3.1 yards a carry last week. But this is the measuring stick to see if this defense is physically ready for a heavyweight fight.
WHEN THE GATORS PASS THE BALL
Florida ranked 114th in passing last season, producing a mere 27 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Quarterback Jeff Driskel, UF’s second-leading rusher in 2012, completed a career-high 77.3 percent of his passes in the opening win against Toledo. But he only threw for 153 yards. That’s efficient, not dangerous. That means the Hurricanes, led by Denzel Perryman, Anthony Chickillo and Jimmy Gaines, can zero in on stopping the run and the short passing game. UM’s five sacks last week were also an encouraging sign, though defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofro said only one of those sacks came as the result of a pressure from fewer than five pass rushers. He would like to be able to do it with four-man fronts so he doesn’t put extra strain on his secondary.
Florida punter Kyle Chirsty, a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2012, averaged 45.8 yards per kick last season. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin went 1 for 2 on field-goal attempts in his debut last week against Toledo (he missed from 39 yards) as he attempts to replace Caleb Sturgis, the Dolphins’ new kicker. Roberson had four punt returns for 72 yards against Toledo, tied for the eighth-best average in the nation. Florida has blocked 12 kicks during Muschamp’s 27-game tenure as coach, including four field goals last year. Duke Johnson, one of the nation’s premier kick and punt returners last season, didn’t handle any special teams work in the opener against FAU. Will he this week? We’ll see. Dorsett, Dallas Crawford and Stacy Coley handled all returns against FAU. UM probably has the advantage in the kicking game. Punter Pat O’Donnell, a transfer from Cincinnati, has a strong track record (44.8 average against FAU), and new kicker Matt Goudis drilled both of his field-goal attempts last week.
UM coach Al Golden and his counterpart Muschamp took over two entirely different programs at the same time in December 2010. Golden has had to deal with an NCAA investigation and rebuilding a program that was on a downward trend; Muschamp inherited an 8-4 program that simply needed a little retooling and still had momentum from 2006 and 2008 national championships. That being said, Florida has a track record that it shows up more often in big games and in crunch time. The Gators beat seven bowl-eligible teams against the nation’s toughest schedule in 2012, according to the NCAA, and was 7-2 against bowl teams last season. UM went 0-3 in games against ranked opponents a year ago and 4-3 overall against schools that were bowl-eligible (not including a loss to North Carolina). When it comes to the fourth quarter, the Gators have the better track record. UM was outscored 113-102 in the fourth quarter last year. The Gators won the fourth quarter 128-32 in 2012. If the Canes win Saturday, they need to hold up four fingers and then prove they mean it.