GAINESVILLE (AP) — Florida’s receiving corps was supposed to be the program’s deepest and most talented in years.
The wideouts have fallen short of expectations, even incurring partial blame for an offense that averaged a little more than 200 yards and 12 points the last two games.
Getting the group playing at a higher level is a top priority for the Gators (3-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference), who host LSU (4-2, 0-2) on Saturday night.
Coach Will Muschamp attributed 15 dropped passes to his receivers through four games, and that’s only part of the problem.
Demarcus Robinson, who had several drops in Saturday’s 10-9 win at Tennessee, had just five catches for 44 yards in the two games since his 15-reception, 216-yard performance against Kentucky. Fellow sophomore Ahmad Fulwood has been even less visible of late, failing to catch a single pass the last two games.
Senior Quinton Dunbar was supposed to be the team’s go-to guy, especially since he’s closing in on the school record for consecutive games with at least one reception, but he’s managed four catches for 30 yards the last three games.
“You want to talk about confidence and timing and getting things going?” Muschamp said. “Those are things we’ve addressed. Take ownership in your play and how you play and how you perform instead of point a finger at somebody else, which is the easiest thing to do and what we do in our society in most situations.”
Muschamp seemed to be calling out Robinson, who made his feelings public two weeks ago when he retweeted a post asking Twitter users if they wanted to see a new quarterback at Florida.
No doubt, quarterback Jeff Driskel has struggled this season. He has completed 48 percent of his passes in conference play for 447 yards, with four touchdowns and six interceptions. He was benched late in the third quarter against Tennessee in favor of Treon Harris, who led the Gators to 10 points in his first two drives.
Driskel’s most glaring weaknesses have been his decisions in the pocket and his accuracy on deep balls. When throwing passes that travel at least 15 yards in the air, the fourth-year junior is a meager 3-of-28 for 79 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Muschamp might have named Harris his starter against LSU, but the freshman from Miami was suspended indefinitely Monday while authorities investigate sexual assault allegations made against him. His absence solidified Driskel’s spot at the starter — and prompted Muschamp to defend his quarterback as strongly as ever.
“It’s not all Jeff Driskel’s fault,” Muschamp said. “We took about 15 plays from the game and illustrated to our players, and not to defend Jeff, but to defend the quarterback position. People around them need to execute better and take ownership in what they need to do better.”
An underlying problem might be Florida’s coaching carousel at the position.
The Gators have used six receivers coaches in the last six years, and that includes two graduate assistants who got promoted to the position weeks before the season opener.
Former Gators standout Chris Leak is coaching the group this year. He worked as a grad assistant last year before replacing Joker Phillips, the former Kentucky head coach who abruptly resigned as Florida’s receivers coach in June amid potential NCAA violations. In addition to Leak and Phillips (2013), graduate assistant Bush Hamden (2012), Aubrey Hill (2011), Zach Azzanni (2010) and Billy Gonzales (2009) also have headed Florida’s receivers in recent years.
The lack of continuity surely hasn’t helped.
Maybe a new face will.
C.J. Worton, a 6-foot freshman from Homestead, will make his collegiate debut against LSU. Worton missed the first four games with a broken hand.
“C.J. is just one of those guys that can catch the football,” offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. “He’s got really good ball skills and he’s got really good short-area quickness. So top-end speed is important. All those things are important, but the ability to catch the football is the first thing that a wide receiver has to do, and he seems to have really good ball skills.”
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