The phrase “stay the course” has been kicked around like a mantra in many permutations by a myriad of writers, political leaders and members of various military command throughout most of recorded human history. One could say the phrase is overused and cliche, but it could be argued that it is quite appropriate advice for these Gators.
Many historians seem to agree that the phrase “stay the course” has its roots as a nautical metaphor. If this is correct, although the H.M.S. Gators is captained by the honorable Admiral Will Muschamp, the newly appointed, upstart helmsman Tyler Murphy will be primarily responsible for ensuring this ship maintains its sights on its destination Saturday night against Arkansas in The Swamp (7 pm, ESPN 2).
Murphy has approximately seven quarters under his belt as the #18 Gators’ starting quarterback and with the notable exception of one ill-advised pass that was picked off by Kentucky in the third quarter of last week’s game in Lexington, he has improved demonstrably, almost from snap-to-snap. He plays with a quiet confidence that seems to be diffusing into his offensive mates. Running back Matt Jones, who had been looking somewhat lethargic until last week’s affair, exploded with a huge game against the Wildcats, rushing for 176 yards and a TD. WR Quentin Dunbar looked almost unstoppable. Freshman stud-to-be Demarcus Robinson caught his first pass of his Gator career in the first drive against Kentucky, and his role will continue to expand.
Even though the offensive line did have its share of lapses, it looked as cohesive asit has all year and did a good job of both run blocking and pass protection.
Jeff Driskel was not the team’s only significant loss after the Tennessee game. Senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley was lost for the season during non-contract drills in practice leading up to the Kentucky game. In the matter of five days, the Gators lost arguably the most important players on both sides of the ball. This might be enough disappointment for teams of lesser character to pack it up and give in. Not Muschamp’s Gators.
Stay the course.
From the moment Driskel went down, Easley led the Florida defense with a shut down effort that gave Murphy plenty of time to get his feet wet and the ability to play with the confidence that the defense was going to take care of him. The defense continued its dominant play against the Wildcats last Saturday, keeping pressure on Kentucky the entire game and preventing its offense from establishing neither momentum nor flow. Even though the Gator defense
may have been without Dominique Easley in a physical sense, he was there is a spiritual form, as he entrusted fellow defensive lineman Dante Fowler to escort his beloved mascot, “Chuckie,” to Lexington last weekend. His presence was felt.
The Gator defense may be facing its most significant test to date against Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks (5-2, 0-1 SEC). This is the second straight home game in which the Gators will be welcoming a brand new head coach in his road debut, and the goal will be to make Brett Bielma’s welcome to life on the SEC road as depressing as it was for Butch Jones.
Bielema came to Arkansas this season after several successful seasons as head coach of the Big 10’s Wisconsin Badgers. Some have questioned that Bielema’s move to Arkansas from Wisconsin might have been of the lateral variety, but the draw of coaching in the SEC obviously proved too much for him to turn down.
Arkansas lost several key members from last year’s team, including starting quarterbackTyler Wilson, tailback Knile Davis and wide receiver Cobi Hamilton; although it does bear noting that both Wilson and Davis missed significant time in 2012 due to injuries. Bielema is depending on first-year starting quarterback Brandon Allen to handle this stout Gator defense with the help of starting tailback Alex Collins and the duo at wide receiver of Javontee Herndon and Hunter Henry. That core has demonstrated a penchant for the big play; Collins has 619 yards on the year at 6.0 yards per carry with three touchdowns. Herndon and Henry are averaging 16.9 and 19.5 yards per catch respectively with a combined five touchdowns. Even backup tailback Jonathan Williams has rushed for
three touchdowns with a long of 75.
This may be the best offense, pound-for-pound, the Gators have faced all year. Although Murphy has looked nothing short of impressive in his limited time as the starting quarterback, the Gator defense will have to pitch a stout effort in case Gator Icarus drifts a little too close to the sun and proves himself to be human after all. However, Murphy is exactly what he appears to be and, this Gator defense has answered the bell each game this season. Vegas has the Gators favored by 12, but I’m thinking it’ll be closer to a 17-point Gator triumph.
If the improvement on offense continues and the Gator defense remains dominant, hopes may be high around Hogtown that the Gators soujourn into the Bayou against LSU next week may produce some very positive results.
Full speed ahead but steady as she goes.