GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If he coached in the NFL, this is the sort of week Gators coach Will Muschamp would scan the waiver wire for help. Maybe call up a recent retiree and see if he had anything left. Talk to the general manager about a potential trade.
This isn’t the NFL.
So on Sunday morning, the day after the Gators lost back-to-back games for the first time since 2011, Muschamp did what a college coach with a sputtering team has available.
“I had some coaches who were supposed to be out recruiting Sunday and Monday and told the whole staff we need to get back in,” Muschamp said Wednesday. “We need to sit down and figure out some things. We’ve got to get our guys playing faster; we’ve got to get our guys playing with more confidence.
“That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
With the Gators at 4-3 heading into a bye week before facing Georgia, they started the week by turning their focus inward. The offense is stuck in mud. The defense is bruised and battered.
The task before playing Georgia in 10 days is to get healthy and get better.
In their first game since starting halfback Matt Jones went down with a season-ending knee injury, and with starting quarterback Tyler Murphy nursing a sore right shoulder, the Gators managed only 151 yards against Missouri. The offensive output was the lowest for the Gators in 14 years.
Much of the criticism from fans and media was aimed at the offensive line, which has scuffled to protect Murphy recently and to open consistent holes in the run game.
The Gators shuffled several players around Saturday, starting Max Garcia at left tackle instead of D.J. Humphries, moving Kyle Koehn to left guard, and after that failed to produce significant results, moved Garcia to right tackle to replace Tyler Moore and inserting Humphries at his normal left tackle spot.
Muschamp hinted at possible changes Wednesday. With Moore naturally more suited to play guard, he has been starting at right tackle with Chaz Green, who made 10 starts last season, out for the season after shoulder surgery. Freshman Trenton Brown is listed on the depth chart at right tackle and Octavius Jackson is another option on the offensive line.
“I think Trenton’s a guy that needs some opportunities and some turns,” Muschamp said. “Octavius Jackson has been repping with us. There’s some possibilities there. We’re continuing to get some continuity up front.”
The Gators defense, the team’s strength early in the season, allowed 500 yards at Missouri. Florida continues to lead the SEC in total defense (273.1 yards per game) and pass defense (172.4 ypg) but has slipped to second in scoring defense (16.3 points per game) and run defense (100.7).
LSU rushed for 175 yards in a 17-6 win Oct. 12 and Missouri racked up 205 yards on the ground against a Florida defense that was missing five regular contributors. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee) is out for the season and linebackers Ronald Powell (ankle) and Darrin Kitchens (shoulder), plus defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (head) missed the Missouri game.
Meanwhile, starting safety Cody Riggs was ejected for a targeting penalty on the game’s first play. Muschamp said Wednesday that he is hopeful Powell and Jacobs can return for Georgia. Kitchens, whose wife Natalie had a baby girl on Monday, will be re-evaluated when he rejoins the team.
To help fill the holes on the defensive line at Missouri, 235-pound linebacker Neiron Ball was forced to take significant snaps at defensive end.
“Dominique brought a lot from a playmaking standpoint, but he also brought a lot of leadership in how he played the game,” Muschamp said. “And so that certainly has been a void we’ve been trying to fill. Said it when it happened, you don’t replace Dominique Easley. It’s going to take a team effort to get some of those things done. We need to play better and put our guys in better situations to be successful.”
To get back in sync, Muschamp said the Gators have gone back to fundamentals and technique at practice this week. The staff is trying to simplify some calls on the offensive line and in other areas to increase the speed at which the players perform.
While Muschamp didn’t offer specifics on offense, he did offer support for offensive coordinator Brent Pease and the coaching staff.
“This is the same staff that came a game away from playing for national championship,” Muschamp said. “So obviously we’re not where we want to be right now, and nobody knows that more than our staff. So we need to go back and re-evaluate what we’re doing and continue to improve our football over the next five weeks.
“I think anybody with a shred of intelligence can see the situation. You’re not going to hear us complaining about it. There certainly isn’t anybody feeling sorry for us. We’ve just got to coach our guys up better and put them in better situations to play faster.”
Muschamp said the Gators responded well at practice on Tuesday. He is looking for the same response in 10 days against Georgia.