GAINESVILLE — Somewhere up in That Big Luxury Suite for Legends in the Sky, Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes smiled, clinked whiskey glasses and toasted the Florida Gators and coach Will Muschamp after their 30-10 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks.
This was, after all, good, old-fashioned Big Ten/SEC slobber-knocking football the way those coaching icons of yesteryear meant for it to be played. None of this glitzy, gimmicky offense that has turned football into a no-huddle, namby-pamby game of pinball.
As Hayes himself once said: "We will pound you and pound you until you quit."
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Muschamp and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema are modern-day apostles of these gridiron gods. Bielema, in his first year at Arkansas, brought his physical, brutish, defensive-minded style with him from Wisconsin, while Muschamp learned it coaching under living legend Nick Saban.
Both Bielema and Muschamp are former defensive coordinators who believe in controlling the clock and bashing the opponent in the teeth. The difference in Saturday's was that Florida's offense, behind amazingly poised quarterback Tyler Murphy, varied from its usual ground-and-pound script and made some huge plays.
Murphy, who hadn't thrown a college pass until two weeks ago, hit emerging go-to receiver Solomon Patton on touchdown passes of 51 and 38 yards to give Florida's dominating defense all the cushion it needed. Murphy, showing awareness and savvy in and out of the pocket, completed 16-of-22 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
"I'm a lot more ready for LSU than I was a few weeks ago," said Murphy, who will lead the Gators into Baton Rouge for a game with 10th-ranked Tigers next week.
Question for Florida coaches: Why couldn't this guy get on the field for four years?
"Tyler did a fantastic job of managing our team," Muschamp said.
Of course, as always, it was Muschamp's defense that set the tone. Arkansas, having some early success, led 7-3 when UF's Loucheiz Purifoy picked off a pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown. The Gators never looked back.
"They're a team just like us," UF senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs said coming into the game. "They're going to line up run it up in there until you stop them. We've got to strap it up. It's gonna be fun."
No, not fun like Steve Spurrier's old Fun 'N Gun, but still a thing of beauty in its own right. Unfortunately, even though Spurrier left UF more than a decade ago, way too many Gator fans still long for the days when the Head Ball Coach was drawing up ballplays and throwing it all over the yard.
Gator Nation needs to accept that those days are never coming back and Muschamp is never going to be like Spurrier. In fact, Spurrier's not even like Spurrier anymore. Did you see how his South Carolina Gamecocks ultimately beat UCF last week? By running the ball right up the gut and forcing turnovers on defense.
"Winning is more important to me than offensive stats," Spurrier told me last week.
Maybe it's time for Gator Nation to adopt this same philosophy and quit complaining about what Muschamp isn't and appreciate him for what he is. And what he is is this: One of the foremost defensive masterminds in the game.
Heading into Saturday's game, the Gators were the second-ranked defense in the country and No. 1 in the SEC, giving up an average of 202 yards per game.
I'm convinced there is a good number of Florida fans who would rather win games 42-35 than 17-0 — a mentality that is bound to make them perpetually unhappy under Muschamp. But why? Muschamp is trying to build his program in the image of Saban, his mentor. The Alabama coach is another former defensive coordinator who believes in controlling the line of scrimmage. The difference is Crimson Tide fans appreciate running the ball and great defense; Florida fans seem to tolerate it.
Somewhere up in That Big Luxury Suite for Legends in the Sky, Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes rejoiced as they watched the Gators and their beastly, brutish game of Saturday night SEC footbrawl.
You wonder when Gator Nation will finally do the same.
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