University of Florida

Florida Gators’ Will Muschamp: Jeff Driskel still starter, defense making changes

Change is coming: Will Muschamp said he will look at different players.
Change is coming: Will Muschamp said he will look at different players. AP

Florida coach Will Muschamp is standing pat at quarterback, but changes are in store for a beleaguered secondary that has allowed the most passing touchdowns in the Southeastern Conference.

No defensive back’s job is safe — save for All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

“That’s what I told them,” Muschamp said. “We’re looking at a lot of different guys in different spots. We can’t continue to do the same things.”

The Gators rank next-to-last in the SEC in opponents’ third-down rate (46percent) largely because of the secondary’s inability to cover or communicate.

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims threw for a school-record 449 yards against UF, including four touchdown passes.

Muschamp, normally a secondary savant, coaches Florida’s safeties, the most victimized unit of a porous defense.

Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal have yielded multiple explosive plays the past two weeks (Sims threw touchdown passes of 87 and 79 yards), struggling with eye control, blown assignments, misalignments and tackling.

“The mistakes we’ve made in some situations back there are inexcusable,” Muschamp said.

“It’s on me. We’ll get it fixed. We’re going to work through it. I haven’t been through this before very often, I can tell you that.”

Florida’s coach used the word frustrating several times Wednesday, adding, “The [big play busts] are things we had practiced and we had gone over, but obviously we didn’t go over them enough and that falls on my shoulders.”

Freshmen Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Duke Dawson all will “see more opportunities” in the secondary, but Muschamp outlined his hesitations rotating so many underclassmen this early in the season.

“The issue with young players — and I’ve been doing this a long time — is in order to gain confidence, they’ve got to practice well,” he said. “They’ve got to practice well on Monday but then they practice again well on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. And what happens to you as a coach is a guy that’s never been out in front of 90,000 people, he goes out and has five busted assignments in critical situations in a Tuesday practice, what’s he going do in front of 90,000 people? But the flip side of that is what you’re doing is not working so you might as well try somebody else and that’s where I am right now.”

As for maligned fourth-year quarterback Jeff Driskel, he remains Florida’s starter despite another uneven performance and a social-media mob calling for his benching.

Driskel was highly inefficient against the Crimson Tide, completing just 9 of 28 passes for 93 yards. He turned the ball over three times (two interceptions) and was just 2 for 16 on throws of at least 10 yards.

“Jeff needs to play better and I think he’d be the first person to tell you that,” Muschamp said.

“He certainly forced some things that we can’t afford to do, especially the two interceptions, but Jeff gives us the best opportunity to win right now.”

The coach said Driskel’s teammates must play better around the quarterback, highlighting four drops and three routes run incorrectly. Muschamp did hint, though, of an increased role for freshman backup Treon Harris.

The former Booker T. Washington star dazzled in his debut late in a blowout against Eastern Michigan (2 for 2, 148 yards and two touchdowns), but the freshman hasn’t seen the field since.

“Treon continues to improve and continues to do some nice things,” Muschamp said. “Game by game, [we’d like] to give him some opportunities. We’d like to have him take some snaps, depending on the situation.”

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