Austin Adjusting on the Fly

When the regular season ends Saturday, Florida defensive coordinator Teryl Austin knows he needs to evaluate his season. It has been his first year in college football since 2002, and Austin doesn't hesitate to admit there have been adjustments. The real challenge comes in making himself a better coach next season after what he learned this year.

"I hope to be better every week," Teryl Austin said. "Like anybody, you look back at the year and see a lot of things I could improve on. The deal is to make sure you do improve on it for next year."

The difficulty comes in the time college coaches can spend with their players. Austin is used to spending as much time as possible with his defensive backs in the NFL. In college, there are limits in place to allow the players enough time for schoolwork.

"The thing you have to get used to is the amount of time you don't spend with your guys," Austin said. "They have school and other things, but in the NFL you spend more time. I didn't know how big of a deal it would be, but it is."

In the NFL, Austin spent time coaching players who were used to change. They played college football and learned to be away from home then. As a college coach, he is dealing with players who are living away from home for the first extended period of their lives.

It forces him to be a mentor to play, on the field and off it.

"What you're dealing with is young guys going into a new area with a lot of change," Austin said. "They haven't done it before. That's the big change for those guys. There's an adjustment period."

This weekend, Austin will be tested by Florida State. He didn't pass the first test they gave him.

He faced them from 1993-1995 when Austin was on the defensive staff at Wake Forest. Over those three seasons, Florida State beat Austin's Deamon Deacons by a combined score of 182-27, highlighted by a 72-13 beating in 1995.

"I don't know if you call it coaching with the way they kicked my butt," Austin said while shaking his head.

Before coming to Gainesville, Austin always kept an eye on the Florida-Florida State rivalry. He remembers turning it on during Thanksgiving weekends in the past, despite his wife asking, "Don't you watch enough football?"

In the past, the rivalry highlighted elite athletes on both sides of the ball that always attracted audiences from across the country.

"I know it's a great rivalry," Austin said. "It's one of those around Thanksgiving time where you turn on the TV, and you watch it. It's a lot of great players, great tradition and great coaching."

The Florida secondary needs to play well for the Gators to win Saturday. In the four losses this season, the Gators have recorded only one interception, coming from Jelani Jenkins against LSU.

The Gators can't let Ponder throw to open receivers, or it could be a long afternoon.

"We've got to do a great job of reading routes, breaking on the ball and competing for the ball," Austin said. "If we can do that and get ourselves a few turnovers, it's momentum for our team. It'd be great for our team."

The coaches have said that they wished the improvement of true freshmen came earlier in the season. Many first-year players are starting to come on now, though. Austin singled out Ronald Powell, Cody Riggs and Sharrif Floyd for their play recently, saying that the improvement of the three can easily be seen.

"Those three guys have been playing well, but I think we expected some of the other guys to be in that mix as well, but they haven't come along as fast as we would have liked," Austin said.

Riggs' impact wasn't something Austin expected before the season started. He wasn't sure was impact Riggs would make this season, especially after he came to campus in the summer, but he has been the biggest surprise player on defense.

"He came in and you saw him compete well, but you were worried about his size," Austin said. "He keeps getting better every week. I'm really surprised because he didn't come in January, but he's really grown the most out of these guys in the back."

Austin also said he had higher expectations for safety Matt Elam and cornerback Jaylen Watkins. Their progress hasn't been as fast as expected, but Austin is still high on their futures.

"They're talented young men, but everybody goes at their own pace," Austin said. "I think they'll be fine players in time, it's just a matter of when that time is."
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