By Matt Watt, The Miami Herald –
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When Anthon Samuel scampered into the end zone from 12 yards out on Saturday, he had plenty of reasons to be excited.
The Bowling Green running back and Opa-locka native had just scored a touchdown against Florida in The Swamp. The score tied the game at 14 in the third quarter of a game the Falcons were paid $1.2 million to play, and he showed his enthusiasm by doing the Gator Chomp in the end zone.
That’s the kind of day it was for Will Muschamp and No. 23 Florida (1-0) in Saturday’s season opener, a 27-14 Gators win that was closer than the final score indicates and a game that raised more doubts heading into next week’s Southeastern Conference opener against Texas A&M.
“I wanted to be 1-0 leaving today, and that’s where we are,” he said. “(Are) there things we need to work on? Yes. Regardless of the outcome of the game, there were going to be things you need to work on and things you need to tie up to improve from Game 1 to Game 2. That’s every year.”
Despite a win to start the season and a huge day from redshirt senior running back Mike Gillislee (24 carries, 154 yards and two touchdowns), Muschamp said there was plenty to focus on following Saturday’s game.
Florida racked up 14 penalties for a total of 106 yards, including 10 in the first half. The flags came early and often, and most were unforced, the type of discipline penalties that hurt the team a season ago.
“That’s something we’ve worked on, and I addressed it with the team at the end of the game,” Muschamp said. “Believe me, we’ve exhausted every measure I know. . . .We’re going to look at the tape and obviously make some changes with the guys that can’t stay onside.”
With the Gators driving in the first quarter, two false start flags within a play of each other stalled the drive and forced the offense to punt. The Falcons took over and marched down the field in 12 plays to score the game’s first points, aided by a personal foul call on UF linebacker Lerentee McCray for roughing the passer on a crucial third-down play.
Florida answered with a 13-play scoring drive of its own, featuring 10 consecutive runs after sophomore Jeff Driskel completed a 5-yard pass to Trey Burton for a first down to open the second quarter. In all, Florida ran 42 times for 239 yards as Muschamp said he wanted to establish the rushing attack in this game.
“I think it was pretty obvious just watching the game today,” he said. “I told (offensive coordinator Brent Pease) we’re going to run the football. We need to establish what we are. You can’t talk about, you got to be about it. We’ve got to do it. We made the decision going into the game that’s what we’re going to do in this football game.”
Part of that was to protect Driskel and fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett. After a lengthy competition for the top spot, neither separated himself as the starter and Muschamp trotted both of them out for the game’s first play. The plan was to play Driskel for the first quarter and Brissett for the second, but Brissett did not see the field until 8:17 remained in the half.
Brissett went 3 of 5 for 31 yards in two series under center in the first half; Driskel was 4 of 5 for 27. Both led scoring drives, although Brissett’s was merely a handoff to Gillislee, who did the rest from 38 yards out after Bowling Green’s Brian Schmiedebusch shanked a punt just 16 yards to set Florida up with great field position.
Schmiedebusch did have a crucial first-down pickup on a fake punt, which extended the Falcons’ second scoring drive, but the Bowling Green kicker’s overall rough day helped let Florida off the hook. Placekicker Stephen Stein missed two short field goals from 31 and 29 yards, and Schmiedebusch had another kick that traveled just 10 yards and set up the go-ahead field goal.
“We’ve struggled with field goals for three years,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said.
Driskel played the entire second half, finishing 10 of 16 for 114 yards and one touchdown â€” a 50-yard strike to Hallandale alum Frankie Hammond, who made a defender miss and took a simple curl route the distance for the game’s deciding score.
“We were just looking to get to the sticks,” Driskel said. “I just wanted to give him the ball, and one-on-one he made a good move. That was all him.”
Muschamp said he was pleased with how Driskel and Brissett managed the offense and got the team in and out of the huddle in a new offense, but he would not say that either wrapped up the job following Saturday’s performance.
With uncertainty remaining at quarterback, a nagging issue with penalties that seemingly won’t go away and plenty to be concerned about heading into conference play, Muschamp tried to deflect questions about a lack of confidence in his team.
“I’m very confident,” he said. “I like this football team, and I like where we are. . . . I certainly feel a lot better than I did a year ago, I can tell you that.”