February 24, 2018

Florida basketball edges Auburn behind clutch shooting and a lucky heave

GAINESVILLE — It was poetry.

It was the simplicity of a haiku, the elegance of a sonnet and the complexity of free verse at once. And like any brilliant piece of art, KeVaughn Allen's half-court heave moved those who experienced it beyond words. But instead of staying silent, they screamed. 

And screamed and screamed and screamed. 

Long after the Gators had left the court for halftime, they were still screaming about Allen's lucky break. About how, off an inbound pass from Chris Chiozza with under three seconds left to the break, he toed the boundary of the court, beat one defender and, like John Wayne drawing his pistol from his belt, heaved the ball from his hip.

"It looked like it was going wide left," Allen said, "but then, at the last second, it curved right." 

The ball landed about 75 feet away and splashed into the net like a missile from nowhere, nearly blowing up the O'Connell Center in the process. But as thrilling as the moment was, Florida is used to that sort of purple prose to start games. It's also used to tragedy to finish them. On Saturday, though, there was no hubris and heartbreak. Only electricity and elation. 

Led by Allen, who aside from his buzzer beater scored a game-leading 24 points, the Gators (18-11, 9-7 Southeastern Conference) snatched a 72-66 win from feisty No. 12 Auburn (24-5, 12-4 SEC) in a game that, staying on the theme of literature, climaxed in the final moments. And for the first time in three games, the climax went in Florida’s favor.

“We needed that one, didn’t we?” coach Mike White said.

Allen didn't start off like a man poised to make the shot of his life. He was 0-for-5 before his first bucket, but from there, he made five more shots in a row and finished 8-for-15.

He had help from Jalen Hudson, who added 19 points, and Dontay Bassett, who made his first start and contributed a career-high 12 points, six rebounds and a team-high two steals. White credited Bassett's performance to his team-first mentality, which is also how Bassett explained his emergence.

“We needed this win,” he said.

The Gators struggled to close games during the three-game losing streak they carried into Saturday. Each loss was by five points or fewer. Which is why, when a timeout was called with 15:38 left in the game, someone piped up in the huddle and urged the team to not let the game slip away.

“Guys,” White interrupted, “do not look at the clock. This is not about holding on.”

He wanted Florida to stay aggressive, and the Gators did. But Auburn still pushed, and with 3:55 to play, the Tigers claimed their first lead.

The game became a western shootout from there. The lead changed six times in those final minutes, with Allen contributing back-to-back threes to keep UF afloat. Then, with 50 seconds left, the unthinkable.

Florida center Kevarrius Hayes hustled around a defender and swiped a loose ball from the abyss, passing it toward a teammate with a two-point lead. The referees said he stepped out.

Replays showed that Hayes didn’t appear to step out, but the call stood anyway. Auburn tied the game on the ensuing possession, and the arena turned from an atmosphere of tension to one of rage.

That was quickly reversed by an and-one from Hudson, which gave the Gators their final lead and sent fans into a flailing noodle-arm frenzy.

“I felt like they were out there on the court with us,” Chiozza said of the especially energetic crowd.

White said he wants his team to enjoy the win. To use it as motivation with two regular-season contests left. But he also doesn’t want his players to dwell. He admits they haven’t handled winning well this season.

“I hope it makes us feel good for about an hour,” White said. “We play in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night.”




February 23, 2018

Florida gymnastics thrashes Arkansas with season-best score

GAINESVILLE — The evening built to a crescendo with Kennedy Baker's floor routine as the climax. The senior was the anchor for the Gators not just on the event, but for the meet. With Florida still in range of its highest score of 2018, she made her first pass without issue. Then her foot hit the mat at the end of her next pass.


And her body followed, as did a silence that roared through the arena, turning it from a party to a funeral in a way that only a serious injury can.

The music stopped immediately, and trainers rushed toward Baker. Her screams could be heard from press row. She couldn't stand, so they carried her to the locker room, her face wet, her teammates in shock.

The meet was already over at that point — even without Baker's score, the No. 5 Gators dominated the visiting No. 11 Arkansas Razorbacks 197.625-196.875. But fans left in near silence after her fall, not knowing if Baker will ever compete again. 

"I think it's a little too early to tell," coach Jenny Rowland said of Baker's injury. Baker is one of only two current UF gymnasts to have scored a perfect 10. 

Baker's fall was the story of the night, but to that point, the Gators had displayed some elite gymnastics. 

Florida notched its highest score of the season on the meet's first event, vault, at 49.525. Seniors Rachel Slocum and McMurtry led the Gators through the event, posting 9.95s. 

That set the tone for the night, as the Gators didn't lose any event aside from the one where Baker fell. 

McMurtry and sophomore Rachel Gowey shared the beam title (9.95) as well as the bars title (9.925). Alicia Boren won the floor with a 9.95, as well as the all around with a 39.525.

"Overall, this team did a fantastic job," Rowland said. She added that Baker was Friday's Gator of the day in her opening remarks following the meet. 

"She has their back," Rowland added, "and they have her back."

The meet took place in a pinked-out O'Connell Center, from the cloths on the judges' tables to the fans in the stands to the gymnasts, who wore pink leotards to raise awareness for breast cancer. The theme was especially meaningful for Boren, whose aunt Kathy is a survivor of the disease and was in attendance. 

"I was happy that she was here," Boren said. "More than happy — I was ecstatic.”

Florida was cruising toward a season-best score until the floor routines, when freshman Alyssa Baumann stepped out of bounds at the end of a tumbling pass and McMurtry stumbled at the end of a pass as well. Their scores of 9.725 and 9.65, respectively, were Florida's two worst scores of the night.

Then Baker came on, and you know the rest. So while Florida improved to 7-1 on the season, Friday’s meet provided more questions — rather one big, all-important question — than answers.

February 16, 2018

Florida baseball, led by Singer, picks up opening-night win


GAINESVILLE — Alex Faedo — Florida's 2017 ace, College World Series MVP and first-round MLB Draft pick — was back on the McKethan Stadium mound on Friday. Although he never actually made it to the rubber. 

The flame-throwing righthander instead wore jeans and a 2017 title T-Shirt as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch for Florida's season-opening game against Siena. In a symbolic moment, Brady Singer trotted out of the dugout moments later to take Faedo's Friday night spot on that mound and usher in a new season of Florida baseball. 

"He gave me a high five and told me good luck," Singer said of Faedo. He also noted that they rarely talked to each other before starts. Neither wanted to break the other's concentration. 

Clearly the high five and pair of words didn't have any negative effect on Singer, as he dominated Siena in seven innings. The junior righthander struck out eight, walked one and allowed no earned runs in Florida's 7-1 opening-night win. 

And perhaps most impressively, Singer offered 24 first-pitch strikes to the 24 hitters he faced. 

"That's the one thing I wanted to do," Singer said, "was go out there and throw strikes."

Coach Kevin O'Sullivan noted that with first-game jitters and his first Friday night start, the game could be one of Singer's most difficult of the season. He compared him to Faedo, who in last year's season opener against William and Mary allowed four earned runs in four and 2/3 innings. 

Singer, obviously, didn't have similar issues. 

"He was sharp," O'Sullivan said. 

Freshman lefty Jordan Butler completed the two-hitter for Florida, tossing two scoreless innings with four strikeouts to end the game. 

"You could just see the competitive spirit he has," O'Sullivan said of Butler, who will also hit this season. 

Four Florida players — Nelson Maldonado, JJ Schwarz, Blake Reese and Nick Horvath — had two hits on the night, while five players notched RBIs. Among them were newcomers Brady McConnell and Wil Dalton. 

McConnell had a rough go in his first college game, striking out on his first three at-bats. He also committed a costly error that gave Siena its only run of the game. 

But after a hug from Singer following the error and a talk with O'Sullivan following the string of strikeouts, he smashed a home run to give the Gators their final two runs of the game. 

"I knew it was gone," he said of his arching rainbow shot. Junior third baseman Jonathan India also hit a home run — a solo shot in the fourth inning — that cleared the left-field bleachers and gave the Gators their first run of 2018. 

As for Dalton, he roped a ball to left field on his third at-bat of the game to claim his first hit and RBI at UF. The sophomore transferred from junior college and started in right field. 

"I started to relax toward the end of the game and simplify things," he said. 

The Gators continue their three-game weekend homestand against Siena on Saturday afternoon at 4, with Singer's roommate Jackson Kowar scheduled to start for Florida. O'Sullivan tried to temper expectations for that game and the rest of the season, though he did so with a smile. 

"We're not gonna go 56-0," he joked. "I can promise you that."


January 23, 2018

Four suspended Florida football players reinstated to team

GAINESVILLE — The headliner is Jordan Scarlett, the running back who was supposed to lead Florida's backfield in 2017 before he was suspended ahead of the team's season opener and never returned. He, along with eight teammates, were accused of credit card fraud. Scarlett and three of those teammates were cleared to rejoin the team on Tuesday, ending a monthslong hiatus for the quartet. 

Linebackers Ventrell Miller and James Houston along with receiver Rick Wells were also cleared to return, but again, Scarlett is the most consequential of the group. The St. Thomas Aquinas alumnus rushed for a team-best 907 yards and six touchdowns in 2016.

Newcomers Malik Davis and Adarius Lemons stepped up in Scarlett's absence and will push him for playing time alongside rising junior Lamical Perine, who led the Gators with 588 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns in 2017.

Incoming recruits Iverson Clement and Dameon Pierce could also factor into Florida's backfield. But assuming Scarlett has stayed in shape during his time away from the team, he should be the favorite to start come UF's season opener against Charleston Southern on Sept. 1 after all the unfulfilled hype he carried into the season that never was. 

Wells, a rising redshirt sophomore wideout, has never caught a pass in college. And both Miller and Houston were true freshmen a season ago, so neither one of them has played a college snap either. Both of them could, however, play an important role in the upcoming season by bolstering Florida's depth at linebacker — a position group that underperformed in 2017 and needs capable bodies behind starters Vosean Joseph and David Reese. 

The four reinstated players were part of a group of seven who signed agreements with the State Attorney's Office to avoid felony charges for their alleged credit card fraud if they follow the agreements. 

As for the remaining suspended players, four of them have left the school. Defensive end Jordan Smith, defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones and offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort have all opted to transfer elsewhere. Desir-Jones will transfer to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas while Smith and Telfort haven't announced their transfer destinations. Smith and Telfort are also the two players who were not offered pre-trial intervention programs. Smith still faces a potential nine felony charges while Telfort faces a potential 30. 

Antonio Callaway, the former star receiver and Miami Booker T. Washington alum, opted to leave Florida early for the NFL Draft. 

Keivonnis Davis, a Miami Central alumnus, is the only player whose case has yet to be resolved. Davis was involved in a scooter accident during his suspension, and it's unknown if his injuries will prevent him from playing football this season and beyond. He's still enrolled in classes. 


January 12, 2018

No. 7 Florida gymnastics falls to No. 1 LSU

GAINESVILLE — These were not the faces of the defeated. 

These smiles shouldn't accompany loss. These giggles shouldn't serve as the anthem of the vanquished.  But on Friday night in Gainesville, following a 197.250-197.125 Florida loss to No. 1 LSU, they did. 

Following their defeat, four UF gymnats, along with coach Jenny Rowland, didn't trudge to their post-match press conference, nor did they walk. They practically skipped. 

Once seated in front of the room, seniors Kennedy Baker, Alex McMurtry and Rachel Slocum told jokes, lauhed and didn't care who saw. "Literally nothing matters," one of them sang. "It's only January 12th."

That was the attitude Rowland took when addressing the assembled reporters, noting the team has plenty of work to do, but there's still ample time to do it. Plus she said depsite the losing score, she saw imporvement compared to the team's season-opening win last week at West Virginia. 

The improvement, she said, centered around the team's energy. She noticed her gymnasts wrapping their arms around each other between routines and staying engaged during their teammates' performances. The 9,661-fan sellout — the first of Rowland's three-year tensure as head coach — probably helped, too. 

Still, she said energy aside, there's lots for the team to work on. 

"Fixing the little things," she said. 

The Gators were led by junior Alicia Boren, who placed second in the all-around to LSU's Myia Hambrick. Boren notched a 39.450. 

McMurtry, who couldn't compete on floor because of lingering back issues and therefore didn't qualify for the all-around, led the Gators on vault (9.90) and bars (9.925). Sophomore Rachel Gowey won beam (9.950) and Baker tied with freshman Megan Skaggs for Florida's top floor score (9.925). 

Baker's floor routine was one of the highlights of the night. It featrued, as she admitted following the meet, plenty of sass, including playing a whipping noise accompanied by a whipping motion where her teammates fell to the floor. 

"I was just lit the whole routine," Baker said. "Seeing my teammates fall when I whipped them was just icing on the cake."

While the team was very clear about this part of the season having little impact on where it ends up, it has a week off before traveling to Lexington to face Kentucky next Friday at 7 p.m. 


December 20, 2017

UF signing tracker

Florida could still land a few more recruits before the day is done, but here's who the Gators have reeled in so far on the first day of the first-ever early signing period. Quarterback Emory Jones is their top recruit at No. 40 overall, and UF's class — counting commitments as well as signees — ranks 17th nationally. 


Emory Jones, quarterback:


The centerpiece of Mullen’s early signing day haul is Emory Jones, a 4-star dual threat quarterback from Georgia who spurned his commitment to Ohio State and picked the Gators. Jones is rated as the fourth-best dual threat quarterback in the country by the 247Sports Composite and the nation’s 40th-best player overall.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Jones replaced fellow 4-star passer Matt Corral, who spent months committed to Florida before flipping to Ole Miss on Thursday night. Corral, a pocket passer, was rated as the nation’s 86th-best player.

Mullen made Jones a priority for the quarterback-starved Gators, who had just three scholarship tossers — Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and Jake Allen — on their roster before Wednesday. Known as a quarterback guru after transforming Dak Prescott into a Heisman candidate at Mississippi State, among other success stories, Mullen’s first priority at Florida will be getting either Jones or any of UF’s other quarterbacks to a level of competence. He believes he’s off to a good start with Jones.


Evan McPherson, kicker:


While he’s Florida’s lowest-rated signee of the day and probably of the year, McPherson’s commitment to the Gators could end up being one of the most important of 2018. Junior Eddy Pineiro announced Tuesday that he’s leaving Florida early for the NFL Draft, so McPherson should challenge redshirt senior and Miami Belen Jesuit alum Jorge Powell to replace him.

McPherson is the nation’s top-rated kicking prospect.


Kyle Pitts/Dante Lang, tight end:


Florida snagged an elite tight end prospect in Kyle Pitts, a 4-star recruit from Warminster, Pennsylvania. He’s billed as the sixth-best tight end in the nation and brings great size to the position at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds.

The Gators lost tight ends Kalif Jackson and 2017 starter DeAndre Goolsby this offseason, so Pitts adds another body to the mix. But with veterans C’yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens returning along with Kemore Gamble, who was rated the seventh-best tight end in the nation in the 2017 class, Pitts could find the field later on in his career. The same is true of Dante Lang, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound tight end out of Boca Raton who is rated the 28th best at his position. Although with Mullen, more tight end involvement is possible.

While Florida didn’t use its tight ends in the passing game much under former coach Jim McElwain (Stephens led the group with 141 yards in 2017 while Goolsby and Lewis had the most touchdowns with one apiece) Mississippi State tight end Jordan Thomas amassed 227 yards and three touchdowns for the Bulldogs last season under Mullen.


Amari Burney/Trey Dean/John Huggins/Randy Russell, safety:


Florida set itself up for success at defensive back with its 2017 class, which brought six players into the group. But with seniors Duke Dawson, Nick Washington, Marcell Harris and Joseph Putu gone, signing safeties Amari Burney, John Huggins and Randy Russell bolsters the unit’s depth.

As the nation’s 15th-best safety prospect, Burney, a Clearwater native, could challenge Chauncey Gardner, Jeawon Taylor, Shawn Davis and Quincy Lenton for playing time. He has the size at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds.

Huggins is a little smaller at 6-feet, 200 pounds, and is rated a little lower at No. 32. Russell, who signed out of Miami Carol City, is even smaller at 5-fo0t-10, 180 pounds, but he’s rated higher than Huggins at No. 28. And Dean, the latest addition to Florida's class, has great length at 6-foot-2 but need to bulk up at 180 pounds. He's rated 22nd at his position. 


Dameon Pierce, running back:


The Gators lost running back Mark Thompson to eligibility expiration and could also lose Jordan Scarlett, who didn’t play in 2017 but is nevertheless eligible for the NFL Draft. Florida addressed those losses with Pierce.

Rated the nation’s 10th-best running back, Pierce’s 5-foot-11, 205-pound frame is ideal. But with returning backs Lamical Perine, Malik Davis and Adarius Lemons in front of him on the depth chart, it will be an uphill climb for Pierce to see the field consistently in 2018.

That being said, he’s a higher-rated recruit then Davis was, and he finished second on the team in rushing as a true freshman.


Iverson Clement, athlete:


Clement is listed as an athlete by recruiting services, but he plays running back and is expected to stay at that position when he arrives in Gainesville. Pierce brings acceptable size at 5-foot-11, 199 pounds and is ranked as the nation’s 282nd-best recruit. Like Pierce, he'll have to claw onto the depth chart with three experienced backs ahead of him. 


Chris Bleich/Noah Banks, offensive tackle:


The Gators addressed a need at offensive tackle with a pair of large additions. Chris Bleich, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound player from Plymouth, Pennsylvania, and Noah Banks, a 6-foot-7, 305-pound player from Pensacola both signed with the Gators. Bleich is rated No. 33 among high school offensive tackles while Banks is No. 6 among junior college tackles. With starting left tackle Martez Ivey possibly leaving for the NFL and with all the injuries Florida suffered along the offensive line a season ago, Mullen got some valuable depth with the two of them.


David Reese, linebacker:


The Gators will have two players named David Reese at linebacker in 2018. Junior middle linebacker David Reese led the team in tackles last season, while incoming freshman outside linebacker David Reese hopes to do the same at some point during his career in Gainesville.

The younger Reese brings height to a major position of need at 6-foot-3, 213 pounds.

December 07, 2017

Florida hoops focused on rebounding, in more ways than one

Coach Mike White was his normal self on Monday, strolling through the Florida basketball complex in a grey sweatsuit, a lone Nike swoosh mark on the shoulder, coffee cup in hand. He seemed calm, which was appropriate given his message to his team following its third straight loss — this time against Loyola-Chicago — on Wednesday night: Don’t panic. There are plenty of games left to play.

His team, however, seemed panicked against the Ramblers. Florida had earned its No. 5 ranking by making shots and scoring at will, but that ability has evaporated since the Gators lost to No. 1 Duke on Nov. 26. White said the only thing to do to combat the funk is play better and make shots, which he said can mask some of the other shortcomings that need to be addressed.

“We’re just not making shots right now,” White said. “We’re coming off a really, really tough week.”

It started on Monday, when the Gators were dominated by Florida State in a 17-point loss. It marked UF’s fourth consecutive loss to the Seminoles.

Florida two leading scorers — guards Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov — shot a combined 9-of-24 against FSU, including 3-of-13 from 3-point range. The rest of the team couldn’t do much better.

The Gators shot 37 percent combined against Loyola and Florida State, with nearly identical percentages in each game. Like with Hudson and Koulechov, the shooting has been even worse from deep. The Gators went 8-of-44 in the two games.

White said he didn’t see the sudden frost coming. He said based on practice, he thought his team was just a good shooting team, and he expected that trend to continue. But he has a couple hypotheses for why.

First is the fact that the two games have been at home, and maybe that’s caused some jitters. Then there’s shot selection.

“Let’s make sure your first shot is a really good one,” White’s told his players. “We've gotten away with making a contested one or two early in games early in the season against inferior opponents, and that's backfired on us.”

Florida’s lack of size has also backfired. The Gators’ three leading rebounders are guards — Hudson, Koulechov and Chris Chiozza — and that trio is UF’s only representation on the Southeastern Conference’s top 32 rebounders.

The issue was especially prominent against FSU, which outrebounded the Gators 51-34.

“We're just a very average defensive and rebounding team,” White said, “and when we're not making shots, it's hard to beat anybody.”

But White is trying to extract at least positive from those struggles. He said maybe his players didn’t really believe they were in trouble when they were scoring in the triple digits game after game while allowing other teams to score high as well.

Now that shots aren’t falling and rebounds aren’t getting grabbed, White said his team will learn and get tougher. Florida will have a chance to show off that toughness, or not, on Saturday against No. 17 Cincinnati (7-1). White, meanwhile, will stay calm and sip his coffee with SEC play still several weeks away, trying to get his players to a similar level of tranquility.

“Is everything OK?” They’ve asked him in recent days. “Coach, are you good?”

“Yeah,” White has answered. “We're alive and healthy and we have a great opportunity today and we're in Florida. Are you kidding me? An opportunity to have a great practice today, come together, get better. Tough week, (but) a lot of people in Gainesville are having a lot tougher time in life than we are right now.”


Report: Antonio Callaway leaving Florida

Antonio Callaway, a Miami native and star Florida receiver, will forgo his final year of eligibility at UF and enter the NFL Draft, per a report from InsideTheLeague.com's Neil Stratton. 

Callaway's career at Florida was marred by controversy, from accusations of sexual assault as a freshman to his suspension for the entirety of the 2017 season — along with eight other players — for accusations of credit card fraud. But his play on the field was memorable, too. 

The Miami Booker T. Washington alumnus was Florida's leading receiver in his freshman and sophomore seasons, grabbing 678 and 721 yards, respectively. He finished his college career with seven touchdowns, including a memorable 63-yarder against Tennessee as a freshman that helped the Gators stun the Volunteers. 

Callaway's 5-foot-10, 193-pound frame is smaller than a typical NFL receiver and his speed also isn't elite, but his playmaking ability when he was on the field at Florida was never in doubt. That should at least get him drafted at some point, though it's unclear how much his off-the-field issues may also play a role in his stock. 

December 06, 2017

No. 5 Florida hoops loses third straight to unranked Loyola-Chicago

The Gators lost to Duke — the No. 1 team in the nation — fewer than two weeks ago by just three points. But since then, Florida has fallen apart. 

The No. 5 Gators (5-3) dropped their third straight game on Wednesday against Loyola-Chicago (9-1) at home, 65-59. The Ramblers' six-point win was Florida's second-worst loss of the season, trailing only Monday's 17-point beatdown from Florida State. The Ramblers led for over 95 percent of the game. 

Florida, which boasted the nation's most prolific offense entering the game against FSU at just over 99 points per game, has gone cold from deep since the loss to Duke. It went 2-of-19 from 3-point range against Loyola. 

Transfer Egor Koulechov, who scored 34 points for Florida on opening night and was counted on as one of the team's leading scorers, is the embodiment of that frost. The senior went 1-for-10 from 3-point range against FSU and Loyola combined. He also went 7-of-26 from the floor over that same stretch. 

He and his team have three days to correct that problem, as well as struggling interior defense, before they take on Cincinnati (7-1) on Saturday in Newark, New Jersey. 



November 19, 2017

Florida feeling confident following win

Brandon Powell is the face of Florida's pending showdown with Florida State. 

The senior from Deerfield Beach has never beaten the Seminoles during his time at UF, and this Saturday will be his last chance to do so. It seems like he's let his teammates know it. 

After their 36-7 win over UAB on Saturday, two teammates brought him up unprompted. 

First was running back Lamical Perine, who said he was just discussing the FSU game with Powell. Then there was center Tyler Jordan, who said basically the same thing. 

"We were just talking about that in the locker room," he said. "[Powell's] 0-3 against Florida State. We want to send him out with a win.”

But for Jordan, it's more than just wanting to send him out with a win. He said he's sure of it. 

"Beating Florida State’s going to be something we’re going to do," he said. 

Defensive tackle Taven Bryan is also sure of it. 

"I’m expecting honestly that we’re going to win the next game very solidly," he said. "We’ve just been taking steps and getting better and better. Next week we should have a good solid week and play way better than we did this week.”

Bryan is right. The Gators took steps forward against UAB. They rushed for a season-best 257 yards. They avoided any turnovers. They scored their second-most points of the season. But all of that matters little when the Conference USA opponent was overmatched, despite its winning record. Florida has a chance to take a real step forward this weekend against the Seminoles. 

That step forward will probably get them across the finish line, because win or lose, Florida will finish with a losing record. That makes a bowl game unlikely. So it's up to the Gators whether they want to cross in stride or limp on through. 

"We just need a couple of more fans in there," Bryan said, "and we’ll get thing loud and we’ll win a game for them."

The official attendance against UAB was 84,649, though there seemed to be far fewer fans in the stands than that number suggests. The team is hoping more fans come out against FSU despite both team having down years. 

"That's always going to be one of the pivotal games in college football," Florida coach Randy Shannon said. 

His players are hoping that brings fans back for one last game in a season that many of them would like to forget. 

It’s really big," Jordan said. "Our biggest in-state rival. Big game at The Swamp. It’s going to be a fun one. It’s something we’re going to work on all week, because we’re going to be busting our ass all week to get ready for this team.”

November 02, 2017

Zaire to start for Gators at Missouri


He came to Florida to play his final season of college football only to get beat out by redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks. But finally, after seven contests, Malik Zaire will get his shot. 

When the Gators travel to Missouri this weekend to take on the Tigers, Zaire will start under center for the first time this season. 

"This is his opportunity," interim coach Randy Shannon said, "to get this team where it needs to be and not to be satisfied just because he's the starter."

Shannon said Monday he planned to shake things up and do things his way while leading the Gators through the end of the 2017 season. He made that clearer with this move, departing from former coach Jim McElwain's preference for Franks. 

Franks started six of Florida's seven games this season, amassing 830 passing yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. The remaining game was started by Luke Del Rio, who was lost for the season. 

Zaire has only played in mop-up duty, helping Florida limp to the finish line in games that were out of reach. In those two appearances, he's thrown for 142 yards and no touchdowns. 

Zaire is more mobile than Franks, who at 6-foot-6 has shown the ability to scramble some, but it's not viewed as a strength. Sometimes he also scrambles to his detriment, sensing nonexistent pressure and leaving the pocket only to lose yards near the sideline. Zaire hasn't had many opportunities to show that he can do better, but he'll get one in Columbia. 

He just has to make the most of it. Shannon said the competition between him and Franks, who will serve as the primary backup this weekend, is ongoing. 

"Today is an opportunity for him to run the offense and understand the expectations that we have for him," Shannon said. "This is not a time for him to feel comfortable and feel like he's made it. We want him to keep grinding and understand that competition is very good." 


October 29, 2017

Updates on Florida football, McElwain aside

Jim McElwain's firing is the news of the day, week, month and year for the Florida football program. But with the team now having lost three consecutive games, where does it go from here? A few clues were offered Saturday.

First, at quarterback, where starter Feleipe Franks managed 30 yards on 19 attempts. He was relieved by backup Malik Zaire, who managed 36 yards on six attempts and added 30 rushing yards well after the game was out of reach. 

"It’s not showing up on Saturday," Franks said of the lack of offensive improvement. "There’s a lot of things we can improve on. Like I said man. we’re not going to fold. We’re not going to just bow our heads down."

McElwain didn't address Zaire's apparent spark after the game, though his opinion matters little now. With the SEC title game now officially out of reach, it'll be interesting to see how Florida approaches the quarterback competition between Franks — the incumbent starter who played poorly in meaningful action — and Zaire — the Notre Dame graduate transfer who didn't work out as a starter but who played well on Saturday in meaningless action.

Florida's offense took a hit at running back, where leading rusher Malik Davis was injured and taken to the locker room in the first half. McElwain said he injured his knee, and reports surfaced Sunday that it was season-ending. Davis' mom told the Herald those reports were premature and he hadn't had an MRI yet, but Davis retweeted several teammates wishing him a speedy recovery. So season ending or not, it doesn't sound good. Davis, a true freshman from Tampa, leads the team with 526 yards this season. 

His counterpart Lamical Perine managed 93 yards in Davis' absence against the Bulldogs. He's up to 365 on the year, and he's scored six touchdowns. 

The other injured Florida players mentioned by McElwain were Jachai Polite (shoulder), Kylan Johnson (hamstring), Tyrie Cleveland (ankle) and Kadarius Toney (shoulder). He didn't specify any of their statuses moving forward. 






October 25, 2017

Gators hopeful about getting big-play receivers back against Georgia

A Florida assistant coach meets with reporters every Wednesday at noon. The coach rotates from week to week, but the procedure is usually the same: Ask about each individual player in that position group, because who knows when that coach will speak again. This Wednesday was receiver coach Kerry Dixon’s turn, but the procedure was a little different.

Only two players were asked about by name: Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney. That makes sense. When they’re on, Florida’s offense is noticeably improved. When they’re not, like against Texas A&M when they were both injured, well, Florida’s offense is even worse than usual. So heading into a game Florida (3-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) must win to stay in slim contention for the SEC eastern division title, it wasn’t surprising to hear them brought up. Because without them, Florida’s chances this Saturday against No. 3 Georgia (7-0, 4-0 SEC), which are already bad (the Bulldogs opened as 14 ½-point favorites), are much worse.

Toney came up in the second question of Dixon’s press conference. He’s the less important of the tandem based on production. At 107 yards through the air this year, he ranks fourth on the team. But his value is more in his electricity.

He can run the ball on sweeps, he can run out of the wildcat formation, he can catch passes, and as a guy who played quarterback in high school, he can throw as well. That versatility is why he’s listed as an athlete — the only athlete — on Florida’s roster. If there was such a thing as the “eyeball test” for Florida’s offense, his moves and cuts would make him one of the few guaranteed to pass.

“We knew he was special in the spring,” Dixon said. “Moving forward we definitely hope to use him a lot more."

McElwain said Wednesday afternoon that Toney’s return is not certain, but he’s “doing everything” to be able to play.

Cleveland came up a little later for Dixon. Despite not registering a catch in UF’s last two games — that’s a third of the season — he still has twice as many yards as the next-closest receiver at 326. Brandon Powell is next at 149. He missed those two games with a high ankle sprain, and his absence limited Florida’s vertical passing game. Coach Jim McElwain said that will be a big part of this weekend’s contest against Georgia given how the Bulldogs load the box to stop the running game.

“We're going to have to make some plays downfield,” he said.

Players sounded hopeful Cleveland will be back. So did McElwain, who called him probable.

"He's back to his normal self,” Powell said. “It's just an ankle sprain, so he needed some time off, he got the bye week, so now he's back to his old self.”

However, Powell then referred to the abilities of other players in the wideout group.

“We've got playmakers everywhere,” he said. “Just to have another one of our playmakers back just makes us that much better.”

That’s not exactly true. At least not so far. In the two games without Cleveland, UF managed 135 and 108 passing yards. With him, it’s managed 249, 209, 212 and 181. Dixon knows the difference Cleveland makes.

"There's a comfort level when you have that deep threat out there,” he said. “They have to make certain coverage adjustments to him, which is a great asset to the offense.”

-- In addition to updates on Toney and Cleveland, McElwain said defensive end Jabari Zuniga, who was nursing an ankle injury, should be able to play. He added wideout Josh Hammond is questionable with a tweaked back.

-- Jim McElwain ignited Florida’s fan base Monday by revealing he’d received death threats. Some questioned the legitimacy of those threats after UAA spokesman Steve McClain sent out statement ending with, “Our administration met with coach McElwain this afternoon and he offered no additional details.” McElwain tried to clarify on Wednesday.

“It’s just something that came up and obviously was on my mind,” he said. “It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it right to air that laundry, and yet at the same time [we’ve] got total, total support.”

When asked if his family was threatened directly, he said the threats were anonymous but didn’t offer many other details. His response, in its entirety:

“Obviously, I understand that's the news,” he answered. “It goes with the territory. You know what? It’s hard to leave sometimes. You know how much I care about this program, these players. Obviously, everything that goes in with it. But ultimately allowing one or two, and who even knows who it was, right? You don’t know. It’s anonymous. So, that is what it is, and I’m confident we’re all right.”

October 18, 2017

UF DL Sherit out for season

Starting defensive end Jordan Sherit will be out for the season after sustaining a hip injury on Saturday against Texas A&M. Coach Jim McElwain said he had surgery earlier this week. 

Sherit was finally in the midst of a breakout campaign after suffering injury setbacks in previous years at UF. Once again, though, his season ended with an ailment. And this time, it's permanent. 

A redshirt senior, Sherit's college career is over. He finished his final campaign with with 2 ½ sacks, 23 tackles and five tackles for loss. 

Days before the injury, he told reporters how it was finally dawning on him that this season was his last in The Swamp. That he only had so many college games left. 

Days later, all of it ended sooner than he thought it would. 

"It's a bad deal, man," coach Jim McElwain said. 

October 08, 2017

Gators fall from AP poll, announce time for TAMU game

Florida fell out of the AP Poll Sunday for the first time this season. The Gators entered Saturday's matchup against LSU ranked No. 21 before they lost to the Tigers 17-16.

UF also fell from the Amway Coaches Poll. It was ranked No. 20 before the loss to LSU. 

It was also announced that this Saturday's matchup against Texas A&M in Gainesville will be played at 7 p.m. ESPN2 will broadcast it. 

October 05, 2017

UF to honor Tom Petty during game against LSU

There was some speculation after Gainesville native Tom Petty passed away on Monday that the halftime show during the Florida-LSU game would honor the late musician. While that hypothesis hasn't been refuted, it now seems unlikely. 

The UF Athletic Association announced Thursday that it will pay a different tribute to Petty. After the band plays "The Boys of Old Florida" at the conclusion of the third quarter, Petty's "I won't back down" will echo through Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

"Let's celebrate together what he meant to the world of music and what he meant to this community,'' UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a release. "Since we are already singing 'We are the Boys,' let's go right from that into one of his great anthems and make that the way we are going to jointly celebrate Tom Petty and the Gators."

September 27, 2017

UF’s offensive line showing improvement after disastrous opening game

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. In the season’s first game, on the Dallas Cowboys’ field, playing on national television against the storied Michigan Wolverines, Florida’s offensive line was supposed to do the pushing rather than get pushed around. Coach Jim McElwain had raved about the unit heading into the season. He said it would be a team strength. Yet in game one, it was not .

“It was a gut punch,” offensive line coach Brad Davis said. “And it was what we needed.”

Since that game, during which Florida allowed six sacks, No. 21 UF’s offensive line has allowed three sacks combined in two games. The nine total sacks still rank 10th in the Southeastern Conference and 86th nationally, but the pass blocking has shown improvement since the stomping it took against Michigan. So has the run blocking.

The Gators managed 11 yards on the ground against the Wolverines, upped it to 168 against Tennessee and 186 against Kentucky.

Through the discouragement of the opening loss, the disappointment of missing out on a tune-up game due to Hurricane Irma, the suspension and levying of potential felony charges against freshman tackle Kadeem Telfort and back-to-back last-second wins, Florida’s offensive line has shown one thing it preached in the pre-season has come true: Thanks to the bonds formed within the unit, it’s been able to tune out distractions.

Now, the classic sports cliche of “just focusing on the game” and forgetting about hurricanes, suspensions, close wins and poor performances is repeated across sports whenever something bad happens to a team. Granted. But Florida’s offensive line has shown its legitimately capable of doing it. One player even says those challenges help.

“It made it a lot easier on us,” left tackle Martez Ivey said. “It’s like, we can fight through adversity and come together and we can still win, still push each other every day to come out and play hard.”

The improvements shouldn’t be a total surprise. Florida’s offensive line features a group of highly ranked, tall, heavy players, starting with Ivey.

He was the top-ranked offensive lineman in the class of 2015, carried five stars and was rated as the nation’s second-best player. He was joined by UF’s now-starting right guard Fred Johnson, who was a three-star recruit, but one who was 6-foot-7, 301 pounds in high school, held offers from Virginia Tech. Nebraska and Tennessee, and played his freshman year at Florida.

Right guard Brett Heggie was rated as the sixth-best center in the nation in the class of 2016 by the 247Sports Composite in addition to being an Under Armour All American. And go-to backup Tyler Jordan was also an Under Armour All American rated the seventh-best center in the country.

That leaves T.J. McCoy and Jawaan Taylor. McCoy is the outlier of the group, having come to Florida as a transfer from North Carolina State to be closer to his ailing father in Orlando. He was relegated to third-string center duty until late into last season when a string of injuries forced him into action. Since then, the 6-foot-1, 314-pound leader of the offensive line hasn’t lost his job. And Taylor, the team’s heaviest offensive lineman at 334 pounds, made the All-SEC Freshman Team last season.

Still, there was work to be done after Michigan tore through them like bullets through paper.

“To go out and underperform and underachieve was a huge disappointment,” Davis said. “My job as a coach is to not beat them up or tear them down. It’s to build.”

He’s done so by trying to improve communication and eliminate “self-inflicted wounds,” like penalties and missed assignments. He said his players have responded well.

“They handled it like men,” he said.

McCoy added having Luke Del Rio at quarterback helped with the communication.

“He does a great job of calling out the play and explaining it to everybody,” he said. “He does a great job of that and keeping everybody together."

And McElwain, with all the off-field distractions, said it’s expected of the offensive line to tune out. When nine of your teammates are suspended -- including one from your own unit -- you’ve missed a game, your quarterback position is in constant flux, what’s one bad opening game?

“I think there's one thing these guys have done a pretty good job of,” McElwain said, “is dealing with some things."

DL Jordan Smith facing four more potential charges

Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jordan Smith is facing four more potential felony charges, according to Alachua County court records. 

In a sworn complaint affidavit filed Wednesday by the Gainesville Police Department, Smith is accused of using a stolen credit card to pay $1,007.82 to his apartment complex, the Woodlands of Gainesville. 

On Monday, the University of Florida Police Department accused Smith of 18 felony counts. Wednesday's complaint affidavit brings his total potential charges up to 22 by adding two charges of larceny-grand theft and two of fraud. 

The State Attorney's Office will decide whether to ultimately press charges against Smith and the other eight players accused of fraud. 


Florida Gators bought laptops, fast food and more with stolen credit cards, police say

The nine Florida football players who have been suspended since August are facing potential felony charges for fraud, according to sworn complaint affidavits filed Monday by the University of Florida Police Department.

Antonio Callaway, Jordan Scarlett, Rick Wells, Ventrell Miller, Keivonnis Davis, Richerd Desir-Jones and James Houston are all facing two possible third-degree felony charges, per Alachua County court records.

Defensive end Jordan Smith and offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, a freshman offensive lineman from Miami's Booker T. Washington High School, are facing multiple charges for multiple transactions and stolen information.


The State Attorney's Office will review the evidence and decide whether to formally charge the players.

Most of the players are accused of using stolen credit card information to transfer money to their student debit card accounts, which they then used to purchase laptop computers, iPads and headphones, among other items.

The nine players are facing 62 criminal counts.

Seven of the nine are accused of making one purchase. Smith and Telfort are accused of using multiple cards to make multiple purchases.

According to the complaints, Callaway spent 2,022.44 on a 13-inch MacBook Pro, which came with gloss black Beats headphones thanks to a coupon code, after using the stolen credit card to transfer $1,970 into his student debit account. Scarlett also bought a MacBook with rose gold headphones.

The same complaint says some of the players admitted to selling what they bought. On Aug. 1, Smith bought three different types of Beats headphones ranging in price from $69.99 to $149.99.

The complaint filed against Scarlett says he used his girlfriend's account to make his purchase after transferring $1,940 from the stolen card to it.

When interviewed by police, she said Scarlett told her there was money on her account from "an agent" in New York and that he needed her to come with him to the UF bookstore to pick out a computer. He told police he transferred the money to her account because “he needed the money but did not want to get in trouble."


Telfort is alleged to have used stolen information to buy items ranging from a combo meal at Sonic to an iPad (with $99 insurance) to gummy worms.

The group has a heavy South Florida connection. The two most prominent names -- Callaway, a starting receiver, and Scarlett, a starting running back -- are both from the area, with Callaway, like Telfort, having attended Booker T. Washington in Miami and Scarlett having attended St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale.

Davis attended Miami Central. Houston attended Plantation American Heritage, and Desir-Jones is also an Aquinas alum.

Scarlett, Callaway, Miller, Davis, Desir-Jones, Smith and Telfort have been suspended since Aug. 13. Scarlett and Wells joined them on Aug. 30.

The news of the affidavits being filed broke in the middle of coach Jim McElwain's press conference on Monday, and McElwain said he was unaware of it. When asked, he said no decisions have been made about the futures of those players.

“You’re asking me something I don’t even know about,” he said.

He added that, if charged, the news could change the players' situations.

"Darn right," he said.

Center T.J. McCoy, who spoke to reporters shortly after McElwain, said he still has faith in those players returning.

"I really believe that those guys are gonna come back," he said, "and I believe they're gonna help us to have a great season."

September 07, 2017

Florida cancels game against Northern Colorado

The Gators wont play Northern Colorado this Saturday in The Swamp. The school announced Thursday that the game is canceled and wont be rescheduled due to Hurricane Irma. 

“As the Hurricane’s track has approached the state of Florida," UF Athletics Director Scott Stricklin said in a release, "it’s become obvious that playing a football game is not the right thing to do. The focus of our state and region needs to be on evacuations and relief efforts."

On Wednesday, the school had moved the game up from its original 7:30 p.m. start to noon. But because of everything coming to Gainesville for a football game entails -- filling up on gas, driving on highways, buying snack food and water -- Stricklin said playing the game just wasn't the right thing to do. Plus there are 3,300 working personnel, 17 government agencies and outside vendors who bus employees from Jacksonville and Orlando to Gainesville, per a press release,. Stricklin said he didn't want to clog up those resources incase they're needed elsewhere. 

"Playing a college football game Saturday," he said, "would only add to that stress."

Coach Jim McElwain agreed. While he was excited about the game in press conferences leading up to it, he also noted how the approach of Hurricane Irma put his life into perspective. When the game was canceled, he reiterated those thoughts. 

“When you look at the impact this event could have, you have to sit back and realize what’s really important in life,” he said in a release. “In this case, we’re doing everything we can to help facilitate with what may occur."

He also emphasized that many of the team's players are from South Florida and sent well wishes to them and their families. 

The university said ticket holders will be notified about refunds individually. 

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