“I think this is the most complete team since I’ve been here from a standpoint of offense, defense and special teams,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got some really good leaders, really good players on our team and just an outstanding staff.”
It’s high praise considering the 2012 team. In Muschamp’s second year as the Florida coach that season, he led the Gators to a BCS bowl and a Sugar Bowl berth. That team got to New Orleans on the back of a dominant defense and seemingly perfect special teams played behind two specialists that finished in the final three for the award given to the best at their position.
Muschamp isn’t predicting this year’s team will be better than the 2012 group, but he is saying it will be better rounded.
That means more production on the offensive side of the ball. For that to happen, it will come from first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, hired away from the same position at Duke in the offseason. He’ll also get a boost in talent compared to what recent coordinators at Florida have had to work with.
“Probably what excites me the most is this is probably the most talent we've had on offense in my four years at Florida,” Will Muschamp said.
It didn’t matter who was healthy or able to play at the end of last season. The biggest hurdle was a lack of confidence. Muschamp saw it in practice and in the locker room. The offensive players simply didn’t believe in what the coaching staff was providing them with each week.
That’s when Muschamp knew it was time for a change. He fired Brent Pease after two years but spoke again on Monday that he believes Pease is still a good football coach. The loss of confidence on the offensive side was enough to call for a change in the offensive coordinator position.
In finding a replacement, Muschamp went back to the film. He looked at the 2012 season with Jeff Driskel healthy and under center. It showed that the overall yardage of the offense was better when Driskel was in the shotgun, as well as the number of explosive plays in the run game and pass game.
There’s still balance to it. Duke had 20 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns last season under Roper. He’s expecting similar balance this year, and a bounce back for the Florida program.
Muschamp knew he made the right hire when he called Duke coach David Cutcliffe. He raved about Roper, and Muschamp joked that the Duke coach ‘wasn’t happy I was calling about Kurt’ but he raved about the ability to coach the offensive side of the ball.
“There's nothing different of what I've seen from what Coach Cutcliffe described to me in their offseason program,” Muschamp said. “In our 15 days of spring, we got a lot more done than I thought we would. He's an outstanding fundamental football coach. Very positive. It was good to see our offensive kids having fun again on the field. Really excited about that.”
The defense has to take a step up from last year for Muschamp’s prediction to come true. It likely won’t match the dominance of the 2012 season, but even with an uptick in offensive production, more complete can still be possible.
The issue was inconsistency in the second half of the season. Whether the pressure to hold an offense to single-digit points because of the offense’s struggles got to the unit or not, the defense played like it did.
The special teams have to get back close to where they were in 2012. Caleb Sturgis had one of the best seasons in Florida history for a kicker, setting the bar high for Austin Hardin after his issues last season. Hardin was heavily recruited and has a big leg, but his accuracy and confidence were battered during a rough season in 2013. The focus in the spring was rebuilding his confidence under first-year special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler.
The Gators have two weapons at punter. The battle between Kyle Christy and Johnny Townsend will go into fall camp before a decision is made, but Muschamp has said multiple times that he believes both will punt in the NFL. The coverage units have also produced elite numbers in recent years.
“Special teams, our coverage and return units have been outstanding,” Muschamp said. “Our specialists did not perform as well as we thought they could have last year. I think we've made some amends there. Kyle Christy and Johnny Townsend both have NFL legs. Their competition will make each other better.”
It’s a bold claim from Muschamp to open up SEC Media Days on Monday, but if the offense takes the steps forward that most are expecting, it might not be that crazy after all.