Muschamp sees opportunity in bowl game
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Muschamp sees opportunity in bowl game

The 11-1 regular season this year was fueled by what happened in bowl preparation last season. As the Gators went through practices to prepare for the Gator Bowl, it meant important reps for the returning players. The January bowl game this year is on a bigger stage. The primetime draw around the game wouldn't be present for Florida without the improvement during last year's bowl prep.

"At this time last year, we had a great preparation for the Gator Bowl," Will Muschamp said. "We really recommitted ourselves to being physical and being tough on both line of scrimmages and doing the things we were going to do to be successful."

Without that commitment by the Florida players and coaches, Sunday night wouldn't have happened. The Gators came in at No. 3 in the final regular season Bowl Championship Series standings, guaranteeing a spot in a BCS bowl game. That matchup will come against Louisville on January 2 at 8:30 p.m. EST.

The changes in the offseason helped Muschamp's feel for the Florida team. First-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis joined with strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman to create an offseason program that would continue Florida's momentum through the offseason.

There was a special feeling in Muschamp's mind about his team when the season started.

"I felt really good about this team heading into camp and for the most part we have stayed injury-free in some critical positions," Muschamp said. "We got very productive play with Jeff Driskel as our quarterback and played much better on both lines of scrimmage, and the defense has come along to where I thought it would be."

The defense has been the anchor of it. The Gators closed the regular season sixth in rushing defense, 15th in passing defense and fifth in total defense. Even when the offense was inconsistent, the defense remained the anchor of the team that earned a spot in New Orleans for a bowl game.

The special feeling Muschamp had coming into the year was based on the experience in college and in the scheme for the Florida defense.

"It starts with our front, we are able to pressure with four," Muschamp said. "We can consistently rush the passer with four guys, but we have three corners that have played really well this year. Matt Elam is a guy that can cover in the slot and a lot of things that we are able to do, more coverage things with him because of his coverage ability. Our linebackers, Bostic and Jenkins, are guys that can cover in space."

The reaction from players started when the Gators beat Florida State and won't stop until bowl practice begins in Gainesville. The Gators had a good idea they would play in a BCS game after leaving Tallahassee with a win, so they spent the weekend waiting to hear something official.

"Our guys were jacked up after we beat Florida State, and we knew we would be in a BCS game and probably the Sugar Bowl," Muschamp said. "They were extremely excited. We had a team meeting on Monday after that game, and our guys were thrilled to have this opportunity."

There's also familiarity on the opposite sideline. Louisville head coach Charlie Strong served on the Florida coaching staff at four different times during his coaching career under titles that include graduate assistant, linebackers coach, defensive line coach, interim head coach and defensive coordinator.

His familiarity with the Florida program hasn't changed since leaving Gainesville, as Strong said he still watches as much of Florida as he can during the season.

"Very familiar with that program and Coach Will has done an outstanding job," Strong said. "He's a really good friend of mine. "I know when he took over that program, I told him, ‘if there was anything I could do, I would be more than willing to help,' even though I was moving on to Louisville."