GAINESVILLE -- No. 2 Florida State (predictably) smoked Florida 37-7, mercifully ending the Gators’ brutal season (seven straight losses and no bowl game). With a roaring ‘War Chant’, the Seminoles took over The Swamp en route to their 12th win -- and now just one victory away from Pasadena. Saturday’s rapid reaction grades on UF’s abysmal performance.
Florida tallied under 200 yards for just the second time this season. The Gators nearly had as many drives of four plays or less (6) then first downs (8). Trey Burton’s shoulder injury hurt -- limiting UF’s Wild-Gator attack -- but considering Saturday was Florida’s “bowl game,” there were no additional wrinkles. It was hardly a kitchen-sink game plan. UF was just 1-of-11 on third down. Yikes.
Last week, the Gators didn’t allow a single completion. On Saturday, Jameis Winston -- sublime all afternoon -- shredded Florida for 327 yards and three scores. Wideout Kelvin Benjamin (219 yards, three touchdowns) was unstoppable. Florida actually played inspired, spirited defense to start the game (two sacks, an interception, lone field) before FSU’s 96-yard touchdown drive jumpstarted the blowout. UF also wore down up front, as FSU rushed for 153 yards -- 142 after halftime. The Seminoles gashed the Gators on third down, converting 9-of-15.
SPECIAL TEAMS C
Another missed field goal (DRINK), but the coverage units were again solid. Freshman punter Johnny Townsend pinned a 46-yard kick at the 4-yard line, while Solomon Patton had another long kickoff return.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp -- somber and solemn -- addresses reporters following Florida's seventh-straight loss, a 37-7 beatdown to archrival Florida State.
The Gators' three-game skid in The Swamp is their longest losing streak since 1988.
DE Jon Bullard
“I don't think I really ran out of gas, but I think everybody started looking at the scoreboard as a collective group and saying, ‘Dang, the offense is just three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out.’ But I mean, it's not all on them. We let them get 37 points. We've just got to regroup, get better next year and hopefully our D-line can be even better than it was this year.”
“Whatever [the offense changes this offseason] do hopefully is changed for the best. Give us 21 a game. If they can do that, then I would put the blame on us if they score 21 points or over. Hopefully change for the better, because what we're doing right now just ain't working.”
DB Cody Riggs
“We have a lot of payback [to dish out]. Lost to a lot of teams this year, and we have a lot of games marked on our schedule next year.”
LT Max Garcia
“It hasn’t been the season we wanted, and we really felt like a victory today could have atoned for the past year. Obviously we didn’t get that done, so extremely upset about it. I wish [the seniors] could have gone out with a win.”
“It hasn’t been the season we wanted, and we really felt like a victory today could have atoned for the past year. Obviously we didn’t get that done, so extremely upset about it. I wish they could have gone out with a win."
“Honestly, I feel like we hit rock bottom this year. I feel like the only way we can go is up. … You have to remember what happened, and you want to not let that happen ever again. We don’t want to feel that pain. We don’t want to feel this pain ever again. I’m sick and tired of losing. Next year, we have that pain to sit in our hearts. We have to work through that, and we have to take that pain and make it into intensity , make it into effort, make it into want-to.”
GAINESVILLE -- We're moments away from a windy (and chilly) Senior Day kickoff in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators hope to avoid losing three straight games at home for the first time since 1986. The Gators are nearly four touchdown underdogs, but they insist they can still upset the No. 2 Seminoles.
It's a late arriving crowd (again), as the student section isn't even halfway filled.
Much of the morning has been dominated by Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley's impromptu press conference, where he reiterated his unwavering support for embattled coach Will Muschamp.
I'll have more on Foley's message later.
PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES
* Redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg will make his third straight start.
* Florida won the toss and opted to RECEIVE
* The Gators honored 15 seniors in a short ceremony
Scoreboard: 44-24-2 ATS, 6-5 selecting Florida games
Florida (+27.5) vs. Florida State. Because why not. The Gators won't pull off the upset but I can see this being an ugly, slow game.
GAINESVILLE -- Dorian-Finney Smith labored all evening. He missed two one-handed dunks, was 0-of-4 from the 3-point line and seemed to mentally press on his first game on a national stage, but the Virginia Tech transfer overcame all his struggles to ultimately make the game-winning play for the Gators.
Finney-Smith’s free throw with 1.3 seconds sealed No. 15 Florida’s fifth straight win over Florida State 67-66 in a rocking (and sold out) O’Dome on Friday night.
The sophomore, who finished with six points (on 2-of-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds (six on the offensive glass), corralled Scottie Wilbekin’s missed jumper and was fouled on his put-back attempt. He missed the first free throw before connecting on the second attempt.
But the drama was hardly over.
The Gators averted a late collapse after FSU guard Ian Miller, who drained a contested 3-pointer moments earlier, narrowly missed a halfcourt heave at the buzzer.
Senior forward Casey Prather led the Gators with 19 points and had the highlight of the game: a hellacious alley-oop dunk on a beautiful pass from Wilbekin out of a timeout. Sophomore sniper Michael Frazier II added 15 on five timely treys.
* FSU’s 7-footers Michael Ojo (7’2”) and Boris Bojanovsky (7’3”) -- despite their relative inexperience and subpar season statistics -- were a tough matchup for Florida’s frontcourt. Bojanovsky, FSU’s Slovakian sophomore, scored a career-high 14 points on a perfect 6-for-6 from the field. Ojo, a sophomore who weighs nearly 300 pounds, chipped in 10 points and six rebounds in just 14 minutes. Both bigs were in and out of foul trouble though, a key factor late in the game.
* Wilbekin did a lot of everything Friday night – good and bad. The senior guard, playing in just his second game since returning from a six-game suspension, scored just seven points (2-for-12) as he could never find his midrange touch. Yet Wilbekin again proved his value distributing the ball and piloting UF's aggressive on-ball defense. The senior finished with eight assists and five steals.
* While the second half was entertaining, Friday’s contest was another game marred by whistles and poor shooting. The Gators opened the evening 4-of-19 and finished the night shootin just 38.5 percent from the field. The two teams combined for 38 fouls and 21 turnovers.
* Cult hero Jake “The Snake” Kurtz continued his impressive play, as the walk-on chipped in eight points and five rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. Meanwhile, seniors Patric Young (four points, four rebounds, four fouls) and Will Yeguete (six points, six rebounds) labored for much of the evening.
* Florida State nearly rallied late to upset UF thanks to some strong free throw shooting. FSU was 20-23 from the charity stripe, while Florida shot just 62 percent (15-of-24) from the line.
GAINESVILLE -- Sophomore guard DeVon Walker is “day-to-day” and questionable for Friday’s game against Florida State with a mild foot sprain, according to coach Billy Donovan.
Walker sustained the injury in Florida’s 86-60 win at Jacksonville on Monday night.
“X-Rays came back negative,” Donovan said. “No break. It’s not even a sprained ankle. … He tweaked his ligament kind of down on the bottom or side of his foot.”
Donovan also updated the status of injured point guard Kasey Hill, sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.
“He’s making positive progress,” Donovan said.
HARRIS UPDATE Donovan remains very disappointed with South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, a 6-foot-10 center who hasn’t practiced with the team since Nov. 1.
Harris, currently suspended indefinitely after already sitting out all of the 2012-13 season due to NCAA transfer stipulations, is “at a crossroads” and must “make a life decision.”
“We support people here. We're always willing to reach out and to help, but when it is a consistent pattern of behavior, of not accepting, taking the help or going where you're supposed to be, being where you're supposed to be or doing what you're supposed to do. At a certain point, he's got to want to say this is what I want and this is what I'm prepared to do,” Donovan explained. “He has not done that. He has said, ‘This is what I'd like. I want to play on the team.’ Well, this is what you have to do. What he wants and what he has to do are not matching up. I'm now at a crossroads in the dilemma. Does he want to play? Does he not want to play?”
Donovan didn’t mince his words with Harris’ struggles, saying, “When you have all the resources here at Florida to really help someone in every possible area -- on the court, off the court, academically, weight room, film -- and you’re not taking advantage of it, at some point he’s the one responsible. ... He’s in the dorm. It’d be very easy for him to come over to my office to talk. He’s not come over here one time. And I’m certainly not going to chase him around. That’s got to be something he wants to do.”
Donovan continued: “But there’s zero accountability at all. You can’t call meetings or have a strength coach be here to work you out and just not show up. … There are things you have to do and when you don’t do that, at some point, there are consequences and levels of accountability you have to assume as a young man. I’m all for giving guys second chances. I think Scottie [Wilbekin] is a much better player and person for what he had to go through. And I think Damontre has to make a decision. Do I want to change? Do I want my life to change for the better? Or do I want to just through cruise through life and not do anything. He’s got to make that choice.”
GAINESVILLE -- Jon Halapio never imagined his senior season spiraling out of control.
Florida’s gritty right guard -- a four-year regular with 42 career starts -- admitted he’s “ready to move forward with life,” but the fifth-year senior said he's also proud of what he accomplished at UF and “wouldn’t want to play on any other team.”
“I had a wonderful opportunity to play at, still in my opinion, the best school education-wise, and I wouldn’t want to play on any other team,” said Halapio, who's played through a painful torn pectoral muscle all season. “It’s hard to say that with the stuff that we’ve been going through, but I still feel the same way. I wouldn’t want to be on any other team.”
When Florida hosts Florida State on Saturday (noon, ESPN) -- as a four-touchdown underdog -- 18 seniors will wear the orange and blue for the final time.
FSU is UF’s bowl game this season.
The Gators, 4-7 and mired in a six-game losing streak, will honor Halapio, Trey Burton, Jeremy Brown, Dominique Easley, Jon Harrison, Damien Jacobs, Darrin Kitchens, Kyle Koehne, Solomon Patton, Jaylen Watkins, Tim Clark and six walk-ons in a pregame ceremony.
Throughout the week, several seniors reflected on a trying season, their careers and an upcoming emotional day.
RG Jon Halapio
*** “I never thought that my senior season would go like this, especially with four wins at this point. I just experienced a lot here at this program and it’s just gonna make me as an individual stronger.”
*** “There’s a little sense of excitement moving forward with our lives and for this week. It’s FSU week, it’s a rivalry week. I sense a little bit of excitement, yeah, just to move on with our life.”
*** “Man, I just hope I don’t cry. Everybody else has been saying. .. it’s going to be very emotional coming out of the tunnel one last time. I’m very excited, but sad at the same time.”
*** "This is by far the worst season since I've been here."
OL Kyle Koehne
*** “It’s a huge day, you know, last game in The Swamp. I’ve been thinking about this since senior year. It’s hard to believe that the day has actually come but I’m super excited. It’s gonna be awesome to have my family out there on the field with me. It’s been an awesome experience here.”
*** “It’s definitely not how I pictured my senior year. I live and die for this place. Everything we do we do as a team, we do it together. If we’re having a good year, as long as we stick together, we’ll be ok.”
WR Trey Burton
*** “Lot of mixed emotions, really happy for my time here I wouldn't wanna take anything back. The challenges, all that type of stuff has helped me mature as a man and I'm really happy with the way things have gone.”
*** “You never really think about that, you think about and you imagine, picture winning championships and stuff like that.”
*** “Well, I know everything happens for a reason. Obviously we don't know the reason for this right now, but I truly believe that and going through this will help me later in life somehow and that's how I look at it.”
DT Damien Jacobs
*** “It’s bittersweet. Not even just for the simple fact that it’s been a bad season, but mostly because I’m ready to move on to the next part of my life. That’s why it’s bittersweet.”
*** “There’s always something to play for – pride and respect, not just myself, but this school.”
DB Jaylen Watkins
*** “It’s going to be very emotional for all of us. We’ve been here four years, some five. We have some who have been here six years. It’s a new chapter for most of us to after football and actually graduating. Some of us are graduating next month. It’s going to be very exciting for both us and our families.”
*** “This is our last game we’ll ever play in The Swamp in an orange and blue jersey, so all of the seniors I know are going to go out and give everything they’ve got.”
*** “The injuries, just to see my teammates, the ones that are injured on the sideline knowing they can't help. That's the toughest thing for me. I'm pretty sure if we had all our guys this season it would be different. I'm not making any excuses, but it's tough to see everyone else play through that. We've got younger guys having to step up, but I'm pretty sure that'll be good experience for them in the future.”
*** "This has been a rough year for all of us. I'd like for all of us to go out and compete this last game and show the Gator Nation we still are here and that we're going to keep playing no matter what."
VIDEO: Halapio talks “the last one,” the chance to “resolve the whole season,” Florida’s infamous blocking gaffe and more.
GAINESVILLE -- Brent Pease appears resigned to his fate.
During a somber press conference Tuesday, Florida’s besieged offensive coordinator was peppered with hot-seat questions instead of how to score on No. 2 Florida State’s hotshot defense.
Pease said he hopes to return to the Gators in 2014 and believes he’s earned the right do so, but the embattled coach acknowledged his murky future with the team.
“I think you look at the first year and some of the situations and knowing the body of work and not just a game-to-game basis and situations we’ve been under [this season]. I hope any evaluations are looked at that way,” Pease said in his defense. “But I understand things, too. It’s not like, I know you’ve got to win and have success. If it’s not meant to be… I came into this with friends, and I’m walking out of it with friends.”
During a lengthy press conference -- possibly Pease’s final meeting with the local media with numerous reports regarding his future employment -- UF’s second-year coordinator spoke softly but candidly, handling a number of tough questions with dignity and grace.
Inundated with inquires regarding the fans’ ever-deafening criticism, Pease said, “That’s how it is. If it's coming my way, then it's coming my way. You've just got to kind of take the blows."
Florida’s attack ranks in the bottom-20 nationally in scoring offense (No. 111), total offense (No. 113) and red zone offense (No. 118), but it’s been a unit decimated by injuries. The Gators have lost two quarterbacks, three offensive tackles and a starting tailback to season-ending injuries.
Although head coach Will Muschamp has received a public vote of confidence from the school’s administration, Pease -- and the rest of UF’s offensive staff -- has not. After Florida dropped its sixth-straight game Saturday -- a mind-blowing defeat to Division 1-AA Georgia Southern -- Muschamp called UF’s offensive woes “infectious.”
Muschamp has cited the team’s injury list as a reason to skirt complete culpability for UF’s woeful 4-7 season, and Pease was asked if he’s feeling scapegoated despite the same facts.
"I don't know,” he said. “That's a tough question to answer. … You can always address that question later.”
VIDEO: Pease on the offense's "infectious" role, his future, why he deserves to return in 2014 and more.
Muschamp (Wednesday on Pease): "When you lose three offensive tackles, two quarterbacks, a 1,000-yard rusher and a receiver, it makes it very difficult. Very difficult to call plays. Brent's a good playcaller and an outstanding football coach. It's been frustrating for all of us, including him, our production offensively this year."
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s dreadful season has been no joke, but everyone -- offensive coordinator Brent Pease included -- got a chuckle out a mind-blowing play that seemed to epitomize UF’s struggles on the offensive side of the ball.
In a (low)light that’s circled the Internet and been featured on ESPN Monday Night Football’s “C’mon Man” segment, two Florida players -- center Jon Harrison and receiver Quinton Dunbar -- blocked each other on a reverse during the second quarter of Saturday’s 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” right guard Jon Halapio said. “I thought it was comical. We’re all in the locker room joking around about it. I don’t even know what happened on that play. I honestly don’t know. [Harrison] was supposed to pull to the right and I think Solomon [Patton] had the ball or something. I guess Quinton got in his way.”
Pease, who caught the play during film study Sunday, said, “Sometimes you just have to laugh, I mean, I’m just like that is … C’mon.”
“I know what Jon was doing,” Pease added. “He’s trying to get around. I guess I’d tell Quinton to keep his eyes open a little bit.”
Halapio thought Harrison “had perfect technique,” but should’ve pancaked his teammate too.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s sputtering offense barely managed 20 points in Saturday’s humiliating loss to Georgia Southern, and now the freefalling unit must prepare for the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense: archrival Florida State.
UF ranks last in the Southeastern Conference in scoring (19.9) and total offense (327.9 yards per game), but redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg said the offense must execute better and play with more confidence considering the sizeable mismatch.
“We gotta make some plays,” Mornhinweg said. “We’ve got to go out, execute and put points on the board.”
FSU has allowed more than 17 points just one time all season, while the Gators haven’t scored more than 20 points in nearly eight weeks.
Quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) is questionable for Saturday’s rivalry game, while sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL sprain) remains doubtful.
Junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) is expected to play, as is sophomore defensive end Jon Bullard (knee swelling).
Starting middle linebacker Michael Taylor, injured in the loss to GSU, is out with a Grade 2 MCL sprain, but the injury will not require surgery. However, freshman linebacker Alex Anzalone, also hurt in the loss, will have offseason shoulder surgery.
“I love you guys. … I don’t have any problem with anybody. Everybody has an opinion and everybody is certainly entitled to that. That’s part of it. That’s part of the job. I don’t have any issue with that. … If it’s personal to me, then maybe I’ve gone a little over the edge in those situations. That’s who I am. I say what’s on my mind, I tell you the way it is. I won’t beat around it or anything. I don’t have any problem with anybody sitting in the room. I really don’t, from the stand point of you’ve got jobs to do. And sometimes your opinion may be different from mine. One of my favorite sayings, and if you’ve worked with me before, it’s ‘let’s agree to disagree.’ And that’s fine. I’m involved in day-to-day operation of the program. You’ve got to see the big picture of where we are and more than anything where we’re headed. It’s been very frustrating, and it’s all on me. I get all that and we need to improve and get better, and that’s what we’re going to do. But I ain’t got any problem with any of you.”
-- Will Muschamp, on his relationship with the media
GAINESVILLE -- Late last week, No. 15 Florida topped Middle Tennessee State by double-digits without a point guard, but coach Billy Donovan’s offensive gamble lasted just a single contest.
Florida -- shorthanded with just seven available scholarship players -- will receive a much-needed boost Monday against Jacksonville (7 p.m.) as point guard Scottie Wilbekin returns to action following a six-game suspension.
“He’s done everything. I’m really proud of him,” Donovan said. “As I have mentioned before, he has really stayed on course since last spring.”
UF's senior point guard, a preseason all-conference pick and one of the top defensive guards in the country, was suspended indefinitely June 10 after violating team rules for the second time in eight months. Donovan actually gave Wilbekin the option to transfer, but the senior chose to earn (and fight) his way back onto the team.
“He’s grown up in a lot of ways. I think that he obviously made some poor choices last year. You would hope that situation would have been kind of an eye-opener for him, with his level of accountability and responsibility to himself and to his team,” Donovan explained. “For whatever reason, that experience, those first three games last year, did not register with him at all, at the level I wanted it to. And I think with the situation we put him in the spring, as it related to him having to work his way back on the team, not doing anything in Summer B or Summer A with our team, going through the conditioning in the month of August and September away from our team, slowly getting him back. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is a total change in his attitude, his behavior. Scottie was never ever a bad kid. It was of kind of like a warrior mentality, like, ‘I’ll take anything on. I can deal with it.’ And I think he’s gotten a lot more humble. I think he has a much, much better understanding of how his actions and things that he does impact not only himself, but other people. I really have seen a great growth in him.”
Wilbekin, who averaged 9.1 ppg. and 5.1 apg. in 29 starts last season, returns at an important time for Florida. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill sustained a high-ankle sprain in last Monday’s win over Southern, forcing Donovan to juggle as many as four guys at the position during Thursday’s 20-point win over MTSU.
Hill remains in a boot except during rehab activities and is expected to miss around a month with the injury.
Following Monday’s road tilt with JU (2-3), Florida (4-1) faces a brutal schedule over the next three weeks: home vs. FSU, at No. 13 Connecticut, home vs. No. 2 Kansas and vs. No. 21 Memphis in Madison Square Garden.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s historic defeat to Georgia Southern -- a middling and mediocre Football Championship Subdivision team with double-digit losses to Samford, Wofford and Appalachian State -- ignited a wildfire in an-already toxic environment.
A seething Gator Nation hoped (and presumed) a seismic coaching shakeup was looming. One week prior to Saturday’s embarrassing loss, Florida fans were told to “get a grip,” and then the Gators dropped a home game to a FCS foe winless in 20 tries against FBS competition.
But to the dismay of a disgruntled fan base, embattled head coach Will Muschamp isn’t going anywhere.
“It’s all disappointing. It’s hard to really measure it,” Muschamp said following Florida’s sixth straight loss. “It’s my job to get it fixed. We will get it fixed.”
Muschamp will presumably get that chance.
Despite presiding over one of the worst defeats in school-history -- the Gators paid the Eagles $550,000 to come into The Swamp and humiliate a team that won 11 games just last season -- UF’s third-year coach is all-but-assured to return in 2014.
UF’s 4-7 campaign, its first losing season since Jimmy Carter was president, has been effectively written off by the school’s administration because of the team’s crippling injury situation, losing 10 players to season-ending surgeries including quarterback Jeff Driskel, star defensive tackle Dominique Easley and three offense tackles.
Two weeks ago, following a then-momentous home loss to Vanderbilt, athletics director Jeremy Foley released a public vote of confidence, saying he’s “a thousand percent convinced” in Muschamp’s leadership. Despite Saturday’s harrowing defeat, the administration’s sentiment hasn’t changed, according to UF spokesperson Steve McClain.
On Sunday, McClain told ESPN’s Joe Schad that Foley’s position remains resolute.
But while Muschamp will survive the tidal wave of criticism, Florida’s program remains seemingly directionless and answerless.
UF’s defense -- Muschamp’s brainchild -- surrendered 429 yards rushing, but for the first time all season, Muschamp lashed out at UF’s incompetent offense.
Florida’s coach called their struggles “infectious,” while distancing himself from beleaguered coordinator Brent Pease. ..."
GAINESVILLE -- Florida paid $550,000 just to get embarrassed by Georgia Southern. The Eagles shocked the Gators 26-20 on a picturesque -- unless you were wearing orange and blue -- Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. Here’s some rapid reaction grades on UF’s harrowing (and historic) defeat.
Florida jumped to a 10-point lead and then sneezed. The Gators gained just 279 total yards against a GSU-team that had allowed 30+ points to Appalachian State and Wofford. Coordinator Brent Pease had little faith in redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornihinweg – and with good reason. The redshirt freshman nearly tossed three interceptions on his first five passes and demonstrated his accuracy issues, questionable arm-strength and footwork concerns.
UF’s rushing attack didn’t fair much better either though. Aside from a dominant first drive (which again stalled in the red zone), Florida couldn’t run against a front that averaged just 260-pounds. Will Muschamp's postgame "talent" rant was embarrassing, but if the triple-option is such a great equalizer perhaps Florida should consider running it to wake up its anemic beggared offense.
The Gators didn’t allow a single completion. The good news ends there. GSU gained 429 yards on the ground -- the fourth-most yards allowed UF history. Those other teams? 1996 Nebraska, 1979 Alabama (one of Bear Bryant's national championship teams) and a Georgia squad led by Hershel Walker. The Eagles may run the triple-option, but you’d be hard-pressed (or insane) to find someone who’d confuse them with the aforementioned teams. Florida -- struggling with assignments, discipline and gap control throughout its lengthy losing streak -- couldn’t stop GSU’s dive, veer, pitch, reverse, anything. The triple-option is plenty tricky to prepare for, but Florida looked like it'd never seen it before -- even in practice.
SPECIAL TEAMS C-
Another missed field goal (blocked), poor punt coverage, a shanked punt. Really, aside from Solomon Patton’s 54-yard kickoff returns Florida’s third unit again disappointed.
***** VIDEO *****
Muschamp talks Florida's soul-crushing loss to GSU.
GAINESVILLE -- Losers of five straight, Florida isn’t overlooking any team, even a Football Championship Subdivision foe 0-9 all-time versus Southeastern Conference schools.
The Gators (4-6) square off against Georgia Southern (6-4) today at 2 p.m. (pay-per-view) in The Swamp, a matchup featuring two injury-depleted rosters and a whole lot of running.
The Eagles stroll into Gainesville with their prolific triple-option attack, while Florida appears poised to start its third-string quarterback, Skyler Mornhinweg, for a second-straight week.
There will be no looking ahead to archrival No. 2 Florida State.
“If you don’t come out prepared and ready to play you can lose to anybody. We lost to Vanderbilt. We hadn’t lost to Vanderbilt in 20-something years,” junior linebacker Michael Taylor said. “Any team is capable of losing on any day. I know this team put up 352 yards on [Georgia] last year, so this is no team to push aside. This is a team to be prepared for.”
Georgia Southern’s dynamic and efficient rushing offense (353.3 yards per game) presents a unique challenge for an already teetering UF rush defense.
The Eagles’ traditional dive-oriented triple option is alien to most Gator players.
“It’s a total technique change,” defensive tackle Leon Orr said. “It’s all about focus, when it comes down to it. It’s something our defense gotta hone in on and be able to focus on your role. …It’ll be something of a challenge for us, but at the end of the day we ain’t got no choice but to get it done.”
Twelve different players have scored at least one rushing touchdown for the Eagles this season, and their offense also averages nearly 19 yards a competition. …”
***** UPDATE *****
Couple pregame announcements: Mornhinweg will start, while UF also announced defensive end Jon Bullard is OUT with an undisclosed injury and freshman wideout Demarcus Robinson is suspended for the remainder of the season (2 games) for violating undisclosed team rules. Remember (in the preseason) when I said Robinson could be more George Farmer than Stefon Diggs? What a disappointing freshman campaign for such a talented prospect.
Scoreboard: 39-23-2 ATS, 5-5 selecting Florida games
This week’s six-pack
Missouri (-2) at Ole Miss
Clemson (-42) vs. Citadel
Idaho (+57) at FSU
LSU (-3.5) vs. Texas A&M
Oklahoma State (+9) vs. Baylor
And finally, Georgia Southern (+28) at Florida. The Gators SHOULD snap their long losing streak, but I have little faith this team can actually cover 28 points against a triple-option attack (i.e. very, very quick game) with a third-string quarterback. Motivation will be another interesting storyline to watch too -- despite the normal weekly game-by-game platitudes expressed during the week.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 14 Florida dismantled Middle Tennessee State -- an 11th seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament -- 79-59 thanks to a 15-4 run early in the second half Thursday night in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Six players scored in double figures -- Dorian Finney-Smith (14), Will Yeguete (10), Michael Frazier (13), DeVon Walker (10), Casey Prather (11), Patric Young (16) -- as a shorthanded Florida team discovered some offensive cohesiveness following a horrid first half playing without freshman point guard Kasey Hill (high-ankle sprain).
Although the balancing act took awhile, it was an impressive win after an ugly start.
“I thought our offense was really good without a point guard in the second half,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.
Prather, plagued by first half foul trouble, scored all 11 of his points after halftime, while Young finished the night with six rebounds, three assists and 16 points -- six via the foul line.
“I thought Patric did a great job tonight,” Donovan said. “I thought he set the tone defensively. He made a diving play in the first half, which was phenomenal. He was active. He rebounded, made his free throws. I was proud of him tonight.”
UF -- propelled by a dominating defensive effort -- jumpstarted its second half offense with transition buckets, four 3-point plays and several wide-open treys.
The Gators also held MSU’s top two scorers -- Shawn Jones and Kerry Hammonds, both who average 16 points per game -- to a combined nine points.
“We were really committed to that end of the floor,” Donovan said. “We were engaged. We were disruptive.”
But the first half barely resembled basketball.
Two quality teams combined for 26 fouls, 32 free throws and just 17 baskets in a brutal opening 20 minutes -- one that Donovan called “painful to watch.”
It was another game marred by fouls (43), but Florida at least made them count, shooting 83 percent (25-30) from the free throw line.
“It’s going to take some time for everyone -- officials, coaches, players -- to adjust,” Donovan said of so many whistles. “It maybe a painful year from the spectators standpoint for awhile, but hopefully we move into a positive direction once [the new rules] becomes second nature.”
VIDEOS: Young talks Florida's simplified offense without a true point guard and the team's second-half explosion, while Finney-Smith dishes on his role as a point-forward, the slow start and his loud momma.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s defense still ranks No. 7 nationally (288.6 yards per game), but the unit’s lofty rankings have camouflaged its struggles during the team’s five-game losing streak -- especially in a statistical category it dominated a season ago.
The Gators are no longer forcing turnovers.
In 2012, Florida was a ball-hawking, playmaking defense that recorded 30 takeaways, and as a team finished with a plus-15 turnover margin -- good for No. 7 in the country.
This season, the offense has struggled to protect the football, while its defense -- supposedly the rock of the team -- has done little to counter the problem.
“We have missed some opportunities,” coach Will Muschamp said. “We've had some opportunities at interceptions that were dropped, and we've had some balls on the ground that we haven't gotten. We haven't had as many strip opportunities as we would like. That's one thing we have looked at as a staff. … We've got to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Florida has forced 15 turnovers this season, but 10 came in a three-game stretch against lowly conference competition with a combined league record of 1-17.
During its five-game losing streak, Florida has just four takeaways, while turning the ball over eight times.
“We’ve had opportunities to make them and haven’t really made them at times. Usually, when someone makes one of those plays, a tough play and gets one, then you kind off get a couple more. It spirals that way,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “We’ve had those chances in games, and just most recently haven’t made them. It’s something we emphasize, work on and talk about in meetings. We know how critical it is to our success. We’ve got to protect the ball and get the ball out on defense. Obviously, we’re not winning in that area right now, and it’s affecting the outcome of the games.”
GAINESVILLE -- Florida assistant coach D.J. Durkin said he has head coaching aspirations, but UF’s defensive coordinator refused to discuss any offseason hypotheticals and said he’s solely focused on Florida’s next opponent: Georgia Southern.
Durkin -- in his fourth year with the Gators -- has been rumored as a possible candidate for several potential Mid-American Conference jobs, a league that includes his alma mater and the school he kick-started his coaching career (Bowling Green).
(D.J. Durkin & Will Muschamp | media.miamiherald.com)
“I haven't been approached by anyone or anything,” he said. “Yeah one day I do want to be a head coach. It would have to be the right situation, the right place, a lot of factors go into it. It wouldn't just be any job.”
Quarterback Tyler Murphy participated in Tuesday’s practice and is now questionable for Saturday’s game.
According to coach Will Muschamp, redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg is still in line for another start, but Murphy’s injured shoulder is improving.
“It’s all about his discomfort level right now,” Muschamp said of Murphy’s AC sprain in the quarterback’s throwing shoulder. “It’s gotten better every day. If you look from Sunday to today, it’s much, much, much improved. We’ll just to continue to work through that. It’s all about his comfort level. Right now, the shoulder is stable.”
Muschamp also said left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL sprain) and cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) would not play this weekend.
Junior cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy are two players many expect to leave Florida for the NFL following the 2013 season.
According to defensive tackle Leon Orr, playing at the next level is readily discussed in the locker room amongst Florida players.
“When you in the locker room you hear the word ‘NFL’ because there’s a lot of guys who play college ball and see themselves at the next level. So it’s definitely conversation about certain players going to the NFL and certain player not going to the NFL,” Orr explained. “It’s just one of those things, you never know what anybody thinking. You can never hold much weight into conversation, just more listen to them.”
Orr, a redshirt junior who’s started seven games this season and recorded 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, admitted he’s also contemplating his future.
“I mean I definitely feel like I want to be a Gator next year. I want to do a lot of things for this school that I haven’t had the opportunity to do but I feel like this who NFL thing and this whole going to the next level thing is so new to me, and I don’t know much about it, that I want to be able to be well informed before I make any type of decision on that,” Orr said.
“I'm a drop-back quarterback. I think ESPN had me at deceptively athletic, so I'll throw in a spin move every now and then. But you know I drop back and try to throw it as hard as I can in an accurate spot. That's how I play."
-- Christian Provancha, Florida’s unlikeliest No. 2 quarterback against Georgia Southern with injuries to Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy. Provancha, nicknamed Provolone, is a walk-on senior from Cocoa Beach.
GAINESVILLE -- Although Florida is mired in its worst losing streak in over two decades, not everyone in the Gator Nation is down on the team.
Left tackle Max Garcia said between eight to 10 Gator fans were waiting in the rain holding signs of support as Florida returned to Gainesville following its 19-14 loss to South Carolina.
(Max Garcia | courtesy forxsportsflorida.com)
“I was like 'Wow, that's so uplifting.' You don't see that often. I've never seen that type of support before," Garcia said. "You get tweets like 'Oh, we're still behind you' and stuff, but when you see it actually in real life, you know, our fans are still out there waiting for us, they didn't know when we were coming back, you know, so they could have been out there for hours. Stuff like that, I really appreciate that, the team really appreciated that.”