The 2013 college football season has been filled with disappointments for the Florida Gators.
Head coach Will Muschamp's team has gone from playing in the Sugar Bowl in January to likely not even earning a bowl bid this season, and that can be tied directly to two reasons. The first, of course, is limitations on offense. The second reason is the stress the team is under to perform with so many injuries.
When the Gators finished third in the BCS rankings last season, Muschamp's team had a very specific recipe for success. His players went out on the field, muscled up on teams, played great defense and shoved the football down opponents' throats. The Gators never threw for more than 219 yards in a contest yet finished 11-1. They beat a ranked South Carolina team by 33 points despite only passing for 94 yards.
They averaged only 143.9 yards passing in the regular season, but that was quite alright because they were bullies.
This year, the goal was still to play good defense, run the ball and hope that Jeff Driskel grew a bit in the passing game. As Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com pointed out in the spring, Muschamp and Driskel understood the need to improve the passing game while Florida planned to ride its defense and ground attack. There was no mystery as to where, and how, Florida needed to improve.
Unfortunately for the Gators, their ability to deliver physical beatings like they did a season ago quickly came to a close. Stud lineman Chaz Green went down in the preseason, taking a quick toll on the Gators' depth on the offensive line that had been such a big factor in 2012.
While it was a major blow for the Gators, it was manageable. The same went for losing Jon Halapio early in the season and seeing D.J. Humphries, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore and Jonotthan Harrison fill in for part of the Miami contest.
However, the loss of Driskel, a guy who many were hoping would set the tone for an improved passing game, was something from which the Gators would not recover. After Driskel went down, the sledding truly got tough for Muschamp's team as other injuries mounted.
Without Jacoby Brissett, who transferred to NC State after losing the quarterback competition in 2012, the Gators were forced to turn to Tyler Murphy—an unrated recruit from the 2010 class, per 247Sports.com. This was less about the validity of the star ranking and more about Murphy never having been expected to play, let alone start, for the Gators this season.
Without both Driskel and Brissett, the quarterback depth chart speaks to Muschamp's major issue as Gators head coach. That is his inability to get high-level talent at the quarterback position. It also speaks to the failures of his offensive staff in developing talent and getting players prepped to play.
Murphy, along with redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg and freshman Max Staver, are just not ready to play, despite Driskel having missed almost two months of football.
Things could get even worse this Saturday against No. 10 South Carolina. The Gators may be forced to put Mornhinweg on the field with Murphy nursing a shoulder injury, according to Jesse Simonton of the Miami Herald.
Yet, it is not just about the Florida offense. The Gators defense is also broken this season. After a season of carrying the team through tough times, pulling out dynamic performances and giving every ounce it had, the Florida defense has crumbled in 2013.
It began the same way as the team's offensive stagnation, with the loss of its most central player—Dominique Easley.
Not only did Florida lose its emotional leader, it lost the best player between the tackles it had and one of the nation's top defenders at any position. The Gators not only had their heart cut out, but they also lost a legitimate force to push the pocket from the interior as Dante Fowler and Ronald Powell squeezed quarterbacks from the edge.
Florida's inability to collapse the pocket has led to less pressure on opposing quarterbacks, turning its elite secondary into mush as quarterbacks have had time to find receivers. Mix in the mounting injuries on the defensive side of the ball—most recently linebacker Antonio Morrison, according to The Palm Beach Post—with the unit's drained emotion, and what Florida has left is a bruised and battered defense.
That said, this is football and injuries happen, so this is not about excuses. Florida has failed on a major level, and it starts at the top with Muschamp, trickles down through his staff and ultimately has manifested itself on the field. This team is not very far from the same unit that made it to the Sugar Bowl a year ago. Florida has just fallen off the razor's edge of an advantage that it had, slicing its own jugular on the way down.
The failures are real, but they are not solely based on what has happened during the games. Rather, they are spring ball failures and Sunday-to-Friday failures that get exposed on Saturday afternoons when the Gators take the field.
Florida should have a second quarterback capable of managing a game and should have more than one player capable of squeezing the pocket on defense.
The Gators should have a lot of things, but they don't. That's on the coaching staff, the recruiting efforts and on the development of talent.
Muschamp has work to do following this season. He has to get his team better prepared, and that likely includes reshuffling the deck on the offensive side of the ball. That certainly could mean offensive coordinator Brent Pease departing Gainesville. Regardless of what happens, the Gators have to find a way to prepare players better and add some dynamism to the offense.