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QA with a Florida Insider

In order to really find out what is going on with Florida this week, we asked Gators beat writer Landon Watnick to give us his insiders perspective. Watnick covers Florida for InsideTheGators.com and has the latest news and notes from Gainesville.
Q: Of course, anybody who follows college football knows the situation with
Florida coach Will Muschamp. But how have the players handled all
the talk? Are they saying the right things, attempting to rally around their
coach?
Watnick: "Of the six players Florida has made available for interviews this week as of
Tuesday, four have been redshirt seniors who are seasoned and know how to talk
to the media. I don't think that was a coincidence at all on UF's part. But the
message they delivered was clear: Right now the Gators stand behind Muschamp. Max Garcia gave an impassioned defense of Muschamp, saying people don't
realize "he's a husband, he's a son, and the players on the team look up to him
as another father figure." As he discussed how the team tries to shield itself
from the outside talk, Michael Taylor even referenced the Constitution
when saying how fans can boo and say whatever they want. "I wouldn't want to
play for anybody else right now," he added.
"That may be the sentiment of at least a portion of the Florida locker room, but
if the losses keep piling, the attitude of this team could turn from defensive
into somber like it did near the final games of 2013. This time around though,
Muschamp would likely be out the door. If the Gators lose to the heavily favored
Bulldogs and seal their elimination in the SEC East race, then there's not much
left for the group to play for this season. The primary goal would be out the
window. Even now, there has to some level of frustration behind the scenes with
what has transpired in recent weeks - especially for a relatively good defense
that sees the offense flounder on a weekly basis."
Q: Where did it really start to go wrong for the Gators this year? In other
words, what aspect of the team's play has been the most disappointing and is
there still time for them to turn that part of their game around?
Watnick: "Quarterback play and a lack of production by the wide receivers have really
doomed the Gators since Week 2. As you're probably aware, Jeff Driskel
has been one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the FBS this season, and the
numbers prove it. The redshirt junior signal caller ranks dead last in the
country in passing efficiency (95.5) of quarterbacks who qualify for that
category. Opposing defenses have forced Florida into third-and-longs often, and
Driskel's accuracy in these situations has been pretty dreadful. One factor that
drove Florida to bench Driskel and start Treon Harris was turnovers.
Mostly under Driskel's leadership, the offense has committed 15 turnovers in the
past four games. Driskel is responsible for 12 of those. In five games of SEC
play, he's thrown five touchdowns against 10 picks. That's a big reason why this
offense has been unable to get it going, even with a thin offensive line
outperforming expectations.
"But don't ignore how bad the receiving corps have been outside of Demarcus Robinson. The sophomore has 34 receptions for 524 yards and four touchdowns
in six games. Everybody else? A combined 75 receptions for 667 yards, five
touchdowns and a copious number of dropped passes. This group was heralded
during training camp as a bright spot of this Gators team. That hasn't been the
case at all so far. Also, busted coverages by the secondary have plagued the
Gators, but that's a completely different story."
Q: What are the expectations for Treon Harris? Does he have a complete grasp of
the offense and all the plays to be called?
Watnick: "Harris cannot turn over the ball and needs to play within himself. That's what
first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper wants to see from the
5-foot-11, 190-pound Harris, a quick, elusive freshman who can extend plays and
do damage with his feet. Since he arrived at UF in only June, Harris hasn't had
as much time to absorb Roper's playbook as his other fellow quarterbacks. While
he has a strong arm, Harris isn't an incredibly accurate passer. But what
separates him from the rest of Florida's signal callers are his knack for making
plays and the "it" factor - what Florida coaches and players describe as Harris'
cool, collected demeanor in the pocket. Sometimes Harris tries to extend plays
too much, but as a dual threat he opens up plenty of opportunities for his
tailbacks in the zone read. Roper affirmed Tuesday that he doesn't plan on
scaling back the playbook for Harris, who's still learning some aspects of this
offense. Although the freshman doesn't have nearly as much experience at Driskel,
he's certainly an improvement. It really couldn't get any worse at quarterback
previously."
Q: What do you think Florida's defensive game plan will be and can it be
successful?
Watnick: "Whether it's Todd Gurley or Nick Chubb they're facing, the Gators need to
load the box and make a reliable but average Hutson Mason win the game for the
Bulldogs against the Gators' secondary. Florida didn't try that enough against
Alabama and LSU, two teams with two-back systems and stout run protection, and
I'm sure Georgia has noticed that by now from watching tape. The Gators do have
a respectable run defense, ranking No. 22 in the nation in that category, but
LSU exposed it a few weeks back. With Tigers tackle La'el Collins and
guard Vadal Alexander neutralizing Dante Fowler Jr., Jonathan
Bullard
and others, Leonard Fournette found plenty of holes down the left side
for big gains. The Gators may not face a duo of linemen that talented on one
side of an offensive line for the rest of the season, but the Bulldogs'
protectors have paved the way for productive outings by Gurley, Chubb and Sony Michel this year. 
"That's why the Gators need to force the Bulldogs into throwing the ball and hope
their improving pass rush can find some pressure on Mason. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has proven this season he can shut down one side of the
field, while true freshman Jalen Tabor has emerged recently on the
opposite end. The play by the safeties and at nickel has been shaky this year,
but Florida needs to take a risk here by trying this strategy."
Q: Offensively, where does Florida figure to create the most trouble for the Georgia defense?
Watnick: "Florida's running backs haven't impressed the past two games, but the Gators are
going to need them to step up Saturday. Whether its Matt Jones plowing
through the middle or true freshman scatback Brandon Powell catching swing passes
and racing through screens on the sidelines, UF needs to get these guys more
involved. Florida does have some dangerous weapons at tailback, but it hasn't
utilized them to their maximum potential this season. We saw how productive
Jones can be in the Kentucky and Tennessee games, and how dangerous of an option
Powell was as a receiving threat versus LSU. Florida needs to play to its
strengths more. 
"Right now, the Florida offense has no identity. It needs to discover one quick,
and a good start is riding these tailbacks. If Jones can find success powering
through the middle and Powell can utilize his speed working on the outside, then
this offense could start getting creative. Doing this against an excellent
Georgia run defense is a tough proposition, but the Gators need Jones, Powell
and Kelvin Taylor to be productive - especially with a true freshman
quarterback making his first college career start."