COACH WILL MUSCHAMP
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by coach Will Muschamp. We’ll ask Coach Muschamp to make a brief opening statement.
COACH MUSCHAMP: It’s been a great week. A good week of preparation. New Orleans, as usual, has been outstanding. The people at the Hilton have been great, and practice at the Superdome. Went to the Saints’ facility one day. It was exciting for our players. Looking forward to getting into the game, so I’ll answer questions.
Q. Could you talk about preseason this year you were talking about how your defensive staff was a little inflated, not taking chances. Building a better defense as you did this year, a lot of it had to do with the secondary and the depth. Could you talk about how you got better defensively?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Number one is takeaways. You want to look at the difference in seasons, looking at turnover margin. We finished top five in the country I believe. That’s been the huge difference in our football season from this year to last year, is turnover margin. Dan Quinn does an outstanding job coaching overall, but I think it’s as much as emphasizing turnovers and creating. We did it last year. We haven’t done it a whole lot different as far as the emphasis is concerned. We just had better results on the field.
A year older. We were a very young team last year. We had less starts than anybody in the Southeastern Conference going into the season defensively. So a year older. I feel like we inherited a very good, young talent base on defense and we’ve had guys play extremely well.
Sharrif Floyd has had an outstanding year. Matt Elam has had an outstanding year. Josh Evans played his best football. All three corners, Jaylen, Marcus and Loucheiz, have all played extremely well for us this year. Dominique Easley has played well. Omar played his best football. Jon Bostic played as well as any linebacker in the country in my opinion.
At each position we’ve played extremely well. We’ve also been more of a ball control offense. We have not played as many snaps as we did a year ago defensively. So I think there’s a lot of factors that go into why we’ve played well, and certainly depth is up there with that. And I think the freshmen coming in, you look at Antonio Morrison, Bullard and Fowler, those three guys have been as productive as any freshman I’ve been around.
Q. Will, Charlie Strong waited more than 25 years to take his first head coaching job. Can you appreciate that patience and how badly he wants to do that well?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Charlie’s probably had some other opportunities, but to me it’s taking the right job. I had other opportunities before the Florida job came. It’s about taking the right job. It’s about the right situation, the right people, the right circumstances, being in a situation where you think you can be successful. All the critical factors as far as recruiting base, support from the administration, all of those things need to be in place, and obviously he feels that at Louisville.
Q. The desire to want to do well with that opportunity?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I think everybody wants to be obviously when you get that opportunity, you want to do the best job you can do.
He’s an outstanding coach, good person. He’ll be very successful.
Q. You always talk about how great Gator fans are. Are you surprised you guys haven’t sold more tickets to this game, and why do you think that is?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I think obviously right now, with the economics, we’re going through a tough time in the country. I think that certainly has affected everyone, not just Gator fans. And so that’s a tough time right now. And there’s different ways to get tickets other than going through the university athletic association. Obviously we’re seeing a little bit of a loophole. Those things happening as well.
Q. Is that a problem, do you think?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I don’t worry about that. I worry about third down and stuff like that. I let Jeremy worry about that.
Q. You’ve talked throughout the season about taking a soft team and making them tough. Is that what you all remember about what the accomplishment was this year, and how do you make a soft team tough?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Well, you can’t talk about it. You gotta be you’ve got to practice that way. And really going back to last season, I’ve said it going back looking at our training camp, I felt like we could have been more physical at practice. We were so lacking in depth, especially in the offensive line, one or two injuries could have put us in a really tough situation.
And then when we went into Bowl practice last year for the Gator Bowl, I said heck with it. This is what we’re going to do. If we have an injury, we have an injury, but we’re going to have to practice physical.
You can’t talk about being physical. You can’t convince yourself you’re physical. You’ve got to practice that way. You’ve got to do it.
And I think the most pleasing results from this year other than winning games for me has been winning the fourth quarter. And that’s a huge emphasis on the football team as we entered the season, was to be successful in the fourth quarter.
I think there’s a lot of factors that go into that. Number one, we’re a year older, year more mature, year more experienced. We’re stronger as a football team than we were a year ago. And that’s also that’s breeded a little bit of a confidence factor with our players. And I think that the weight room certainly for us has been a good change.
Q. When you talk about wanting to make those practices in Jacksonville last year more physical, what specifically was different about those than what you’ve done earlier in the year?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I think more than anything just more contact. I mean, you can’t just again, you can’t talk about it. You gotta do it. And we did more live work than we’ve done as far as just full tackling and things and a certain mindset that our kids started to understand that’s where we’re going to practice.
We tried to do it late in the year, and to no avail as far as our improvement is concerned. When we had more time to focus on it, we certainly I saw tremendous improvement. You look at the game last year, we took seven minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter. And when they knew we were going to run it. I saw us making strides.
And then our offseason program I thought was outstanding. And then going into spring ball we had another physical, very physical, spring. So it carried over from the Bowl prep.
Q. I believe you’re done with practices now for the week.
COACH MUSCHAMP: We’re off for the day.
Q. Where do you stand in terms of injuries or anything like that?
COACH MUSCHAMP: We’re fine. We’re good to go for the game.
Q. I know you talked about how pleased you were with the team’s maturity since they were here. Was there anything that happened last night, or was everything as you wanted it?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Yeah.
Q. And can you talk a little bit about the 2013 roster, some areas of strength?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Can we just concentrate on Louisville game?
Q. We may not talk to you again for a while.
COACH MUSCHAMP: Okay. I’ll schedule a press conference when we get back. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I haven’t thought about next year, I have, because you’re thinking ahead as far as where you are with your roster, and I feel good about our football team coming back next season, I certainly do. But, again, right now my primary focus is on this game and this season and ending it the right way.
Q. Would you talk about Louisville a little bit, what you see on the film, so to speak, and also some of the keys of the game you think for both sides?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I think the first thing that jumps out is Teddy Bridgewater. He’s an outstanding player. He’s accurate. They put a lot on him at the line of scrimmage as far as the run and pass game. He’s very accurate. I think he makes very good decision. He creates a lot of off rhythm, plays with his legs and he scrambles with the throw. He’s not scrambling to run as much as you think. I think just a really good decisionmaker is what I see.
A really talented receiving corps. You look at Parker and Wright and Copeland, all three guys that can make plays in space. Parker, a guy that had nine touchdown receptions this year. Jeremy Wright has done a nice job filling in at running back position. And Shawn Watson is a guy I have a lot of respect for, offensive coordinator, a little and Bill Callahan, as far as his regular personnel, what we call 12 personnel, but also being able to spread the field to get his best athletes on the field.
And I think defensively Charlie’s background speaks for itself. I think they only had one senior starting, Bushell.
They have a very young defense, very athletic, running extremely well. Marcus Smith is a guy, a pass rusher that we need to account for as far as protection is concerned.
A team that’s played very well. You win ten games, you win your league, you’ve obviously accomplished a lot. And it’s very you see Charlie’s handprints all over their football team as far as how they play the physicality they play with.
Q. You talked about looking ahead toward the future. How do you feel about LSU being more of a permanent opponent nonconference, or would you rather see it move around a lot?
COACH MUSCHAMP: There’s a lot of debate on that. I want to do what’s best for our league. That’s why we have a commission. And there’s a lot of argument in our league based on do you want to have a permanent opponent or do you want to rotate. We won’t see Coach Spurrier brought up when we were in the SEC meetings the FloridaAuburn game, what a great rivalry it was. We may not see Auburn for six years the way the current schedule is set up.
I understand both sides of it. That’s why we have a commissioner, whatever decision he makes is what I support. I do know that the FloridaLSU game is a great national game for our conference, for our league. That’s a game that’s going to create a lot of national attention as opposed to maybe some other matchups.
I’m fine with what they decide. I don’t want to go to a nineconference game because we play Florida State every year. I don’t think that that’s good for the University of Florida. But whatever they decide I’ll support.
Q. How much pressure do you think you’re in in this game? You are the favorite, carrying the flag of the SEC, as well as your program moving on to next year. Do you feel like you’re under a lot of pressure, and how important is this game to you to win?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Every game is important. As a competitor I don’t care what you’re doing, want to go play in the parking lot, it’s important. As a competitor you want to play. That’s the way our football team approaches the game. With the University of Florida there’s a lot of pressure in every game. We’re expecting to win them all.
Q. I think it was Matt who said that Teddy Bridgewater would be the best quarterback you face this year. You faced the Heisman Trophy winner. So
COACH MUSCHAMP: That’s the respect we have for Teddy. We think he’s a really good football player. And I think that there’s no question, the films speak for itself. Guy threw over 3,000 yards, 28 touchdown throws and only six interceptions, makes great decisions with the ball.
He’s by far the leader of their football team. We think he’s a really good player.
Q. What ways is he better than Jeff?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Again, I think he’s a guy that’s very accurate with the football, because he creates a lot of vertical throws. He’s still completing right around 70 percent of his passes. So he’s a guy that, again, when you turn the tape on, he’s very successful what he wants to do.
Q. How would you answer the question that people would say maybe the mindset of your team wouldn’t be fully into the game because they are simply playing Louisville?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I think that’s hogwash. I don’t think there’s anything to that at all. I’ve seen a football team prepared and how they practiced, and we’ve been physical and we’ve practiced and prepared the right way. Been on time for everything. Totally intune with what we’re trying to do.
We’re playing a good football team. The films speak for itself. We have great respect for the opponent. And at the end of the day, regardless of who we play, we take care of it. As long as we take care of it the way we have, we’ll play well.
Q. Would you talk about Phillips and adding him to your staff, what he’s done for your guys?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Joker, first of all, is a firstclass person. And getting to know him a little bit through the years and coaching and recruiting and obviously the SEC head coach meetings and things, you see the type of person he is, and talking to different people that have worked with him and for him.
I think the world of him as a person. He’s an outstanding football coach. And I really felt like we needed to add experience at the position for a receiving corps that we’re still trying to develop.
And I think he’s going to be a great addition. He’s not done much in the Bowl game other than I told our receivers you’ve got a month audition for your position coach, let’s do a good job. I think those guys have responded the correct way.
He’ll be a really good addition. Here’s a guy that’s been a head coach that I totally embrace having in the room. He’s been a coordinator, which as a coordinator I always wanted guys that called defenses before. It’s easy to sit there and never have called an offense or defense say what you shouldn’t do, but when you sat in the chair before it’s a little bit different. It is.
I’m really happy he’s in our room and on our staff.
Q. Can you talk about Jeff’s development this year, what’s he done to get better, what does he need to get even better, and what his upside is, how good can he be?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I think the game, as you continue to play, the more reps you get slows down for you. Playing the firstyear system, firstyear terminology. You watch us against Florida State, who I think is a quality defense, I think the game made some really good decisions and some really good throws in the game.
Now we’ve had a whole spring practice and getting ready for Louisville and the game prep this week and last four practices. Before that we had ten practices where we were just working on Florida and improving ourselves.
So I think the game is slowing down for him. I think he’ll continue to make good decisions as far as taking the football to the right spot, getting rid of the football in some situations.
But, again, we gotta continue to get better around him. Certainly at the receiver position. That’s somewhere where we need some improvement. But I think that here’s a guy that continues to gain confidence in what he’s doing at the position.
And I think in year two you’re going to see a lot of steps forward in what we’re doing offensively, not just from Jeff, but up front, at receiver, at running back, because year two in the system. I think you saw a huge jump defensively because we have a lot of guys back, and we have a lot of guys back offensively next year.
Q. You have some seniors that were playing in this game four years ago. Did you ask those guys to address the younger players about a game like this?
COACH MUSCHAMP: No, again, I think that our guys understand what’s at stake. They understand this is a big game for our university and for our football team and an opportunity to be the sixth team in U.S. history to win 12 games. So I think we understand what’s at stake.
Q. How do you think that Jeff Driskel is going to perform on a big stage like this? He’s only a sophomore. Coming into a game like this in New Orleans, how do you think he’s going to perform with the expectation of the BCS Bowl game?
COACH MUSCHAMP: We play pretty good teams in our schedule all year and big environments and tough places, and he’s performed very well. So Jeff’s a very levelheaded young man. He’s not a guy that lets the external circumstances really affect his play and his preparation. I fully expect him to play well.
Q. Anything different for you guys playing in the Dome in terms of Sturgis I guess?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Adjusting the lights. We’ve worked it all week, as far as seeing the punt catchers and kickoff and receivers working and catching the football. Because it’s a little different with the lights in the stadium there. We’ve worked on that. And kicking environment for Sturgis is good for us. We can probably be at the 38yard line and be in range for a 55yard, 56yarder, maybe 40.
Q. Did you say yesterday you wanted Roberson at punt return?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Umhmm.
Q. And kick returner will be?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Will be Loucheiz and Andre Debose.
Q. You mentioned you had the ten practices in Gainesville. You had practices here. There’s been a lot of buildup for this game. Can you take us through what will happen for you for the next 24 hours, what are the final preparations that you guys will go through?
COACH MUSCHAMP: It’s a normal Friday for us. We’ll go have a team meeting here at noon. We’ll have special teams meeting, entire unit, then break up offense and defense. We’ll bus to at the Superdome and have a normal Friday walkthrough, come back to the hotel, have dinner and meetings and walkthroughs tonight. We don’t go to a movie or anything. Our guys, they’d rather just stay at the hotel.
Get up in the morning and have some more meetings and walkthroughs and then eat some brunch and have some more meetings and walkthroughs and go to the stadium and play the game.
We don’t leave anything to chance. Just in case they might forget something before kickoff.
Q. One of the things you established this year, was the identity of a weighing your Florida teams you’re going to play one of them, is this what we’re going to see, the power running, the toughness, the fourth quarter dominance?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I hope so. You know, we want to be more vertical with the passing game. We want to continue to develop that. We want to be able to spread some people out. In this league, you’ll face defenses in the front seven. You’re going to have a hard time running consistently well. Brent has been and our offensive staff have been very creative how we run the ball, if you look at the different ways running against LSU and South Carolina and Florida State, three outstanding defensives.
So having the ability to do that is good. You’ve also got to be able to thread people down the field. If you’re able to do that, not stay one dimensional, you’ll certainly help yourself. And we’ll continue to do so. We’ll continue to do that.
Certainly being able to run the football in the red zone and to end games in the fourth quarter in my opinion is critical. You’ve got to be able to do that and win the big games and win the SEC. You’ve got to be able to do that in my opinion. I’ve been in this league a long time. That’s just a firm belief I have.
Q. It’s often been said that teams are to some degree a reflection of a coach’s personality. What do you think your team’s personality is in terms of the way you are, and what’s your sense the way Charlie is with the Cardinals?
COACH MUSCHAMP: I think I asked our guys when I first got to Florida, they needed to take ownership of the football team. I don’t know that we did that in our first year.
The accountability and the responsibility that this is your team, it’s not mine. It’s not the University of Florida’s. And I think Charlie would say the same thing because I think he and I have a lot of the same personality.
But I certainly think this year we have taken some ownership within the team. We’ve handled a lot of the discipline within the locker room. A lot of those things when you have those things you start to have some special things happening with your football team.
And I think when you turn the tape on and you see our guys play, they play hard they play fast and physical and they have fun. When your football team is doing that, there’s two things to me as a head coach you’ve got to have. You’ve got to have great discipline. You’ve got to have great morale. So if you have a team that’s a really happy team and it understands that line of discipline, then you can really have some special things.
And I think this football team has been a great example of that. It’s a fun team to coach. It’s a fun team to be around. But it also understands that line. And that’s important to me.
Q. You guys have a pretty sizable advantage special teamswise. How important could that be in this game?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Again, you go into Bowl games, to me, the more mature teams that approach it the right way are critical. But you look at tackling. It’s going to be an issue in the game. You go back and look at some of the games you’ve been sitting there watching on ESPN, and tackling is an issue. Execution on both sides of the ball and special teams. Clemson could have cost themselves a game getting a blocked extra point last night. So those are the three things I’ve talked to our team about that we’ve gotta do a good job in.
Q. You talked about Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Smith specifically and said Louisville’s film speaks for itself. Anybody else?
COACH MUSCHAMP: The receiving corps, Rogers and Parker and Copeland are three guys that made explosive plays throughout the year, continued every game you turn on, getting on top of people. They’re making plays down the field. Parker’s got nine touchdown receptions, a big redzone guy. They like to move you, double down the red zone. They do a great job. Number one red zone offense in the country. No question they’ve certainly moved the ball offensively well versus everyone they’ve played.
Q. Defensively anybody you see outside of Marcus Smith?
COACH MUSCHAMP: Bushell is a guy that obviously covers well. And, again, very young across the board, especially at the linebacker position. Typical Charlie Strong defense, well coached, and going to be where they’re supposed to be and execute very well. You’ll have to make plays to beat them.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.