Something ‘Special' at Florida

We've seen bits and pieces of it in every game. A different part would show up and then the Special Teams at Florida went off on Saturday. A blocked field goal, two forced fumbles, six punts over 50 yards, a long field goal, excellent coverage overall, and a couple of nice returns. There were a couple of down notes too, but there is something special going on with Florida's Special teams.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp doesn't mess around when it comes to Special Teams. The importance cannot be overstated. The amount of time they dedicate each day in practice shows just how important it is to him and his team.

"We spend, in each practice, a minimum of 25 minutes on Special Teams," Muschamp told the media following the game with South Carolina last week where his group made so many plays. That 25 minutes a day was longer than the total time of possession for South Carolina in the game, which amounted to 24 minutes and 32 seconds.

‘The Pack' as they are known, a name given to them by Special Teams Coordinator D.J. Durkin, are treated no differently than any other group or phase of the team.

"Every week we grade everything, not just offense and defense but special teams and if a guy's not playing well, he's replaced during the game," Muschamp said Monday. "We watch that no different than any other phase of our football team."

Florida middle linebacker Jon Bostic says his teammates want to be a part of Special Teams and the group has become real competitive within the ranks.

"It is competitive," Bostic said Monday. "Guys are going at it each and every week. They are going at it just to get jobs on certain special teams."


Purifoy has been huge on Special Teams for two years

Durkin is a big part of the success of the group that leads the SEC in field goals, punting, and net punting. The Gators are also top five in the conference in every other major Special teams category. Muschamp doesn't hesitate to praise Durin as usual.

"(He's) very knowledgeable," Muschamp continued on Monday. "He's got really good experience as a coach coming up through and having the opportunity to be the Special Teams' coordinator for Jim Harbaugh out at Stanford. So he's got a lot of experience, number one. He's very passionate about it. He does a great job of motivating the players and any good coach, whether its offense defense or special teams, does when you can relate with the players and motivate them to play hard, fast, and physical. We're a very vested group in our special teams. As far as our staff is concerned, what you emphasize is what's important and we spend a lot of time on it."

At the forefront of the unit right now are the team's kickers. Punter Kyle Christy and place kicker Caleb Sturgis both lead the conference and have been huge this season in deciding the outcome of games.

Christy was named Special teams Player of the Week by the SEC this week and has been huge all season for Florida.

"Kyle Christy set a school record with a 54 yard average, had six punts for over 50 yards. Again, has been outstanding for our football team this year and a guy that's flipped the field, created momentum and hung some punts up there.

"You go back to the Tennessee game, the first drive there. We were inside our 5, we flip it back to their 30, there are so many instances in the season and you go back and look at where we're able to flip the field.

"Ace Sanders, look at the Missouri game for South Carolina, the return in the first quarter. You look at the Georgia game and the return in the first quarter for a score, so two huge momentum swings for their football teams and two big games at the time, we were able to take him out of the game with the punts."

Sturgis has already set a school record of seven field goals over 50 yards for his career. Muschamp has the utmost faith in Sturgis and because of that is willing to insert that faith into his game plan every week.


Sturgis is one of the best ever at Florida

"It changes our thoughts offensively depending on the situation in the game," Muschamp said. (Offensive coordinator) Brent Pease and I will be talking on the headsets and I'll say when we hit the 35, 'we're in range and we need points right now', does that change your thought process as a play caller? Certainly it does, because of the accuracy of Caleb."

Sturgis has also been able to plant teams deep on kickoffs. He can always kick the ball deep enough for no-return, but sometimes they may want to try and pin a team deeper and the group is in the top 25 nationally in kick return defense right now.

"From a kickoff standpoint, he's going to put most of them out of the end zone, so you don't have to worry about putting the balls in the hands of somebody you don't want to carry it," Muschamp said. "Unless you want to and you want to try to pin them back there, which we haven't as much."

Other individuals are making names for themselves as well. Gunners Loucheiz Purifoy, Chris Johnson, and Solomon Patton all had big games on Saturday. Purifoy caused a fumble on a punt return even though it was recovered by the Gamecocks. Patton caused a fumble that was picked up by Johnson and returned to the one yard line. Florida is ranked sixth in the country in punt return defense because of Christy and guys like these.

Florida also blocked a field goal for the second week in a row.

Finally, return man Andre Debose is coming around. After a slow start fielding punts, Debose is starting to become a difference maker as a punt returner in the last two games. He had a 19 yard punt return and a 39 yard kick return in the game.

When you dedicate the time and energy this team has to a phase of the game like Special teams, it can become a weapon. So far this season, it has been one.


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