GAINESVILLE -- Another week, another ho-hum win for the Gators.
Florida scored seven points on defense and, apart from a flukey 76-yard pass play on the game’s first play, held Jacksonville State to just 166 yards of total offense in a shutout 23-0 win Saturday. But, on Senior Day, the Gators played in front of a smaller-than-capacity crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the third consecutive game, and again, the offense left plenty to be desired. And, again, coach Will Muschamp delivered a similar message.
“Just some things we need to do better to be more consistent offensively as we move forward.,” he said following a win in which his offense put up just 16 points and struggled to move the ball against the Football Championship Subdivision’s 106th-ranked defense. “I know I’ve been saying that. I know that’s a broken record. But we’ve got to get better. We’re going to continue to work at it and do what we have to do to put ourselves in a better situation.”
Playing with backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who Muschamp said played well, Florida’s offense looked unimpressive after the first two drives of the game. Throwing just once on their first series, the Gators easily rode running back Mike Gillislee for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. It was just the third time all season Florida has scored a touchdown on its opening drive, and a field goal on the second series marked the first time all year the offense scored twice in the first quarter.
The Gators went 2 for 11 on third down, bringing their season conversion rate down to 35.2 percent. They went for it on fourth down once. They were stuffed twice with fewer than 2 yards to go late in the third quarter. Brissett, a quarterback, was called for holding on a run play where he was split out wide and asked to block. And, until the last drive of the game, when the result was far from in doubt, Jacksonville State had run more plays on offense and held the ball for longer than Florida.
But Muschamp again tried to spin the situation, saying all wins are difficult and that he directed offensive coordinator Brent Pease to be conservative in the second half after linebacker Jon Bostic returned an interception for six points early in the third quarter.
“We had the game in hand. There’s no reason to make a mistake at that time,” Muschamp said, adding that the Gamecocks’ pressure was giving them issues. “Why risk dropping back getting hit in the back and coughing the ball up and putting them in a situation like that? … I didn’t want to risk a big turnover. That’s why we were very, very, conservative in the second half.”
But if it weren’t for two bad misses on makeable field goal attempts in the first quarter, the Gamecocks would have been in position to challenge for a win. Still, they were very much in the game, trailing only 10-0 at halftime. Only two of Jacksonville State’s opponents this year have failed to score more than 23 points. Tennessee-Martin put up 49. Eastern Kentucky scored 51. Florida, however, mustered only 23.
But offensive lineman James Wilson and wide receiver Frankie Hammond, two of 19 seniors playing their last home games, said the game plan wasn’t the issue.
“I don’t think it was conservative,” Wilson said. “We were trying to open it up.”
The Gators weren’t able to however, going three-and-out three times Saturday, failing to move the ball more than 38 yards on a single drive in the second half and scoring a touchdown just once in three trips to the red zone. Although Florida pulled out the win, Muschamp and players alike agreed the effort of the last two weeks — when the Gators’ offense has scored a combined 36 points against two of the worst defenses in the country — will not get the job done next week when Florida travels to Tallahassee to play Florida State and its top-ranked defense.
“We’ve got to play our best game to beat FSU,” Brissett said. “We have to be sharper on first and second downs and be sharper in the red zone.”
• Notable: Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel was not wearing a protective boot or using crutches while watching the game on the sideline Saturday. Muschamp said he has not yet been cleared to practice, however. … Safety De’Ante Saunders will miss next Saturday’s game against FSU and UF’s bowl game, Muschamp said. … Fullback Hunter Joyer (thigh) and right tackle Chaz Green (ankle) both left the game with injuries, but Muschamp said they both “should be fine.”