Will Muschamp May Have Issues on Offense, but Don't Question His Defense

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMarch 26, 2014

Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves IIIMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

To say this is a pivotal spring in Gainesville would be a massive understatement.

It's the biggest spring Florida has faced since Ron Zook's final season as head coach of the Florida Gators prior to the 2004 season.

Most of the attention is focused squarely on new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and his no-huddle offense, and for good reason. Florida's offense has been abysmal during the Muschamp era, and its performance in 2014 will likely hold the fate of the coaching staff.

Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves IIIJames Crisp/Associated Press

But what about the defense?

Despite a rash of injuries, the Gators sill managed to finish with the SEC's second-best defense in 2013 at 314.3 yards per game and the SEC's top pass defense at 171.8 yards per game.

Part of the reason for that success was then-true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. The Tampa native picked off three passes, broke up 11 and was named a first-team All-SEC performer and third-team All-American by the Associated Press.

Muschamp had no qualms tossing a true freshman into the mix last season and appears to be following the same script this offseason with defensive backs Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson, according to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel:

#Gators coach Will Muschamp said new CBs Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson have stood out, said Dawson is battling Brian Poole for starting nickel

— Edgar Thompson (@osgators) March 25, 2014


Well, you shouldn't be.

As my colleague Michael Felder pointed out last week, playing time in the secondary is available after the departures of Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs; and Muschamp isn't opposed to tossing inexperienced players to the wolves if he feels they can handle it.

But what about up front?

"Buck" Dante Fowler Jr. is a legitimate star, Jonathan Bullard and Leon Orr are bona fide stars along the defensive line and the linebacking corps—while relatively inexperienced—is loaded with talented players like Antonio Morrison, Michael Taylor and Jarrad Davis.

Florida LB Jarrad Davis
Florida LB Jarrad DavisSteve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Davis has been impressing the coaching staff this spring, according to GatorZone.com's Scott Carter.

"He's a guy that has got a lot of maturity about him,'' Muschamp told Carter. "Football is very important to him. He works hard. He's a physical, tough player. He works hard in the weight room. He works hard in the classroom. He works hard on the practice fields."

Muschamp may have issues on offense, but don't question his defense. Florida's defense will likely be Muschamp and Roper's best friend, because even if quarterback Jeff Driskel clicks with the new scheme, there will still be some inconsistencies.

This defense will be able to pick up the slack.

Florida is down, but it's not out. Muschamp made the right decisions making a philosophical change and changing his offensive scheme this offseason, but on defense, all is well. Because of that, Florida's offense doesn't necessarily have to have a massive turnaround and resemble Auburn or Texas A&M. Muschamp would welcome that, but it's not a prerequisite.

The Gators finished last in the SEC in total offense (316.7 YPG) and yards per play (4.79) last season. If Roper can just get his group to the middle of the pack in the SEC in both categories, the defense will take it from there.


* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.