There wasn’t a lot that went right for the Florida secondary in Tuscaloosa. They blew coverages, missed tackles and struggled to make plays on the ball in the air. The day ended with the Crimson Tide throwing for 449 yards and Amari Cooper totaling 201 receiving yards.
The Gators got back on the practice field Tuesday, but before turning attention to the October 4 game at Tennessee, they had to work on themselves. And there was a lot to go over in the porous secondary.
Vernon Hargreaves III will be in the starting lineup when the Gators take the field in Knoxville. Even though he didn’t have his best game, the sophomore got kicked in his Achilles tendon and it swelled up during the game, but he played through it.
After Hargreaves, it’s a lot of uncertainty.
The slot has been an issue all year. Marcus Maye’s first season playing the nickel has been a struggle, and that’s a position the coaches are looking at closely in the next two weeks of practice.
“Marcus hasn’t played as well as we need him to in the slot,” Muschamp said.
One potential fix could be moving Brian Poole from cornerback to nickel, the position he played well over the last two years. It especially makes sense after Muschamp complimented freshmen cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson on Wednesday.
“We need to give him some more opportunities,” Muschamp said.
Duke Dawson is another freshman that could get on the field this fall. He became the first freshman in Florida history to return an interception for a touchdown in his first game with the Gators, but there’s a lot left to prove.
It’s a battle for the Florida coaches before deciding how much to trust a freshman. The coaches base a lot of decisions on what players do in practice, and Muschamp believes any small mistake can hurt their confidence going into a big game.
“In order to gain confidence, they gotta practice well,” Muschamp said. “They gotta practice well on Monday, but then they practice again well on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. What happens to you as a coach is a guy that’s never been out in front of 90,000 people, (if) he goes out and has five busted assignments in critical situations in a Tuesday practice, what’s he gonna do in front of 90,000 people?
“The flip side of that is what you’re doing’s not working, so you might as well try somebody else. That’s where I am right now.”
The safety position has been more of an issue than cornerback, evidenced by the number of open receiver running deep down the middle of the field on Saturday. Muschamp complimented Keanu Neal’s play, but the tackling is a concern with him. Muschamp said the Gators missed in the high 20s of tackles on Saturday, an extremely high number. Neal wasn’t wrapping up while tackling, and that has been a focus for him this week in practice.
Muschamp also mentioned being “disappointed” with Jabari Gorman’s play on Saturday.
“He missed some tackles in some situations, you just can’t do that,” Muschamp said. “He got beat against Kentucky -- those things can’t happen -- so we need to move forward and just improve the play, improve the urgency in the group to understand the expectations and how we’ve played here.”
The two weeks of practice before Tennessee will feature plenty of experimentation in the Florida secondary, trying to find the best groupings of players on the field to eliminate the big plays the Gators have allowed during the last two weeks. Muschamp took the blame for the issues but thinks the competition in the secondary will help the group improve before they head to Knoxville.
“It always helps when you have competition at a position because a guy that knows he’s going out there every day battling for his job,” Muschamp said. “It’s the human condition of understanding ‘I’ve got to go out there and play well,’ as well as other guys thinking that they’ve just got the job. You’re always trying to heighten that.”