Muschamp encouraged by offense

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp doesn’t want pretty. He wants production.

Running the ball between the tackles. Converting third downs and short-yardage plays. High-percentage completions. Checkdowns. None of that draws oohs and ahs -- but it is the way Muschamp wants his offense to perform.

He saw that on Saturday afternoon during the Blue’s 21-20 victory over the Orange in Florida’s annual spring game at Florida Field, and it has him encouraged that the Gators’ offense will be better than it was last season.

“I’m not really looking for style points,” Muschamp said. “I’m worked about winning games. I’m not into style points -- and we certainly didn’t get any last year.”

Florida’s 2011 offense was abysmal, finishing No. 105 nationally in total yards per game (328.7) and No. 89 nationally in passing (185.7 yards per game). Five times the Gators scored 12 or fewer points and they managed just seven touchdowns in 19 red zone trips in Southeastern Conference play.

The Gators needed to show progress on offense this spring. Muschamp hired Tim Davis as his new offensive line coach, Brent Pease as his new offensive coordinator and Jeff Dillman as the Gators’ new strength and conditioning coordinator. Their task was to turn the Gators into the same kind of pro-style, power-run offense that Muschamp’s former mentor Nick Saban has built at Alabama.

That meant a more physical offensive line, built not only in the weight room but also on the practice field with drill after drill of runs between the tackles. It was a slow progression, but the unit -- which returned all but one starter from last season -- ended the spring closer to what Muschamp envisioned when he called the group soft following the Gators’ loss to Florida State last season.

“We’re just better up front,” Muschamp said. “We’re tougher. We’re stronger. We’re doing a better job at the first level climbing to the second level and getting displacement up front. We’ve got some bigger girth guys defensively that we’re moving and doing a nice job with. I’m just really pleased with our progress on the offensive line.

“If there’s any one unit of our football team that I think has made tremendous strides and needed to, it’s been there. We’ve got to continue to do so.”

Just as important was the development of a running back capable of carrying the ball between the tackles on more than an occasional basis to replace Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, who were speed backs who thrived on the edge. Mike Gillislee won the starting job during the spring by proving that he can stay healthy (he has been bothered by an ankle injury throughout his career) and not be a liability in pass protection.

Gillislee played just the first half on Saturday and ran six times for 35 yards. The Gators totaled 104 yards rushing on 22 carries in the first half.

“He made some really nice cuts in the run game, one sweep on our home sideline there for a 13-, 14-yard gain, a really nice run,” Muschamp said.

Florida had 137 yards of offense in the first half, with quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel splitting time with the first-team offense. The coaching staff substituted liberally in the second half, which inflated the offensive numbers significantly. There were 287 total yards and 27 points scored in the fame’s final 9:45.

Brissett (9-of-16, 233 yards, 2 TDs) threw for one touchdown and Driskel (12-for-14, 147 yards) ran for one touchdown in that stretch.

That was a confidence-boosting span for the offense, which desperately needed to show improvement after back-to-back dismal seasons.

“I thought we did some nice things,” Driskel said. “It was new and we had a bunch of young guys [last season]. Now, we've got a lot of guys back and we've been playing with each other for a while. I think everybody has more confidence, especially the offensive line.”

Granted, it was the spring game against a vanilla defense that didn’t blitz and was without some key players because of injury (tackle Dominique Easley, linebacker Jonathan Bostic, safety Matt Elam), but there was progress -- which is definitely better than pretty.

“I’m really pleased with where we are at this point,” Muschamp said. “I feel much better standing here today than I did a year ago as far as where we are as a football team.”