Gimme 5: Keys for Florida’s offseason improvement

Well, that seemed fast.

The 2012 college football season is in the past and now fans are left waiting until National Signing Day on Feb. 6 and then spring practice, which commences in a few months, to meet their college football needs.

As for the Florida Gators who suffered an upset, 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, they were left sitting at home watching the BCS Championship after coming up just short of playing in the game.

Nonetheless, 2012 was season full of improvements for the Gators. The team finished 11-2 and pulled off big wins against Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State, something that was missing from this team during the past two seasons.

While the general consensus is that Florida coach Will Muschamp has the Gators quickly headed in the right direction, there are still some specific areas of weakness that have hindered the team’s progress.

Gator Country takes a look at the five things Florida needs to improve and focus on this upcoming offseason if they want to climb to next tier of great teams in college football next season.

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1. The Gators have to be more disciplined

For the fifth time out of the last six seasons, the Gators committed more than 100 penalties in a season. The team’s 105 penalties ranked them 122nd in the nation out of a total of 124 teams, which is unacceptable for a team of Florida’s caliber.

They averaged just over 70 penalty yards per game and shot themselves in the foot all year. In addition to penalties, it just seemed like the timing of the penalties were always awful. For example, Dominique Easley’s defensive holding call late in the Georgia game ruined any chance of a Florida comeback or Jon Bostic’s personal foul against Louisville on their first offensive drive that kept the Gators defense on the field after a three-and-out.

In the two losses for Florida, the Gators committed a total of 19 penalties. If Florida wants to become a great team, the penalties have to come down. It’s something that’s been well documented, but it’s a problem that has to be solved.

Look at Alabama. Obviously, the Crimson Tide are a much better football team and a lot of that has to do with discipline. Alabama finished up the season with only 54 penalties, almost half of how many penalties the Gators committed.

Great teams are disciplined. Take note Florida.
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2. Protect the quarterback

The offensive line play for the Gators was atrocious in 2012. Quarterback Jeff Driskel was sacked 39 times, which once again placed Florida in the lower portion of the rankings at 115th.

Some of the blame falls on Driskel. He’s a young quarterback that holds the ball too long and takes unnecessary sacks occasionally, but that makes it even more important for the offensive line to give him a secure pocket. It hurts Driskel in the end because when he’s forced to make those quick decisions, he doesn’t always make the right ones.

Part of the blame also falls on chemistry. Ever since the Pouncey twins left, the offensive line has struggled with consistency. Next season, players like D.J. Humphries, Jon Halapio and Jonotthan Harrison, Chaz Green and Kyle Koehne return, which should help with the line’s chemistry. Along with transfers Tyler Moore and Max Garcia, the Gators’ hopes of having a more effective offensive line look promising.

Driskel will be in his second year as a starting quarterback, so if he improves like he should in the offseason, more time in the pocket could mean big things for him and the offense in 2013.
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3. Identify a reliable (and talented) wide receiver

If there’s been a position fans could say has been the most disappointing in the last few seasons, it would easily be wide receiver.

The Gators have lacked star power at the position ever since Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez left for the NFL. This season was much of the same. Quinton Dunbar stepped up some and made some nice plays, along with tight end Jordan Reed, but three of the team’s top receivers this season will not return.

It’s an area where the Gators desperately need a few players to separate themselves heading into next year. The coaching staff recognizes the need for better receivers as evidenced by the five wide receivers in the 2013 recruiting class.

A name to watch out for will be freshman Demarcus Robinson. He seems to be the most likely candidate to contribute early out of the freshman since he is early enrolling. At 6-foot-2, 200-pounds, Robinson runs sharp routes and fantastic catching ability. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Robinson have a similar impact that Alabama freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper had for the Crimson Tide this season.

Even if another receiver steps up for Florida, it takes a lot of pressure off of Driskel having to make the big play and the running game. Consistent options on the outside for Driskel would add another dimension to the Florida offense that would make it even more effective.
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4. Find those new leaders

Everyone could tell that Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam were the heart and soul of both the defense and the entire team. With both Floyd and Elam declaring for the NFL Draft, the need arises for more players to step up as leaders in the 2013 because without leadership, the team has no direction, accountability and responsibility.

Driskel is the first name that comes to mind. It will be his second season as the starter and he will be looked at as the leader of that offense. Gone are the days of the excuse that Driskel is a young, inexperienced quarterback whenever he makes mistakes. It’s on him to lead the offense in 2013 and his performance will dictate how much success the offense has in 2013.

Defensively, players like Easley and Ronald Powell will be two returners that need to take over the responsibility of leading the defense. A dark horse could be linebacker Antonio Morrison. He saw significant playing time as a freshman and make some big plays. As the Will linebacker, Morrison has the opportunity to become the quarterback of the defense, now that Jelani Jenkins has declared for the NFL. He’ll only be a sophomore, but Morrison is a guy that has the respect of his teammates and the intangibles to pull it off.
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5. Keep that chip on the shoulder

All season long, the Gators played with a chip on their shoulder. They came out in 2012 with something to prove and it showed.

Looking at the wins against South Carolina, LSU and Florida State, Florida dominated those games and it sure seemed as if the Gators wanted to show them that 2011 was a fluke.

Easley put it a poetic way after beating Florida State, “We wanted to hurt them. We wanted them to feel the pain we felt last year.”

Although they did make many opponents “feel the pain”, the Gators need to keep that edge going into 2013. Sure, the Gators had a great 2012, winning 11 games with the nation’s toughest schedule. However, if they lose that drive, that chip on their shoulder that fueled the fire all season long, it’ll be tough to duplicate this past season’s success and they run into the danger of falling into complacency.

Florida must come out with intensity and that same determination to make opponents “feel the pain” in 2013 if they want to keep improving and get the Gators football program back to the top of the food chain.

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Drew is a senior at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. When not at school, Drew resides in Lakeland, Fla. Ever since working on his high school yearbook, Drew has had an interest in pursuing a journalism career after college. In addition to being Editor-in-Chief of his school newspaper, The Samford Crimson, Drew has also been with Gator Country as an intern for one year. He enjoys the finer things in life like Tampa Bay Rays baseball and always making sure to make fun of the Atlanta Braves to Andrew Spivey’s face.