GAINESVILLE -- Florida is 4-0 for a second consecutive year under coach Will Muschamp. The Gators are up to No. 11 in the latest AP Top 25 poll, and they have improved up front and in several key areas — quarterback chief among them. They have the nation’s 20th-ranked defense, and they are 19th in the turnover margin a year after finishing 113th.
That’s the good news.
Starting with a matchup against No. 3 LSU on Oct. 6, the Gators have arguably the toughest remaining schedule in the country. From here on out, Florida has games against the Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 teams in the nation. The team is still having trouble with short-yardage situations, third-down conversions and penalties, ranking 107th with 32 total flags. And there are injuries at several key spots, including along a defensive line that will be depended upon heavily in the coming month.
That’s the bad news.
For this October, which features three of the aforementioned games against top-ranked teams, to be different from last year’s October, during which Florida lost four in a row to Southeastern Conference opponents to spoil an identical 4-0 start, coach Will Muschamp said the Gators need to continue to improve during this week’s off week.
“There are the obvious things we need to work on,” he said following Saturday’s 38-0 win over Kentucky. “There’s things we need to continue to hone in on. … I’ve got a list of things on Tuesday and Wednesday we’re going to work on. It’s Florida working on Florida. We’re going to be good on good.”
Players watched film on Sunday before an off day Monday and practice Tuesday through Thursday, when preparation begins for LSU. While it’s early in the season, the open week actually comes at a good time for the Gators, who need to get healthy.
Starting defensive end Dominique Easley (knee), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder), linebacker Jelani Jenkins (thumb), safety Cody Riggs (foot), right tackle Chaz Green (ankle) and H-back Trey Burton (back spasms) missed some or all of Saturday’s game.
Healthy or not, Florida has some things to shore up. Although UF has notched two impressive SEC road wins, the competition only gets tougher in October, just as it did last year when a promising start quickly crumbled.
Florida is 4-0 this season because the running game has been the key to the offense, with running back Mike Gillislee second in the SEC in rushing with an average of 100.5 yards per game. As a team, the Gators rank 26th nationally in rushing. Last year after four games, they were ninth. In October, they dropped to last in the country with an average of 43.75. The story on defense was similar. Entering October, UF was fifth in rushing defense before dropping to 94th during the four-game losing streak.
Muschamp has said multiple times that this team is significantly different than last year’s, and that maturity is the key reason. The play at quarterback with sophomore Jeff Driskel stepping into the starter’s role and blossoming is another big change, and he said the team is confident that the coming month won’t feature four consecutive losses.
“Last October was rough — we don’t really like to mention that around here,” he said. “It was definitely a tough time. But we’re really confident going in this year that we feel like we can really close out.”