After grinding out an ugly, but hard-fought victory over a surprisingly feisty Missouri squad, sixth-ranked Florida now shift its focus to the homestretch of the season, starting with a homecoming contest against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“Great week here, homecoming at UF, playing [Louisiana-Lafayette],” said UF coach Will Muschamp on Monday. “It’s homecoming, Gator Growl. Friday night our seniors will be there and we’re excited about that.
“It’s a really exciting time here at the University of Florida … we’ll have a captain’s dinner Friday night and a lot of the former players will come back and talk to our players about being a Gator.”
In most cases for major collegiate teams, a homecoming game often means facing off against an afterthought program with a chance to pad statistics and work in players who have seen sparse minutes throughout the season. According to Muschamp however, the Gators will have a challenge on their hands at noon on Saturday — especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“[Louisiana-Lafayette is] averaging I think, 35 points a game and 435 yards,” Muschamp said. “Spread offense. They do a good job of the quarterback as far as some of the gun runs that they employ and they got a lot of speed at the skill positions. They’ve moved the ball versus everybody they’ve played … we’ve got our work cut out for us again.”
Facing off against a team which enjoys spacing things out will be nothing new to the Gators, as they experienced such an opponent in the Missouri Tigers last Saturday. The first half was rough on both sides of the ball for Florida, but according to Muschamp, things picked up for each unit in the second half.
“I’m really proud of our football team,” Muschamp said. “Offensively, I thought we were efficient in running the ball. We needed to get some things cleaned up, [Missouri] did a nice job up front — they had a good front. Certainly [defensive tackle Sheldon] Richardson was as good as advertised.”
It’s not often a kicker finds himself to be one of the offense’s stars, but that’s the exact position senior Caleb Sturgis has found himself in this season, as he has emerged as a go-to player for the Gators in terms of putting points on the board.
Sturgis was hampered by an ankle injury Saturday, and after attempting a second-quarter field goal which was blocked, his understudy, Brad Phillips, finished out the game for the Gators.
According to Muschamp, any hindrance to Sturgis serves as a major blow to the offense as well.
“It’s third-and-10 from the 40-yard line, I’m telling Brent [Pease], ‘Just get us five yards here, we need some points,’ as opposed to trying to get the first down and then it’s at the 40 because you know if you get to the 35-yard line you’re kicking a field goal,” Muschamp said. “It changes the game dramatically for us because of him [Sturgis]. I think he’ll be able to go Saturday and be full speed based on the information I got this morning. But there’s no question he’s a game changer for us.”
Players of the Game
The Gators wrapped up their conference slate with their victory against Missouri and became just the 12th Florida team to record at least seven SEC victories. According to Muschamp, the first thing he made sure to do upon his return to the locker room was to congratulate the team on their feat.
“It’s a difficult thing to do in this league,” Muschamp said. “We had a tough schedule as far as the conference is concerned. I’m very proud of them, fighting through adversity and going on the road, especially early in the year with a lot of question marks.”
On Monday, the team’s biggest unsung hero received recognition for contributions.
“Player of the game, Hunter Joyer is a guy that’s had an outstanding year,” Muschamp said. “Very unsung, but blocks extremely well. A lot of the runs were springing because of him. He made a great block for Omarius [Hines]. But really this is a season award for him. He had a really good game Saturday, but he’s played consistently well all season for us.
Muschamp also named wide out Frankie Hammond as an offensive standout from Saturday.
“Frankie Hammond, a guy that catches a touchdown pass, gets called back; he comes back on the screen and makes just a great block on their linebacker to spring [running back Mike Gilislee],” Muschamp said.
One player who has quietly had an impactful presence in the Gators’ defense is senior safety josh Evans, who Muschamp named as the player of the week along with tackle Sharrif Floyd. On Monday, Floyd was also was named SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week.
“Josh Evans, I thought he played very well,” Muschamp said. “He has played consistently well for us this entire season, is really having a good year for us. Sharrif was very difficult to block inside in this ball game, and has been for most part of the season. He’s playing his natural position inside. He’s having a fantastic year.”