FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Ask UF coach Will Muschamp what he has learned by going 4-8 --- the first Gators losing season since 1979 –-- and he has a quick answer.
“Keep your quarterback healthy – that’s number one through five,” Muschamp cracked Thursday evening before addressing Gators fans and alums --- including Dolphins players Mike Pouncey, Caleb Sturgis and Jelani Jenkins --- at War Memorial Auditorium in Fort Lauderdale.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel is healthy after sustaining a season-ending ankle injury in the third game last season. Muschamp also has a new coordinator, well-regarded Kurt Roper, formerly of Duke.
“We needed to fix the offense,” Muschamp said. “I like the changes we made. We are going to run it in different ways, create more tempo, get more snaps. Our yards per play in the run game and passing game were much better from the shotgun. I felt that’s the direction I want to head.
“Roper was the right guy for the job; he did a great job at Ole Miss with Eli Manning; Archie Manning signed off on him. We’ve made huge strides in the passing game. Driskel had an outstanding spring. He was recruited to be in the gun, and that’s what we’re doing. He’s going to have a special season. Mike Mularkey told me Jeff Driskel has first-round talent….
"Defensively, we’ve been a top 10 defense. I wish we would have played more consistently in the latter part of last season. That’s on me.”
Muschamp told the crowd that 4-8 (which included a seven-game losing streak to end the season) “is unacceptable. Humbling experience. I’m going to get it fixed. My expectation at Florida is about competing for championships. We have to manage adversity better. I could have managed it better looking back, [done better] in anticipation of things. Be a little more imaginative. We weren’t as flexible as we need to be offensively.
“[But] I don’t know that I was a much different coach than when I won 11 games. I’ve had head coaches call me and say, ‘I had no idea the amount of things that occurred [last season with injuries and adversity].’ I never want to experience it again; I can tell you that.”
Muschamp, who has 15 Dade/Broward/Palm Beach players on his roster, said he never had any doubt he would be retained. Isn’t there more pressure this season?
“Absolutely not,” he said. “The hot seat is a good deal; everybody is praying for you. You’re on the hot seat at the University of Florida every day.” And he conceded “it’s a lonely chair.”
He admitted the disastrous 2013 season “slowed down progress” with recruiting but no longer. “We’re going to have a good football team [and] a good year,” he said. “I like where this team is.”
### Muschamp said “we’ve had discussions about [scheduling] Miami” but that nothing has materialized. UF athletic director Jeremy Foley has said if the game ever happens again under his administration, it likely would be at a neutral site.
### Muschamp cracked: “Our kicking was atrocious because Caleb left. I’m going to blame it on him.”… He raved about Booker T. Washington signee Treon Harris: “He can throw it as well as anyone.”… He said he hopes former Chaminade Madonna defensive tackle Khari Clark “is doing more than running to the refrigerator.”….
He said offensively, "we’re as deep and talented at running back and receiver since I’ve been here. We hit on [tailback] Brandon Powell” --- who flipped from UM to UF…. He said he consulted many people, including Dr. James Andrews, to see if anything could be done to reduce injuries, and concluded “what we’re doing is the right things.”... Only about 200 attended Thursday night's event --- about half the size of the crowd for Muschamp's first visit to that venue as Gators coach.
### The Dolphins are bringing back Dick Stockton to call their preseason games on CBS-4, with Bob Griese and Nat Moore. Jesse Agler handled the job last year because Stockton had scheduling conflicts. Agler now works for the San Diego Padres.
### Heat practice notes from Friday: LeBron James participated in a grueling practice and said his thigh bruise "feel good." He said he's "very antsy" to get back to game action.... Erik Spoelstra said the team has done nothing, on court, to prepare for either Toronto or Brooklyn....
James, asked about the Oklahoman running a headline calling Kevin Durant unreliable, cracked: "I don't think that's a great idea.... He's [going] to be a free agent at some point."... James insists he's not rooting for Toronto or Brooklyn. The Heat has won 15 in a row against the Raptors and went 0-4 against the Nets this season, with three losses by one point and another in double overtime. "I can never feel myself rooting for another team in the league," he said.
### The Heat's Michael Beasley admits it has been "difficult" not playing and “you feel kind of down.” But he insisted it doesn't make him want to leave this summer. "I would love to come back. I've got to look at the big picture. This is the best team in the world."
The Heat hasn't told Beasley if it wants him back, but if it does, it likely would again be at the minimum, and it’s debatable if Beasley could attract more than that elsewhere.
### Shocking: The Marlins are leading baseball in blowout wins (six by at least six runs). They had seven all of last season… Giancarlo Stanton’s average home run distance over the past four seasons (416 feet) trails only Justin Upton’s 419.
### Three teams invited UM’s Seantrel Henderson for pre-draft visits at their offices: Miami, San Francisco and Cincinnati… Besides visiting Denver, Cleveland, the Dolphins and Carolina, UM’s Stephen Morris did private workouts for Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and Chicago.