Muschamp: A Season Reflection

Florida head coach Will Muschamp has had a little bit of time to reflect on his first regular season as the leader of the Florida Gators, all while he was trying to secure commitments for the future of the program. Muschamp talked about this first season and more Monday, giving insight from his position of the strengths and weaknesses of the program.

Will Muschamp will be the first to tell you that the 2011 Florida football season did not go as he would have expected or wanted. Muschamp came into the year fully expecting to compete for an SEC East title and that didn't happen to his young bunch.

"It didn't go as I expected, no," he answered as the Florida media contingent quizzed him on the season. "I think more than anything, the expectation was to go to Atlanta and play for a championship. That's what I understand, and that is what I expected. We certainly fell short of that. I see a lot of positives with our football program and where it's headed. I think that the young talent is obviously there. I think that we have had to play some guys in situations where maybe it was tough for us this year, but will benefit us next year as we move forward."

Some of the things he preaches the most to his team just didn't happen this year and were things that really ate at the new Gator leader.

"I was frustrated to see some of the things that I know we could have done better – turnovers, specifically," Muschamp said. "Turnovers offensively were an issue, and not getting turnovers defensively. Some of the penalty situations were very frustrating; as much as we try and preach and practice discipline and the things that we try to instill within our program."

Muschamp is calculable in his thoughts on the future of the program and the different directions they need to go to get to where he wants them to be.

"There are a lot of things that I go back and try to evaluate," he said. "I always talk to the players about self-evaluation – it's a very difficult thing to do – and the first person I look at is myself. I'm the one that is responsible for a 6-6 season. At the end of the day, are we headed in the right direction? Yes, and I emphatically believe that we're headed in the right direction. Is it where we want to be at this point? No. Are we going to get there? Yes."

A light depth chart and not knowing his roster in his first year were two things that led Muschamp to making what he calls a critical mistake in the preparation for this season.

"I think the poorest decision I made was not having a more physical training camp because of numbers," he said. "You get nervous about injuries; you get nervous about situations with guys as far as having a more physical camp to prepare our team for the season. If I had one thing to say I wish I could change – that would be it. It's kind of like the guy that's getting fired and they ask, ‘What would you have done differently?' And he goes, ‘I wouldn't have done anything differently.' Well, he would've gotten fired again. Obviously, there are things that I would change after a 6-6 season. I would pinpoint that as being one of them."

Muschamp talked about a few players when asked and of course senior quarterback John Brantley was one of them. He says the Brantley is fine for the Gator Bowl matchup with Ohio State after leaving the Florida State game early with an injury.

"We gave our guys off the week after the game while [the coaches] were on the road – we lift then and ran them a little – but he's been fine," Muschamp said of Brantley.

This is an important game for his program, but Muschamp understands the pain the seniors have gone through this year and wants to win the game for those guys.

"I think that it's important for all of our seniors to play well, not just John," he said. "I think it's important for our younger players to understand that – sending them out the right way, and spring-boarding us into January, February, our offseason program and spring ball… more than anything right now, sending the seniors out with a win."

He reflected a bit on his senior quarterback.

"Quarterback is a tough position to play; it's the hardest position to play on the field," Muschamp said. "When it's going well you normally are put on a pedestal that you are actually playing better than you really are, and at times when things aren't going very well, you're probably painted to be a little worse than you actually are. I think from that standpoint, he's a guy that went through a frustrating year with the previous year and came into our situation, really embraced it and did a good job with our offense. Unfortunately he had some injuries and setbacks but the one thing I'm going to tell you about John is that he's a positive guy – he loves being a Florida Gator, and that is important to me. He is a guy that does everything he can do in a first-class manner. He has a great family that supports him. He's a guy that I'm really proud of to be a part of this football program."

Sharrif Floyd had an excellent game against Florida State to end the season. He was allowed to play inside at defensive tackle and Muschamp says he will play again there in the bowl matchup.

"Sharrif will play inside," he said. "Again, for a lack of numbers, we played Sharrif at end – he is a more natural inside player. When he was injured in the Florida State game, we moved Sharrif inside, and he played extremely well – again, he is a more natural inside player, but because of our numbers situation, we played him at end."

Muschamp also said he saw a great deal of improvement from heralded defensive end Ronald Powell. Assigned the BUCK position here at Florida, Powell played with his hand down and up in the Muschamp defense.

"I think he played better as the year rolled on," Muschamp said of Powell. "He's been having a nice bowl practice as the days have progressed. I told him the other day that he had his best practice since we have been here – as far as pad levels, hand placement, affecting the quarterback in the rush. He always plays with good effort and with toughness."

One player that disappeared this season and was expected to do more was junior receiver / tight end Omarius Hines. Hines is a guy that Muschamp is looking forward to coaching up next season.

"He had some injuries earlier in the year," Muschamp alluded to as a reason Hines was slowed. "As we moved forward, I think you saw that Jordan Reed and A.C. Leonard were very productive at the position when we moved [Omarius] to tight end. Those guys have been very productive for us at the position. I believe that he will have more of an impact next year. We expected him to have more of an impact on special teams as well, not just on offense. The injury put him behind a little bit as far as moving forward."

Muschamp also maintained that freshman quarterback Tyler Murphy will remain at the position.

"Our goal for him next year is to compete at the quarterback position," he said.

Throughout the roster it is the sophomore class that carried this team in 2011. With very little experience as freshmen, they learned on the go during the season.

"Without getting specific, there is no question that the majority of our playmakers are in that class," Muschamp said. "You look at it offensively, defensively and special teams of the guys that really contributed to our football team. Really, over 70% of our roster is freshmen and sophomores. That's really exciting for the future. Again, I like where we are headed.

"Obviously up front, defensively I think that Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd, Ronald Powell, he played his best football at the end of the season, Jelani Jenkins, he has done some very positive things, Matt Elam, who has played well for us in the secondary. Andre Debose has played well for us and made some nice plays down the field. Some of the offensive linemen have done a nice job.

"Chaz Green is a freshman, but he's a guy that I think has progressed once he got back off the injury, which was obviously disappointing. Jordan Reed continues to progress and play well for us. Those would be guys that just off the top of my head jump out at me.

"With that being said, a lot of those freshmen are playing well. I am excited about both young quarterbacks. A.C. Leonard is a guy that I think will be a really good player for us. The two linemen we signed – Trip Thurman and Tommy Jordan, although they have had injuries, are guys that are very promising and I'm excited about. Quinton Dunbar has done some nice things for us – at wide-out he needs to be more consistent and he knows that. Pop Saunders and Marcus Roberson had an outstanding year. You take those names – they're all freshmen and sophomores."

Seeing young guys develop is a familiar phase for Muschamp and one he expects a lot from next season.

"Anytime you go from a transition, whether it's a head coach or a coordinator – I went into two situations at Auburn and at Texas – walking in the door new, and being the only guy. You see the improvement over a period of time with the younger players, you see them developing. I told our freshmen in the middle of the season that you're not freshmen now; you're sophomores, so it's time to start acting like it and playing like it. Sophomores become juniors at that point, and juniors become seniors. Once you have accumulated a lot of snaps it's time to start playing better, developing and understanding what it takes to be successful – I have seen a lot of that with our football team.

"You understand how guys are going to respond in situations, what calls are going to be made in certain situations, the unknowns are not there. There is a more comfortable feeling with what you are trying to accomplish schematically. The 300th rep is better than the 100th – that's what you have to look at over a period of time."

Florida didn't fare well in many NCAA statistics, but finished with a top ten defense and that side of the ball had a few categories that were very positive. At the top of the list was third down percentage defense where they finished second only to Alabama nationally. Muschamp explained why his squad was pretty good at holding teams down on third down.

"Normally, when you see that statistic, you want to look at the sacks," he said. "But really again, sacks are a pretty overrated statistic in my opinion. It is very important – I'm not trying to downplay how important a sack is, especially as a momentum changer. Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying. But it is resets, hits on the quarterback, hurries, forcing a bad throw, forcing an interception, forcing the ball to be thrown off time are also as critical as a sack is concerned, and that is the way that I look at it. Again, I like sacks, we need more of them.

"I think our kids have a pretty good understanding of what teams want to do on third downs. I think we put a big emphasis on it. I think our staff does an outstanding job as far as our pressure packages on third down. We covered a little better than we thought we would at times so we have been able to play some guys down the field better. We have improved throughout the year in those situations. I think as the year has gone on we have disguised better at times. We've gotten into some bad throws, taken the ball in the wrong places when we should have gone the other way. I think there are a lot of things that go into being successful, but I think that we put a huge emphasis on third down and getting off the field."

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