Florida Gators seek stronger start when they face Vandy


Florida wants to improve its play in the first quarter, in which it has been outscored 62-29 this season.

Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy (3) scrambles away from Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins (59) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013.
Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy (3) scrambles away from Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins (59) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013.
John Raoux / AP

Miami Herald Writer

Florida hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon with two significant streaks at stake, and yet a 22-game series winning streak and bowl-eligibility streak of 22 years — the nation’s second-longest active mark — is not what concerns the Gators most this weekend.

Florida (4-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) just wants to start fast, as asteroid-size holes have plagued the Gators during their current three-game losing streak.

“It’s certainly impacted the games as far as how we have relied on our defense in some obvious situations,” coach Will Muschamp said. “You don’t put your finger on one thing and say it’s this.”

Florida has been outscored 62-29 in the first quarter this season, including 41-12 in its four losses. Miami jumped out to a 14-6 lead; UF spotted LSU an 11-point advantage; and Georgia a 20-point head start.

The dangerous Molotov cocktail of a suddenly porous first-half defense coupled with a consistently listless offense has burned UF repeatedly in recent weeks.

“We’ve just got to go back and put our guys in better situations to play. And that’s on us as coaches,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got to put our guys in better situations to feel more comfortable and react as opposed to think in some situations. That’s the best way I can summarize it because in every game it’s been a little something different. … We just need to coach better.”

The weekly defensive meltdowns — for a unit that still ranks in the top 10 nationally in scoring and total defense — has left players scratching their heads.

“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you why,” senior safety Jaylen Watkins said. “It’s definitely something we have to work on for the next four or five games. If we do that, we can win some games around here.”

Vanderbilt (4-4, 1-4 SEC), starting a freshman backup quarterback and ranking first in the conference in sacks allowed (26), offers UF’s defense a nice opportunity to straighten out its first-half woes.

But Florida’s offense, not built for much of anything but especially not playing from behind, has done the team few favors while facing early deficits.

Quarterback Tyler Murphy admitted the much-maligned unit (ranked No. 111 nationally) has pressed too much with the sizeable holes.

“You know, when the defense starts slow, it doesn’t help at all to start slow as well, so we’ve tried to find ways to pick them up,” Murphy said. “We didn’t do a bit of that in the first half [against Georgia]. We got things going too late.”

During the three-game skid, Florida’s offense has entered opponents’ territory just six times total in the three first halves.

The Gators have more three-and-outs (five) than red-zone trips (three).

“We’re going to have to pick up the urgency, put pressure on ourselves to make things happen in the first quarter,” Murphy said. “That way we can avoid getting into holes like we did last Saturday. We’re going to find out what we need to do better in the first quarter. Hopefully, we can carry some of the momentum that we had last week over and play better.”

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