GAINESVILLE -- Time is running out for Florida to “clean some things up.”
In his second year, coach Will Muschamp’s seventh-ranked team enters the final two weeks of the regular season with just one blemish on the record, but week-in and week-out the Gators overcome blatant imperfections in ugly wins that leave Muschamp explaining why the result wasn’t as expected. And each week, the message from Muschamp is eerily similar.
“We’ve gotta clean some things up,” he said Saturday following Florida’s narrow escape in a 27-20 win against Sun Belt Conference opponent Louisiana-Lafayette, a game in which the offensive line again struggled in pass protection.
It’s a phrase used often by Muschamp in response to questions about obvious flaws. Mostly, the criticism has been levied on the beleaguered offense and, in particular, the lack of notable production in the passing game.
Facing the nation’s sixth-worst passing defense, Saturday was supposed to be the day that changed. Things didn’t go as planned.
Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel struggled getting the ball downfield before an ankle injury in the third quarter forced him to leave the game. And Florida needed all 60 minutes to put away the team currently in fourth place in the Sun Belt, failing to capitalize on a distinct advantage in size, talent and experience.
Driskel and his replacement Jacoby Brissett combined to throw for just 162 yards against the Ragin’ Cajuns, who were allowing 296 yards on average coming into Saturday. They were sacked five times. The Cajuns had 13 all season before playing the Gators. They led the offense to just 20 points — in comparison, North Texas and Arkansas State combined to score 80 16 and Oct. 23, respectively — and three of those were set up by a Cajuns fumble in their own end.
“We won,” said H-back Trey Burton when asked if the blocked punt to end the game helped mask the struggles on offense. “We’re fine.”
On his weekly local TV program Sunday, Muschamp tried to rationalize the performance by pumping up the opposition.
“Louisiana is a good football team,” he said. “I tried to tell everybody Monday, but nobody wants to listen.”
Although Muschamp on Sunday might have tried to sugarcoat things on a show designed for fans, he was honest Saturday about the state of the offense and what needs to be done to fix it before traveling to Tallahassee in two weeks for a game against No. 10 Florida State.
Asked if the Ragin’ Cajuns did anything defensively that he and offensive coordinator Brent Pease weren’t prepared for, Muschamp said no and instead pointed to all the things Florida did wrong, making sure to mention the 10 penalties that killed positive momentum and the struggles on third down. Muschamp was upset with several negative plays, including a touchdown pass to Quinton Dunbar just before halftime that was called back because of an illegal formation penalty.
“That’s a play we’ve repped 100 times,” he said. “We need to rep it 105.
“Eventually the players need to understand that they need to take some responsibility to know what to do and have a little bit more urgency about what to do, and that’s what I told them in the locker room. We’ve got to get over this, you know. … Eventually, as a player, you’ve got to look in the mirror and realize, ‘I got to play smarter than that.’
“But we’re going to keep holding them accountable and do what we got to do. Do all we can do.”