Will Muschamp's 5 Biggest Challenges for Florida in 2013
In his second year as head coach of the Florida Gators, Will Muschamp was already on the hot seat in the eyes of Gators fans. The main reason was a 7-6 campaign in 2011 that was full of struggles.
Although many of those struggles carried over into 2012, Muschamp was able to work his magic and lead the Gators to the Sugar Bowl.
Now that expectations are through the roof in Gainesville, Muschamp is entering this season with more pressure on him than ever before. With a returning quarterback and a loaded recruiting class, he and his staff are expected to compete for the SEC title.
If he wants to do that, however, there are still issues he needs to resolve.
Here are the five biggest challenges on Will Muschamp's agenda.
5. Finding the Right Replacements on Defense
Matt Elam, Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins, Sharrif Floyd and Josh Evans all had one thing in common last season: They consistently made big plays on defense to help the Gators in close games.
Now, they have something else in common.
They are no longer Gators and need to be replaced.
Luckily, Florida has the depth on defense to regroup relatively quickly. Antonio Morrison should become an immediate anchor of the linebacking corps. Likewise, Jonathan Bullard and Jaylen Watkins are capable of taking on expanded roles.
In addition, new recruits such as Daniel McMillian and Keanu Neal will provide added depth at linebacker and in the secondary.
It is up to Muschamp and his coordinators to put the right pieces in the right positions. If he does so, the Gators defense will once again be stout in 2013.
4. Surviving the November Schedule
The Gators were able to make it through the final stretch without any blemishes last season. Included in their November triumphs was a key win over Florida State that kept their BCS hopes alive.
Unfortunately, Florida has a brutal November lineup in 2013.
In all honesty, the Gators could realistically lose any or all of the four key games during that month. Besides a cakewalk over Georgia Southern, they will also have to face Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and the Seminoles. The Bulldogs and Gamecocks are the two other favorites in the SEC East, and Florida State is always a tough rivalry game.
Not to mention, Vanderbilt is a program on the rise. The Commodores could finally reach the next level in 2013.
Muschamp faces a tough task in keeping his squad fresh and on point during this final streak to the finish. If he can, however, the Gators will be in excellent shape.
3. Developing Depth at Wide Receiver
Florida had no depth at wide receiver last year. None.
Okay, maybe a little. Still, the Gators' lack of dependable weapons on the outside last season was borderline embarrassing. Their leading receiver was not actually a receiver, but tight end Jordan Reed.
Fast forward to 2013, and it is clear that Muschamp and Joker Phillips need to create depth at the position. Doing so will take pressure off the shoulders of Jeff Driskel, and it should kick-start the team's inept passing attack.
Quinton Dunbar has been great in the offseason, which is at least reason to be optimistic. Not to mention, Demarcus Robinson has been opening eyes as a freshman. However, they are not enough. At least one other receiver needs to step up and be a contributor.
The Gators offense could take flight this season, but not without athletes who can catch the football with regularity.
2. Getting His Team to Play Better in the First Half
The Gators followed the same pattern throughout 2012. They would come out slow in the first half, often finding themselves behind after two quarters. Then, they would find a spark in the second half and squeak by their opponent.
It was effective last year, but they will not get away with it again in the fall.
For that reason, the Gators need to get off to better starts, especially against key conference opponents. Driskel needs to get in a rhythm as early as possible instead of making a clutch play late in the game and getting away with a mediocre performance.
It would also make life easier for Florida's defense, which valiantly kept the team in a position to win all games during the regular season.
The Gators will have less wiggle room in 2013 to fight back from deficits. They need to come out clicking and, hopefully, scoring.
1. Improving the Passing Attack
The Gators' passing attack was deceptively awful in 2012.
Although Driskel did not turn the ball over for the most part and made a few big plays at key moments, his overall performance was nothing to brag about. As a whole, the team averaged only 146 passing yards per game, one of the worst marks in college football.
Clearly, things need to change.
A full season and offseason as Florida's starter will help Driskel in his quest to become elite. However, he can't reach that level by himself. He needs better protection from his offensive line. Perhaps more importantly, he needs to find a receiver he can count on at any time.
In reality, the Gators probably should have lost three or four regular-season games based on their offensive performance. They might have gotten away with their struggles last season, but trouble could be lurking if they cannot effectively throw the football.