Muschamp Sees Starting Lineup Coming Together

Florida went into the season opener with an open competition for starting positions on the offensive line and in the secondary. Through one game, the starting positions won't see any changes. It wasn't the best competition the Gators will face this season, but head coach Will Muschamp was pleased with the way the two units played on Saturday.

In the secondary, the Gators made history. Cornerback Marcus Roberson and safety Pop Saunders both started the game, marking the first time in school history that two freshmen have started in the secondary. Saunders made one tackle while Roberson made three, including one for a loss and a pass breakup.

Cody Riggs started at the other cornerback position while Matt Elam lined up at safety. The four players executed well enough to keep their starting positions another week, depending on their performance in practice.

"They were solid," Will Muschamp said Monday. "No one particularly stood out, but we had some positive production and some things we can clean up from the previous game."

Film study and practice will be important for the players to retain their starting positions this week. The possible return of Jeremy Brown and the constant improvement from Jaylen Watkins could cloud the cornerback position, but they will focus this week on correcting mistakes.

"We watched film this morning," Muschamp said. "I always tell the players that the good plays take care of themselves. It's the negative ones that we've got to correct because that's what our opponent is watching."

Muschamp should have a better idea about the state of his secondary after this weekend. The Gators host UAB, which returns seven starters on offense from last season. Quarterback Bryan Ellis returns after throwing for 2,940 yards and 25 touchdowns in only nine starts last season.

The young Florida secondary will get a stiff test after facing an FAU offense that didn't throw the ball deep much.

"We've got to switch gears," Muschamp said. "It's a totally different offense. One week you're facing a pro-style, two-back (offense), and the next you're facing a spread run or spread throw attack. They're running these plays over and over again. Defensively, we've totally switched gears. That's the difficult part of being a defensive coach and player these days."

On the offensive line, there won't be any changes to the starting lineup unless something happens in practice this week. Dan Wenger started at left guard and drew praise from Muschamp. Jon Halapio played well at right guard, while Jonotthan Harrison settled in after his bad snap. The right tackle rotation of Chaz Green and Matt Patchan was solid while Muschamp raved about the effort from left tackle Xavier Nixon.

"That would be the mixture of guys we feel comfortable with at this point," Muschamp said. "They need to practice well every day."

GAMEDAY AWARDS: Muschamp named Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps co-Offensive Players of the Game. The scrap iron award, given to the best offensive lineman, went to Wenger. Demps was honored with the big play award while Xavier Nixon was given the extra effort award for "finishing plays downfield."

Dominique Easley was the defensive player of the game. Jelani Jenkins won the hard hat award for a big hit along the FAU sideline.

Caleb Sturgis was the special teams player of the week for hitting a 51-yard field goal and going 5-5 on PATs. The special teams big play award went to Solomon Patton for his punt block.

Asked about the names of some of the awards, like the scrap iron award and hard hat award, Muschamp's response was simple.

"We view ourselves as a blue collar, workman outfit," he said. "We go to work every day. That's what we've sold to the kids, and they've bought into it. We're going to try and outwork who we play. We're not going to try and be fancy."

INJURY UPDATE: Fullback Trey Burton came out of the game early with a bruised left side, and wide receiver Deonte Thompson was helped off the field after a helmet-to-helmet hit after a completed pass. Muschamp wasn't worried about either and said both players "should be fine" for Saturday.

Wide receiver Omarius Hines is also expected to play after sitting out against FAU with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) and wide receiver Robert Clark (hamstring) are listed as "probable-to-questionable based on how they perform this week."

HAPPY WITH BRANTLEY: After going 21-for-30 with one touchdown and two interceptions, Muschamp said the film didn't change his opinion on John Brantley's day at quarterback. The head coach was happy with how he facilitated the offense and his leadership at the line of scrimmage.

"I thought John was outstanding," Muschamp said. "He got us in and out of the right runs and passes. It was no different than I felt while watching the film. I thought he was very accurate with the ball and took it to the right places.

"They were playing a sink, soft coverage to take away some things down the field. We hit the swing passes all night."

BACKUPS IMPRESS: The benefit of big leads in the early games is that Muschamp can try younger players in the game. He singled out Andre Debose as a veteran backup who impressed him after the redshirt sophomore made a nice third down catch along the Florida sideline.

He also singled out linebacker Mike Taylor, linebacker Graham Stewart and fullback Hunter Joyer as players who impressed him.

Joyer was forced into more playing time than expected after Burton's injury early in the game, but the freshman may have earned more playing time in the future.

"He has really progressed well," Muschamp said. "For a first ball game going out there, he was very productive for us in protections and blocking. He's a guy I'm really excited to have on our football team. He gives you a lot of variety in what he can do. He's very tough, and he'll be a very good football player for us."

TURNOVERS A CONCERN: Muschamp made it clear soon after being hired that he didn't care much about stats. There were only two he concerned himself with—big play ratio and turnovers.

The turnover battle was a struggle Saturday. Part of that was because of the style of offense FAU played that wasn't aggressive enough for the defense to create turnovers, but three combined interceptions by Brantley and Jeff Driskel saw Florida put up a -3 turnover margin.

"That's a huge concern," Muschamp said. "It's something we're trying to emphasize, and we did a decent job of it during camp. It's a huge concern of taking care of the ball offensively. It's something we've talked to our players about this morning."

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