GAINESVILLE — With a three-game losing streak after injuries took a toll, especially at quarterback, Florida took advantage of last week's bye to concentrate on what the Gators believe is what ails them most: themselves.
"When you have an open week you can approach it several different ways," coach Will Muschamp said. "We came in Tuesday and had a very physical practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and I thought we improved fundamentally on the things that I've identified we needed to work on. And I thought we got better. I thought we improved, I thought we had a great attitude, I thought the guys went out and worked. … I thought we took a step forward. You either get better or worse when you step on the field and I thought we improved our football team and continued to take the steps forward that we needed to do to be successful."
The first test comes Saturday when the Gators play No. 22 Georgia in the annual rivalry in Jacksonville. After opening 0-2, the Bulldogs are on a roll and bring the SEC's third-best offense, led by former Plant High standout Aaron Murray who is No. 3 in the league in passing yards per game (236.1).
The Gator defense has given up 96 points in the past three games and struggled to produce the all-out, aggressive style Muschamp had hoped for. Florida is next to last in the SEC in red-zone defense (giving up 12 TDs) and last in turnover margin.
"We need to get turnovers back," defensive tackle Jaye Howard said. "We haven't had a turnover since the Kentucky game, and we have to get that back to be successful and give our offense a chance. It's swagger. When you create turnovers, the defense plays better. We have to get back to that."
Toward that end, the Gators spent a significant amount of time getting back to fundamentals on both sides of the ball.
"As a defense, we worked on fundamentals, tackling and form — tackling aggressively, throwing yourself into everything is a different form of tackling," defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. "We prepared well and I thought we did a good job as a whole. We expected (tough practices) so it wasn't a surprise. We knew the bye week wasn't going to be easy. We knew it was coming."
The Gator offense has also struggled, producing just 194 yards rushing and 435 passing in the past three games.
"I think we've got to continue to progress there as far as finding different ways to run the football, maintain balance for our offense and for our quarterback, and maintain possession of the ball," Muschamp said.
The Gators hope to get a huge boost with the possible return of senior quarterback John Brantley, but Georgia coach Mark Richt said he will also prepare for freshmen QBs Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel.
"We're trying to study what each guy does when he's in the game," Richt said. "There is not a huge difference to study what each guy does. … I don't think they are drastically different in style. They are certainly different in experience, but we do have film of every one of them. We have a rough idea of what to expect from each guy. Now you have two weeks. Who knows who you'll see or what you'll see?"
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.