Notebook: Problem at the goal line

After Jeff Driskel hit a 73-yard pass to Demarcus Robinson, the Gators had a chance to take the lead from the two-yard line with 2:08 to play on Saturday.

Florida was two yards away from taking a 31-27 lead, forcing LSU to score a touchdown with two minutes left in the game. Instead, the Florida offense stalled and was forced to kick a field goal, tying the game at 27. The Tigers eventually won 30-27.

On first down, Florida handed off to freshman Brandon Powell, who was stuffed on a run up the middle for a one-yard gain. At 177 pounds, Powell is the lightest of six scholarship running backs. Because of injuries to Matt Jones and Mark Herndon, the only other options at running back were Mack Brown (235 pounds), Adam Lane (222 pounds) or Kelvin Taylor (210 pounds).

Brown and Taylor were the logical options since they both played on offense earlier in the game, but they remained on the sideline in that situation. The Florida head coach said the staff needs the other backs to prove they can handle the other areas that come with the running back position. The concern about Taylor has been pass protection since he showed up on campus last summer.

“It’s not just about carrying the ball,” Will Muschamp said. “There’s protection and there’s a lot of things that go involved with being a running back. We’re utilizing the running back as a pass catcher in a lot of situations, and Brandon’s a guy that’s got really good hands. He’s a guy that we trust a little bit more in the passing game, which he showed you he’s very good at that end in space.

“It’s a long season, and those guys have to continue to progress in what we’re doing and they’re both very talented runners.”

On second and goal from the one-yard line, the Gators kept the ball in Jeff Driskel’s hands. He totaled 21 rushing attempts on Saturday, and after the Florida offensive line couldn’t get any movement on the first play of the drive, the coaches thought it would come on the next one.

It didn’t. Driskel was stuffed at the one-yard line and couldn’t move the pile into the end zone. The issues on the ground kept the Gators to 123 yards rushing, and 71 of those came with Driskel.

“We didn’t get enough movement on either down,” Muschamp said. “On the second down play, we thought we might get a different look and they did a good job of getting penetration inside.”

Muschamp said the third down play was a great call, rolling Driskel out to his right. Tight end Tevin Westbrook dropped a pass that hit him in the hands, forcing Florida to settle for a game-tying field goal instead of taking the lead.

INJURY REPORT: Wide receiver Latroy Pittman was down on the field and taken off on a stretcher after a blow to the head. Muschamp said all the early reports are positive on the receiver. It’s possible that he could even play on Saturday, but Muschamp didn’t want to say anything definite before receiving more information on his health.

Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III should return to practice on Tuesday after suffering what Muschamp called a “head injury.” Running back Matt Jones (ankle) missed the second half against LSU but should return to practice on Wednesday. Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries hurt his knee in the game but should be back at practice on Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Leon Orr (knee) is questionable for Saturday’s game. He has missed the last two games, and the coaches thought he would be back by now.

YOUNG DL COMING ON: The increased depth on the defensive line has helped Florida this season, and the young players continue to improve. Defensive lineman Alex McCalister had 2.5 tackles for a loss on Saturday with 1.5 of those coming on sacks.

The coaches took him in the 2012 recruiting class knowing that he would be a project. He was barely over 200 pounds with a 6-7 frame and would get blown up by SEC offensive tackles if they put him on the field at that point. He has bulked up to 245 pounds but kept the rest of his freakish attributes, including a 7-2 wingspan, a 10-foot broad jump and a 39-inch vertical. The coaches loved his basketball background with just two years of high school football, knowing he had explosiveness to be a force in the pass rush.

He currently leads Florida with four sacks and is tied with Dante Fowler for the team lead with five tackles for a loss.

“He's got great length, which you can't coach, and you can't coach some of his athleticism,” Muschamp said. “He's got all of the attributes you want, but it's just a matter of can he carry the weight and can he add strength, which he's been able to do."

Caleb Brantley continues to come on at defensive tackle, too. He has two tackles for a loss, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble and recovery. The redshirt freshman has provided depth and been an important piece with Leon Orr out during the last two weeks.

“He’s a really disruptive player and he’s got a very good first step for a 300, 310-pound guy,” Muschamp said. “Caleb’s biggest is just consistency in his performance; consistently doing well, consistently playing with great effort. There’s no question he’s extremely talented. He’s a very talented guy.”

RECEIVER DROPS: Jeff Driskel isn’t playing well this season, but his receivers aren’t doing much to help him. The Gators went into Saturday’s game with 15 drops on the season and added to that. Westbrook’s drop plus Quinton Dunbar’s drop on the first drive of the game only made the offensive issues more obvious.

Muschamp wanted to keep the blame off first-year receivers coach Chris Leak. He was promoted to the job after Joker Phillips resigned in June, and Leak was promoted from his spot as a graduate assistant.

"Nobody can catch it for them,” Muschamp said. “They've got to catch the ball. We work on JUGS, we work on any hand-eye, lot of that. He can't catch it for them."

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