be able to sustain some drives and then consistently stop the run defensively.”
The Gators finished No. 8 nationally in total defense in 2011, allowing an average of 299.5 yards per game. But with 10 starters returning on defense and this being the second year in Dan Quinn’s system, Florida has a chance to take it to a whole different level defensively in 2012.
“As a football team, we were really good on special teams all year. They were outstanding,” Muschamp said. “But the thing that really jumped out at me is that we improved defensively. We really got better. I’m looking at things like playing blocks. I’m not looking at the scoreboard. I’m looking from the standpoint of leveraging the ball, understanding our scheme, playing blocks, getting off blocks, disengaging, maturing in the system, maturing as players, taking the next step. All of that, we improved.”