Let the road to Atlanta begin.
The Gators are preparing for their first SEC game of the season, playing Kentucky Saturday at 7:30 pm. The Wildcats kick off the heart of their schedule, an eight-game stretch of SEC opponents, including away games against Alabama and Tennessee in the next three weeks. Head coach Will Muschamp, defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr., and quarterback Jeff Driskel met with the media Monday to discuss Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan, as well as beginning league play and what to look forward to.
Tight end Jake McGee had successful surgery on his broken leg after the game and is expected to leave the hospital Monday. No decisions have been made regarding McGee going forward, but the team plans on activating freshman DeAndre Goolsby. Left tackle DJ Humphries has a high ankle sprain as well as a bone chip and won’t be back until after Florida’s September 27 bye week. In his place, Chaz Green will move over to left tackle, while redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson will play on the right side. On defense, safety Marcus Maye will make his season debut this Saturday, and cornerback J.C. Jackson’s shoulder will be evaluated this week after it slipped out of place against Eastern Michigan.
Superlatives vs. Eastern Michigan
Offensive player of the game: Jeff Driskel
Offensive lineman of the game: Max Garcia
Defensive player of the game: Neiron Ball
Hard Hat Award: Jarrad Davis
Ball Hawks: Duke Dawson, Caleb Brantley, Antonio Morrison, Neiron Ball, Daniel McMillian, Mike McNeely and Alex McCalister
Special teams player of the game: Andre Debose
Florida has won 27 consecutive games against the Wildcats, the longest active winning streak over a major opponent in an annual series. However, Muschamp downplayed the winning streak and cited some of the defensive traits that stand out with this Kentucky team.
“They’re big inside, they’ve got some junior college players inside, both ends are really good players, [Za’ Darius] Smith and [Alvin] Dupree, you’ve got to account for those guys; very good rushers,” he said. “They run extremely well, at linebacker and they added a junior college safety [AJ Stamps] that’s made a lot of plays for them and done a nice job in the first two games.”
Muschamp also talked about the running game and the importance to stop them on defense.
“At the running back position, some dynamic guys with the ball in their hands, and you can’t miss tackles against these teams, you got to be able to tackle in space, you got to be able to cover down,” he said.
Saturday’s 65 points were the most the Gators have ever scored under Will Muschamp. Despite the frequent visits to the end zone, the head coach said the team played well, but has room for improvement.
“Number one on offense is our ball security. We had some issues handling the ball,” Muschamp said. “It didn’t hurt us, but it certainly can. We’ve got to clean up some things in the run game and clean up some things in protection. We had a couple routes run at the wrong depth.”
Florida’s defense made a statement in their season opener, shutting out an opponent for the first time in two years. While they only had six missed tackles, Muschamp said there were things to fix as they prepare for their first SEC matchup.
“Defensively, we played a little high at times,” he said. “I thought our perimeter run defense was poor as far as how we leveraged the ball. We played some perimeter things and screens that we will certainly see this week.”
Dante Fowler and Jeff Driskel
This week the Gators defense will try to build off their shutout performance of Eastern Michigan. Dante Fowler Jr. said the defense was able to get stops and noted Neiron Ball, Mike Taylor and the secondary as able to make plays against the offense.
“Yeah it was good, you know, we emphasized that a lot, getting the ball out and getting it back to the offense so Driskel can put our offense back in the end zone again,” he said. “But that’s just what we do, that’s the name of the game, you know, getting the ball out, getting it back to the offense and that’s what we did.”
The Florida’s offense under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper had an explosive debut, playing fast and accumulating 655 total yards on 86 plays. Jeff Driskel, returning from a broken leg last season, went 31-45 with 248 yards and a touchdown pass. Driskel completed the most completions by a Gator quarterback since Tim Tebow in the 2010 Sugar Bowl.
Florida’s backup quarterback Treon Harris also had a big game, throwing for 148 yards and two touchdowns off two passes. Driskel joked with the freshman Harris after his debut.
“Great job,” Driskel said. “You know, his first two passes were touchdowns. My first one was an interception. So thanks for showing me up.”