GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida needs to find a quarterback, a running back, a couple big-play receivers and an elite pass-rusher.
But Will Muschamp’s main goal for the Gators this spring -- which began with a two-hour workout on Wednesday afternoon -- is to fix a turnover problem that was embarrassing in 2011. UF ranked 113th nationally in turnover margin (minus-12) and forced the fewest turnovers in school history.
"It's really a minor miracle we won seven games," Muschamp said. "You can't win games turning it over and not getting turnovers."
The Gators’ 14 turnovers were the fewest in a single season since the school began compiling fumble stats in 1950 (the previous low was 17 in 2002). The number could have doubled, however, had UF managed to hang onto the 15 dropped interceptions Muschamp said the Gators had in 2011.
It’s not like the coaching staff didn’t emphasize it in practice, either. They drilled over and over, worked on stripping the ball from the quarterback on a sack, and practiced pulling it from the ball-carrier’s hands. But the Gators had a three-game stretch against Alabama, LSU and Auburn in which they didn’t force a turnover, and they only forced eight turnovers in Southeastern Conference play. Four of those came against Kentucky.
"[Defensive coordinator] Dan [Quinn] talks about it with our defense every single day," Muschamp said. "We've got to find different ways to emphasize it. If you do the same things you're going to get the same results."
Quinn spent time in January and February calling coaches he knows on NFL teams that had success forcing turnovers. He spoke with the San Francisco 49ers, who led the NFL with a plus-28 turnover margin in the regular season. He also spent hours getting video clips so he can show them during meetings.
He’s also using a points system, with certain amounts assigned for forced fumbles, interceptions and recoveries. It’s an appeal to the players’ competitive side.
"It’s awareness for the players, and I emphasized it, and as Will said, if you can do the same thing you'll get the same results," Quinn said. "So we're going to challenge, do some different drills for it, and we're going to improve in that area."
The Gators also have to get better in taking care of the football. UF committed 26 turnovers which led to 89 points last season. The quarterbacks combined to throw 13 interceptions, which is the second-highest single-season total in the last nine seasons.
"Turnover margin is really the emphasis we're looking at [in the spring]," Muschamp said. "Ball possession, security of the ball offensively [will be a] big emphasis."