“Very proud of our football team, it’s been a long week for us, psychologically and mentally as much as anything,” Muschamp told the media covering Florida's 24-7 win over Kentucky on Saturday. “When you go through Jeff’s (Driskel) situation and then Dominique’s (Easley) situation on Tuesday night, they are very frustrating. You can’t always control your circumstances in life but you can control your vision.
“I told our players, ‘no excuses and no regrets.’ That’s just who we are, we have an expectation level here at the University of Florida in what we’re going to do and where we’re headed with our program. I’m very pleased with how our guys pulled together and the Gator Nation pulled together and came up here and did what we did.”
Florida, behind first time starter Tyler Murphy at quarterback started the game by trying to establish a running game and power game that they have been proud of in the first two years under Muschamp. The Gators started the game with a 13-play, 93-yard touchdown drive. It was the longest by yardage (93), plays (13) and time (7:47) of the season. The Gators under Murphy’s direction were 3-for-3 on third-down conversions on the drive.
“We start the game with a 13 play. 93 yard drive,” Muschamp told Brady Ackerman on the Gator Radio Network post-game show. “We were backed up and converted third downs well on the drive. We ran the ball extremely well and had a great surge up front. The offensive line did a great job. We put a lot on Murphy at the line of scrimmage of getting us in and out of the right runs.”
Murphy was exceptional on the night. He was 11 for 11 in the first half for 120 yards passing and threw and ran for a touchdown each to put the Gators up 21-7 at halftime. He finished 15 of 18 for 156 yards a touchdown and an interception. Maybe more important, he was a key cog in the success in the running game which notched 246 yards on 45 attempts.
“Proud of Tyler Murphy, 11-for-11 in the first half, 15-of-18 for the game, just made really good decisions as much as anything throwing the ball, but in the run game,” Muschamp said. “He got us in and out of the right runs, we had a great surge all night on the offensive line.
The Gators ran off 253 yards of offense in the first half with three touchdowns and three drives of 60 or more. Muschamp also gave a lot of credit to Florida’s maligned offensive line who propelled the running game and provided good protection for Murphy throughout the contest. It was the first time Florida hasn’t punted the ball since September 11, 2011 against Florida Atlantic. .
“Every play seemed like three or four yards, getting them off the line of scrimmage and the two guys they have inside are big guys and the two edge guys are good players, just really proud of that,” he said about the play of the offensive line. “You know you have scoring of 93, 79 and 62 yards; our field goal drive was 15 plays and 64 yards.
“We’re very proud of our offensive line, thought we played extremely well up front, getting a hat on a hat in the run game. They started, especially in the second half, giving us a lot of different looks and creating some problems in the run game. Really proud of our football team, they just came out there and worked
Murphy’s play was great on the night, but Florida got a much needed big game from the running back position from sophomore Matt Jones. Jones has been working his way back into game shape after injury and Muschamp said following the contest it should have been expected when he wasn’t living up to what they wanted from him.
“Well I think it just takes some time, I think we all knew that a little bit and you don’t ever want to admit it because Matt is a good football player and a guy we were really counting on coming into the season.
“When you miss four weeks, maybe a little over a month of exercise and activity, I don’t care how old you are, it’s going to shut your body down a little bit, it takes some time to respond, especially with some of the physicality, holding on to the ball and doing some of that stuff. Real proud of Matt, I pulled Matt in Monday and I said, ‘man, you need to cut it loose and play. You’re very tentative when you run it. You look like last year at the beginning of the year. If you make a mistake, put it on me, I don’t care, everybody else does. So just run the ball hard, cut it loose, and go play.’”
“Sometimes we lose sight of how important training camp is. It is a great example for our players that you need to go forward during training camp, it is part of the grind of the season. “
Florida was 4-for-4 in the red zone on Saturday, with 3 touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 passing) and 1 field goal. It is a place where they have struggled for a while now. They also finished with only five penalties, its fewest of the season and lowest since 5 against Jacksonville State on Nov. 17, 2012. UF was 8-for-13 on third downs, while Kentucky was 1-for-8. Conquering two of their demons so far on the season.
That leads us to the defense that thanks to a fake field goal that went for a touchdown, did not put up a shutout. However, the defense itself gave up no points on the evening.
“We were really good on third down (1 of 8) defensively, didn’t start the game as well defensively,” Muschamp said. “They had a week off, they gave us some new stuff, we adjusted to it in the game.
The Gator defense totaled 5 sacks, doubling the previous high in a game this season (2 vs. Toledo). Florida had 4 sacks through the first 3 games of the year. UF had 8 tackles for loss, totaling 51 yards.
“They dinked and dunked on us in the first drive and hit some screens and all,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day we got good pressure all night and were in his face all night. We had five sacks and covered extremely well down the field. I am very pleased with the performance. “
Coverage was excellent, and freshman Vernon Hargreaves continues to excel at cornerback. Hargreaves reeled in his third interception of the season after the Wildcats got good field position on an interception and return that started a drive inside the Florida 40. After a first down, Florida sacked the quarterback and on second and long, Hargreaves made a play in the end zone for the interception and touchback.
“It was a fantastic play,” Muschamp said of the interception. “He has really good ball skills and good leaping ability. He does it in practice every day. Travaris Robinson is a very good coach and does an outstanding job with him. He’s very smart and works very hard at the game to be successful.”
Florida controlled the time of possession: 38:09-21:51. The Gators entered the contest leading the nation with 39:15 per game. They had 22 first downs (14 rushing, 7 passing, 1 by penalty), compared to 12 for Kentucky.
One area of concern on the night was special teams. The aforementioned fake field goal for a touchdown allowed kicker Joe Mansour to lead all Kentucky rushers with the 25 yard carry. On a team that is still trying to cut its teeth in certain ways on offense, giving up an easy score like that is nothing that can be tolerated.
“We have to clean up our field goal block team a little bit as far as some responsibilities there,” Muschamp said. “We needed to have somebody on the edge to make sure that that doesn’t happen to us as we move forward.”
Muschamp was happy with his kicker, something that hasn’t been the case early this season. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin was only one of two, but missed on a 53-yarder. He made one of 33 yards in the fourth quarter that basically helped Florida seal the game.
“We have all the confidence in the world in him,” Muschamp said of Hardin. “I put him out there for the 53 yarder because I thought he was going to make it. He hit them in pre-game warm ups. He hit the ball well. It was a little right and a little short. There is no question that the difference in the game was when he went out there and made it a three-score game.”