When he met with the media shortly after spring football practice concluded with the annual Orange and Blue game Saturday, Florida coach Will Muschamp actually had a smile.
He doesn't have a starting quarterback, still seeks a backup running back and some consistency at wide receiver and was missing quite a few key players because of injuries. But Muschamp firmly believes he has a much better team than the one that struggled to 7-6 last season.
"I'm really pleased with where we are at this point," said Muschamp, who said his offensive line is the most improved unit on the team. "I feel much better standing here today than I did a year ago as far as where we are as a football team — our physicality as a team, our togetherness as a team — as this moves forward. We've got the right kind of guys."
Battle heats up
With a starting job to be determined, both Jacoby Brissett, top, and Jeff Driskel had impressive numbers and showed improvement from last season. Driskel was 10-of-11 for 133 yards, including a 44-yard pass to WR Andre Debose. He set a spring game record for highest completion percentage (.909), previously held by John Brantley (15-of-19 in 2010). Brissett was 8-of-12 for 181 yards and two touchdowns, including a 43-yard pass to WR Latroy Pittman. Driskel, who played five games last season, said he's considerably more comfortable. "Just knowing the playbook gives you confidence," he said. "Last year I was clueless out there, just kind of locking on to one guy. I feel like I'm going through my progressions more and just playing instead of thinking."
Both quarterbacks said they recognize the need for serious work in the offseason and each said he welcomes the challenge.
"I love it, coming out every day competing against the No. 1 quarterback in the country a couple of years ago," Brissett said. "It don't get no better. Jeff is a great quarterback, and he can make every throw that I can make, so it's going to be tough to see what the real difference is."
For those keeping score, Driskel's blue team defeated Brissett's orange team 21-20.
UF entered spring without several injured players and several others missed Saturday's game due to injuries during drills. LB Ronald Powell, top right, sprained his knee in the game and limped off before halftime. S Matt Elam sat out with a groin injury suffered early in spring drills; he had groin surgery in January. Also missing: WR Frankie Hammond (ankle), former Nature Coast High WR Ja'Juan Story (ankle), LB Jon Bostic (back spasms) and CB Willie Bailey (undisclosed).
Attendance was announced at 38,100, but the ones Muschamp probably cared most about were the high school recruits sitting in the south end zone. The Gators picked up three oral commitments: OL Josh Outlaw of Lithonia, Ga., 6-foot-3 WR Ahmad Fulwood of Jacksonville, and DB Tre Bell of Jersey City, N.J. That brings the Gators' total to 14 for the 2013 class.
Former Tampa Catholic High standout Hunter Joyer, bottom left, had a 3-yard touchdown run, and WR Michael McNeely (Palm Harbor University), middle, had a 52-yard reception from Jeff Driskel late in the game. Joyer has become known for his ability to produce in short yardage situations. "I like that the coaches respect me enough and think highly of me to get the ball in those tough situations," he said.