Published October 8, 2012 - 3:28pm
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2011 and 2012 Florida are very different football teams. We know this. This year’s team is night and day compared to a selfish, undisciplined and weak-minded 2011 squad Will Muschamp inherited from the battered and unenergetic Urban Meyer. Florida won seven games in 2011, and it’s hard to explain how they won seven. It could and probably should have been less.
Muschamp vowed to turn this program around, instilling and preaching both mental and physical toughness to his team. He hired a new offensive coordinator Brent Pease to “coach up” the offense and make them run the football to wear opponents down, after the beached whale left for Kansas. His biggest hire was new strength coach Jeff Dillman, who has transformed the players both mentally and physically. Also, no one player has played better or means more to his team than running back Mike Gillislee, who currently leads the SEC in rushing and is the only back in the conference averaging over 100 yards per game. So, it’s a combination of several different reasons that Muschamp and Florida have found success, and the Gators arguably have the best resume in college football through six weeks.
Muschamp’s signature victory against LSU Saturday probably didn’t surprise many, considering it was a foregone conclusion by several that Florida would indeed pull the upset after seeing how inept LSU’s offense has been. It’s more about how Florida beat LSU than just stroking the W in the win column. The Gators physically dominated the Tigers at their own game, against one of the best front seven in college football.
LSU has been and is still known for its physically punishing running game and defense. The Tigers have worn down opponents and celebrated ugly wins for several years. Now, that trait belongs to the Gators.
From the eye test, 2012 Florida compares to 2011 LSU. The Gators have a solid offensive line, a power running game and a quarterback with wheels who isn’t asked to attack downfield. The secondary has forced several key turnovers, and the defense is strong against the run with a stingy front seven.
But when you look at the stats from 2011 LSU and 2012 Florida, it’s pretty telling and eerily similar.
|LSU 2011||Florida 2012|
|Scoring Offense||35.7 ppg||27.2 ppg|
|Scoring Defense||11.3 ppg||11.4 ppg|
|Rushing Offense||202.57 ypg||214.80 ypg|
|Rushing Defense||90.07 ypg||103.8 ypg|
|Passing Offense||152.5 ypg||158.6 ypg|
|Passing Defense||171.4 ypg||180.2 ypg|
|Total Offense||355.1 ypg||373.4 ypg|
|Total Defense||262.5 ypg||284 ypg|
The one glaring difference between these two teams is Florida doesn’t have a punt return game. LSU altered so many football games last season and received so many sparks from the Honey Badger. Florida has struggled on punt returns this season, and De’Ante Saunders, Andre Debose or someone else needs to figure out a way to hit a couple big plays and provide field position for the offense. That will be key against South Carolina and Georgia.
One interesting note about LSU in 2011 is the offense ran the football 68 percent of the time, while teams like Alabama and Georgia ran 58 to 59 percent of the time and had more balanced offenses. Through five games, Florida has run it 71 percent of the time. Interestingly enough, Florida also has dominated the time of possession and averages 35:18 per game, while Alabama is second averaging 31:43 per game.
LSU went undefeated during the ‘11 regular season, before being dismantled by Bama in New Orleans.
Can Florida do the same in ‘12? Two tough conference games against #3 South Carolina and #14 Georgia lie ahead. Florida State, of course, comes calling in November, and that is always a big rivalry game. But all three teams are obviously beatable, and Florida will continue to throw their hat in the championship talks. There is so much upside to this Florida team and what they can accomplish in year two under Muschamp’s regime.
Nonetheless, Muschamp has turned this program around with the players he inherited. What’s he going to do for an encore when he actually gets the players he wants in the program?