Sugar never tasted so bittersweet.
No. 5 Florida is all but assured an appearance in its ninth Sugar Bowl, as two key decisions by coach Will Muschamp returned a broken program to national title contention.
Muschamp, his 10 assistants and countless others involved behind the scenes deserve much of the credit.
The players earned the victories, but the coaches made a difference as the Gators walked a fine line between jubilation and heartbreak.
Florida’s success is largely due to Muschamp picking Jeff Driskel to quarterback a mundane offense built around the running game.
UF entered the year with questions surrounding every offensive position. No quandary was more polarizing than who would take the snaps under center. Throughout the offseason, nobody mentioned one quarterback without talking about the other.
Muschamp caught flack for starting both of them against Bowling Green in the season opener.
Having two starting quarterbacks wasn’t going to work for a team searching for an identity.
The coaching staff recognized which player gave UF the best chance to win. With an unproven offensive line, a mobile Driskel made the most sense.
Muschamp knew the Gators weren’t the sexiest team in America. He just wanted wins.
Naming Driskel the starter established Florida’s M.O. as a physical football team.
Although the Gators turned into America’s most boring offense midway through the season, Muschamp stuck to his guns, which is decision No. 2.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease arrived after six years at Boise State. Last year, he ran a balanced offense with a dynamic passing game.
Florida has 259 pass attempts and 509 rushes this season.
UF’s offense is ranked No. 104 nationally, the worst for a top-five team since at least 1999 — as far back as the NCAA website lists total offense rankings. The last time a top-five team was even close was in 2003, when No. 4 Ohio State finished No. 93 in total offense.
But UF’s offensive formula never changed — run, run and run some more.
Granted, running the ball may be the only thing the Gators can do on a consistent basis.
But Muschamp never once tried to turn the offense into something it isn’t. UF is in good hands with Muschamp at the helm. He showed he can make decisions with conviction and follow through.
The second-year coach isn’t satisfied with a season marred by a “what if?”
“Complacency kills,” Muschamp said. “You can’t get complacent in what you’re trying to do.”
Forget about what could have been.
With Muschamp leading the way, the best is yet to come.
Contact Adam Pincus at email@example.com.