GAINESVILLE -- Many factors contributed to Florida’s disappointing result in 2011. But if 2012 is to be any different, the Gators first task is to clean up their act on the field.
With nine or more penalties in five games last season, including 16 for 150 yards against Tennessee, UF finished in the FCS cellar in 113th place with 100 penalties. Only six teams were worse. Against ranked teams, Florida committed 39 penalties. Only Texas A&M committed more, according to CFBStats.com.
But Gators coach Will Muschamp doesn’t seem worried, even with his team making the transition to new offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s motion-heavy offense, which can be difficult to learn and master.
“There’s absolutely zero evidence to support that you can’t win a championship and be a penalized football team,” Muschamp said. “Again, it’s discipline penalties are the issue. When you’re jumping offside, that’s a problem. … But there’s absolutely zero evidence since I’ve been a football coach that supports teams that are penalized don’t win.”
Last year’s national champion Alabama finished third with just 49 penalties, but runner-up LSU was 88th nationally with 86 flags and the rest of the final AP top five finished outside the top 50 in total penalties. When Florida won the crystal in 2006 and 2008, it racked up a staggering total of 218. While the numbers are inconclusive, it remains true that the Gators will struggle if they continue to pick up unforced penalties like false starts and offside calls in pivotal situations, as they did a season ago.
Trailing Georgia 24-20 in the fourth quarter last season, Florida faced a fourth-and-2 situation in Bulldogs territory. After burning a timeout, switching quarterbacks and another timeout, Jacoby Brissett couldn’t get the snap off. A delay of game penalty forced UF to punt from the UGA 42 instead of attempting a conversion or a lengthy field goal.
Although the players are operating in a new offense dependent upon better execution before the snap, they don’t seem worried either. Part of that is the approach they took during player-run practices over the summer.
“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue this year,” center Jonotthan Harrison said. “We focused a lot on that all throughout the summer. Just as an offensive line we would switch up snap counts and throw whatever we could at an individual to try and get them to jump offsides just to try and train their body and their mind to stay locked in no matter what.”
And if a mistake was made?
“The players, we got together, and whenever we have a problem like that and if it’s big enough, we’ll find a way to handle it,” offensive tackle Xavier Nixon said. “We usually find a way to handle it.”
Pease said recently that he has been impressed with the offense’s retention of the playbook from spring and attributed much of that to players helping players during the summer. While Pease admits there is a lot of “mental gymnastics” occurring pre-snap, he said he’s seen first-hand instances of players helping other players make corrections.
And, perhaps most importantly, both Brissett and fellow sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel said they feel comfortable running the offense and don’t anticipate a carryover of last year’s struggles.
Instead of feeling the brunt of mistakes, Brissett said he hopes to see similar penalties accrue on the other side of the ball as the opposing defense struggles to line up correctly and adjust to UF’s motions.
“That’s what we’re looking forward to,” he said.