Florida’s Muschamp using LSU’s big win last season to fire up Gators
Florida raced out to a 4-0 start in Will Muschamp’s first season as coach, climbing all the way to No. 12 in the national polls.
Part of an 0-for-October was the 41-11 whipping Florida received when Muschamp returned to LSU, where he served as defensive coordinator under Nick Saban when the Tigers won the 2003 national championship.
By season’s end, the Gators were 7-6 overall and 3-5 in Southeastern Conference play.
“I told the guys all along while it was going on, ‘Don’t ever forget the feeling you have right now,’ ” Muschamp said. “As a competitor, it ought to motivate you not to be in that situation again. I know I use it.”
Muschamp has Florida off to a similar start in his second season, back at 4-0 following last week’s open date and ranked 10th in the nation entering Saturday afternoon’s rematch against No. 4 LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
But early road wins against Texas A&M and Tennessee say this time, the Gators may be for real.
Muschamp said he sees Florida as a more physical team than last year with better depth. Especially in the trenches.
“I think we inherited a young, talented team, and that’s what we had, but most of these guys were playing for the first time for a full year in the SEC,” Muschamp said. “Over 70 percent of our roster last year was freshmen and sophomores.”
With the early season success, Muschamp’s star again shines bright.
Muschamp came under scrutiny last year despite losing senior quarterback John Brantley in early October and having to rely on freshmen Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel behind center for a key stretch.
That’s how it goes when you replace a coach in Urban Meyer who won two national championships during a six-year tenure. When you’re the coach of a program that hasn’t had a losing season in over three decades.
Now Muschamp has a chance to make his first big splash as Meyer’s successor if he can end LSU’s 18-game regular season winning streak.
It would be fitting given Muschamp’s ties to purple and gold.
The former Georgia defensive back arrived at LSU as a defensive assistant in 2001 and was promoted to defensive coordinator a year later. He left with Saban for the Miami Dolphins following the 2004 season.
After two seasons back in college football as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, Muschamp joined Mack Brown at Texas, where he helped lead the Longhorns to a berth in the 2009 national title game and ultimately was named Brown’s successor-in-waiting.
Instead of waiting to replace Brown, however, Muschamp made the move to Florida after Meyer resigned.
His philosophy hardly resembles Meyer’s.
Or, for that matter, Steve Spurrier’s.
Muschamp is much more like Saban, preferring to rely on physical play at the line of scrimmage, a strong defense and a consistent running game.
That explains why the Gators rank third in the SEC in rushing offense — and 13th in passing offense. Why they rank fifth in the SEC in scoring defense and fourth in total defense.
“I think Will has done a great job there,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think their guys certainly understand what they want to get accomplished. They have all the characteristics of very quality leadership.”
A year after nearly finishing with a rare losing record, Florida would probably jump into the national-title race with a victory over LSU. But the Gators still have South Carolina and Georgia to play before month’s end.
One way or the other, October will again tell the tale.
“I think anybody that was a part of watching us and being a part of our organization last year would notice a night-and-day difference,” Muschamp said. “I’m not trying to say we’ve arrived by any stretch of the imagination. But I do think we’ve improved, and I think we’ve addressed some things we needed to address.”