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Tom Jones: Gators' outlook rests with Will Muschamp

Coach Will Muschamp must answer for Florida’s failures and inspire hope for its future.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Coach Will Muschamp must answer for Florida’s failures and inspire hope for its future.

If Gators fans were told before the season that their football team would beat LSU and South Carolina, lose only once in the SEC, run over FSU in Tallahassee, go to the Sugar Bowl and finish the season at 11-2, they probably would have been just fine with that.

Well, Florida did all those things.

So why are so many Gators spittin' mad this morning? Maybe Wednesday night's 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl has something to do with it.

One game loused up the entire season. And it was more than just an offnight. It was more than just a bad game against a hot opponent. It said a lot about Florida's recent past and raised plenty of questions about the immediate future.

Here's what made the Sugar Bowl loss so disheartening if you're a Gator.

Louisville isn't that good

After his performance in the Sugar Bowl, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is on next season's Heisman Trophy watch list. Make no mistake, the kid is good, and he was dynamite Wednesday. But come on, this is a Louisville team that almost lost to USF, Florida International and Southern Miss, for goodness' sake. It did lose to UConn and Syracuse.

There's no way a team like that should go in to the Superdome and kick the snot out of a one-loss Gators team that was a 14-point favorite. The last time the Gators played a team from the Big East in the Sugar Bowl, they dropped 51 on Cincinnati.

Know whose fault it was Florida wasn't ready this time around? Coach Will Muschamp's.

Florida looked unprepared

One team went into Wednesday's game angry and focused, with a chip on its shoulder and something to prove.

The other team seemed arrogant and uninspired, and acted as if it already had proven itself. You can figure out which team was which.

The Gators looked more interested in trying to intimidate the Cardinals. They acted as if all they had to do was lay out a couple of players, talk some smack and pick up the trophy. On Louisville's first possession, the Gators hit Bridgewater on the chin, and when Bridgewater popped right back up, the Gators were cooked.

The bully pushed Louisville, Louisville pushed back, and the bully ran away.

Know whose fault it was Florida was more interested in playing maul ball than winning? Coach Will Muschamp's.

Florida looked desperate

The Gators won 11 games by running the ball and playing defense. So why on the first play did they go out in a shotgun and throw the ball? Before you could say "This smells rotten,'' the Gators were down 7-0.

They scored their first touchdown at the end of the first half on a trick formation. They opened the second half trying an onside kick. They played dirty and whined to officials.

Out-of-character play calls? Gadget plays? Trick formations? Bellyaching? Know who does junk like that? Desperate teams that don't believe they can win by just lining up and beating the other guy.

Remember when Boise State reached into a deep bag of tricks to beat Oklahoma a few years ago? That's what Florida looked like Wednesday. Those are the things Louisville should have had to pull to beat them, not the other way around.

Know who dialed up all those goofball plays? Coach Will Muschamp.

Florida was overrated

Here's the worst part about the loss: the realization that maybe Florida wasn't that good in the first place and isn't nearly as close to being a national championship contender as we thought.

You might argue a team can't fake its way to an 11-1 regular-season record while playing in the SEC. You might argue the Gators were a play or two away from beating Georgia, which was a play or two away from beating Alabama, which is playing for the national title. You might argue a team is what its record says it is.

But go back and reconstruct this Gators season.

They beat Texas A&M well before Heisman winner Johnny Manziel figured out how to play at the college level. They beat an LSU team that ended up losing three games. They beat an FSU team that lost twice and played a joke of a schedule.

Florida struggled to beat Bowling Green, Missouri and Louisiana-Lafayette. And a program known for producing skilled playmakers was devoid of them, not just Wednesday, but in all 2012.

Whose fault is that? Coach Will Muschamp's. Oh, and former coach Urban Meyer's. Meyer apparently didn't win many recruiting battles with his I'm-leaving-I'm-staying-I'm-leaving shenanigans before Muschamp arrived two years ago.

Bottom line

Florida has work to do. It needs discipline. It needs to develop the quarterback. It needs playmakers. It needs special players. It needs to get better.

It's up to one guy to fix it: Muschamp. Can he do it? Wednesday's game and what it means in the grand scheme of things raises doubts.

Tom Jones: Gators' outlook rests with Will Muschamp 01/03/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 10:49pm]
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