Gators Start Fast to Win Muschamp's Opener

Gators Start Fast to Win Muschamp's Opener

The Will Muschamp era got off to a quick start in Gainesville Saturday night. The Florida head coach struggled to find areas that needed improvement in the beginning of the game. The Gators opened with 24 unanswered points, holding the Owls to just three first downs and 62 yards in the first half, as Florida secured a 41-3 win.

"We started fast," Will Muschamp said. "We moved it down the field and had confidence in what we were doing. Any time there's newness with coaches or scheme, how are you going to respond when things don't go well? We didn't face as much adversity as I would've liked to face tonight."

That was Muschamp's biggest complaint. The Gators didn't see enough stopping them.

It was more about getting "firsts" out of the way. They needed to get John Brantley on the field to shake off a subpar 2010 season. They needed to get game action with the new offensive schemes. The players needed to run the defense against a team that didn't know most of the plays.

It all came together the way the head coach wanted.

"It's about getting confidence early in the games," Muschamp said. "No matter how many times we've repped it, to have success and feel the fruits of the labors pay off, it's worth it. It's just part of it."

There was also some personal meaning for Muschamp. As a coach that usually spends time focusing on and talking about his players, there was a sentimental side for Muschamp to run out of the tunnel as the head coach of the team he grew up rooting for.

After walking to games in The Swamp as a child, he led the orange and blue out of the south end zone tunnel on Saturday night.

And he made it all about his players.

"To be able to run out of the tunnel and know the excitement our players had—it's about the players to me," Muschamp said. "It's about seeing those guys fulfill their work and see their work come to a conclusion. I enjoy seeing that as much as anything."

BRANTLEY TAKES STEP FORWARD: The most important part of Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic, whether on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, was John Brantley's progress. After stumbling through the 2010 season, the senior quarterback showed reason for optimism.

"John played extremely well and got the ball to our playmakers, which Charlie (Weis) does a phenomenal job of," Muschamp said.

The game plan wasn't much of a secret from the start. The Gators pounded the football on the ground, opening up easy play action throws to get Brantley's confidence up. Weis also used multiple plays that included swing passes to the running backs out of the backfield, and the coaches were pleased with how Brantley managed it.

"Taking what they gave him," Muschamp said. "How many swing passes did they throw to Jeff and Chris? Get the ball in space to your playmakers. I'm just very pleased with how he directed the offense, got us in the right runs and got us in the right protections. He took the ball to the right spots. For a first ball game and all the newness to everything, we're very pleased with the performance."

The brightest part of the game to Muschamp came in plays that might have gone under the radar to those watching. He recalled two plays where Brantley stood in the pocket and took big hits, completing both passes.

Brantley has been praised all fall for his leadership in the huddle and the strides it has taken since last season.

"John has been that way through spring, and I've been saying it all along," Muschamp said. "He feels more comfortable in what we're doing. He's got a lot of turns and reps. I've been pleased with him since day one. I've always felt like he's a guy we can win with, and I know the guys in the locker room do, too."

The only negative came in an early bad snap from center Jonotthan Harrison. It brought back memories of the 2010 season opener when Mike Pouncey's snapping issues began, but Harrison got things under control and didn't make the mistake again.

"I know you all rolled your eyes when you saw that, didn't you?" Muschamp said with a grin.

The blowout also allowed backup quarterback Jeff Driskel to see action. The freshman came into the game in the first half, running the ball on the first two plays before overthrowing his receiver on the third play for an interception. It was a teaching moment that could be valuable to his future.

"The flow of the game presented itself," Muschamp said. "I wanted to give Jeff an opportunity to get some snaps when the game was in the balance."

INJURY REPORT: Cornerback Jeremy Brown was running full speed Thursday, but he was held out because the coaches worried about his change of direction. Wide receivers Robert Clark and Omarius Hines both have hamstring issues, but Muschamp said they both are "probably to questionable next week." The head coach said he wants to see how Brown feels tomorrow before deciding on his health.

COORDINATORS ON THE FIELD: When there were problems on either side of the ball, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Weis were on the field to smooth things out. That's the reason Muschamp wanted his coordinators on the field, and it benefited the team on Saturday.

"In the first year, it's all newness right now," Muschamp said. "You have a lot of situations offensively where Charlie was changing things from the sideline. Our experience was shown today. With Dan on the sideline, there's a calming factor if we give something up. You need to do that eyeball-to-eyeball, not through a headset. That's what works for us."

I'm not saying we'll do it after this season. Right now, that's what works for us.

HAPPY WITH PRESSURE: It's hard to judge the success of the defensive line Saturday. The Owls' offense doesn't allow the quarterback to sit back in the pocket for long.

"They have a lot of seven-man protection," Muschamp said. "I'm very pleased we were able to get some edge pressure, and it's hard to get some against teams like this with their pocket movement."

ORANGE JERSEYS: The Gators wore orange jerseys for the first time since losing at home to LSU last season. Despite growing up and watching Florida teams that wore the orange jerseys, Muschamp didn't make the call on wearing them.

"Our seniors wanted to wear orange today," Muschamp said. "Our staple uniform will be blue at home with white pants. If you get mad and want to e-mail somebody, e-mail me. Don't email anybody else."

FLOYD INELIGIBLE: Minutes before the start of Saturday's game, Florida announced that Sharrif Floyd would be held out because he is ineligible. Florida made a statement and wouldn't comment further.

"We have declared Shariff Floyd ineligible and he is not eligible to compete until his eligibility is reinstated by the NCAA. We have been and will continue to work with the NCAA until this matter is resolved. This is an issue that is not related to sports agents, UF boosters or his recruitment to Florida. We will not have any additional comment on this matter until it is resolved."

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