Sunday, June 24, 2018
Colleges

Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp left wanting more after beating Florida State

TALLAHASSEE

In the end, the stadium that had broken so many of their dreams was silent as a cemetery. The scattered fans who remained sat stone-faced, their arms folded, their eyes staring blankly at the field.

And it was not enough.

For the first time in weeks, the maligned Gators offense had had its way with a highly ranked opponent, scoring 37 points, shredding the No. 1 rushing defense in America with 244 yards on the ground.

That was not enough, either.

Once again their defense had overpowered an opponent. FSU was supposed to have one of the most explosive offenses in the country, remember? That was before Florida pulled the plug.

And still the Gators wanted more.

It was only moments after the conclusion of the Gators' most improbable, most unexpected season, and already coach Will Muschamp was talking about the national championship. His team had just beaten its archrival on the archrival's turf in convincing fashion, and still Muschamp wanted a new foe to conquer. Anyone, he said. Anywhere.

Maybe, just maybe, this is why the Gators program has come so far so fast. As good as this season has been, as surprising as the progress has been, it still isn't enough for this guy.

"We shot ourselves in the foot too many times in Jacksonville (in losing to Georgia)," Muschamp said. "Or we would be sitting here undefeated. That's the bottom line. Our resume speaks for itself. You see where we have played, who we have played and the quality of football teams we've beaten."

How can Florida fans not wince today as they remember the six turnovers against Georgia? Three turnovers, the Gators could have survived. Four, they still might have won. Even with five, they had a shot. It was the sixth that did them in. Instead, the winner of the SEC title game between Alabama and Georgia will get one of the BCS title-game slots. Notre Dame will get the other.

The thing is, Florida had seldom looked more like a contender than it did in beating the Seminoles on Saturday. Remember how shaky the Gators looked against Louisiana-Lafayette? Remember how punchless the offense had seemed for a month? There were those who suggested that, as the No. 4 team in the BCS standings, Florida was vastly overrated.

Not anymore. This was a different Gators team. It wore down an FSU defensive front that had allowed only 70 yards per game rushing, on average. It harassed quarterback EJ Manuel into three interceptions and a fumble. It dominated time of possession.

Put it this way: If you still think the Gators have offensive limitations, FSU should be grateful. Otherwise, the Gators might have scored 60. As it was, the Seminoles could not stop the Gators' rushing attack.

"We had a lot of confidence coming in here and being able to run the ball," Muschamp said. "We've run it well versus better defenses."

If that sounds like a dig at the ACC, well, maybe it is.

"(The Seminoles) don't face too many two-back power running teams in their league," Muschamp said. "They play a lot of that one-back stuff. You better learn to fit the counter and the power when you play Florida."

FSU couldn't, and that's sure to vex Seminoles fans today. Even after FSU rallied from a 13-0 deficit to take the lead in the third quarter, it couldn't keep up on either offense or defense.

As it turns out, it won't be the North Carolina State loss that vexes the FSU fans this winter. It will be the Florida loss.

Maybe this time it will be FSU coach Jimbo Fisher who wonders about his team's toughness. If you remember, Muschamp did that after last year's FSU game when he suggested his team was soft.

No one says that anymore about the Gators. These days they dare to suggest Muschamp has repaired the program Urban Meyer once pronounced as broken.

Surprise. That isn't enough for Muschamp, either.

"I wouldn't say we're fixed," he said. "At the University of Florida, we're about winning championships. We're about going to Atlanta (for the SEC title game). Until you start accomplishing some goals …

"Everyone wants to talk about we've arrived and we're back. Hell, we haven't won a championship. Until we do, I have a hard time saying we're back."

Odd. This year the Gators were more than anyone expected.

Muschamp? He wanted more. Of course he did.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

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