A gloomy, cold, wet day met the Florida Gators seniors and Will Muschamp as the group prepared to play their final game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The overcast skies cast a shadow on the day much like the shadow that Will Muschamp’s firing cast over the program leading up to the game.
The team was affected by the news that their head coach had been relieved of his duties. That mood, along with some foul weather kept the team off the practice field on Monday and the following practices on Tuesday and Wednesday were lackluster to say the least.
“We watched film [Monday], had some walk-throughs. Tuesday’s practice was just OK. There was not a great deal of effort going out there,” Muschamp said. “Wouldn’t say it was a lack of effort. Probably a lack of focus, energy, probably the word you all look for. Honestly, Wednesday was a little better but OK.”
Muschamp saw this, recognized it and sat his team down. Muschamp told the players how he lost his coordinator and position coach during his junior year in college. A walk-on, Muschamp had worked hard to win a scholarship and a role on the defense. He felt like all that work would be erased and he was pissed, much like his players were leading up to the game on Saturday.
“The whole process with Champ. I can’t imagine any coach doing any better than what he’s doing. He’s just still going in on us,” Alex McCalister said. “The new coach is going to come in and watch these last few games. You’re basically doing a resume for your next coach. That’s coming from Champ. That’s big. He’s just basically getting us ready for next year. I appreciate that too.”
So the Gators took the field knowing they outmanned the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky. Florida was better and more talented; they just needed to get out of their own way. They were able to do that.
The Gators raced out of the gate — aided by a handful of EKU turnovers — to a 17-3 first quarter lead and a 31-0 lead at the break. The 31 points scored in the first half were tied for the most scored in a half under Will Muschamp’s tutelage — Florida scored 31 against Kentucky in 2011.
The Gators came back out and continued to play solid defense. Eastern Kentucky is an odd team that routinely fakes punts and kicks but the Gators were able to keep the Colonels from breaking a big play.
“This is what they do, they’re a multiple formation punt team, in motion they shift every down, it’s a new bag of tricks every single game,” Muschamp said. “We just told our guys be ready for whatever comes up. There’s going to be some things we’re not prepared for but you’re going to have to adjust on the fly and understand that.”
The Gators took care of business on Saturday. They played for 60 minutes and finished an opponent, something they didn’t do a week ago. The underclassmen said this was for the seniors and for Muschamp.
The team greeted the head coach in the locker room by chanting, “CHAMP! CHAMP! CHAMP!” and a couple of players lifted the head coach on to their shoulders. The players rallied around their fallen head coach and picked each other up.
“As players we really appreciate what coach Muschamp’s done for us, and we love playing for him and we love him as a person,” Jeff Driskel said. “It’s tough, but at the end of the day, we’re happy that he came out of the Swamp with a victory.”