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Florida hits rock-bottom in loss to FCS Georgia Southern

By Jerry Hinnen | Staff Writer

“As athletic director, I'm a thousand percent convinced that Will Muschamp is the guy to lead this football program. Nothing has changed in what we feel about Will Muschamp from the day we hired him." -- Jeremy Foley, Nov. 13.

Foley said that only 10 days ago. But after losing to Georgia Southern 26-20 at home in the Swamp Saturday, Will Muschamp, his Florida Gators, and the Gainesville faithful may feel like it was 10 years ago. And last year's 11-1 regular season and Sugar Bowl berth? That happened, oh, sometime in the late 1880s.

Consider the painful facts:

At 4-7, Florida is guaranteed to have its first losing season since going 0-10 in 1979. And with Florida State next up on the docket, a 4-8 finish is only slightly less guaranteed.

Saturday's result was in no way a statistical fluke. Georgia Southern's triple-option offense rushed for 429 yards and outgained Florida 429-279 overall. (If you've noticed that those figures add up to zero passing yards, that's correct. The Eagles went 0-for-3 in the air.) This was Florida's first-ever loss to an FCS team. It was also Florida's first loss to any team outside the BCS conferences since losing to Memphis in 1988.

The 429 yards rushing allowed was the fourth-most ever allowed by a Florida defense. Georgia Southern is not even a particularly strong FCS opponent in 2013. The Eagles came in at 4-4 in the Southern Conference, good enough to tie for 4th in the conference. In the program's last game against an FBS opponent, the Eagles lost 45-14 to Georgia in 2012.

Florida -- Rushing Yards Allowed
429Georgia Southern2013
* - Fiesta Bowl

You get the point. It wasn't pretty. It's hard to imagine how it could have been uglier.

But anyone who isn't Foley who tells you they know Muschamp is a fired coach walking isn't paying attention to several mitigating factors. The Gators have been absolutely destroyed by injuries, most notably at quarterback; if Jeff Driskel is healthy, this is a Florida win, and if even Tyler Murphy is healthy, this is very very likely a Florida win. The Gators did go 11-1 just last season. Muschamp's specialty is defense, and even if that side of the ball hardly shined against the Eagles Saturday, it had been respectable-at-worst and brilliant-at-best for the 10 games prior to this one -- even as the offense collapsed and injuries set in there, too.

So if Foley is looking for reasons to keep Muschamp (and it certainly appears he is), they're not that hard to find. But reasons to dismiss him aren't that hard to find either. They start with going 4-8. They continue with Florida State's increasing profile in the Sunshine State both on the field and on the recruiting trail (though as of now, Florida's 2014 recruiting class still outranks FSU's in per-recruit rating).

And maybe more than anything, they continue with the Gator fans' collective yawn over last year's Sugar Bowl berth. After almost two decades of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer offenses, it's never been a secret that Florida fans have been underwhelmed with Muschamp's defense-first-run-game-second-scoring-third philosophy, and never was that dissatisfaction better expressed than in the empty seats in the Superdome. If Muschamp can go 11-1, crush Florida State in the season finale, take his team to the Sugar Bowl, and still can't connect with the fan base ... well, what kind of support can he possibly rally after losing to Georgia Southern?

Foley may yet -- is still more likely to than not -- answer that question by saying an offensive overhaul and improvement to the 9- or 10-win plateau in 2014 would rally enough support that Muschamp's long-term future wouldn't be in doubt. You don't go from "a thousand percent" to a firing in 10 days, even when those 10 days include a loss to Georgia Southern.

But could you go from a thousand percent to a low enough figure that a home humiliation against your in-state rivals might change the calculus? Will Muschamp would no doubt prefer not to find out.

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