November 23, 2014

Gator Grades: Send-off

GAINESVILLE -- On a gloomy, rainy Saturday in The Swamp, Florida sent the seniors and dismissed coach Will Muschamp out in style with a 52-3 rout over Eastern Kentucky.

It was a bittersweet finale, but the Gators managed to have some fun following an emotionally trying week.

OFFENSE – B

Florida’s usual grit-and-grind offense was nowhere to be found. Instead, the Gators turned to an Air Raid attac, passing their way past the Colonels.

UF’s offense was sluggish and slow early, unable to run the football despite a massive size disparity up front. But the Gators hit a couple big throws late in the second quarter, turning a barnburner into a blowout.

Treon Harris was sporadically spectacular (4-of-12 for 162 yards and two touchdowns) before exiting with a leg injury, while much-maligned backup Jeff Driskel was nearly flawless (9-of-11 for 164 yards and four scores) in relief.

Little-used tailback Adam Lane, a fourth-stringer, led the Gators in rushing (60 yards), while UF posted a pair of 100+ yard receivers for the first time in the Muschamp era.   

DEFENSE – A

EKU was limited to just 142 total yards, as UF stifling defense strangled the Colonel’s prolific rushing attack. EKU couldn’t pass either (63 yards), resorting to gimmicks for potential game-changing plays.  

Florida forced a slew of fumbles, recovering only one.

The Gators played a bunch of backups in the second half, but regular rotational guys like Alex McCalister (2 sacks) and linebacker Michael Taylor (team-high 9 tackles) delivered solid performances.

SPECIAL TEAMS – A

A week after collapsing against South Carolina, UF’s third unit was primed for EKU’s bag of tricks.

The Gators stopped a fake punt, fake field and onside kick. Meanwhile, Andre Debose had a 39-yard punt return, while Kyle Christy averaged 49 yards on four punts.

Austin Hardin supplanted Frankie Velez as the team’s first-string kicker, drilling a 48-yard field goal on his lone attempt.

OVERALL – B+

The Gators overcame a slow start to rout an FCS school.

Considering the circumstances and the way UF played against an FCS foe last season (Georgia Southern, anyone?), it was a fitting, feel-good win for a team desperate for some fun.

Florida is now bowl eligible and Muschamp will roam the sidelines one final time Saturday at No. 1 Florida State. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 21, 2014

No. 8 Florida squanders late lead, edges ULM in OT

GAINESVILLE -- No. 8 Florida survived an overtime scare against Louisiana-Monroe, squeaking past the Warhawks 61-56 Friday night in the O’Connell Center.

Led by walk-on forward Jacob “Captain” Kurtz and junior sharpshooter Michael Frazier II, the shorthanded Gators rallied in overtime after squandering an 8-point lead with just over two minutes left in regulation.

ULM drilled back-to-back 3-pointers with under a minute left in regulation, including Nick Coppola’s 28-foot bomb to tie the game at 51-51 with 16 seconds remaining. Coppola finished with 11 points, and forward Tylor Ongwae led ULM with 19 points and eight rebounds. 

Despite the Florida's second straight collapse late, the Gators managed to regroup in overtime, staving off the upset by bleeding the game away at the charity stripe (8-of-12 in OT).

“There’s going to be some really painful moments. It is part of them getting scarred,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.

“They have no concept in what goes into winning. They have to take ownership in what that looks like each and every day.”

Florida won an ugly, sloppy contest, suiting up just six scholarship players and shooting a ghastly 33 percent from the field.

The Gators (2-1) played without forward Dorian Finney-Smith (hand fracture), forward Alex Murphy (ineligible) and guard Eli Carter (foot) -- UF’s leading scorer at 14.5 points a game -- and they struggled to generate consistent shots without their usual scoring punch. 

Frazier, who hurt his ankle late in the second half, led all scorers with 21 points -- 16 after halftime.

“I knew we were going to have struggling scoring tonight,” Donovan said.

“You take our two leading scorers off the floor and we’re going to be in trouble.”

Meanwhile, Kurtz was UF’s superglue guy, as the walk-on dominated the glass (13 rebounds) and chipped in a team-high three assists and six points, too. The 6-foot-6 forward had a key assist to center Jon Horford in overtime (UF's lone field goal) and drilled a pair of free throws. 

“He made a couple great plays. He kept a couple rebounds alive. He gets it,” Donovan said.

“He’s the one guy on the team that really, really gets. He has a clear-cut understanding what goes into winning.”

The Gators trailed 29-27 at halftime, erasing a 12 point deficit with a 10-0 run capped by Chris Chiozza’s 3-pointer at the buzzer. ULM rained 3-pointers (5-of-9) to establish its first-half lead.

But ULM’s wild shots stopped failing after halftime, and Florida grabbed control of the game with a 15-0 run -- spurred by six points from Frazier. 

Thanks to poor shot selection and bad defensive rotations, the Gators coughed up their late lead, but with both teams ice cold from the field (a combined 27 percent after halftime) they were able to survive the meltdown thanks to the free throw line.

THIS & THAT

Finney-Smith (injury, academics) will not travel to Florida's Thanksgiving weekend tournament 'Battle 4 Atlantis.' The Gators open play Wednesday against Georgetown. ... Carter will undergo an MRI on Saturday, determining whether he has a Lisfranc injury or a mild foot sprain. ... Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill had another miserable night (5 turnovers, 2-12 from the field) and is now 3-for-21 the last two games. ... Former McDonald's All-American Chris Walker made his season debut after being suspended Florida's first two games. The sophomore played 26 minutes, finishing with four points and six rebounds. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

November 19, 2014

Fowler Jr: "I'm leaving with (Muschamp)

GAINESVILLE -- Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. -- a future first round NFL pick -- says he’s leaving with fired coach Will Muschamp.

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Fowler’s decision to enter to NFL Draft comes as no surprise, as the dynamic junior pass rusher was asked Tuesday afternoon if there was any scenario where he’d return to school for his senior season.

Fowler paused for several seconds, before saying, “Um. Just if anything probably to just develop or if (the NFL) says I was too young or something.”

He’s not too young.

The 20-year-old menacing pass-rusher leads the Gators with 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 15 hurries.

The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder also ranks second on the team in tackles (49) and has a pair of forced fumbles.

Fowler, a former 5-star prospect, is No. 17 on ESPN’s 2015 Big Board, and should be Muschamp’s fourth defensive player selected in round one.

Despite a solid junior season, Fowler didn’t mince words on Florida’s rocky season, saying, “There was just a lot of drama going on, you know, just through Champ there and things like that. I feel like everybody wanting him to leave so bad that it kind of turned into a distraction. As you can see, I mean, we had the game in our hands, whenever you let the game fall out of your hands like that there’s going to be some commotion and things like that, so I understand that.”

Muschamp was fired Sunday, less than 24 hours after UF collapsed in a 23-20 loss to South Carolina -- the team’s third straight defeat at home.

Now, Fowler hopes Muschamp joins him in the NFL.

“I’d love to play for him,” he said. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 16, 2014

The Hot List: Where do Gators go next?

GAINEVILLE -- Will Muschamp -- Florida’s supposed prodigal son -- was fired resigned Sunday, effective at the end of the regular season.

Esteemed athletics director Jeremy Foley will open a search immediately, tacitly pursuing candidates under radio silence.

Florida is a Top 5 job -- rich athletic department, fertile recruiting base, solid roster foundation -- but the program’s systemic issues -- average facilities, substandard support staff, fickle fan base -- are real.

Unless Bob Stoops up and leaves Oklahoma, Foley isn’t hiring a defensive coach.

The Gators will target an experienced, offensive-minded coach, one that hopefully has Southeast ties and a solid recruiting background.

But the search to fill Muschamp’s vacancy won’t be easy. A potential list of who’s who candidates can be crossed off from the start.

Steve Spurrier, Dan Quinn, Charlie Strong, Art Briles, James Franklin, Gus Malzahn, Kevin Sumlin and Chad Morris will not be Florida’s next head coach.

Pipe-dream hires such as Chip Kelly or Jim Harbaugh are also unlikely, and thus, Foley’s job is extremely difficult.

Intriguing options remain, but few offer a perfect fit for UF.

Florida is sure to gauge the interest of Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Arizona State’s Todd Graham, UCLA’s Jim Mora and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy.

Notably absent: Dan Mullen. Mississippi State’s coach is probably the hottest candidate on the market, but the former UF offensive coordinator reportedly has a sour relationship with Foley and may not even receive as much as a phone call.

Long-shots options include Colorado State’s Jim McElwain, Mike Shanahan or TCU’s Gary Patterson.

In the end, plenty of coaches will receive raises thanks to Florida’s interest, but make no mistake, Foley is under immense pressure to hit a home run.

The real question: Is there one out there?

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Dismissed: Muschamp out as Florida's football coach

GAINESVILLE -- The homecoming is over. 

Will Muschamp resigned as Florida’s football coach Sunday, effective at the end of the regular season.

The 43-year-old Gainesville native, who grew up rooting for his childhood team, was just 27-20 in four seasons with the Gators.  

Saturday’s stunning, epic meltdown in the final minutes of a 23-20 overtime loss to South Carolina was the final straw.

“Upon evaluation of our football program, we are not where the program needs to be and should be," UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a statement.

"I've always said that our goal at the University of Florida is to compete for championships on a regular basis. Coach Muschamp was dedicated to developing young men both on and off the field. Our student athletes showed tremendous growth socially and academically under his leadership. His players were involved in campus activities, engaged with the local community and represented the University of Florida with pride.

"I will be forever grateful to Will and his staff for their unwavering commitment to the University of Florida and the mission of our athletic program. He will be missed by everyone in our athletic department - from the people that worked in his office to the people that painted the fields. Will knew everyone and they knew him and everyone in the building loved working with him. Will is as fine a man as you will ever meet, and I will always cherish our relationship with him and his family."

Muschamp complied a 17-15 record in SEC play, with Florida losing six of its last eight games in The Swamp. Muschamp never won a division title, was just 5-13 against ranked foes and dropped eight games at home in four seasons.

Gator legends Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer lost 10 home games combined.

“I appreciate the opportunity that has been offered to me and my family by Dr. Machen, Jeremy Foley and the University of Florida,” Muschamp said.

“I was given every opportunity to get it done here and I simply didn’t win enough games -- that is the bottom line. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get it done and it is my responsibility to get it done.”

Muschamp’s comeuppance appeared inevitable following an embarrassing 42-13 shellacking at home by Missouri. But Foley, the embattled coach’s staunchest supporter, said Muschamp would be evaluated as “the season plays out.”

Florida benched beleaguered quarterback Jeff Driskel for freshman Treon Harris, rallying to knock off Georgia and Vanderbilt.

Still, Saturday’s stunner burned a hot-seat already ablaze to ashes.

Players could barely muster words postgame, with senior safety Jabari Gorman meekly pleading, “If you’re a Gator fan, stay a Gator fan. Don’t give up on nobody. We don’t give up on each other. Our fans shouldn’t give up on us.”

Muschamp’s misadventures include a tenure defined by toothless offenses, staffing woes, continuity issues, recruiting failures and inexplicable losses.

Following an 11-2 season in 2012, the Gators stumbled to 4-8 last year -- snapping a 22-game bowl streak and finishing with a losing record for the first time since Jimmy Carter was president.

But Muschamp survived a loss to FCS-school Georgia Southern and a tidal wave of criticism, blaming an injury-riddled roster and continued offensive ineptitude.

He fired former offensive coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis, and brashly promised to return Florida to dominance.

Instead, the Gators have crawled to a 5-4 record, barely beating conference cellar-dwellers Tennessee and Kentucky.

“I have no bitter feelings, but this is a business and I wish we would have produced better results on the field,” Muschamp said.

“We have a great group of players and a staff that is committed to this University and this football program. They have handled themselves with class and I expect them to continue to do so. As I’ve said many times, life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond.”

Foley hired Muschamp in 2010, hand-picking the former defensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting at Texas.

He is owed nearly $6 million, with three seasons remaining on a contract that ran until 2017.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Gator Grades: Apocalypse now

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s meltdown against a mediocre South Carolina team -- losing 23-20 in overtime -- signaled the (un)official end for beleaguered coach Will Muschamp. Eulogizing time is here. Following another inexplicable, excruciating defeat, Muschamp’s tenure as the Gators’ coach seems assuredly over.

OFFENSE – D+

Yes, the Gators’ grit-and-grind offense churned out 250 yards on the ground.

Yes, Treon Harris’ wheels (111 yards on 20 carries) frustrated the Gamecocks’ front.

Yes, a key penalty negated the touchdown that would’ve iced the game.

BUT one-dimensional is as one-dimensional does. With no threat of balance, USC eventually keyed on UF’s odious lack of creativity (3 of 14 on third down). Run, Run, Pass resulted in six failed conversions. The Gators couldn’t gain a single first down when necessary, and inexplicably played for a field goal in OT. It was ugly, unwatchable offense. And UF paid the piper at the end.

DEFENSE – B

Another slow start put Florida in a 10-0 hole, but once the defense realized kickoff wasn’t at 1 p.m., it dominated. The Gamecocks gained 151 yards on their first two possessions. They had 150 yards the rest of the afternoon.

Dante Fowler Jr. was a video game cheat code, as was Vernon Hargreaves III. But The Swamp was ablaze late, and UF’s defense couldn’t put of the fire.

An exhausted unit yielded two touchdowns in USC’s final two possessions.

SPECIAL TEAMS – F+

It’s difficult to describe just how atrocious Florida’s special teams collapse was.

The Gators’ third unit was marginal before its epic failures (Kyle Christy averaged just 36 yards per punt, Andre Debose was invisible in the return game), but then UF’s special teams went full Y2K meltdown late.

Only Saturday was real. Frankie Velez’s kick was low, while the blocked punt appeared to be a bad alignment coupled by a busted assignment by Alex McCalister.

OVERALL – F

Muschamp was four minutes, or 36 seconds or even a single stoke of luck [USC fumbled into the end zone to tie the game] from retaining his job next season.

But Muschamp & Florida can’t have nice things. Not to say 2015 would’ve been any nicer. With all hope extinguished, Foley has no choice now. The “when” not “if” was evident following the embarrassing home loss to Missouri. Now it’s real.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 14, 2014

A start: Florida rips past William & Mary 68-45

GAINESVILLE -- No. 7 Florida smothered William & Mary 68-45 Friday night, as the retooled Gators proved they could play a little defense without last season’s historic quartet of seniors.

Michael Frazier (14 points), Dorian Finney-Smith (15 points) and Jon Horford (11 points) all finished in double-figures. The Gators won their 33rd straight game at home and improved to 19-0 in openers under Billy Donovan.

“We’re a well-balanced team,” Frazier said.

“On any given night it could be anybody.”

UF held the Tribe to a ghastly 31 percent from the field, with sophomore guard Kasey Hill bottling up Marcus Thornton, last season’s CAA player of the year. William & Mary’s senior guard was held to just 11 points, including 0-5 from 3-point range.  

“I was really proud of Kasey Hill. I thought he was phenomenal,” Donovan said. 

“The fact that he had to guard Thornton every minute he was out there, he did a terrific job on him.”

UF dominated from the start, ripping off a 21-4 run to end the first half. The Gators led by as many as 24, but were actually outscored by a point (27-26) in a lackluster second half.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Frazier -- UF’s lone returning starter from last season -- keyed Florida’s hot start, scoring a team-high 14 points. The junior sharpshooter didn’t score in the second half, but he flashed his some off-the-dribble prowess, penetrating for several layups and hockey assists. He chipped in five rebounds, two assists and a steal, too.

STAT OF INTEREST

9.1 percent. The Tribe was dreadful from downtown, opening the game a paltry 1-for-19 from behind-the-arc. In all, William & Mary made just two 3-pointers on 22 attempts.

QUOTABLE

“You see 2-for-22 from the 3-point line and that number obviously is really, really loud. But I’m not so sure they didn’t get some pretty clean looks that didn’t go down. I’d like to see the percentage of those 22 shots where I sit there and say that we really defended this well. Or how many were wide open?”

-- Donovan

THIS & THAT

Finney-Smith sprained his left wrist in the first half, but the versatile forward led all scorers with 15 points, 11 after halftime. … The Gators shot 56 percent in the first period, compared to just 39 percent after halftime. … UF outrebounded William & Mary 39 to 31. … Freshman point guard Chris Chiozza dished nifty assists, finishing his collegiate debut with three dimes, four points and three steals. … Walk-on forward Jacob Kurtz had a productive night (6 points, 7 rebounds).

NEXT UP 

Florida hosts in-state rival Miami on Monday at 7 p.m. (ESPNU).

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Prove It: Donovan not sold on UF's No. 7 ranking

GAINESVILLE -- Florida men’s basketball team opens its regular season tonight against William & Mary (6 p.m., SEC Network) ranked as the nation’s No. 7 team.

Coach Billy Donovan isn’t impressed.

“I know what those kind of teams look like -- and we’re not one of those teams,” he said, deadpanned.

UF struggled against Barry University, a D-II school in Miami, in last week’s exhibition game, winning just 79-70 in a contest that highlighted UF’s defensive deficiencies and invisible leadership.

The retooled Gators, replacing a historic quartet of seniors, shouldn’t have an issue scoring the basketball, but Donovan is legitimately concerned with the team’s lack of rim protection and consistent defensive awareness.

“We’ve got a long, long, long way to go,” Donovan said. “Whether or not we can get there, time will tell. … This year’s team, there’s a lot of unknowns.”

Despite the team’s lofty rankings, Donovan isn’t particularly concerned with expectations or overconfidence. A year after finishing the season as the nation’s third-best defense (59 points per game), the Gators are allowing 82 points and opponents are shooting 48-percent from 3-point range in three scrimmages this preseason, per Donovan.

The Tribe, led by 6-4 guard Marcus Thornton, run a precision, Princeton-style offense, and could expose Florida’s flaws defensively.   

“You start giving up 82 points a game and our defensive efficiency right now is 1.15. Basically, in 120 minutes of play, we're giving up 1.15 points per possession,” Donovan explained.

“That's like 127th in the country right now. That's a long drop from top 10. That's just reality. That's where we're at. I think our guys, when you talk about the expectations and the rankings and stuff like that, there may have been some of that before we started practice. I think some of that stuff has kind of dissipated, to be honest with you."

DONOVAN PREVIEWS THE TRIBE

“Thornton is a great player. He’s really, really good. He’ll be as good as any guard that we’ll play against this year. He can really score the ball, he’s got really good size, he’s got deep range,  he can play in pick n roll, he can play in transition. He’s a special player. You’re going to be playing against a team that’s going to run the Princeton style. They are really good in terms of passing, cutting, moving. They utilize the 3-point line very well, they get you on back cuts for layups. They’re a  team that stays true to their system, their style of play and what they’re doing. And then on top of that, they’ve got a high major really, really good player inside their system as well.”

CONFERENCE HONORS

Junior sharpshooter Michael Frazier and versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith were named to the All-SEC coaches’ first-team Thursday. Frazier is Florida’s lone returning starter, while Finney-Smith was the league’s sixth man of the year in 2013-14.

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November 13, 2014

Muschamp's silly, swiveling interception dance

 

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp was featured on the SEC Network's Film Room series this week, and former Georgia quarterback David Greene surprised Muschamp, a former UGA safety, with a video from 1992. 

In the clip, Muschamp intercepts Georgia Tech quarterback Tom Luginbill, ESPN's director of recruiting, then celebrates with a hip-swivel dance Deion Sanders would be proud of. 

Muschamp has longed joked about both players' collegiate careers. On National Signing Day this February, he quipped, "Somebody said Tom Luginbill [ESPN’s National Director of Recruiting] was the No. 1 JUCO quarterback when he came out, but I intercepted Tom Luginbill so that will tell you how important those rankings are."

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Q&A: Roderick Johnson Jr.

GAINESVILE -- Florida offensive tackle Roderick Johnson Jr. is a loveable, charismatic goofball.

The 6-6, 310-pound redshirt freshman has developed into a key cog as a rotational player on UF’s offensive line, even starting twice due to injuries. Johnson has an infectious personality, energizing teammates with his fun, hardworking attitude.

Recently, he spoke about this season, his dance moves, a trying redshirt year and more.

On his 2014 season… 

“It’s been great being able to play this year. Really had a redshirt year last year, coming back a way better player, a more technical player, being in coach [Kurt] Roper’s offense, being more involved in his offense and just being coached by the best coach, Coach [Mike] Summers.”

On his personality…

“I ain’t going to lie, I get it from [former UF all-American Dominique] Easley, really. I get it from Dominique Easley, all the dancing and all that stuff like that. I just love football. I just love football. I grew up a big fan of football and it’s just my character. You’ve going to see that for the next three or four years that I’m here.”

On sitting out last season… 

“As a freshman, you know it was kind of hard to adjust and get used to everything. As time went by, I matured and got a certain mindset that OK I’m going to buy into the program and do what all the coaches say, and I’m going to train myself to become a good player.” 

On his competitive playing style…

“I just like to have fun playing the game but at the same time knowing what I’m doing and doing it 100 percent every time.” 

On Treon Harris… 

“I’m impressed with pretty much how he stepped in as a freshman and just took a big role. It’s like you don’t get every freshman that’s going to come into a game and do great, exactly like he did. He has been producing every week since he has been starting. I find that to be great of him.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 12, 2014

Don't call it a comeback: Dunbar overcomes benching, posts career-high performance vs Vandy

Quinton+Dunbar+Vanderbilt+v+Florida+eCEPoexJyv8l WR Quinton Dunbar | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

GAINESVILLE -- Quinton Dunbar was benched against Missouri after three straight weeks with critical drops, but Florida’s senior receiver didn’t sulk and made the most of his opportunties in Saturday’s 34-10 win at Vanderbilt.

With Ahmad Fulwood sidelined with a turf toe injury, Dunbar hurled in four receptions for a career-high 97 yards.

Considering how another fifth-year senior handled similar circumstances, coach Will Muschamp was thrilled with Dunbar’s performance.

“He dealt with [the benching] very well,” Muschamp said.

"We weren’t getting the production we needed and Ahmad had been a guy that had done a nice job getting those opportunities. Quinton went in and did a good job. So you go in and cash in on your opportunities when you have it. Man down, man up and that’s what he did. So I’m very proud of how he handled the situation. … It’s the way you’re supposed to handle it.”

The former Miami Booker T. Washington standout had a 32-game reception streak snapped against LSU, and the following weekend, he failed to start for the first time since 2012.

In 2013, Dunbar registered career-highs in receptions (39) and yards (528), but his senior campaign has been lackluster, to say the least. 

Still, teammates say he never sulked or stopped working hard despite the adversity.

“He came out every day as a professional. He’s a senior, a fifth-year senior that’s just not starting after starting for three years,” junior wideout Latroy Pittman said.

“It’s kind of rough, but he never lets it get to him. He never badmouths anybody or acts out in any kind of way. His attitude has stayed the same. He just works hard and stays focused. 

“He knew what the situation. Obviously we all knew what the situation was. It just worked out that way to where he had to be benched. He came in the game and stepped up when Ahmad got hurt and had a big game.” 

THIS & THAT

Florida will host Eastern Kentucky at noon Nov. 22 on the SEC Network. … Fulwood (turf toe) and freshman defensive tackle Gerald Willis III (ankle) are probable for Saturday’s noon showdown with South Carolina, but sophomore starting safety Keanu Neal (high-ankle) and special teams ace Jeremi Powell (knee sprain) are doubtful to play. … Former All-American safety Matt Elam (2011-13) will serve as Florida’s honorary ‘Mr. Two Bits’ this weekend.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

November 10, 2014

Orr apologizes but Muschamp rules out return

GAINESVILLE -- Florida defensive tackle Leon Orr was dismissed from the football program Saturday after he left the team hours before its 34-10 win over Vanderbilt.

Since the senior’s spat with the coaching staff over the starting lineup, Orr has been apologetic on Twitter, contritely copping to his mistake.  

Still, coach Will Muschamp ruled out a return for Orr on Monday, bluntly saying, “No.”

“Muschamp is Muschamp,” senior center Max Garcia said.

“He’s not going to tolerate (Orr) putting himself about the team. It’s unfortunate what happened. We’re going to miss him because he was a big part of this team.”

Late Sunday evening, Orr posted a series of tweets apologizing for his actions. 

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Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 09, 2014

Gator Grades: Music City Crushing

Treon-harris-ncaa-football-florida-vanderbilt-850x560Gators QB Treon Harris | Mark Humphrey/AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida avenged last season’s embarrassing home loss to Vanderbilt, teasing its future aerial attack under freshman quarterback Treon Harris.

The Gators rolled the Commodores 34-10, scoring 24 unanswered points after an early touchdown deficit. UF's slim conference title hopes remain alive … for now.

OFFENSE – B+

Florida completed a forward pass. Multiple in fact. Harris was solid in just his second-career start, finishing the evening 13-of-21 for 215 yards and two rushing touchdowns.

The duel-threat star flashed his complete skill-set, slicing Vandy’s defense with downfield throws (48 and 60-yard completions) and dashing runs (33-yard touchdown rush).

Florida’s grit-and-grind offense stalled in the third quarter, but after both teams traded punts the Gators’ new-look balanced attack eventually put the game away in the final period. UF totaled 429 yards (214 on the ground), mixing personnel (Jeff Driskel’s role was revealed, Brandon Powell, Chris Thompson and Quinton Dunbar all received playing time) all evening. Red zone woes are still an issue, though, and Florida survived (at least Saturday) a litany of offensive line injuries. 

DEFENSE – B+

Aside from a couple secondary busts (eye control, communication issues, no Keanu Neal), the Gators’ defense was excellent. Vandy converted just 4-of-16 third downs, and turned the ball over four times.

Freshman quarterack Johnny McCray was frustrated by UF's consistent presure -- Dante Fowler Jr. was unblockable, although the stat sheet disagrees -- as McCray was just 14-of-35 for 160 yards and two interceptions. 

Freshman defensive backs Jalen Tabor (a ridiculous, SportCenter highlight interception) and Duke Dawson (six tackles) delivered solid performances, as did Jon Bullard and Vernon Hargreaves III. 

SPECIAL TEAMS – B

Senior kicker Frankie Velez has become automatic (2-for-2 Saturday, 11-of-12 on the season, and Kyle Christy averaged 47.6 yards on five punts.

Andre Debose had several returns negated by silly penalties (multiple block in the back flags), while Florida’s coverage units were good aside from Darrius Sims' 33 yard return. 

OVERALL – B+

The Gators avoided a letdown, and Muschamp avoided becoming the first UF coach to lose back-to-back games against the ‘Dores. Effort remains excellent, and slowly the team's execution errors are going away. Saturday's showdown with South Carolina suddenly looms large.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 06, 2014

Morrison flourishing amid newfound maturity

GAINESVILLE -- Away from the gridiron, Antonio Morrison isn’t much of a talker.

But Florida’s junior linebacker has not-so-quietly keyed the team’s defensive resurgence following the Alabama blowout.

Morrison -- who infamously was arrested last season for barking at a police dog -- has overcome multiple legal troubles and a sophomore slump to lead the Gators in tackles (67) this season.

The linebacker ranks third in the conference with nearly 10 stops a game, and Morrison credits his work ethic and natural development for his newfound consistency.

I just matured,” Morrison said.

"I treat every practice, I go as hard as I can. I treat it like a game. I get on guys and try to make the best out of our defense and our team. … I worked hard the whole offseason. I didn’t want to have the same results personally and as a team as we did last year.”

Morrison had a promising freshman season, highlighted by his ear-splitting tackle of former Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel.

The linebacker entered 2013 with lofty expectations, yet the off the field incident, poor conditioning and general inconsistencies (missed tackles, blown coverages) plagued the linebacker all season. 

The former hotshot prospect wasn’t even assured of a starting job this fall, but after reining in his intensity and focusing on his leadership role, Morrison has flourished into a tackling machine.

“I think he’s playing his best football here this year since he’s been here,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said.

“He’s been practicing really well, he’s been consistent with how he performs every day with us, which is great. I think he’s really stepped up as a leader. … He’s been very productive, and he’s been playing within the scheme of the defense. He’s not just out there making plays. He’s been real effective in many ways for us.”

Morrison has racked up double-digit tackles in five of six SEC games, a product of improved physical condition, per Durkin.

“He’s made those steps and those strides because of how he approaches the game,” Durkin said. 
“He’s very serious about football. It’s important to him. He’s a great guy to coach. He does anything and everything you ask him to do on the football field.”

A year ago, Gator players were forced to defend Morrison’s integrity. Now, teammates gush over the linebacker’s football impact.  

“He’s a rock in the run defense,” end Bryan Cox Jr. said.

“He’s the middle linebacker, so he’s like the quarterback of our defense. He’s been working really, really hard every day in practices and it shows up in the game.”

Sophomore cornbacker Vernon Hargreaves III added: “He’s grown up so much. He’s matured. He fell into his leadership role. He takes it very seriously. He’s playing well and I’m happy for him. … In practice, he’s always the guy who’s getting us going. He’s going to call you out if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And it shows on the field on Saturday.”

The Gators lost to Vanderbilt at home for the first time since World War II last year, and Morrison’s season ended in the embarrassing loss. On Saturday, he wants payback.

“I tore my meniscus and actually played the whole game,” Morrison said. “But I’m ready to play these guys.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 03, 2014

Garcia chokes back tears discussing McNeely

 

GAINESVILLE -- Michael McNeely became a Florida folk hero after racing 21-yards untouched on a fake field goal, sparking a dramatic and inexplicable upset over heated rival Georgia.

McNeely -- a 5-foot-8, 175-pound wideout who earned a scholarship at the end of training camp and is a Publix bagger/cashier every Sunday -- evoked comparisons to “Rudy,” and Monday good friend and teammate Max Garcia emotionally discussed the receiver’s highlight moment.

“Man, I was so happy to see McNeely score,” the senior center said, choking back tears.

“I don’t think there’s anyone on this team more deserving to be the hero. He’s just a great dude. I get emotional talking about him. He’s a hard worker man. He’s just motivation for the team and guys like him are why we are going to be able to be successful because he cares about this program. I love him.”

Garcia, along with dozens of Florida fans, went and visited McNeely at work Sunday afternoon.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 9.27.21 PM

“If we had a whole team full of McNeely’s, we’d be a national championship team,” Garcia said, crying.

“Everything he does on and off the field is championship level.”

Gators coach Will Muschamp, who acknowledged the trick touchdown changed the game’s momentum, praised the former walk-on’s effort on and off the field, saying he uses McNeely as an example for the rest the team.

“Walk-on or scholarship, it doesn’t matter,” Muschamp said. "The guy’s a good football player. He earned his scholarship.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 02, 2014

Gator Grades: The Return of Murderball

940xMike McNeely | AP/Stephen B. Morton

JACKSONVILLE -- Two weeks ago, it was eulogizing time for embattled coach Will Muschamp.  

For a little while, anyways, the obits can wait

The Gators inexplicably stunned the No. 9 Bulldogs, steamrolling UGA 38-13 behind a smashmouth two-headed rushing attack. 

OFFENSE - A

The Gators promised to run the ball until “the wheels fall off,” but the tires held up just fine. 

Florida bullied UGA for 418 yards on the ground -- fifth-most all-time in school history. 

Freshman quarterback Treon Harris wasn’t asked to do anything (3-of-6 for 27 yards, just one attempt after halftime). Only he didn’t get in the way, either. 

The Gators’ offense stalled early, but the special teams touchdown seemed to spark the team and Florida never looked back. The Gators, thanks to a terrific effort by the offensive line, dominated the second and third quarters, as both Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones ran wild. 

The Gun, Meet Foot offense disappeared, for a day anyways.  

DEFENSE - B+

Georgia actually out-gained UF (460-445), but Florida’s defense had some monster stops (several three-and-outs, goal line stand) to halt UGA’s comeback attempt. 

Nick Chubb bulldozed the Gators in the first quarter (101 yards) but once the Gators got the lead, the impressive freshman tailback was mostly neutralized. 

Florida forced a key fumble in the second half, too. 

Dante Fowler Jr. was unblockable (2.5 TFLs), while linebacker Antonio Morrison was a tackling machine (15 stops). 

SPECIAL TEAMS - A

What a fake. Mike McNeely’s 21-yard dash to tie the score completely flipped the game’s momentum. It was a perfect, yet gusty call, and also perfectly executed. 

The winds play a key factor Saturday, as the kicking game was shaky for both teams. 

UF’s coverage teams were outstanding, and Andre Debose (who muffed a punt but recovered it) added a 38-yard return. 

OVERALL - A

Ultimately, Florida walked the walk this weekend. The Gators stunned the Bulldogs, but they weren’t surprised by their performance. Muschamp’s job is still on life alert, but the defibrillators can be shelved for the time being. 

Twenty years of frustration are finally over for Coach Boom.

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October 31, 2014

Backyard Brawl: "We want this one"

GAINESVILLE -- The chant echoed outside of Florida’s football facilities: “Beat Georgia! Beat Georgia! Beat Georgia!”

Following nearly two decades of dominance, the Gators -- losers of three straight in the border war -- hope to stem the tide in a series suddenly favoring the No. 9 Bulldogs.

“It’s personal,” said linebacker Jarrad Davis, a Georgia native.

“If we don’t get anything else [the rest of the season], we want this one. We want this one.”

The Florida-Georgia rivalry always heats up the hate and war of words, but with the Gators in dizzying tailspin for the second straight season, the fury has reached a fever pitch.

Florida (3-3, 2-3 SEC) is technically mathematically alive for the Eastern Division title, but Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS) is really about pride.

“We’re out to get a ‘W’ at all costs,” Gators left tackle D.J. Humphries said.

“It’s Florida-Georgia. It’s time to hit somebody in the mouth.”

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October 30, 2014

Mushcamp: execution not effort the issue

Missouri Florida Football (2)Will Muschamp | John Raoux/AP

GAINESVILLE -- A year ago, Florida’s season snowballed following a myriad of injuries and a fragile team psyche.

While the results haven’t been much better in 2014, beleaguered coach Will Muschamp is adamant Florida’s effort and attitude aren’t the issue this season. 

"I think our attitude has been outstanding,” Muschamp said.

“You go on the open week and we had very physical practices on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. We had 6 a.m. meetings on Thursday, everybody is there 20 minutes early getting ready to go. They understand what's at stake at this game playing Georgia. We had a great practice Monday and Tuesday and look forward to another good day today. Our attitude has been outstanding. I don't think for a second that our guys don't have confidence in what we're doing.”

Instead, the Gators -- 3-3 for just the second time since 1986 -- have been plagued by execution errors and a lack of production. Florida has turned the ball over 15 times in the last four games, and ranks 99th nationally in total offense. 

“I've never questioned our effort,” Muschamp said.

“Let's don't confuse effort with production. That's one of the things I told our team on Sunday after Missouri. You can go practice extremely well and practice hard and prepare yourself well and play hard in the game. But if you are not productive that's not what we're looking for. You've got to be productive. You can have great effort and maybe not have the production, the results that you want. We just need to be more productive.''

Florida fell behind Mizzou 42-0 before scoring the game’s final 13 points. It was hardly a rousing comeback, but the team didn’t stop trying even the with game out of hand.

“[The season] hasn't gone as planned, but when you watch these games we never have lost our fight in the game,” senior right tackle Chaz Green said.

“We didn't quit. That last drive vs. Missouri, we ended up scoring. Unfortunately the field goal was blocked. We never quit, though. We've just got to shore up some things and make sure we take care of the ball. That's huge. Don't turn the ball over. But we don't quit. We've got a lot of tough guys, which is a great starting point. We've just got to play a lot smarter across the board.”

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October 29, 2014

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party stirs hate

Florida_Georgia_Football_Rivalry_Logo_Official

GAINESVILLE -- Florida, on dizzying tailspin, looks to avoid a fourth straight loss to No. 9 Georgia for the first time since 1978-83.  

The border rivals have met annually in Jacksonville since 1933, with the lone exception a two-year stretch in 1994-95.

UF's embattled coach Will Muschamp -- winless in the series as a UGA safety and as Florida’s coach -- explained exactly what the Florida-Georgia rivalry is all about.

Several Gator players commented on the classic series history, too, many also admitting they don’t care what happens the rest of the season so long as they upset the Bulldogs on Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS).

***** WILL MUSCHAMP *****

“It’s one of the great rivalries in all of college football. There’s nothing like it coming over the bridge and getting ready for this game and the excitement that’ll be in the air certainly on game day but also in the buildup to it.

"We’ve had three games that have come down to the last time of the drive and we need to coach and play better in those situations. I told our team that Thursday. We’ve had our opportunities to get off the field defensively; we’ve had opportunities to go for a possible tie in another situation and we haven’t done it. Credit their team and what they’ve been able to do. We certainly had our opportunities.”

***** SENIOR CENTER MAX GARCIA *****

“I’m a Georgia boy. One of the first memories I have is watching this game. I just feel like this game has so much hype, so much tension about it. I don’t even know how to describe the atmosphere. It’s so much antsiness and anxiousness around the game. It’s a huge game."

***** SENIOR LINEBACKER MIKE TAYLOR *****

"It's a big rivalry game. It's probably one of the best college atmosphere you can play in knowing it's split down the middle. Georgia on one side, Florida on the other side. Coming out of the tunnel and on the field on a neutral site, it's something that you just pride yourself on playing in. You want to have a good game in this big game.

"You know being recruited by them and being recruited in the state of Georgia means a lot, because you chose to go away for college. So it is a big game, it impacts us, too, as it does Muschamp, too, because he went there so, it's a big game for all of us. It's a border rivalry. You want to play good in this game, and this game has decided who has come out the East the last couple of years except for last year.”

***** SENIOR RIGHT TACKLE CHAZ GREEN *****

“The rivalry speaks for itself. Like Muschamp said, the last few years its come down to the last drive. And you know they’ve got the upper hand the last few years and we want to be on the other side this year.

“You can see the tailgate, cause it’s crazy. You go over that bridge and then all of the sudden you see a bunch of Gator fans, a bunch of Georgia fans. It’s crazy because you don’t see it until you get all the way over the bridge. Your heart starts pumping. You finally know it’s about that time.” 

***** JUNIOR DEFENSIVE END DANTE FOWLER JR. *****

“It’s the Florida-Georgia game. I mean, everyone dreams of playing this game, seeing themselves in this game. A lot of people know each other. We have a lot of people on our team that’s from Georgia. They’ve got some players on their team that’s from Florida.

"It’s really crazy how it is. You go over the bridge. First of all it’s a nice bridge, just to see an NFL football stadium that you’re about to play in. That excites you ever more. And just seeing the cocktail party, tailgating, things going on. Seeing the Georgia fans and how they react. So I like things like that. That kind of gets me pumped up when I see our fans and you get to see their fans. It’s really emotional to see the blue and red split.”

***** SOPHOMORE LINEBACKER JARRAD DAVIS *****

“It’s always personal. … It just seems  like in this game everybody out there is just turned all the way up. No matter what is going on outside or what’s going on before the game or the week before or the week after. It’s just THIS game. When this game comes up, it’s all about THIS game from both sides, that’s what it seems like. 

“You can tell these guys they want it so bad. If we don’t get anything else, we want this one. I’m going to be honest with you, we want this one. That’s how we have to go out every week and that’s how we’re definitely going at it this week. We want this one. We want this one.”

***** JUNIOR LEFT TACKLE D.J. HUMPHRIES *****

“It’s Florida-Georgia, you know what I mean. It’s time to hit somebody in the mouth.

“It’s kind of one those things, I’m from North Carolina so I kind of just inherited this hate. I never really understood it. It’s kind of like Florida State. I never knew anything about Florida-Florida State, but as soon as I got there my freshman year, like I automatically hate them. It’s just like an aura when you get there. It’s like, ‘We don’t like you all all all. Period. It’s definitely personal, one of those physical, personal games.”

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October 28, 2014

Be careful what you wish for...

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators want Todd Gurley.

Seriously.

Georgia’s star tailback remains sidelined as the No. 9 Bulldogs await the NCAA’s ruling regarding his reinstatement, but Florida hopes the conference’s leader in all-purpose yards per game (194.6) is back on the field Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS).

“I think he’s going to play,” junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “I really want him to play. He’s a great player and great players bring great competition out of you. I feel like he’ll be a good competition for our defense coming up and just for the team. He’s a good player and I look forward to playing him.”

Added sophomore safety Keanu Neal, “I hope he's playing. It's always good to go against good, so I'm looking forward to going against him. … He's a freakish athlete. Anyone can see it. I'm looking forward to it."

Gurley has missed Georgia’s last two games while under investigation for allegedly receiving money for signing autographs.

The All-American tailback has dominated in his only two meetings against Florida, but the Gators are adamant they hope the former Heisman Trophy frontrunner plays. 

A year ago, Gurley, hobbled after missing nearly four straight games, torched UF for 187 total yards and two touchdowns in a 23-20 win. 

In 2012, then a freshman, the running back rushed for 118 yards and a score, becoming the lone player to crack the century mark against the nation’s fifth-ranked defense.

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Driskel's future role remains unspecified

GAINESVILLE -- Jeff Driskel will have a role against No. 9 Georgia this Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS), but it may be simply supporting starting quarterback Treon Harris from the sidelines.

The junior signal-caller, benched in UF’s 42-13 loss to Missouri, lost his starting job after turning the ball over 12 times in the last four games.

Expectations were high for Driskel entering his third year as a starter, but offensive coordinator Kurt Roper couldn’t “put his finger” on why Driskel has struggled so much in 2014.

“There’s been ups and downs,” Roper said.

“The LSU game there were a lot of good things. Kentucky game there were a lot of good things, Eastern Michigan, too. Tennessee was a challenge for us. The last game … the thing is he works hard, he’s prepared. He cares, it means a lot to him. He made some mistake in that last game that weren’t typical mistakes that weren’t necessarily mistakes he’d been making earlier in the year. It just is what it is.”

Driskel was hampered by an injured back against the Tigers. Still, his mistakes proved too costly to overcome, and a change was necessary.  

Driskel is the team's definitive No. 2 quarterback, and Florida isn’t heading to Jacksonville with a two-quarterback system.

“Treon’s going to go play well, we’re counting on Treon to play well,” Roper said.

“If something happens. Treon gets hurt, then we’ve got to be ready for Jeff to step in.”

Driskel could see a role as a designated runner, but that remains unknown. Regardless, Harris won’t be looking over his shoulder Saturday.

“You’ve got to be ready to go play the game, got to be ready to play situationally. If we feel like we need to put [Driskel] in and use his size [we will],” Roper said. “But I hope Treon plays well.”

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October 26, 2014

Tebow: "Stop booing"

 

GAINESVILLE -- Former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, now a SEC Network analyst, implored Florida fans to “rise above the booing,” and support embattled coach Will Muschamp.

Tebow, who just last week questioned his beloved Gators’ leadership, heart and offensive identity, said Florida should “be better than these other universities that boo their student-athletes.”

The SEC Nation crew -- Tebow, alongside Paul Finebaum, Marcus Spears -- discussed Florida’s woes this season. Their comments are presented below (courtesy ESPN).

The Gators (3-3, 2-3 SEC) take on No. 8 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) on Saturday in Jacksonville.

Tim Tebow -- "I think the University of Florida team has a lot of talent.  I think they have a lot of good coaches.  I don’t think they’ve played up to their potential.  I think this team has a chance to be pretty good.  Right now, they have the number three defense in the SEC.  But, offensively, I don’t think they have an identity.  I don’t think they have a leader that is taking people together saying let’s do our job, focus on doing your job, getting better and making everyone around them better. But, I also know Will Muschamp, when he was at Auburn, he had one of the best game plans I’ve ever played against in college.  This guy knows how to coach.  A few years ago, they went to the Sugar Bowl; they were 12-1.  He knows how to lead a team.  He knows how to be successful.  But, to do that, they have to find a way to score points, and they have to have better leadership offensively."

Marcus Spears -- "Players get coaches fired, and that’s what is happening at Florida right now.  These guys just have to play better.  The talent is there; the playmakers are there.  I would take this defense up against any team in the country.  When you have 10 interceptions in six games, when guys are dropping passes in the end zone, when those plays are not being made, giving up special teams touchdowns, letting turnovers go back to the house for touchdowns, that is a formula for losing football games; that has nothing to do with Will Muschamp. It’s easy to fire a coach, but let’s look at these guys." 

Paul Finebaum -- "Next week, the narrative is going to be “Do or Die.”  If he loses to Georgia, that’s four straight.  Losing four straight to Georgia will get you fired."

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October 23, 2014

UFPD report details Harris' alleged sexual assault

24_140815_HarrisTreon_7767_TimCaseyTreon Harris | Tim Casey/Gatorzone.com

GAINESVILLE -- On the same day Treon Harris was named the University of Florida’s starting quarterback, the school released the police report regarding the freshman’s connection to the Oct. 5 alleged sexual assault on campus.

Florida suspended Harris on Oct. 6 after the 19-year-old Miami native was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at the Springs Residential Complex, an on-campus dorm, around 3 a.m. the night before.

According to the 58-page report released Wednesday, the UF student accused Florida’s quarterback of rape in Harris’ dorm room, saying she voluntarily decided to sleep over but persistently rejected Harris’ sexual advances.

However, Harris told multiple investigators the encounter was consensual. 

Harris was never charged, and the woman withdrew her complaint four days later.

The former Booker T. Washington star, whose brother Tim ‘Ice’ Harris Jr. coaches the Tornadoes, was reinstated Oct. 10, but days earlier his attorney, Huntley Johnson, adamantly defended the freshman quarterback.

“Mr. Harris is not guilt of a crime and did not mistreat this young lady in any way that night,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the accuser had sexual relations with another man an hour before the alleged incident with Harris, and that she had text messaged Florida’s freshman quarterback immediately after he’d rallied the Gators to a 10-9 win over Tennessee in Knoxville.

The UFPD’s incident report corroborates Johnson’s claim, with a heavily redacted section detailing the alleged victim’s sexual encounter with another football player.

The report outlines Harris’ interactions with the accuser, including hanging out with the woman immediately upon returning from Knoxville.

According to the report, on Oct. 5, Harris and the accuser watched the Auburn-LSU game before parting ways.

Later that night, Harris, along with several of his teammates, met up with the accuser at ‘Rain,’ a Gainesville nightclub, partying until 2 a.m.

The group convened in the parking lot afterward, where they drove in multiple vehicles to a local Waffle House, which was closed. The group then drove to a Kangaroo gas station nearby, where surveillance cameras show Harris and the accuser walking arm-and-arm into the store.

There, Harris and the woman got into a separate vehicle and drove back to the Springs Complex, where the alleged sexual assault occurred.

The 175-page report covers multiple supplemental narratives, as well as Harris’ 63-page interview. 

During the interviews, Harris repeatedly denied he raped the accuser and expressed his disbelief in the situation. The freshman quarterback asked an officer for the opportunity to speak with the alleged victim, and struggled to grasp the gravity of the allegation, asking several times, “Is this going to be on ESPN and stuff?”

Later, Harris brought up Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s name, saying. “You think I’m going to do the same as that?” 

Text messages made up a comprehensive portion of the report, but ultimately, they shed little light on exactly what happened that evening.

Following the sexual encounter, Harris and the accuser had a notable back-and-forth, with Harris texting the alleged victim, “Don’t tell nobody bout nothing,” to which she replied, “Don’t try me ever again” and “I wouldn’t even come near me If I were yu.”

As part of the investigation, detectives interviewed 11 Florida football players: Harris, safety Jabari Gorman, wideout Demarcus Robinson, tailback Matt Jones, cornerback Marcus Maye, cornerback Quincy Wilson, receiver C.J. Worten, safety Keanu Neal, cornerback Brian Poole, tailback Kelvin Taylor and wideout Latroy Pittman. 

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October 19, 2014

Gator Grades: Kaboom

GAINESVILLE -- It’s not even the beginning of the end anymore for Will Muschamp.

That was Georgia Southern. 

Saturday night was worse

The Gators were humiliated -- in primetime -- on homecoming for the second straight season, embarrassingly falling to Missouri 42-13. It was a nightmare, dumpster-fire performance.

The Tigers were fresh of a shutout shellacking at home to No. 10 Georgia. Maty Mauk was terrible again. They didn’t eclipse 120 yards on offense … yet they still won by four touchdowns. 

#ItsgrimUF was the theme a year ago. Now, it’s eulogizing time.  

OFFENSE - F

There’s little left to say about a dreadful attack that continues to invent new ways to lose. 

The two-quarterback system was a bust, as both Jeff Driskel and Treon Harris struggled protecting the football. 

The Gators coughed up the ball six times and had just 66 yards by halftime. A rapture couldn’t have saved this offense.

Every drive was Gun. Meet Foot. 

Driskel, hampered by an ankle injury, was woeful once again. Muschamp all-but feed his third-year starter to the wolves in the third quarter before mercifully pulling the junior. Harris, with a limited playbook, wasn’t much better until it was too late. The freshman was indecisive and had as many errant throws early as Driskel. 

Florida’s revamped offensive line crumbled against Mizzou’s fearsome front-four, surrendering six sacks. 

DEFENSE - B+

Missouri had just 20 yards after halftime … and still outscored UF 22-13 in the second half. The Gators’ defense did its damnedest to put out all the self-inflicted fires, but the ugliness by the offense (and special teams) was too much to overcome. 

The Tigers had success running the ball in the first half, and once they jumped out to an insurmountable lead (for Florida’s offense) they simply stopped trying to score. 

Florida yielded just 2.4 yards per play, but a lack of sacks (just one) and forced turnovers (Marcus Maye’s interception was the lone takeaway) allowed Mizzou to just slowly grind the game away.    

SPECIAL TEAMS - F

A week after a dominating special teams effort, Florida had a putrid performance Saturday evening.

Marcus Murphy ran roughshod on returns (96-yard kickoff touchdown, 82-yard punt touchdown), and the Tigers also comically blocked an extra point late in the fourth quarter. 

Andre Debose did nothing (four punt returns for six yards), while Gators punter Kyle Christy averaged just 38 yards on five punts. 

OVERALL - F

In this section last week: "The ship may not be sunk, yet, but I’m not sure how much more water it can hold." It’s officially overflowing. 

For a team that’s lost 10 of 13, Saturday night’s ugliness was still unimaginable. In a mind-blowing stat (courtesy of ESPN), Muschamp's Gators are the only team in the last decade to lose a game -- TWICE -- when allowing fewer than a 120 yards.

All other teams are 94-0. Chew on that. 

Athletic director Jeremy Foley once famously stated, “What should be done eventually, must be done immediately.” We’ll know soon enough if that statement still holds true.  

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October 17, 2014

McCalister talks breakout year, former hoop dreams

GAINESVILLE -- Alex McCalister dreamed of playing basketball for Roy Williams. Instead, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound North Carolina native has developed into a menacing pass rusher for the Florida Gators.

“He didn’t even know who I was,” McCalister said of UNC's legendary hoops coach.

McCalister was a star basketball player in high school, but football was his true destiny. 

Florida’s redshirt sophomore was guided towards football by his high school coaches. With raw and freakish athleticism, many major colleges viewed McCalister as a long-term project with limitless upside.

He's been worth the wait.

McCalister has gone from project to player, and is suddenly a budding star opposite preseason All-American Dante Fowler Jr.

He leads the Gators in sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (5.0). Earlier this week, he spoke on his previous basketball aspirations, development and early-season production.

On translating the preseason hype into production… 

“Coming out [this fall] my goal was to be a part of this team, bring something to this team. So, fulfilling those pass-rush goals, and keep working and keep working, just trying to help the team, that’s it. But I am glad I am producing for this team.”

On the “project” label out of high school

“Just that word, the ‘project.’ I mean, everybody wants to come in and play. Even my second year, my sophomore year, I still wanted to play but I was still that project. I still had to develop, I still had to learn. The biggest hurdle was really just accepting that, knowing that you are a project guy and you’ve got to just keep fighting, keep fighting, keep hurdling that stuff. And now it’s pretty much paying off. I’ve just got to keep working. Still got a long way to go.”

On his hoops skills…

"I don’t think nobody here can beat me. I say I’m top 3 on the team. I’m definitely [the best].”

On learning how to maintain weight… 

“[Gaining weight] wasn’t that fun. Not in the beginning. It was overwhelming. I came in at like 215. It was like you’ve got to eat, eat, eat if you want to play. OK, I’m eating but I’m not gaining weight. But I finally learned that too. I learned how to manage it. Eat certain amount of meals throughout the course of the day. I finally got that.”

********** BONUS QUOTE **********

“[He was] a stick. Like the dude from ‘A Bugs Life.’ The little stick figure. … He’s playing good. He’s long, extremely long, like 7-foot long. He can rush the passer. He can play the run. He’s playing good coming off the edge and getting to the quarterback. It’s just another good thing having him and Dante on both edges of the ball.”

--- Senior linebacker Mike Taylor, on McCalister’s sophomore season and inital impressions when the defensive end first arrived on campus

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October 15, 2014

Chris Walker still not "a savior," suspended 3 games

 

GAINESVILLE -- Florida forward Chris Walker will miss the team’s first three games (including an exhibition contest) for violating team rules, coach Billy Donovan announced Wednesday. 

At the team’s media day, the 6-foot-10, 225-pound sophomore declined comment on his suspension, only saying, “It’ll be tough, but I’ll get through it.”

Walker, a former five-star prospect and McDonald’s All-American, played just 18 games in 2013-14 after failing to qualify academically until December and later serving a NCAA suspension for receiving improper benefits. 

“He has such a long way to go as far as being reliable, accountable and disciplined,” Donovan said.

Walker averaged just 1.9 points, 1.3 rebounds on 4.8 minutes last season, and many expected the talented big-man -- currently projected as a 2015 NBA first-round pick -- to play a key role this year. 

Maybe, but maybe not, according to Donovan. 

“His biggest challenge this year is going to be his ability to manage expectations,” he said. “Chris Walker played four minutes a game and everybody thinks he’s this savior. I can’t really tell you he is ready to handle that or even capable of handling that.”

Donovan continued: “I’ve never seen a guy have more hype coming into the middle of a season. … I don’t know what kind of impact he’s going to make. He’s got a long way to go.”

Meanwhile, freshman point guard Brandone Francis is academically ineligible for the entire 2014-15 campaign, per Donovan. 

“He needs to prove himself academically,” Donovan said. 

Francis is enrolled at UF, but the 6-6 guard from the Dominican Republic, who moved to Jacksonville and finished high school at Arlington Country Day School, won’t practice with the team the first semester. 

“There’s things he has to do academically while he’s here to get himself eligible to play,” Donovan explained. “If he progress like we hope he will, he’ll be allowed to come back to practice for the second semester.”

INJURY UPDATE

Swingman DeVon Walker will miss the entire season with a torn ACL sustained during summer workouts, but Donovan said the junior guard may return to practice in January or February. 

Eli Carter (leg) and Dillion Graham (hips, ankle) are cleared for contact but both players remain limited as the Gators open practice. Carter and Graham both missed the entire 2013-14 season, receiving medical redshirts.  

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October 14, 2014

SEC announces 2015 schedule, UF to host Ole Miss

GAINESVILLE -- The Southeastern Conference announced the 2015 football schedule Tuesday night, with Florida’s slate officially set. 

While the Gators’ opponents were previously announced, the release confirmed the dates with Mississippi, New Mexico State (UF's opener), East Carolina and Florida Atlantic. 

UF will host Ole Miss, a playoff contender this year, on Oct. 3, kickstarting a brutal stretch during the heart of the season. 

Following the showdown with the Rebels, the Gators will play four of five games away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium -- with trips to Missouri, LSU, Jacksonville (Georgia) and South Carolina. 

The 2015 FLORIDA GATORS SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 - New Mexico State

Sept. 12 - ECU

Sept. 19 - at Kentucky 

Sept. 26 - Tennessee

Oct. 3 - Ole Miss

Oct. 10 - at Missouri 

Oct. 17 - at LSU

OPEN

Oct. 31 - Georgia (Jacksonville)

Nov. 7 - Vanderbilt 

Nov. 14 - at South Carolina 

Nov. 21 - FAU

Nov. 28 - Florida State  

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SEC commissioner Mike Slive to retire July 2015

GAINESVILLE -- Due to a recurrence of prostate cancer, Mike Slive will retire as SEC Commissioner on July, 31, 2015, the conference announced Tuesday.

Slive -- the league’s commissioner since 2002 -- leaves a historic legacy as the architect of the nation's most dominant conference. 

During 74-year-old’s 13-year tenure -- the SEC’s “golden age” -- the conference won seven straight BCS national times, 60 additional national championships, expanded into Texas and Missouri, launched an unprecedented TV network and increased revenues by record numbers.

“Mike possesses all of the qualities of a great leader – visionary, consensus builder, integrity, intuition and commitment, but more than anything he is a great friend to so many of us in this league,’’ said UF athletic director Jeremy Foley to Gatorzone.com.

“He’s led this conference to historical milestones during his tenure and the impact he’s had on collegiate athletics management and structure will be felt for many years. I look forward to working with him during his final year and in his future role as a consultant to the league.”

According to the release, Slive’s medical prognosis is “good,” and he will serve as a consultant for four years following his retirement. 

"I have been blessed in more ways than I can count and I will have as much passion for this job on my last day as I did on my first," Slive said.

"I consider my health situation a temporary detour in a remarkable road that has allowed me to meet amazing people, experience incredible events and celebrate historic victories. I will relish my final year in this position and look forward to being the biggest fan of the SEC for many years to come."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 13, 2014

QBs Driskel, Harris both to play against Missouri

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will play two quarterbacks in a pivotal must-win against Missouri on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2), coach Will Muschamp announced Monday.

Embattled starter Jeff Driskel will continue to work with the first-team offense, but dynamic true freshman Treon Harris will see extended snaps, too.

“We’ll work through the week and we’ll see how things go,” Muschamp said. “Right now, Jeff will probably start, but they’re both going to play.”

Driskel turned the ball over three more times in UF’s 30-27 gut-punching loss to LSU. The junior leads the conference in interceptions (8) and has eight total turnovers the last three weeks. 

Harris, a former star at Miami Booker T. Washington, was scheduled to see snaps against the Tigers before he was investigated for an alleged sexual assault last Monday. The freshman was suspended for a week, before the university reinstated him late Friday afternoon after the accuser withdrew her complaint.

Harris -- who watched the LSU loss from the press box -- missed a week of practice and film-study, a concern for Muschamp.

“He’s a freshman. It means more than a third or fourth year player, certainly,” Muschamp said. “We’ll see today.”

Meanwhile, Driskel lamented Florida’s missed opportunities against LSU -- some his own fault, others not -- and said the offense “is close” to eliminating the costly mistakes. 

Driskel has never played in a two-quarterback system before, but said he’s open to whatever is best for the team to succeed. 

“Believe it or not, I’m not worried about me, I’m worried about the team,” he said. “I want the team to play well. If it’s going to help the team, I’m all for it. We’re confident in Treon. I think the guys are confident in me as well. It’s not going to be something that’s going to divide the team or anything like that.”

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October 12, 2014

Gator Grades: Booted

GAINESVILLE -- (Breathe, y’all)

Florida dropped a gut-punching and dramatic affair to an average LSU team, finding a way to lose over and over again on a wild evening in The Swamp.

Tigers kicker Colby Delahoussaye nailed a 50-yard field goal with three seconds remaining, moments after the Gators looked poised to win the game outright.

Florida had little business escaping Tennessee with a victory two weeks ago, and the football gods weren’t as kind Saturday night.

OFFENSE - D

About that up-tempo, spread offense: Florida totaled 306 yards on just 57 plays.

Much-maligned quarterback Jeff Driskel can’t win for losing. Florida’s third-year starter was awful and awesome all in the same game, but if anything can go wrong for Driskel, it will.

He turned the ball over three more times, including the decisive tipped-pick with under 30 seconds left in the game.

Florida’s offensive line was up and down, as the Gators failed to establish an explosive running game against the nation’s No. 90 ranked unit. Andre Debose’s 35-yard jet sweep was UF’s longest run of the game.

Demarcus Robinson hurled in a perfect 11-yard touchdown, and later, Driskel’s 73-yard bomb, yet Florida Florida’d, failing to score a touchdown on first-and-goal at the 3-yard-line.

The playcalling was poor and the offense was ghastly in the third quarter: 16 yards on 10 plays.

Brandon Powell was a bright spot, but Kelvin Taylor remains M.I.A. (pass protection woes). 

DEFENSE - C-

The total yardage was fine (305 yards, just 4.2 y/p), but UF’s defense was inconsistent against a very subpar offense.

Florida’s front four mauled LSU on passing downs (four sacks), yet the Gators’ front-seven was gashed by dynamic freshman tailback Leonard Fournette (140 yards, two scores).

The busted coverage on 3rd-and-25 was inexplicable and was a microcosm of the night for the unit: When a big play was needed, it wasn’t made.

Without Vernon Hargreaves III for much of the game, the revamped secondary played well (aside from the key bust). Jalen Tabor continues to impress, as does Alex McCalister (2 sacks) and Bryan Cox Jr. (5 tackles, 1 TFL).

In a seesaw game where the Gators turned the ball over three times, zero takeaways were a killer.

SPECIAL TEAMS - A

Debose was electrifying, and would’ve been the Gators’ hero had they won the game.

He sparked three Florida touchdowns, including two dynamic punt returns — one for a 62-yard touchdown.

Kyle Christy was solid again (47.5 yard average on four punts) and the coverage (punts and kickoff) units were really good. 

OVERALL - D

Florida played hard, but it simply found a way to lose. Whether it was Driskel gift-wrapping turnovers or the defense folding at key moments, the Gators gave the game away.

Will Muschamp’s hot-seat is scorching. The ship may not be sunk yet, but I’m not sure how much more water it can hold. 

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Late Driskel pick sends Gators to gut-wrenching loss

LSU Florida Football (12)Jeff Driskel | John Raoux/AP

GAINESVILLE -- Murphy’s Law strikes again.

Beleaguered quarterback Jeff Driskel appeared poised to rally Florida (3-2, 2-2 SEC) to a nail-biting win over LSU, only to see a potential game-winning touchdown dropped, and then later, a ball tipped for an interception to setup the Tigers’ winning score.

Colby Delahoussaye nailed a 50-yard field goal with just three seconds left in the fourth quarter, sending LSU (5-2, 1-2 SEC) to a controversial but dramatic 30-27 win over UF and increasing the temperature on Florida coach Will Muschamp’s already scorching hot seat.

“It’s a really tough loss,” Driskel said. “Hat’s off to LSU.”

With 26 seconds remaining, Driskel forced a throw over the middle to Latroy Pittman, who tipped the ball to LSU defensive back Ricky Jefferson. 

Pittman was scarily injured on the play and was carted off the field. Although the wideout was completely immobilized by medical personnel, he gave the crowd a thumbs up with his right arm as he left the field.

“We think Pittman will be fine,” Muschamp said.

Still, it was surreal scene that marred an ugly but entertaining game.

And ultimately a gut-wrenching loss for the Gators.

LSU ran the ball on first down, but a scrum at the end of the play forced the officials to put seven seconds back on the clock -- even though LSU had no timeouts remaining.

With new life, Delahoussaye drilled the long kick.

Muschamp said he’s never seen officals put time back on the clock in that situation and would have a discussion with Steve Shaw, the conference’s head of officals, Sunday.

The Gators held the game’s momentum late in the quarter, pinning LSU deep in its own territory and forcing a 3rd-and-25.

But Florida (defensive backs Brian Poole and Keanu Neal) badly blew a coverage, and Anthony Jennings found Travin Duval for 41 yards up the sideline.

“Just poor communication,” Muschamp said. “10 guys got it [the defensive call] and one didn’t. … You cut a guy lose on a play like that and you don’t deserve to win.”

Jennings (10-for-21, 110 yards) wasn’t any better than Driskel (14-of-25, 183 yards), as LSU leaned on explosive freshman tailback Leonard Fournette.

The 6-1, 230-pound back ran wild, displaying his special blend of size, speed and video-game moves. He powered for a career-high 140 yards and two scores.

Fournette ran over, past and through UF’s defense, injuring All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III on a thunderous run in the second quarter. Florida’s top defensive player did not return.

The Gators’ offense was largely stagnant without workhorse tailback Matt Jones, who barely played with a bum ankle.

Florida tried to run the offense with Driskel as the power runner -- without a ton of success. Florida’s 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback bruised his way for 71 yards on 21 carries. 

He rumbled for a first down early in the game and delivered a fiery, emotional reaction historically reserved for Tim Tebow. Otherwise, it was another forgettable night for the third-year starter.

Driskel turned the ball over three times, negating many of his finer moments -- a beautiful 11-yard touchdown to Demarcus Robinson -- during Florida’s comeback.

LSU went up 27-24 on a splendid 11-yard, one-handed touchdown reception by Duval.

The Tigers then dared Driskel to beat them deep. And he did.

Finally. 

But Florida wasted the perfect 73-yard pass to Robinson, stalling on the 3-yard-line and settling for the tying field goal.

Tight end Tevin Westbrook dropped an easy go-ahead score with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter.

Although the offense struggled (306 total yards), Andre Debuse flashed his best Percy Harvin impression, sparking three Florida touchdowns.

The sixth-year senior jumpstarted a frenzied crowd, igniting The Swamp with a 62-yard punt return touchdown early in the first quarter. It was Debose’s fifth touchdown return of his career, setting a school record. Later, he added a 53-yard return to setup a score late in the fourth quarter. He also rushed for 35 yards on a jet sweep.

Despite the team’s usual shakiness, Florida didn’t play like a group distracted by the turmoil from the Treon Harris fallout.

On Friday, Harris’ accuser withdrew her sexual assault complaint, and the university and the UAA quickly reinstated Florida’s freshman quarterback.

Harris wasn’t on the sideline Saturday night, with The Associated Press reporting Florida didn’t want the freshman to be the game’s storyline and the constant focus of TV cameras.

“It was a very taxing week for him. I’m very proud of the way he’s handled the situation,” Muschamp said.  “Everybody is a victim in this situation. No one wins in this situation.” 

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October 10, 2014

Harris' accuser withdraws sexual assault complaint

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GAINESVILLE -- Treon Harris’ accuser withdrew her sexual assault complaint Friday and, the university and the UAA quickly reinstated Florida’s freshman quarterback.

Although Harris will not play Saturday against LSU (7:30 p.m., SEC Network), he is completely eligible moving forward.

“We have been notified that the University and legal process is complete,” coach Will Muschamp said.

“Treon has been reinstated to the team, but he will not play Saturday. This has been a learning experience for everyone involved. Treon has been honest with me throughout the process and is looking forward to rejoining his teammates.”

Earlier Friday afternoon, UF assistant vice president of media relations and public affairs Janine Sikes announced, “The student who accused Treon Harris of sexual battery has withdrawn her criminal complaint. This means she is not pursuing criminal charges against him at this time but maintains the right to do so in the future. The police report will be released when it is available.”

Sikes added, “The university always will take swift and decisive action when we have concerns about the safety of our students.”

Harris was suspended by Florida on Monday after the 19-year-old was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at an on-campus dorm around 3 a.m. Sunday.

On Thursday, Harris’ attorney, Huntley Johnson, adamantly defended him in a statement, saying, “Mr. Harris is not guilt of a crime and did not mistreat this young lady in any way that night.”

He continued: “Misstatements in the media have painted a picture that is inconsistent with the evidence.”

In the graphic statement, Johnson said the accuser had sexual relations with another man an hour before the alleged incident with Harris, and that she had text messaged Florida’s freshman quarterback immediately after he’d rallied the Gators to a 10-9 win over Tennessee in Knoxville.

Harris was ultimately never charged. Under Florida law, Harris’ accuser could be charged if authorities believe she filed a false report.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Johnson told the Orlando Sentinel.

“The university did the right thing.”

The Tornadoes’ head coach Tim ‘Ice’ Harris Jr., Treon’s older brother, tweeted, “Thank god! Love my family. #Harris #F5.”

Later, Harris posted on his Instagram account for the first time since the allegations were made public, saying, “I wanna thank everybody who supported me through this whole situation with the prayers and the love. #TheComeBack #GodIsGreat.”

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October 09, 2014

Esq. Huntley Johnson: Suspended QB Treon Harris "not guilty," paints accuser as the "sexual aggressor"

GAINESVILLE -- Suspended University of Florida quarterback Treon Harris is under investigation for an alleged sexual assualt against a female student early Sunday evening in an on-campus dorm, but his lawyer, Huntley Johnson, adamently defended the former Miami Booker T. Washington standout in a statement Thursday

The complete release...

"We are releasing this statement in an attempt to help clarify the circumstances surrounding the investigation of Treon Harris.

The status of Mr. Harris as a student at the University of Florida is that he was given an interim suspension pending a resolution by the administration of the University. After an appeal of the decision to suspend Mr. Harris, the University decided to allow Mr. Harris to continue his online courses. Because he is not allowed on campus, Mr. Harris is currently not attending those classes which occur in a classroom.

In terms of the criminal case, as most of you are aware, the University released a redacted police report yesterday evening. Currently, Mr. Harris has not been arrested and the criminal investigation is ongoing.

First, we want to dispel the idea that the alleged victim and our client didn’t know each other. Our client and the alleged victim knew each other to the extent that they had each other’s cell phone numbers and had previously spent time together of their own accord for the purpose of socializing together.

We want to dispel the idea and rumors floating around that our client forced his way into the alleged victim’s apartment. Those rumors are patently false. Mr. Harris has never been inside the young lady’s room. We understand that all of the evidence was gathered from our client’s room, which is where the interaction between the two parties took place.

We know that an individual has given testimony to law enforcement that he had sexual relations with the alleged victim less than an hour before the alleged sexual conduct with our client took place. In fact, testimony indicates that the young lady in question was the sexual aggressor in that interaction.

Our investigation has produced no evidence whatsoever that the young lady in question was impaired.

We have provided law enforcement with multiple witnesses that will indicate what the interaction was between the alleged victim and our client before they returned to our client’s room: they were smiling and they were holding hands. They returned to the Springs Residential Complex in a car driven by another female student who was a friend of the alleged victim.

We have provided multiple text messages to the authorities investigating this incident. These texts were exchanged among the alleged victim, Mr. Harris, and the other gentleman mentioned above.

When these text messages are released, they will show that the young woman making these allegations initiated the conduct with Mr. Harris while he was still in the locker room in Knoxville. Shortly after the team plane landed, texting continued between Mr. Harris and the alleged victim.

We believe the evidence will show the alleged victim was in fact in the sexual aggressor with not one, but two young men early last Sunday morning.

Misstatements in the media to date have painted a picture that is inconsistent with the evidence. That said, we have fully cooperated with this investigation. Mr. Harris agreed to a search of his dorm room. Mr. Harris agreed to a search of his phone. Mr. Harris gave a voluntary statement to law enforcement. We have turned over at least six (6) eyewitnesses to the events in questions to law enforcement. We have turned over the text messages to law enforcement. We have suggested to law enforcement multiple locations from which they should secure video surveillance. We have provided law enforcement with information gathered from the Internet that this young woman posted on Sunday, after the alleged misconduct, where she is smiling and happy. There is no indication of any physical or mental trauma.

We have previously indicated that we do not believe that Mr. Harris will be arrested or prosecuted. That is because of our experience and the facts of this case. He is not guilty of a crime and he did not mistreat this young lady in any way that night."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

October 08, 2014

UFPD releases heavily redacted Treon Harris report

GAINESVILLE -- Late Wednesday afternoon, the University of Florida Police Department released an 18-page report on the alleged sexual assault incident at the Springs Residential Complex involving 19-year-old Florida quarterback Treon Harris,  but the heavily redacted document (17 ½ pages blacked-out) offered minimal information on what exactly occurred in the wee hours Sunday morning. 

Harris, who was suspended indefinitely Monday, has not been charged as the investigation continues. 

Janine Sikes, assistant vice president of media relations and public affairs, cited privacy laws as the reasons behind the redacted document. Sikes also outlined the steps for the UF student code of conduct review -- mandated by the Department of Education Title IX federal statute. 

According to Sikes, even if Harris isn’t charged with sexual assault, he could still face student code of conduct sanctions.

Florida coach Will Muschamp, who canceled his regularly scheduled news conference Monday, (reluctantly) addressed reporters Wednesday for the first time since the allegation became public. 

“It’s a very serious charge and there’s been no change in Treon’s status,” he said. “I think our statement Monday was self-explanatory.” 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

Cleat-Gate? Hardly

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GAINESVILLE -- Will Muschamp remained somber discussing Treon Harris’ alleged sexual assault investigation, but Florida’s coach managed to laugh rehashing UF’s other off-the-field incident Monday evening.

Muschamp called the fistfight between sophomore quarterback Skyler Morhinweg and freshman defensive end Gerald Willis III “a tremendous misunderstanding.”

“I tell you what, we’ve made a big one out of this,” he said.

Around 7 p.m. Monday, UFPD was dispatched to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to breakup a scuffle over a pair of missing cleats.

The two players exchanged punches but no charges were filed.

“Nobody stole anything,” Muschamp said. “If anybody stole anything, they wouldn’t be on this football team anymore. I can assure you of that. We had a disagreement, and I wish it would have been handled a little bit differently.”

Before Monday’s practice, Willis -- a New Orleans native -- couldn’t find his cleats on UF’s “air-drying system,” grabbing a pair inscribed with No. 17. The “excitable freshman” thought the shoes belonged to friend and fellow defensive end Jordan Sherit. Instead, the cleats actually belonged to Mornhinweg, who now wears No. 8 after changing from No. 17 last season.

“We’ve got an air thing that takes the wetness out of the cleats,” Muschamp explained.

“Skyler last year was No. 17 and Jordan Sherit’s No. 17 this year. Gerald was coming from class and trying to get ready for practice. Couldn’t find his cleats on the air thing, and he grabbed No. 17 because he’s buddies with Jordan Sherit and he thought that’d be OK. Went out to practice, and there was a disagreement on the cleats and whose cleats they were. Nobody stole anything. If anybody stole anything, they wouldn’t be on this football team anymore. I can assure you of that. We had a disagreement and I wish it would have been handled a little bit differently. Me and brother Mike used to fight all the time. It happened in our family. Maybe our family is really different from everybody else’s. Me and my brother Pat, I never won. Took swings. Never won. That’s the way it goes. Families [fight], it’s what happens.”

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Muschamp addresses Harris' suspension

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp said the sexual assault allegation against freshman quarterback Treon Harris is “a serious charge,” adding he agrees with the school’s stance to suspend the former Miami Booker T. Washington standout. 

“I think our statement Monday was self-explanatory,” Muschamp said Wednesday. “This was a serious charge and there’s been no change in Treon’s status.”

Muschamp addressed the media for the first time since Harris was suspended indefinitely Monday morning, saying, "It is what it is. You handle situations in this role and you move forward. You manage your football team and that's what we've done.”

Muschamp issued multiple “no comments” on the pending investigation, refusing to answer any inquires on Harris’ future, distractions or how he addressed the situation to his team.

“I feel very comfortable in how we’ve handled this situation,” he said.  

Harris is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault of a female student early Sunday morning. Hours earlier, the freshman quarterback sparked UF’s 10-9 comeback win over Tennessee with two fourth-quarter scoring drives.

The University Police Department is leading the investigation and said the police report won’t be released Wednesday. According to The Gainesville Sun, authorities want to interview Harris again. 

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October 05, 2014

Gator Grades: Houdini'd

Florida Tennessee Football (4)Adam Lau/AP

KNOXVILLE, TENN. -- Yuck.

Florida threw up all over themselves in Neyland Stadium, only to see Tennessee choke the game away and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 

The Gators had little business winning Saturday, but for the 10th straight time they beat the Volunteers, as freshman quarterback Treon Harris sparked the 10-9 escape.

Harris was the “hero,” but fellow freshman Jalen Tabor was the true shining star with his momentum-shifting strip sack.

Ugly doesn’t do justice describing the game, and yet Florida rallied on the road, sits at 3-1 (2-1 SEC) and faces a less-than-daunting schedule moving forward.

College football is wacky.

OFFENSE - D+

Florida totaled just 232 yards, as quarterback Jeff Driskel was dreadful and his teammates did him little favors.

The Gators were scoreless through three quarters and looked to threaten the nation’s longest non-shutout streak.

UF’s third-year starter tossed three picks and constantly locked onto his initial target, but Florida’s wideouts dropped at least five passes and the offensive line had its worst game of the season.

Florida’s offense is a radioactive mess. Matt Jones ran hard (114 yards on 23 carries), but every play is a constant crawl and grind for the Gators. 

Jones’ 32 yard run (setting up the game-winning field goal) was UF’s most explosive play -- by 16 yards. 

Harris provided a spark, but field position and the team’s emotional boost largely dictated his success. 

DEFENSE - A

The Gators’ defense was dominant Saturday (3.42 yards per play), bottling up a Vols’ unit with plenty of playmakers. It was a spectacular response after getting shredded against Kentucky and Alabama.

The secondary changes worked, especially inserting Tabor into the starting lineup. Florida’s pass rush finally got going (six sacks).

UF’s red zone defense was ridiculous, suffocating the Vols for minus-six yards and an interception on four trips. UT managed just three field goals, and its lack of execution close to the end zone doomed its upset bid.

In all, Florida forced two turnovers and held the Vols to just five third down conversions (5-of-17).

SPECIAL TEAMS - B

Kyle Christy punted fine early, but he had two really poor kicks that doomed his overall average (35.3 yards on eight punts).

Austin Hardin’s 49-yard game-winning field goal was as impressive as it was shocking.

Andre Debose’s 45-yard punt return touchdown was correctly negated (block in the back), and otherwise the sixth-year senior had a quiet afternoon.

OVERALL - B-

The Gators stunned a loud and checkered Neyland Stadium, exiting Tennessee with plenty of problems but some promise too.

Florida -- right now -- is not a good football team, but a road win -- over a rival for the 10th straight time -- is positive building block for the rest of the season.

Not let's see what happens. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 04, 2014

GameDay Thread: Florida at Tennessee

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KNOXVILLE, TN. -- It's fork in the road time, folks. 

Either Will Muschamp & Co. win, (briefly) calming a seething fan base and reentering the SEC Eastern Division race. ... Or, it's the beginning of the end. 

The Gators have topped the Volunteers nine straight times, but UT is actually a 2.5-point favorite today. 

In the understatement of the week: Muschamp needs this win. Like, really, really badly. 

Three keys: early momentum (the stadium is rocking and Neyland is checkered out), penalties and third down. 

If the Gators can control the line of scrimmage and run the ball, they win. If they can't do that, then it's going to be a long afternoon in sunny Tennessee.

********** UT/UF STORYLINES **********

Gators, Muschamp need must-win to quell fan base

Florida unfazed by underdog status

Gators confident despite defensive woes

Jeff Driskel ready to face UT amid avalanche of criticism 

Changes possible in the secondary

Driskel remains No. 1 option at quarterback, offense "stay the course"

Injuries sideline key defenders

Muschamp not happy with defensive line play

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

 

 

October 01, 2014

Gators not lacking for confidence

 

GAINESVILLE -- Florida was steel-clubbed at No. 2 Alabama less than two weeks ago, but one surely wouldn't know it the way UF's players are talking in advance of this Saturday's division matchup at Tennessee (noon, SEC Network). 

Florida yielded 42 points and a school-record 645 yards to the Crimson Tide, losing for the eighth time in its last 10 games dating back to last season. 

That's all in the rear-view mirror. 

On Tuesday, senior safety Jabari Gorman called UF's defense "great" several times during a short interview with reporters. 

When prodded for clarity on exactly Florida's "greatness" on a unit ranked No. 113 in the country, Gorman said, "When we go over film you can see the potential. You can see the little things, and all it is about is the little things. If we can take care of the little things we can be a great defense.” 

Later, junior tailback Matt Jones emphatically stated Florida "should have beaten [the Tide]"

"I mean, we had 'em," Jones said.  "We should have executed better. And like I said, on third down we didn't convert as we should. They were a very beatable team, and they just pulled away from us.”

Then, on Wednesday, sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis fired a shot a UT tailback Jalen Hurd. 

The Vols' five-star freshman totaled 216 rushing yards against No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 13 Georgia, but Davis said Florida's defense is ready to truly introduce Hurd to the Southeastern Conference.

"I don't think he can hang with us. He's a good athlete but we've got a whole defense coming for him," Davis said. 

"Georgia was a big test for him, that's a physical team, but I feel like we have more to offer for him. We're going to come down and we're going to talk to him a little bit with the pads. We're not going to talk with our mouth, we're just going to hit him and get back lined up. ...  We have to let him know what it is and we have to welcome him to the SEC."

Trash-talk -- even the most innocent natured -- is always fun. On the surface, the Gators are a confident team. Whether they're simply breathing hot air doesn't really matter, they know Saturday is a must-win anyways.

"Every game is a must-win," sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said. 

Added coach Will Muschamp: "They're all must-wins. Whe has it ever changed? I mean really."

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September 30, 2014

The Decider

GAINESVILLE -- Will Muschamp has long maintained he has never called an offensive play as Florida’s head coach.

However, influencing (or making) other offensive decisions remain the head coach’s call, according to coordinator Kurt Roper.

Roper said he and Muschamp have “always been on the same page” early in their first year together. But Florida's offensive coordinator also acknowledged Muschamp ultimately holds the decision-making power on personnel changes and in-game strategy.

As criticism swirls around quarterback Jeff Driskel’s job security, Roper said the staff has “100 percent confidence in Jeff” and that freshman Treon Harris simply isn’t ready to compete for the No. 1 spot.

But, it’s not even his call.

“Will is the one that will have that conversation,” said Roper on benching Driskel. “It's plain and simple his decision. But again, we have 100 percent confidence in Jeff right now and he's the guy we feel like we're going to win football games with."

Specifically asked about the play-calling late in the first half at Alabama (UF trailed 21-14 with 1:44 remaining and simply ran out the clock), Roper again stated he and Muschamp “work great together."

“And I was in 100 percent agreement with [Muschamp’s call to run-out the clock]. In a 100,000 seat stadium and it wasn’t like we were being productive on offense at that point that you got a chance to go in one score down to tie the game. And so, you know, I’m one of those guys that’s maybe a little bit more old school that way offensively, cut my teeth a little bit in the era where, ‘Hey, that’s just smart football.’ You know what I mean? Now if you’re being productive and you’ve got 30 points at halftime and those things, maybe you’re more aggressive. But based on what was happening offensively, that was just a smart decision that I agree with 100 percent and always will."

Will Muschamp. The decider. 

THIS & THAT

Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC) opened as a one-point favorite over Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC) before the line quickly shifted in UT’s favor. UF is now a one-point underdog. ... Florida 2-2 following an idle date under Muschamp, including a 31-17 victory over Tennessee last season. … CBS announced it will utilize its six-day option for its double-header (noon and 3:30 p.m.) slate on Oct. 11. The network will chose two games on a blockbuster weekend that includes No. 15 LSU at Florida.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 29, 2014

The Whole Nine Scars: Florida's (nearly) decade of dominance over division-rival Tennessee

GAINESVILLE -- Florida has won nine straight against Tennessee, last losing in controversial fashion in 2004 -- formally known as the Dallas Baker unsportsmanlike conduct game -- at Neyland Stadium.

Ron Zook piloted the Gators then, while the Volunteers are now on their fourth different head coach.

It’s been that long.

In recent years, Florida has taken advantage of the Vols’ demise, winning seven straight by at least double-digits.

But under second-year coach Butch Jones, UT is considered a promising program on the rebound and is actually a one-point favorite at home on Saturday (noon, SEC Network).

Can the Vols get a statement win -- even against a floundering Gators team -- this weekend?

We’ll see.

First, here’s a look at Florida’s series dominance over the last decade. 

2013: 31-17 – Jeff Driskel broke his leg on a pick-six, but backup quarterback Tyler Murphy rallied UF with two scores in a game featuring plenty of gaffes and follies.

2012: 37-20 – The Gators rushed for 336 yards and scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to shock the Vols -- ranked for the first time in the series since ’07.

2011: 33-23 – Shifty all-purpose tailback Chris Rainy tallied 233 total yards, including an 83-yard touchdown reception. Rainey also blocked a punt, as the Gators held on late after jumping out to a 30-6 lead.

2010: 31-17 – Florida dominated the line of scrimmage, holding Tennessee to just 29 yards rushing on 23 attempts (1.3 yards per carry), while tallying three touchdowns and 150 yards on the ground.

2009: 23-13 – Lane Kiffin did his best to muck up an ugly contest, but the Gators slowly wore down the Vols, running for 208 yards and two scores in a lackluster game. 

2008: 30-6 – The eventual national champions jumped out to a 27-0 lead and held Arian Foster & Co. to its lowest point total during the nine-game losing streak.

2007: 59-20 – Heisman Trophy quarterback Tim Tebow scored four touchdowns, as Florida rattled off the final 31 points in a game separated by just a single score midway through the third quarter.

2006: 21-20 – Tebow -- then a freshman -- plunged for two yards on a 4th-and-1 to secure a win after Florida rallied from a 10-point deficit. Tebow ran for four first downs on seven attempts.

2005: 16-7 – The Gators took advantage of three special teams miscues, holding the Vols scoreless after halftime in Urban Meyer’s SEC debut. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 27, 2014

Boom goes the dynamite? Not so fast

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp isn’t going anywhere.

Yet.

Despite a venomous and vociferous mob calling for Muschamp’s firing, the embattled head coach will survive the rest of the year and be evaluated at season’s end, according to UF athletic director Jeremy Foley.

Foley told Mike Bianchi at The Orlando Sentinel that Muschamp -- in his fourth season with the Gators -- will have the rest of the regular season to prove his mettle and turnaround a dwindling program.

"You never judge or evaluate a program based on one game or one season," Foley told the Sentinel.

"That's just not how we do things here. We're going to evaluate where we're headed – where the players are, how is recruiting going, what type of staff we have — are we a better (program)? That's going to be plain for all of us to see, but it's also going to be played out over the course of 11 games and we'll see where we are when we get to the end of the season."

Foley fired Ron Zook -- just 23-14 at Florida – mid-season in 2004, but Muschamp won’t endure a similar fate.

The Gators are fresh off a record-setting, three touchdown loss to No. 3 Alabama, leaving Muschamp with a career 24-17 mark as the head coach at UF.

While Muschamp’s entire body of work will be evaluated at end of the year, he won’t see a fifth autumn in Gainesville unless the Gators start winning some conference games.

Florida is just 1-6 in its last seven SEC contests, with marquee showdowns with Tennessee (Oct. 4), No. 17 LSU (Oct. 11), Missouri (Oct. 18), No. 12 Georgia (Nov. 1) and No. 13 South Carolina (Nov. 15) all remaining on its slate.

“The meat of our schedule is coming up,” Muschamp said. “We need to stay the course right now. Everything is still out there in front of us.” 

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September 21, 2014

Gator Grades: Welp...

Florida Alabama FootballJeff Driskel - Bryan Anderson/AP

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- So needing triple-overtime to beat Kentucky in The Swamp was a bad omen after all. 

No. 3 Alabama steam-rolled Florida, self-destructing just enough to keep the game from being a total laugher on the scoreboard. 

The Gators were outgained by 445 yards. That is not a typo. Florida was straight worked on Saturday afternoon. 

UF yielded the most yards in school-history (645), the most points in the Will Muschamp Era (42), the second-most passing yards in school history (449) and a 200-yard wideout. 

Are grades really necessary? 

OFFENSE - F

Florida couldn’t run. Florida couldn’t pass, but oddly Florida actually blocked ok. 

In all though, the offense looked a lot like last year’s toothless attack. The Gators gained just 200 yards, as quarterback Jeff Driskel was dreadful. Possibly an understatement. 

Florida’s veteran quarterback was 9-of-28 for 93 yards with three turnovers (2 picks) and two scores (1 rushing). Florida was terrible on third down (just 2-of-13) and ran just six plays in the third quarter. 

There was no Treon Harris or Brandon Powell sightings. Not exactly sure why not. 

DEFENSE - F

Many Florida historians thought UF’s shellacking in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl (Nebraska gained 629 yards in a 62-24 win) was an unbreakable record. 

Guess not. 

Lane Kiffin out-coached Muschamp’s prized possession, dialing up explosive play after explosive play. Senior quarterback Blake Sims was excellent, slicing up Florida’s woeful secondary (also: Amari Cooper really helps). Alabama’s rushing attack went off after halftime as UF’s defense got gassed. 

The Gators missed at least two dozen tackles, practically negating four forced turnovers.  

SPECIAL TEAMS - B+

Punter Kyle Christy was Florida’s best player on the field Saturday, averaging 52.7 yards on seven punts. 

He pinned the Tide inside the 20-yard line three times. He was excellent. 

Florida’s coverage units were solid, but Andre Debose was unable to do anything on returns. 

OVERALL - F

Alabama miscues (four turnovers, 11 penalties and poor special teams play) allowed Florida to hang around long after the Gators shouldve been buried ... and it still didn’t matter. UF was fortunate to not lose by six touchdowns. With plenty of issues to sort out, Florida's first idle date falls at the perfect time. 

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September 20, 2014

GameDay Thread: Florida at Alabama

Unnamed

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Live from beautiful Bryant-Denny Stadium, where unranked Florida hopes to send No. 3 Alabama to just its fourth home loss since 2008. 

The stadium is rocking -- video montages of Tide beating Gators in 2009 SEC Championship Game, Bear Bryant and Lynyrd Skynyrd will have that affect, but can UF's up-tempo offense give Alabama enough fits to silence crowd?

Florida is a two-touchdown underdog (+14.5). Gators cover but Tide wins. Too much Yeldon-Henry-Drake. 

********** PREGAME STORYLINES/FEATURES **********

Will Muschamp is waiting for his watershed moment as a head coach, aims to defeat his longtime mentor

Gators QB Jeff Driskel hopes for better result against Tide

Vernon Hargreaves III braces for matchup with Amari Cooper

Muschamp encouraged by 3OT win 

Alabama QB Blake Sims on Florida's radar

Gators not hiding anything for Tide

Who y'all got this afternoon?

Will Florida's tide turn or will Alabama roll?

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

September 18, 2014

Q&A: Chaz Green

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since he was a redshirt freshman, Chaz Green -- a three-year starter at right tackle -- played on the left side in Florida’s triple-overtime win over Kentucky.

Replacing injured starter D.J. Humphries, Green flipped positions and manned Driskel’s blindside, squaring off against UK's talented bookends Alvin Dupree and Za'Darius Smith.

But Green's challenge gets even harder this Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS). 

Alabama’s perilous defensive line awaits (the Tide rotate as many as 10 linemen up front), and Green discussed the upcoming matchup, the Gators' underdog role, Roderick Johnson’s debut as a starter and much more.

On Alabama’s defensive front…

“Yeah, they’re deep across the board. They have good talent and they’re also coached well, they bring a lot of different fronts. It’s something we definitely have to pay attention to this week with film and at practice. … No. 47 [Senior Xzavier Dickson] stands out. I was watching some film last night. I’ll be going against him. He’s very, very talented. I’ll have to have good technique against him.”

On playing the role of underdog… 

“I don’t [see it that way]. As a team, I think we take them one game at a time. We don’t pay attention to the rankings and all that. We’ve just got to take it one week at a time and show who we are. … I personally like [being the underdog] that way instead of being a frontrunner. Like I said, we’re out here to show what we can do.”  

On playing left tackle for the first time in years… 

“I thought I did pretty well. The first half I had some issues cutting off the back-side. We knew that was going to be an issue last week with the scheme that they ran with those ends. As the game went on, I think we showed that we can get that taken care of.”

On Roderick Johnson’s first start at right tackle...

“I thought he played well. As a young guy, I’ve been in that position before, so I thought he played very well. He’s got a big challenge this week, too.”

On learning about UF's potential after a trip to 'Bama…

“Given the bunch that Alabama has I would say that it’s a good measuring stick if that’s what you mean.”

On if beating the No. 3 Tide could put Florida back on the map… 

“I don’t know what the map means. Like I said, we don’t pay attention to none of that. I know it may sound arrogant or something, but we’re just focused on getting better each and every week, going out there putting on the best show we can and just playing with each other. Personally, I don’t get involved in all the outside stuff. I’m not a big guy on Twitter. It’s just something that we just try to go out there and just improve week in and week out.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 16, 2014

Jones the "best back" in the SEC?

GAINESVILLE -- Gators center Max Garcia turned heads Tuesday, calling teammate Matt Jones “the best back” in the Southeastern Conference. 

The senior offensive lineman meant no disrespect to Heisman frontrunner Todd Gurley, South Carolina’s Mike Davis or the two-headed attack Florida will face this weekend -- Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry -- but Garcia backed Jones after the tailback’s monster performance against Kentucky. 

“Not a lot of people are talking about him in the SEC, but we feel like he’s the best back,” Garcia said. “Just to see him work hard like that and be our workhorse on offense, just to see him break tackles -- I think he broke like 16 tackles or something -- that just motivates the offensive line to block just a little bit more, take another bite.”

Jones, a junior, rushed for 156 yards on 29 carries in UF’s 36-30 triple-overtime thriller against UK. He scored the winning touchdown, a 1-yard plunge, after four straight carries in the final period. It was the tailback’s second-career game over the century mark, tallying 176 yards against the Wildcats in 2013. 

“In that last overtime, we just sat there and said, ‘Let’s give it to him and see what happens,'" coordinator Kurt Roper said.

“If it wouldn’t have worked, if we would’ve stalled out at the 10 [yard line] or whatever, we would’ve stalled out. But he was getting the football at that point.”

***** CLICK LINK FOR VIDEO, TIRED OF AUTO-PLAY *****

Jones is most definitely not the top tailback in the SEC. 

In fact, he’s hard-pressed to find himself in the top 10 -- Gurley, Yeldon, Davis, Henry, Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams of Arkansas, Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne all rank ahead of Jones -- but the junior could emerge as a true bellcow this fall.  

What do y’all think? 

How would you rank the running backs in the SEC? 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 15, 2014

Nothing to see here

 

GAINESVILLE -- The best -- but most controversial -- play of quarterback Jeff Driskel’s career almost didn’t happen.

Facing 4th-and-7, down a score in overtime, Florida’s frenzied game-tying touchdown -- a beautiful fade to wideout Demarcus Robinson -- immediately infuriated Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, as the Gators appeared to catch a lucky break.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 7.38.50 PM

The 40-second play clock expired -- at best -- as the ball was snapped, but officials didn’t throw a delay of game penalty so Driskel's clutch play sent the game to a second overtime.

Correct call -- according to the Southeastern Conference league office.

Kentucky appealed the ruling, but the league (essentially) supported the officials’ judgment. 

"At the request of the University of Kentucky, consistent with SEC protocol, the conference office reviewed the fourth down play in the first overtime of the Kentucky-Florida game and has determined the officials applied the proper mechanics and guidelines that are in place to determine when a flag should be thrown for delay of game. The back judge is responsible for delay of game calls. The procedure for the back judge is for his eyes to stay on the clock when it nears zero. When the clock hits zero, he immediately looks from the clock to the ball. If the ball is moving, there is no delay of game. If the ball is stationary, a delay of game penalty is called.''

The Gators were without a timeout, using their lone stoppage earlier in the drive, and coach Will Muschamp said he had one thing on his mind amid all the confusion.

“Hurry up."

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September 14, 2014

Gator Grades: Utter relief

GAINESVILLE -- About that cynicism?

Well … Florida won, but it needed three overtimes to beat Kentucky in a thriller that spanned two days. … Kentucky.

JoJo Kemp’s upset proclamation nearly proved prophetic.

It took a record night from Demarcus Robinson, the best pass of Jeff Driskel’s career and a gutsy effort from guys like Matt Jones (159 yards, game-winning score), Brian Poole (1 INT, game-saving pass breakup) and Antonio Morrison (team-leading 10 tackles), but a win is still a win.

Florida is 2-0 headed to doomsday Tuscaloosa. 

OFFENSE – B-

The Gators gained plenty of yards (532) but quarterback Jeff Driskel was dreadful in the first half (just 7-of-20) and electric wideout Demarcus Robinson was Florida’s passing game. The sophomore delivered a sensational performance, finishing with over 1/3 of Florida’s total offense (216 yards receiving) -- the majority coming after the catch. Driskel rebounded with a solid second half, saving Florida’s season (and potentially Will Muschamp’s job) with a great pitch and catch on 4th-and-7 in overtime. The offensive line couldn’t pass protect a lick, but the interior run blocking was strong throughout. Also where was Brandon Powell? Treon Harris?

DEFENSE - C

The Wildcats averaged 5.77 yards per play Saturday night. They averaged 4.80 yards per play against Ohio. The Gators stuffed UK’s run game, forcing six first-half punts, but Florida’s secondary was spotty all evening. The Gators were burned by busted coverages (see: Garrett Johnson running wide open for a 30-yard touchdown) and bad communication. UF picked off three passes (two via deflections) but Patrick Towles’ unheralded wideouts won plenty of one-on-one matchups. Poole’s play in overtime was huge, as was Keanu Neal’s interception late in regulation. 

SPECIAL TEAMS – B+

Frankie Velez was 2-of-3, missing a crucial kick early in the fourth quarter. Austin Hardin shanked his 52-yarder as time expired, but was solid on kickoffs. Kyle Christy boomed all six punts (48.7 y/p), allowing Florida to dominate field position. Andre Debose electrified the crowd with a pair of nice returns.

OVERALL – C+

We'll see soon enough if Saturday's performance was real or a mirage. The cynicism can wait a week. The Gators are 1-0 in the SEC. They didn’t fold. They found a way to win, even if it took a fortuitous bounce or a no-call. Florida loses that game in 2013. It remains to be seen how the Gators respond moving forward.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 13, 2014

GameDay Thread: Florida vs. Kentucky

Unnamed

GAINESVILLE -- Can the Wildcats win in Gainesville for the first time since 1979?

Probably not. 

Although Mark Stoops' team is an improved bunch, the Gators have won the last six meetings by an average of 36.5 points -- and I wouldn't expect that to change tonight. 

Florida needs another solid contest before a trip to Tuscaloosa and I think it covers the 17.5 spread.

Too many playmakers + rowdy crowd = bad combo for UK.

ICYMI:

Will Muschamp had some fun this week, calling into the Gator Hotline as "Bill from Gainesville," joking with athletic director Jeremy Foley.  

 

*************** UF-UK STORYLINES *************** 

Gators lose Jake McGee, turn to Clay Burton at tight end

Roper wants Florida to speed up tempo

UK tailback JoJo Kemp predicts upset 

Treon Harris shines in debut

Gators focus on ball security

Florida refuses to be overconfident

It's a gorgeous day in town, y'all. 

Enjoy the game. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 11, 2014

Honey Thunder: reformed, ready to shine (again)

 

GAINESVILLE -- Demarcus Robinson finally proved what all the fuss has been about.

The dynamic wideout exploded against Eastern Michigan last Saturday, reeling in six receptions for 123 yards, skying for a 70-yard touchdown.

“Hopefully, plenty more to come,” he said, grinning.

Robinson -- who tallied his first career score -- flashed his playmaking skills, elite athleticism and joystick jukes, validating coach Will Muschamp's favorite moniker: "It's not add water, instant player." 

Is that how you envisioned last season?

"Yes," Robinson said. "[It was frustrating] missing the playing time on the field. Not being on the field when I know I could’ve been on the field.”

Instead, it took the sophomore -- or Honey Thunder, as he calls himself -- a little longer to produce than most anticipated.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound wideout from Peach County High (Ga.) -- the same school as former Florida standout Jacquez Green and Robinson’s uncle, Marcus, an 11-year NFL vet -- struggled mightily transitioning away from home last year. 

Robinson missed three games due to suspensions in 2013, and was forced to sit out Florida’s 2014 weather-suspended opener against Idaho due to a “university sanction.” But the sophomore feels his off-the-field troubles are in the past and he’s matured from his tribulations.

“It’s very difficult being away from your family which you’ve been with for 19 years or 18 years,” Robinson said.

“Being with your mom, being with somebody taking care of you and looking over you, then being on your own and making decisions on your own that you’ve never had to make before. It was kind of difficult.”

He continued: “[It’s all about] being more humble, more mature about things. Being more smart about my decisions and the choices that I make.”

Robinson caught just five passes all last season, but another strong training camp put him in the spotlight as Florida’s most talented receiver.

He delivered last weekend.

Robinson praised the efforts of teammates helping him hurdle his issues, specifically highlighting star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III as a supportive friend.

Offseason mentoring from his uncle was key to his development and maturation too, saying he received a phone call following his breakout performance from Marcus.

“He told me I had a great game,” Robinson said. “He said he watched every play. He’s just a good guy all around, let’s me know what I did good and bad.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton