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Colleges

Muschamp expects Gators to improve in his second year

Florida Today
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:05 PM
HOOVER, Ala. -

Is the glass half-full or half-empty at Florida? Will Muschamp makes it sound like it's overflowing, in spite of a 7-6 finish in his rookie year as head coach that was the first six-loss season for the Gators since 1987.

The last coach to lead the UF football program to a season of just seven wins? Ron Zook in 2004. He didn't finish the season without getting fired.

But Muschamp, the former Texas defensive coordinator and Gainesville native, declared at Wednesday's Southeastern Conference media days he knows the remedies ─ create more turnovers, win the line of scrimmage and play stronger in the fourth quarter. Simple? Sure, if you're playing video games or perhaps coaching in another league.

But the SEC is unforgiving. No one cares that Muschamp's roster was about 70 percent freshmen and sophomores a year ago, or that senior quarterback John Brantley was hurt more than half the season. Muschamp knows huge expectations are common in Gainesville.

"We need to finish, we were outscored 72-22 in the fourth quarter of SEC games," Muschamp said. The solution, he thinks, is new strength coach Jeff Dillman and an offseason of hard work. He pointed to the Gators' 113th national ranking in turnover margin and said that must improve.

New offensive coordinator Brent Pease from Boise State will use an offense with more shifting and motion, but still focus on the "downhill running" that Muschamp seeks ─ wanting a physical team more like SEC powers LSU and Alabama. UF is turning to senior running back Mike Gillislee, who has never had more than 58 carries in a season.

"I feel like this is going to be a big opportunity to step up and show everybody what I can do," Gillislee said. "I got a little frustrated (in the past) but I had to gather myself."

If he can't handle the job, look for freshman Matt Jones, from Tampa's Armwood High School, to step in and get some carries early.

Again, the "glass full" coach said he likes his running back and he likes the quarterback picture as well, with Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel both top recruits who struggled last season and have yet to show the ability to be consistent winners in the SEC.

While the offense grows, the hope is a defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally will carry the team in the early part of a season that includes trips to Texas A&M on Sept. 8 and Tennessee on Sept. 15. Losses there could turn the season into a nightmare right away, with games against LSU, South Carolina and Georgia all in the month of October.

Linebacker Jon Bostic said the unit talked during the offseason about setting a goal to lead the nation in total defense.

"We talk about that every day," Bostic said of the total defense stat. "We really want to be at the top in every category."

Florida is two years removed from being a top five program, three years away from being the defending national champion. But in Gainesville, that seems like decades. Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow, et al are long gone. Can Muschamp recapture at least a portion of the success UF enjoyed in the last couple of decades?

"No more pressure at all," vowed Muschamp on his second season. "The pressure is what you put on yourself and I put an awful lot on myself whether it's year one or year 10."

Maybe so, but with a poor start this fall there may not be a year 10.

INJURY UPDATE: Muschamp said incoming freshman Marcus Maye is still recovering from a torn meniscus, but he expects him to be cleared "the first part of training camp."

Fellow defensive back Jeremy Brown fractured his wrist this summer and Muschamp noted: "He's having surgery as I speak right now. (He) should be cleared Sept. 1 for full contact."

Linebacker-defensive end Ronald Powell has been cleared to lift weights and run straight ahead. He is coming back from a knee injury.

LEONARD GONE: Tight end A.C. Leonard has left the team.

"He and I talked (Monday)," Muschamp said. "He had a set of criteria he needed to work his way back on our football team. He and I both sat down and decided it would be better off for him to transfer."

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