The Florida Gators head football coach Will Muschamp began his weekly Monday press conference by praising the 19 departing seniors who were instrumental in leading this program back from the depths of a 7-6 season. Then he turned his attention to Florida State.
“Obviously very proud of the 19 seniors finishing undefeated at home,” Muschamp said. “These guys have really helped turn our program around and headed in the right direction, certainly not where we need to be but I really appreciate their effort, their attitude, and how they approached this season.”
Then Muschamp changed the focus to this weekend’s huge rivalry game against Florida State and the main thing on every Gator fans mind, will Jeff Driskel be available to play? Muschamp said that Driskel, who’s been sidelined since spraining his ankle against Louisiana-Lafayette, has been cleared to practice and will play this weekend against FSU.
“Jeff Driskel will play in the game,” Muschamp said. “He worked out yesterday. “What will be his percentage? I don’t know. We will not practice him today but he will practice tomorrow.”
He went on to add that Driskel could practice today but will not as they felt that one more day of treatment would be beneficial.
“He will play in the game. To what degree? The week will determine that on how his health continues to improve.” according to Muschamp.
That’s a welcome relief to Gator fans who are certainly nervous about the Gator offense going in to the game against the tough Seminole defense. With a receiving corps that has struggled to make plays all season and an offensive line still struggling to protect the quarterback and open holes in the running game, it’s important the Gators have Driskel’s legs to keep the FSU defensive ends from crashing down on Gillislee.
Once again this week the Gators struggled in the red zone and converting third downs. In five trips into the red zone they scored one touchdown and three field goals getting one field goal attempt blocked. On third down, they converted 2-11 a putrid 18 percent conversion rate.
“Our third down struggles mostly were in the red zone,” Muschamp said. That’s where we had issues of converting some third downs and we’ve got to get those converted.”
Muschamp went on to say that they will go back and work more on it this week and hopefully get it corrected.
Asked about the senior class Muschamp singled out middle linebacker Jon Bostic specifically as the defensive player of the game.
“Jon Bostic, I thought Jon continues to excel and play well,” Muschamp said.
“I don’t know if there’s a guy playing better inside linebacker in the country than Jon,” Muschamp said in Saturday’s post game press conference. “Instinctive, tough, he’s answered everything we’ve asked him to do as a football player he’s answered that.”
Senior quarterback E.J. Manuel presents a tough matchup for the Gators with his ability to run the ball and pass the ball. He has a deep and talented receiving corps and the Gator defensive backs will be tested.
“E.J. Manuel is playing like a senior quarterback should play,” Muschamp said. “It’s very obvious on film as he directs this football team it is his football team,” Muschamp said.
“Manuel has really improved as a passer,” according middle linebacker Jon Bostic. “We will have to stay in our lanes.”
Last season’s FSU game post game press conference was where Muschamp famously labeled his team “soft”. Asked about it Muschamp replied
” I don’t know, when you’re fourth and one and you’re trying to run a quarterback sneak and you lose 13 yards that’ll trigger it.”
He went on to talk about that being the turning point for his team in building toughness and character that has been the one major thing that has carried this team this year to the record they have. He felt like he challenged the team and they responded appropriately. Going into the bowl practice he could see a change.
“We had a bunch of guys that were bought into what we were doing,” Muschamp said, adding that the difference in mental and physical toughness of this team is “night and day” and “they’re a pretty resilient bunch.”
Asked about Florida’s ability to get back into the national title hunt after the top two teams lost this past weekend if they win Saturday, Muschamp downplayed it.
“Huge if. And we got to take care of business Saturday,” Muschamp said. “Any clutter outside of just focusing on the game Saturday really doesn’t matter. To me that’s my message for our football team at three o’clock today. Let’s understand what’s at stake and what’s important and that’s focusing on the game”
Muschamp added, “This game’s important for a lot of reasons beside any ranking that’s involved and anything outside of that. There’s a lot of other reasons that come first and foremost in my mind.”
In a moment of levity, a reporter asked Muschamp what he thinks about critics who say Florida doesn’t win impressive enough.
“My wife told me I was sexy after the game. We don’t win sexy but ‘you’re sexy’.” Then deadpanned, “She was kidding”.
Concerning penalties Muschamp said
“there’s never a good penalty,” but “Sometimes the way we play (at cornerback) there is contact.”
“You live with what you are and who you are that’s part of the deal.”
Finally he said he wouldn’t politic for the team saying,
“Our record speaks for itself. Playing in the Southeastern Conference playing the teams we’ve played and where we’ve played them. I don’t feel like you need to politic much.”