Muschamp, Florida taking chances on 4th down
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida coach Will Muschamp is taking a few extra chances these days.
And it's working.
A week after seizing momentum against Southeastern Conference rival Georgia with a fake field goal, the Gators went for it on fourth-and-goal at the Vanderbilt 1 on consecutive drives in the second quarter Saturday. The first one failed, but the second one turned out to be the game-winner in a 34-10 victory.
''We're going out there and laying it all on the line,'' center Max Garcia said.
Muschamp joked after beating Georgia that he's ''a risky guy.'' He has been lately. Maybe it's because his job remains in jeopardy heading into Saturday's game against struggling South Carolina.
Or maybe it's because his offense has been inconsistent and he's starting a freshman at quarterback.
Either way, the results validate Muschamp's decisions.
Florida (5-3, 4-3 SEC) is 7 for 12 on fourth-down conversions this season. Muschamp already has topped his fourth-down attempts in 2011 (6 for 11) and 2012 (7 for 11). The Gators were more active (11 for 19) on fourth down during last year's 4-8 debacle, but many of those came while trailing in the fourth quarter.
''When you call a game aggressively, sometimes your players play more aggressive,'' Muschamp said. ''They feel a little more cutting it loose. Our guys feel like that offensively from a standpoint that they know we're going to go for it in those situations. And I talk to them about those situations all the time.
''To me, it's always important for the players to understand why we're doing it. If we get into the situation, we're in that range where we're outside of field-goal range, maybe the 38-yard line, it's fourth-and-1, go for it in those situations.''
Muschamp has typically been a close-to-the-vest coach, playing to his team's defensive strength more times than not.
It's drawn criticism, especially in close games.
Against LSU last month, Muschamp called for a short, game-tying field goal after tight end Tevin Westbrook dropped what would have been a touchdown pass from Jeff Driskel on third-and-goal from the 1 with less than 2 minutes remaining.
The Gators forced LSU to punt on the ensuing possession, and the game looked like a lock for overtime. But Driskel threw an interception with 24 seconds left in regulation that set up the winning field goal.
That surely had to feel like a risky move for Muschamp.
But the result didn't keep him from taking more chances. On a fourth-and-9 play against the Bulldogs on Nov. 1, former walk-on Mike McNeely went untouched around the right side for a 21-yard touchdown.
That changed everything against the Bulldogs, and at the time, seemingly saved Muschamp's job.
Muschamp used another fourth-down conversion to take control against the Commodores last week. Tied at 7, Florida sent Driskel into the game to carry at the 1-yard line. Driskel leaped toward the goal line, and officials ruled it a touchdown.
The Gators cruised from there, remaining in hunt in the SEC's Eastern Division.
''We just see just the confidence the coaches have in us as an offensive line and what we can do,'' Garcia said. ''Just the play-calling, just letting us go for it two times on the goal line like that.
''It gives the offensive line more motivation to go out there and just block with everything we have, putting the team on our back and just going out there, giving it our all because we know that the coaches are obviously making those decisions based on what we've done previously. If they have confidence in us, that just motivates us to be more confident.''