GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Whether he’s screaming from the sideline or punching a white board in the locker room, Florida’s Will Muschamp knows defense.
It’s what he played.
It’s what he coached.
It’s what the Gators have done best during his tenure.
Often overshadowed by a woeful offense, Florida’s defense has set a pretty high standard during Muschamp’s first three seasons in Gainesville. The Gators have ranked no lower than eighth nationally in total defense, giving up less than 300 yards a game with Muschamp in charge.
And despite losing the team’s best pass rusher and several starters in the secondary, Florida expects to be defensively stout again this season.
“Absolutely,” Muschamp said last week. “We’ll play well. … We have the key ingredients of what you want, in my opinion. Now we got to go do it. Talk is cheap.”
The Gators have nothing to boast about after last season. They lost their final seven games, missed a bowl game and ended up with their first losing record since 1979.
Little went right, not even on defense.
Florida was gouged at times, giving up 500 yards in a loss at Missouri, allowing 429 yards rushing in a shocking home defeat to lower-division Georgia Southern and then surrendering 456 yards in a season-ending setback against in-state rival and eventual national champion Florida State.
It was uncharacteristic for a unit that had kept Florida in several games throughout the season. But key injuries - the Gators lost defensive end Dominique Easley in xxx - played a factor. So did a lack of confidence in the team’s much-maligned offense, which had personnel and coaching issues that eventually carried over to the other side of the ball.
“We had some individualism on the team last year,” linebacker Mike Taylor said. “Last year it was more, ‘I got me. I got this.’ This year, it’s more, ‘We, us, team.’ It’s not ‘I.’ It’s more team. We’re more together.”
The Gators get their first chance to show 2013 was a fluke Saturday when they open the season against Idaho, which has just four wins over the last three seasons.
Muschamp has repeatedly expressed confidence that his team will make a quick turnaround, much like fellow Southeastern Conference teams Auburn and Missouri did last season.
Although Muschamp expects the offense to be markedly better under new coordinator Kurt Roper, he’s equally convinced the defense will return to form.