Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Colleges

Florida Gators win relieves some pressure on coach Will Muschamp

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Sometimes, a team makes history.

Sometimes, it alters it. As it turns out, that can be better.

Ask Will Muschamp, who just won the most important game in his brief tenure at the University of Florida. Muschamp's football team changed everything Saturday afternoon: It won a game that might have been lost, and it broke the hearts of the league's new debutants, and most of all, it quieted the coming storm.

Along the way, it came from behind to beat Texas A&M and win its first SEC game of the season, which is never a bad thing in itself.

Ah, but can you imagine what this morning might have been like if the Gators had lost, which appeared like a very real possibility in the first half when the Florida defense kept backing up?

It would be loud, and it would be cruel, and it would be relentless. Such are the stakes at a place such as Florida, where a great many fans seem to expect their team to win three out of every two.

Even at halftime, after A&M had spent two quarters marching through the Gators as easily as plowing a field, you could almost feel the knives sharpening.

After all, A&M was the interloper, the new kid in the SEC neighborhood. Why, the Aggies were only 7-6 last year, and they had a new coach with a new system and a new quarterback, and they didn't even get a designated victim game last week because of Hurricane Isaac.

And yet, the Gators seemed lost as to how to slow them down. A&M went 66 yards with its first drive, and 71 with its second, and 79 with its third. The Aggies led 17-10, but the lead seemed a lot larger than that.

At halftime, however, Muschamp raised his voice and everyone listened. He threatened to "fire" his defensive line if it kept rushing recklessly ahead, leaving running lanes for A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

All in all, it might have been Muschamp's finest moment. One of the ways coaches are judged is how they can adjust on the fly, and this time, Muschamp fixed the problems. After 269 yards in the first half, A&M had only 65 in the second. It had three first downs. No points.

"Last year, I don't know, man," Muschamp said. "I don't know if we win that game."

It is not a home for the patient or the calm, the University of Florida. Last season, Muschamp won only three SEC games, and they were against Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Aside from those games, Florida beat only Florida Atlantic, UAB and Furman. (And an unranked Ohio State team in the Gator Bowl). It wasn't exactly enough to get a Muschamp statue built.

The noise grew louder after last week's lackluster win over Bowling Green. The Gators won big, but not convincingly, and already, Muschamp was being compared to former coach Ron Zook. It wasn't exactly fair, since Muschamp has now coached in all of 15 games, but who promised fair?

"I got killed for last week," Muschamp said, a bit of irritation in his voice, "but there is a reason we did it. We needed to play that way to play that way this week in this ball game. It's a long season."

"When they start having one-game seasons, then we'll put everything we can into one game so we can win one game, and I'll be really, really happy then. But I like to look at it as a 12-week season, and we have to do what we have to do to improve our team to win football games."

Muschamp's voice was louder now. A bit later in his news conference, Muschamp talked about having to grind out victories and added: "I know no one wants to hear that, but that's the facts of life. Sometimes, you have to put your realistic glasses on and see who you are."

Not long after that, Muschamp was talking about patience on offense: "There is nothing wrong with ending a series with a punt. I know that's not allowed to be said at Florida."

In other words, yes, Muschamp is aware of the grumbling out there. So, yeah, he needed this win. So did the Gators, for that matter.

Can you imagine if the Gators didn't make a comeback?

"There would have been a lot of riffraff out there," guard James Wilson said.

"A lot of regret," said guard Jon Halapio. "A lot of loud regret."

For the time being, the Gators don't have to listen. That alone made this a big win.

This was supposed to be A&M's day, remember. This was their arrival game, and it was at home.

"(The SEC) wanted the glory story here with A&M," Muschamp said, "and they didn't get it."

On the other hand, Florida did. Muschamp had a good day, and new quarterback Jeff Driskel had a good day, and the Gators won. That should silence the critics. It should buy the coach some time.

Who knows? Maybe it will last all the way until this coming week's kickoff against Tennessee.

Then the expectations begin all over again.

Gary Shelton can be heard from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays on 98.7-FM The Fan.

Comments
Willie Taggart will take more fourth-down chances than Jimbo Fisher. But how many more?

Willie Taggart will take more fourth-down chances than Jimbo Fisher. But how many more?

TAMPA — Florida State coach Willie Taggart fielded an interesting question near the end of his Q&A with fans during Sunday's booster stop at Armature Works.Are the Seminoles going to be going for it more on fourth down?"We will be goin...
Published: 05/21/18
Athlon: Florida Gators, FSU and Miami will all finish in top 20

Athlon: Florida Gators, FSU and Miami will all finish in top 20

One of the first big nuggets from preseason college football magazines is out: Athlon's top 25.The site considers its rankings a prediction of where teams will be at the end of the year, not the beginning.Alabama and Clemson are 1-2 (no shock). Miami...
Published: 05/21/18
Taggart delivers a bolt to area

Taggart delivers a bolt to area

TAMPA — After spending four years as USF’s football coach, Willie Taggart knows what to expect this time of year in the area, so it’s no surprise how he began a chat with reporters Sunday before a booster stop at Armature Works."Go Lightning," he sai...
Published: 05/20/18
Willie Taggart: ‘Pretty cool’ to be back in Tampa as FSU coach

Willie Taggart: ‘Pretty cool’ to be back in Tampa as FSU coach

TAMPA – After spending four years as USF's football coach, Willie Taggart knows what to expect this time of year in the area, so it's no surprise how he began a chat with reporters Sunday before a booster stop at Armature Works."Go Lightning," ...
Published: 05/20/18
ACC football announces early kickoff times, TV info for FSU, Miami games

ACC football announces early kickoff times, TV info for FSU, Miami games

The ACC has released some kickoff and TV information for the first three weeks of the season:Week 1 (previously announced)Miami vs. LSU (in Arlington, Texas): Sunday, Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m., ABCVirginia Tech at Florida State: Monday, Sept. 3, 8 p.m., ESP...
Published: 05/18/18
Why FSU playing Boise State in Jacksonville is a smart risk

Why FSU playing Boise State in Jacksonville is a smart risk

Old, unofficial news is expected to become old, official news today with a formal announcement that Florida State and Boise State are kicking off the 2019 season in Jacksonville.  A lot has changed since the schools announced the series (FSU pla...
Published: 05/16/18
FSU-Boise State to open 2019 season in Jacksonville

FSU-Boise State to open 2019 season in Jacksonville

What had been an open secret for months is now open and shut: Group of Five power Boise State will face FSU at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville in the teams' 2019 opener.A formal announcement is expected Wednesday, but the '19 schedule on Boise's offi...
Published: 05/15/18
RHP Mark Moclair’s versatility proves valuable to University of Tampa

RHP Mark Moclair’s versatility proves valuable to University of Tampa

TAMPA — He’s the accidental pitcher who can’t be pigeonholed into a defined role. He’s a well-spoken economics major who morphs into fire-breathing intensity on the mound. And he’s one of the biggest reasons why the University of Tampa Spartans are p...
Published: 05/15/18
Police: Florida Gators recruit Justin Watkins kicked female’s car, broke her phone

Police: Florida Gators recruit Justin Watkins kicked female’s car, broke her phone

One of the Florida Gators' top incoming recruits was released from jail early Wednesday after police allege he kicked a female's car and broke her phone after an argument.Justin Watkins — a four-star athlete from Clermont — and ...
Published: 05/10/18
Why Gators’ Dan Mullen still name-drops his second grade teacher

Why Gators’ Dan Mullen still name-drops his second grade teacher

When first-year Gators coach Dan Mullen spoke to a packed crowd at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club this winter, he told stories about the stars Florida fans recognize instantly.Tim Tebow. Steve Spurrier. Percy Harvin.Then he name-dropped someone els...
Published: 05/10/18