HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) – The Florida Gators are a team with a rich tradition and high expectations. Last season’s outcome resulted in a loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, which left the Gators to finish with an 11-2 record overall.
Now, in the third year of Head Coach Will Muschamp’s regime, the Gators are looking to make even more strides on the field.
The Gators return six starters on offense and three starters on defense in 2013. Perhaps the most vital of those starters, junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, is going to be relied upon heavily to improve his performance on the field.
“It’s easier to be more vocal when you’re the set quarterback. When there’s a competition, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toe,” Driskel said of his confidence level heading into his second season as the starter. “I’m a lot more confident because I’ve played more and gotten a lot more snaps and played one year as the starting quarterback.”
“Year two in the system, Jeff Driskel, it’s his football team, a guy I thought attacked the off-season the way you’re supposed to, as far as his mental preparation, watching film,” Muschamp said. “Certainly understands what we’re doing offensively much better than a year ago, which is expected. A guy I’m really excited to see play.”
One of the areas the Gators are going to have to show marked improvement in order to compete in a talented SEC East is the offensive line. The group allowed a total of 39 sacks, a blemish on a season that saw the Gators improve from 143 rushing yards per game in 2011 to 188 rushing yards per game in 2012.
“With the stats at the end of last year, we gave up 30 something sacks, that’s one of the big things were working on this summer is the pass protection, for the running backs and tight ends, too,” senior right guard Joe Halapio said.
The unit will have to manage the departures of left guard James Wilson and left tackle Xavier Nixon, but Halapio is not worried about the prospects of the Gators’ offensive line in 2013.
“Having people with experience on the line gives us that trust factor to protect him (Driskel),” Halapio said. “We’ve played a year together, and now we trust each other.”
Defensively, the Gators are younger than many defensive squads, but they have the talent to be near the top of the conference in the major defensive categories.
Anchored by senior defensive tackle Dominque Easley, the defensive line is sure to be one of Florida’s strong points. In 2012, the Gators allowed a measly 95 yards per game, good for fourth in the FBS. This year, though they replace Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter and Lerentee McCray, Muschamp is confident in the players he has returning, namely Easley.
“Defensively I said it upstairs, I’m young but old-fashioned, in any sport you better be strong up the middle,”Muschamp stated. “Dominique Easley is with me today. He’s a guy that can play inside or out. A guy that had a productive year. Especially at the latter part of the season, once he got over some of the issues he had with his ACL from the year before, a guy that has been very productive in his time at the University of Florida.”
In light of the recent developments surrounding former Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez, it was no wonder that his recent arrest was a topic of discussion on Tuesday. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive touched on the subject when he opened the day, and it wasn’t long before Muschamp was asked about it as well.
“That’s something that’s bigger than UF program. It’s life. It’s a tragedy and a horrible situation,” he said.
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