GAINESVILLE -- Historically, when Florida plays a team outside the Southeastern Conference not named Florida State or Miami, the result is usually one-sided.
Steve Spurrier’s and Urban Meyer’s high-powered offenses didn’t slow down just because the opposition wasn’t ranked. The Gators have never lost to a team from Football Championship Subdivision Division II, and in games against those teams, fans became accustomed to seeing something near 60 points on the scoreboard and walking out of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with a smile on their faces. Lately, however, the smile has disappeared.
In November last year, Florida trailed Furman 22-7 after a quarter before pulling out a win. To start the 2012-13 season, Florida squeaked past Bowling Green by 13 points. And then there’s last week’s come-from-behind escape against Louisiana. Not exactly football powerhouses.
This is a new era in Gainesville. Second-year coach Will Muschamp has stripped any importance from blowout victories, saying all wins count the same. That approach has trickled down to his players, especially the 18 seniors who will play their final game at The Swamp on Saturday when No. 7 Florida (9-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) meets FCS opponent Jacksonville State (6-4) at 1 p.m.
Senior Xavier Nixon is one of those players. His first season in Gainesville was 2009, when Florida beat Charleston Southern, Troy and Florida International by a combined score of 180-12. But he said finishing his career in the same fashion he started it — with a lopsided win — is not that important.
“A victory is a victory, whether it’s Alabama, whether it’s Bowling Green or whoever we may face,” Nixon said. “At the end of the day, as long as we get a win in the win-or-loss column, it doesn’t matter.”
But the Gators have come dangerously close of late to putting a number in the wrong column, and, according to Muschamp, there’s no one to blame but themselves.
Last week against the Ragin’ Cajuns, Florida committed 10 penalties for 79 yards, helping extend scoring drives for the opposition while at the same time hindering its own chances of scoring. In the season opener against Bowling Green, the Gators had 14 penalties for 106 yards. Those two games have accounted for 30 percent of the team’s 79 penalties, which ties Florida with North Carolina for 111th nationally. The flags have been thrown in critical situations for mistakes that are easily prevented, like jumping offside or lining up incorrectly.
“Really, as far as just true discipline penalties, this was maybe the first one since Bowling Green that things got a little ridiculous,” Muschamp said of the Louisiana game. “There’s a difference when you talk about an aggressive penalty. Maybe you could have used better judgment. And there’s a discipline penalty, where you don’t line up on the line of scrimmage against something you’ve run 6,000 times.”
Muschamp has said Florida’s margin for error is extremely slim, and against Jacksonville State on Saturday, it will be slimmer than usual. Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel (ankle) will miss the game, and several other players will play either injured or sit because of ailments. Sophomore Jacoby Brissett will make his first start of the season behind an offensive line that has allowed 31 sacks and hasn’t been fully healthy in weeks.
Therefore, Muschamp said he would sit the team down this week to go over the mistakes, something he did following the 14-penalty showing in Week 1.
“We’ll go back in the film room,” he said, “and make sure they understand that when the other team doesn’t snap the ball and you take a step it’s a 5-yard penalty.”