No. 23 Gators seek Swamp success after woeful ’11

Florida coach Will Muschamp believes he has a surefire way of

keeping his team from overlooking Bowling Green in Saturday’s

season opener.

”I’ll turn the tape on from last year and let our team watch

that,” Muschamp said. ”You watch the Furman game?”

The 23rd-ranked Gators haven’t forgotten the near-debacle

against the lower-division Paladins. Or that embarrassing loss to

rival Florida State the following week.

Those are Florida’s last two home games – forgettable

performances for sure. No doubt, then, that the Gators want to

provide a better showing Saturday in The Swamp.

”We know that what we put out last year isn’t University of

Florida, and this season we have to change that,” center Jon

Harrison said. ”That’s our goal: to change. We’ve been working

hard all offseason to change this season around.”

Florida needed a victory in the Gator Bowl to avoid the team’s

first losing season since 1979. It was an eye-opener for many,

including Muschamp. He hired a new offensive coordinator and

revamped the team’s weightlifting program in hopes of closing the

gap on Southeastern Conference heavyweights Alabama and LSU.

If the changes work, Year 2 of the Muschamp era should go

considerably smoother than 2011.

The Gators went 7-6 last season, which included four consecutive

losses in October. They managed a combined 11 points in the second

half against Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia, and they didn’t

score a single point in the fourth quarter.

Needless to say, finishing was a big theme in the offseason and

during fall practice.

”We’re thinking of this as a new year, trying to redeem

ourselves,” right tackle Chas Green said.

It starts against the Falcons, a middle-of-the-pack team from

the Mid-American Conference.

Bowling Green returns 17 starters, including 10 on defense, and

seemingly heads south with some confidence.

”I think we have to talent and depth to give them a game and

come out victorious,” center Chip Robinson said.

Surely, the Falcons watched Florida struggle much of last

season. They also know things could be very different under new

offensive coordinator Brent Pease.

Pease spent the last six years at Boise State, helping direct

one of the most prolific offenses in the country. Can he do the

same at Florida?

It could depend on what happens under center.

Sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel have battled for the

starting job since spring practice – and the coaches insist they’re

still neck and neck.

So Muschamp decided to play them both in the opener. One will

start, the other will play the second quarter and the Gators will

decide at halftime how to proceed from there. It’s certainly an

unconventional situation, one Pease doesn’t anticipate will carry

into the SEC opener at Texas A&M next week.

That means the first half could be the final audition for

Brissett and Driskel, one last, pressure-filled chance in front of

nearly 90,000 people to state their case for starting.

”This is our biggest opportunity and our biggest chance,”

Driskel said.

Bowling Green feels the same way about playing at Florida Field.

Sure, the Gators haven’t been all that impressive the last two

years; they ranked 105th in total offense in 2011. But the program

still maintains national recognition, the result of winning two

championships in the last six seasons.

”These are opportunities to make a national name for

yourself,” said Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson, whose program

also plays at Virginia Tech in three weeks. ”We get two of those

opportunities this year. This is the first of those two. This is

part of the reason we play those games: to put ourselves on a

national stage and give ourselves an opportunity to do something

special.”

Furman almost pulled it off last November, leading 22-7 in the

first quarter and scaring Florida much of the afternoon. The Gators

returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the final 13 minutes

to seal the victory.

Players believe things will be different this season, and the

opener is the best time to get things headed in the right

direction.

”It’s very important,” receiver Frankie Hammond said. ”It’s

the first game of the year. We want to go out and get things going.

We’ve been in camp going against each other for Lord knows how

long. We want to go against an opponent and see, finally, all the

hard work we put in pay off and finally get things going into the

season.”