GAINESVILLE -- With spring practice beginning Wednesday and questions aplenty to be answered, one thing is absolutely certain: Coach Will Muschamp wants to see improvement in Florida’s passing game.
The Gators fell one win shy of competing for the crystal last season, and the passing offense was often the object of criticism. During a 15-minute stream-of-consciousness opening statement Tuesday, Muschamp repeatedly touched on the necessity of improving the ability to beat defenses through the air.
He mentioned the maturation of now junior quarterback Jeff Driskel.
“I think in Year 2, you’re looking at execution being much cleaner in what we’re doing offensively,” Muschamp said. “Jeff’s really attacked the offseason from a mental standpoint as far as film is concerned and studying what he can do to be a better quarterback.”
He talked about minimizing mistakes.
“Some of the things we pointed out were negative plays. I’m just talking in terms of sacks, tackles for a loss and penalties. We created a lot of issues for ourselves as far as down and distance is concerned.”
And, of course, he would have been remiss not to mention the need of development at receiver, where Florida didn’t have a player catch more than 36 balls last year and where Muschamp has decided to continue experimenting with cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy.
Purifoy played sparingly at receiver late last season, but he will work exclusively with the offense for the first week of spring.
“You can’t always just put Loucheiz in and throw a screen or run a reverse with him every time he’s in the game,” Muschamp said. “We need to expand his package if we’re going to continue to move forward with that.”
All of that before he even fielded the first question.
It’s understandable for Muschamp to put a heavy emphasis on improvement in the passing game. Driskel ended his first season as starter ranked 118th nationally in passing yards per game. The offense passed for fewer than 100 yards in a game three times and Driskel struggled with turnovers in the two losses.
When the questions finally came Tuesday, Muschamp even found himself talking about the passing game when he wasn’t asked. A reporter inquired as to how Florida would build on the physical style it developed a year ago, and again Muschamp used the opportunity to discuss passing.
“That’s something that’s going to be a balancing act for us as we move forward,” he said.
“But I do want to make sure that we’ve got to improve some things in the throwing game. We’ve got to work on that but not get away from being a physical football team.”
The Gators in 2012 averaged nearly twice as many rushes as passes. But that was mainly by design because the offense was ill-equipped to come from behind through the air, like in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville when an early interception returned for a score hurt Florida’s chances.
The hope is that will change this year, the second under offensive coordinator Brent Pease and the first without backup Jacoby Brissett, who transferred to North Carolina State.
“We’ve got to be a better throwing team and that starts with [Driskel],” Pease said.
Pease said he thinks the absence of Brissett will benefit Driskel “a ton” both on and off the field. It’s his team now, and although he’s not a vocal guy, Driskel is capable of leading, Muschamp said.
“You don’t go out on the road and win in some of the environments we’ve won in and not have leadership,” Muschamp said. “You don’t have to be vocal to be a leader. You need to be a guy that demonstrates things the right way and pick and choose your opportunities to be vocal, and Jeff can do that.”