Toughness Improved Through Bowl Prep

After the ugly loss to Florida State in late November, Will Muschamp stepped to the podium with a clear message. The Gators needed to get tougher. The benefit of bowl practice is that Florida didn't immediately have to draw up a game plan or start preparing for an opponent. There were two weeks of practice that the coaching staff designed only for focusing on team improvements.

"I think we've made some progress, and I think a lot of that has to do with not having to get ready for a game in a game-week situation," Will Muschamp said Saturday morning at the final press conference before Monday's Gator Bowl. "(We were) able to go back to a lot more fundamentals, a lot like training camp or spring practice. When you're pressed to prepare for a game and install a game plan, you get away from some of that, probably too much with a young team."

The issue for the Gators near the end of the season was numbers. They weren't great to start the year, but as injuries started to take a toll on the Florida roster, the lack of depth didn't just effect the Gators on Saturdays. It also hurt during the week as they prepared for games. The lack of depth meant that starters could feel comfortable with their position and not stay motivated to outwork younger, less experienced players below them on the depth chart.

Added numbers will help create added toughness in practice over the spring and fall of 2012.

"I think more than anything, it has been about managing practice with our numbers," Muschamp said. "We've gone to more of a pro format as far as servicing each other. When you're developing young players, they're not getting some of that development with turns and reps that need.

"We've got to build our numbers back, and that's what's going to help us the most."

The players have seen things change on the practice field in recent weeks. Seniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps have been around since the Gators were having plenty of success on the field, and the two think that the recent practices have shown added toughness.

"Each and every day we're out there, we're battling," Demps said. "The last three or four weeks, we've definitely had tough bowl practices. I can see (the team getting tougher) each day."

"The team has always been tough, it's just the discipline," Rainey added. "That's what I saw out there."

INJURY UPDATE: Matt Patchan left practice on Wednesday with a lat injury that Muschamp said will keep the offensive tackle out of Monday's game. The head coach said Patchan's injury was a "reaggrivation of something that happened during the season." Chaz Green and Xavier Nixon will start at tackle, while Nick Alajajian and Kyle Koehne will serve as the third and fourth tackles, respectively.

Dominique Easley is also out with an ACL injury he suffered against Florida State. Muschamp said the sophomore has had the surgery already and is preparing for rehab.

Kedric Johnson and Lerentee McCray will both be "game day decisions" for the Gator Bowl.

OFFENSIVE CHANGES: Muschamp hinted on Tuesday that the Gators could prepare some different looks on offense. On Wednesday, Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said the added time almost always allows coaches time to add something extra to the game plan.

At the Saturday press conference, Demps and Rainey were both asked about different ways the Florida offense could get the duo involved against Ohio State, the two looked at each other and were slow to answer. That's when Muschamp jumped in.

"They don't want to give up the game plan," the Florida head coach said.

Demps did add one tidbit about changes that could be made.

"We've got a couple tricks up our sleeves."

AVOIDING A LOSING SEASON: Since the regular season ended and Florida went into bowl preparation, the coaches and players have found extra motivation. The Gators haven't experienced a losing season since 1979, and heading into the bowl game with a 6-6 record, a loss to Ohio State would start a new streak.

"It's disappointing and not something we want to have happen," Muschamp said. "These players, myself and us as a staff don't want to be saddled with that. Is it a motivating factor? Certainly-- it should be. Playing well and putting that uniform on whether you're a senior or as we move forward with the young players in our program, playing well and winning the game is all the motivation regardless of external circumstances."

Muschamp brought up the circumstances to the team in one of the meetings during bowl preparation. It hit hard with the Florida players, especially the ones that have been around the program for a while or grew up Florida fans.

"You always want to win and that's always the motivation," quarterback John Brantley said. "We've had a great week of preparation. We're just hoping to go out there, execute our plays and do everything we've done this week. Everything is clicking right now, and we've got to turn that over to Monday."

HOWARD GLAD HE CAME BACK: Defensive tackle Jaye Howard spent some time thinking about going pro after the 2010 season. Dan Quinn and Bryant Young being brought in to coach secured that he would be staying in Gainesville. The NFL pedigree of Quinn as a coach and Young as a player was too good for Howard to give up on. He elected to stay in Gainesville and play his senior season.

"I was in a situation where I have great coaches that push us every day to get better," Howard said. "I credit them for that success."

The biggest issue in recent seasons for Howard was consistency. He would make a big play in the offensive backfield, only to take the next few plays off as he got his breath back. Quinn said Thursday that Howard has taken care of the conditioning issue, and Howard has improved because of it.

Part of it was also mental.

"It's a growing thing going on," Howard said. "It takes time to fully understand self evaluation."

Fightin Gators Top Stories