As interim coach Randy Shannon ended Florida’s practice Tuesday and walked to the south end zone of UF’s indoor practice facility, he made one request.
“I just don’t want to keep talking about Missouri,” Shannon said.
Maybe he wanted to forget about the final score from that game, a 45-16 loss on Saturday, one in which the Gators’ offensive ineptitude continued and its effort — by Shannon’s own admission — needed to be better.
Maybe it was because of Shannon’s one-track mindset, insisting that he is only focused on Florida’s next game and not on landing a job after this season.
Or maybe he was just so focused on his team having a better performance against South Carolina this weekend than it did against Missouri that he wants to eliminate any distractions from creeping into the Gators’ focus.
Whatever the reason, Shannon made one thing clear on Tuesday: When the Gators (3-5, 3-4 SEC) play the Gamecocks (6-3, 4-3 SEC) on Saturday, he wants to see major improvement.
Meeting with reporters for the final time before the Gators play, here are three things he stressed:
Zaire needs to be better:
Malik Zaire, Florida’s graduate transfer quarterback who replaced redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks against Missouri, completed 13 of his 19 passes for 158 yards, one interception and no touchdowns.
On Tuesday, Shannon said he needs to play better.
“He did a nice job,” Shannon said, “but now he’s got to do a great job.”
The interim coach stressed that he wants to see Zaire string together multiple drives in which he moves the offense down the field instead of one good drive followed by a pair of three-and-outs.
Zaire led 10 drives against the Tigers resulting in five punts, one fumble, one interception and three field goals. None of them ended in a touchdown.
“His overall game (needs to improve),” Shannon said. “He’s got to be consistent.”
Florida’s slow starts have to stop:
Redshirt seniors Marcell Harris, Nick Washington and Jordan Sherit were the clear leaders of the Gators.
All of them sustained season-ending or long-term injuries.
“I don’t make excuses,” Shannon said, “... but we don’t have any veterans right now.”
Of the 23 starters on Florida’s depth chart, 13 of them are underclassmen. And when asked to give a reason for Florida’s slow starts in games this season, both on offense and defense, Shannon pointed to UF’s lack of experience.
“Early in the year when we had a lot of veterans on this team, we were starting fast,” Shannon said. “Right now, we’re counting and depending on these young guys to crank it up a little bit.”
Florida hasn’t scored on its opening drive since Sept. 16 against Tennessee, and it hasn’t scored a touchdown on its opening drive all season.
To Shannon, that represents a glaring problem that needs to be fixed by Saturday.
“Don’t make any excuses because you’re young,” Shannon said. “You’re a veteran now, you’ve played some games and you’re representing the Gators.”
Penalties need to be curbed:
Offensive lineman Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor both committed penalties against Missouri, including holding calls and false starts.
So Shannon benched them.
“That’s unacceptable,” Shannon said. “You’re in the red zone and those things happen, that’s on you.”
In total, Florida committed 11 penalties for 84 yards against Missouri, a couple of which negated big plays on offense.
During the second quarter, a 40-yard pass from Zaire to receiver Tyrie Cleveland was brought back because of a holding penalty by Ivey. In the third quarter, on third-and-goal from Missouri’s 6-yard line, a false start by Taylor forced the Gators into a third-and-long.
As a result, Florida has spent more time on getting its snap-count timing right in practice this week, Shannon said.
“If you’re not fast enough or athletically you’re just not good enough, OK, we can accept those things,” the coach said. “But if (it is a) mental part of the game, that’s unacceptable.”
You can follow Ian Cohen on Twitter @icohenb, and contact him at email@example.com.
Missouri head coach Barry Odom, right, talks with Florida head coach Randy Shannon, left, before the start of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)