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16 posts from April 2014

April 27, 2014

Status Quo: SEC announces future schedule format

The Southeastern Conference opted to stick with what was working.

Following a purported 10-4 vote by league presidents, the SEC announced Sunday it is maintaining its eight-game football scheduling format, adding a strength-of-schedule component requiring schools to play at least one non-conference foe from the ACC, Big 12, Big 10 or Pac-12 annually starting in 2016.

Since Texas A&M and Missouri joined the league in 2012, the league has flirted with the idea of adding a ninth conference game, but Sunday’s overwhelming vote favored retaining the recent 6-1-1 format.

"This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule," said Commissioner Mike Slive in a statement. 

“Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.

“The concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with non-conference games.  Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major non-conference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume’ of opponents each and every year.”

Sunday’s announcement changes nothing for Florida.

The Gators play Florida State every November, while they also remain “permanent” rivals with LSU. 

While UF athletic director Jeremy Foley has voiced his support for the permanent crossover opponents (i.e. LSU), Tigers AD Joe Alleva adamantly disapproved with the SEC’s decision Sunday night.

"Since 2000 LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times and Alabama has played them eight times. That is a competitive disadvantage. There are a lot of other examples,” Alleva told Jim Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune.

"If I'm Ole Miss and I'm playing Vanderbilt, I'll vote to play Vanderbilt," Alleva said. "If I'm Mississippi State and I'm playing Kentucky, I'm going to vote to play Kentucky. People voted their own self interest instead of what is in the best interest of competitive balance.

"I understand Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia for the history, but that's only four schools. The rest were voting in their own self-interest. They could have kept those games and the rest of us rotated. That was brought up but voted down. I’m not pushing for the self-interest of LSU. I'm pushing for the equity.”

Florida and LSU have played every season since 1971.

More to come, but thoughts? Are you pleased the Gators are locked into a series with LSU?

Pull.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 24, 2014

Thursday Tidbits: An afternoon buffet of Gators nuggets & links

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GAINESVILLE -- It’s snack time, so eat up.

Former Florida center Jon Harrison, an outspoken team leader for several seasons in Gainesville, recently made waves with comments regarding the Gators’ dumpster-fire 2013 season.

In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Tuesday, Harrison, who started 39 games at Florida from 2009-13, created a firestorm when he said “the crumbling” Gators were derailed by infighting and poor off-the-field behavior -- leading to UF’s first losing season in 35 years.

The NFL Draft hopeful specifically mentioned a locker room fight, upsetting several former teammates on Twitter. 

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 3.29.38 PMScreen Shot 2014-04-24 at 3.26.13 PM

A day later, Harrison clarified his comments in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, saying he was “misinterpreted.”

Harrison was adamant he was not “misquoted nor did he dispute the facts,” but rather his true feelings about coach Will Muschamp and the program were “read out of context.”

My take: First, read both links. Now, as I tweeted, a predictable outcome is predictable. Harrison’s dirt wasn’t particularly revelatory (specifically, the post Georgia Southern-fight was previously reported, but the pregame partying was new information) but you knew the messenger (i.e. Harrison) would be ripped for breaking the locker room omerta and deviating from the traditional platitudes and coaching speak.

What’s most humorous to me though, is this was written just 18 months ago following the end of Florida’s 11-2 campaign.   

MOVING ON

Redshirt freshman safety Marqui Hawkins is transferring, the school announced Thursday.

Hawkins, a three-star wideout from Columbus, Ga., was one of five receivers signed in Florida’s 2013 recruiting class, but the 6-foot-1, 213-pounder was redshirted last fall and moved to safety during spring practice.

“Marqui came to me and expressed an interest in getting a fresh start on the football field,” Muschamp said in a statement to school website Gatorzone.com.

“He was never in trouble off the field and was attentive in the classroom. We appreciate the way he carried himself and represented the program and wish him nothing but the best of luck in the future.”

MOVING ON PART DEUX

Longtime Florida men’s golf coach Buddy Alexander, a staple at UF for 27 years, announced his retirement — effective after the 2013-14 season — Tuesday.

Alexander, the 1986 U.S. Amateur Champion and second-longest tenured coach ever at Florida, led the Gators to a pair of national titles (1993, 2001) and 11 top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships.

The men’s golf team has struggled of late, finishing 10th at the SEC Championships in 2012-13, and Alexander, 61, called coaching “a young man’s game” Tuesday.

“It’s simply time for me to turn the reins over to someone else and allow this great university, athletic department and golf program to be everything it should be,” Alexander penned in a statement.

Despite the program’s recent woes, Alexander leaves a legacy of excellence and a legitimate springboard for aspiring professional golfers (current PGA Tour pros include Billy Horschel, Matt Every, Chris DiMarco and others).

THIS & THAT

In a conference call with media members Wednesday, ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said former UF cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson are likely Day 3 selections following poor workouts (at both the NFL Combine and Florida’s Pro Day) -- citing slow 40-yard dash times, specifically. Both enigmatic defensive backs were once considered first round talents, but after each clocked around 4.62 seconds 40-yard dash -- coupled with lackluster junior seasons and off-the-field concerns -- their stock(s) plummeted. The NFL Draft starts May 8-10.  … New York Giants safety Will Hill, an embattled defensive back at Florida from 2008-10, reportedly failed a drug test for the third straight year and faces a suspension of six games to a year depending on what tests show. In 2013, Hill started 10 games for the Giants, recording 77 tackles and two interceptions.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 22, 2014

Chomp, Chomp, Chomp: 'Take It All In'

GAINESVILLE -- The SEC Network released its "14 Schools, 14 Stories" ad campaign Tuesday, 40-second promo clips from ESPN capturing the essence of each league school.  

Florida's spot focuses on the genesis of the "Gator Chomp," featuring school historian Norm Carlson. 

Check it out, and take it all in. 

 

April 21, 2014

Crowned: Gators earn repeat title (and win a bunch of other games too)

Espnw_a_oklahoma-florida_mb_600x400(Courtesy AP Photo | Butch Dill)

GAINESVILLE -- Normally, I don’t scribe about Florida’s secondary sports, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the hardware (and wins) the Gators collected over a profitable weekend. 

Somewhere, Jeremy Foley is stoked. 

To wit:

* Florida’s women’s gymnastics team clinched back-to-back national titles Saturday night, tying Oklahoma for the first-ever co-champs in the NCAA Super Six. The Gators, who’s team score of 198.175 was the highest score in the history of the NCAA Championships, rallied with a dominating floor rotation and capped a remarkable comeback to share the stage with the Sooners.  

* No. 4 UF’s women’s lacrosse team topped No. 5 Northwestern 13-12 on the road, winning its fourth straight American Lacrosse Conference title.  

* The fifth-ranked Gators women’s softball team swept No. 21 Texas A&M in Gainesville, as coach Tim Walton earned his 600th career victory with Sunday’s 8-0 shutout. 

* Kevin O’Sullivan’s pesky baseball team, ranked No. 18 nationally, swept Georgia at home with a 10-3 win on Easter. Following a rainout Friday evening, the Gators played a double-header Saturday and won three games in roughly 24 hours. 

And while we’re here, some other news and notes over the past week...

PIPELINE CONTINUES

Rivals100 cornerback Marcus Lewis verbally committed to the Gators last Thursday, continuing Florida’s tradition of landing top-flight defensive backs under head coach Will Muschamp. 

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 10.55.18 AM

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 10.54.32 AM

The 2015 four-star corner, originally out of Washington D.C.’s Gonzaga High, is planning on transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton this summer -- according to multiple recruiting outlets. 

Lewis is the sixth prospect verbally pledged to Florida’s 2015 recruiting class. 

THIS & THAT

On Friday, former Florida point guard Nick Calathes, a backup guard with the Memphis Grizzlies, was suspended 20 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. 

According to a release, Calathes tested positive for Tamoxifen, however, lab results showed no traces of testosterone or performance-enhancing drugs. Calathes is set to appeal/fight the suspension. …  According to 247Sports, Florida tops all colleges with the most former players (10) in the 2014 NBA playoffs.

*****UPDATE*****

According to multiple reports, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah will be named the 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the most prestigious individual honor ever earned in the NBA by a former Gator. Noah anchored one of the league's top defensive teams, averaging 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals. 

Finally, Editor’s note: I understand the Herald blogs haven’t worked properly lately and the higher-ups are aware of the issue. Thanks. Now you all may proceed and spit about how much you don't care about Florida's secondary sports.

Go. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 17, 2014

Easley impresses, proves to NFL he's healthy

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GAINESVILLE -- Former Gators defensive tackle Dominique Easley wowed NFL scouts Thursday during a private pro day, dismissing concerns over his health following multiple knee surgeries during his four-year career in Gainesville.

Easley -- who tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in a practice late last September -- worked out yards from the same place he sustained the non-contact knee injury in The Swamp, impressing dozens of league representatives with his quickness, power, agility, fluidity and competitive fire.

“I felt great,” said Easley, all-smiles following his workout.

“That’s just me. I like to work past expectations. I don’t like being down. That’s just who I am as a person. [I showed scouts] that I can move. That I still got the quickness. That I still got the get-off and I still got my tenacity.”

Representatives from the Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns were among those in attendance, while Chicago Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni led the workout alongside Florida head coach Will Muschamp.

“Outstanding five months out of surgery,” Muschamp said of Easley’s half-hour session.

“I was shocked how quick he was, his lateral change of direction, all the stuff he’s able to do. It doesn’t shock me in terms of his work ethic and what he’s willing to do to get himself ready.”

Easley, who rehabbed three times a day, everyday with trainer Tony Villani in Boca Raton, pegged his current knee strength at “about 80 percent” but expects to be 100 percent by July mini-camps.

The former All-SEC standout also noted he trained with ex-Gators and current Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey in South Florida.

Charged with a relentless motor and explosive first-step, the undersized tackle (6-2, 285 pounds) was tabbed as the nation’s ninth-best overall prospect just six months ago, according to ESPN draft guru Todd McShay.

But following a second ACL tear in three years, the dominant interior lineman saw his stock plummet.

After a long road to recovery, Easley isn’t concerned with draft projections and is simply ready to prove he’s worth the risk whenever he’s selected.

“I don’t really pay any attention to [the projections],” Easley said. “Everybody know how I play. Everybody seen my passion for the game, my love for it. That stuff don’t matter to me.”

Meanwhile, his former college coach believes teams would be foolish to pass on such a talent.

"You want him in your locker room,” Muschamp said, emphatically.

“He's a really good player, but I think his competitive edge is a huge talent. It's probably his No. 1 talent. A bunch of the coaches and scouts came to me afterward and said, 'We understand what you're talking about.' We got out there and we put him through a tough workout. … We made it difficult on purpose. It was good for them to see that because when it gets tough, that's when he's at his best."

Easley acknowledged the mental hurdle of a second knee injury was rough, but motivated by his 18-month-old son, Dominique Easley Jr., he decided quickly he didn’t have time to feel sorry for himself.

“I don't expect sympathy from anybody,” Easley said. “Life isn't about sympathy. You got to get through what you got to get through. Ain't no time to be crying about something. You've got mouths to feed. That's how I look at life. I've got a mouth to feed. If I cry, he's going to cry for not having food. I can't let that happen."

Easley, who won’t participate in any private workouts, starts seven straight days of team visits Sunday before May’s (8-10) NFL Draft. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 14, 2014

10 observations, lessons learned as Gators head into offseason

GAINESVILLE -- Spring practice is finito.

Florida couldn’t win its own spring game, but a comical finish didn’t spoil an otherwise productive 15-practice camp.

Here’s 10 rapid reactions, observations, lessons learned -- Twitter style (140 characters or less, or something close) -- as the Gators head into an important offseason.

1. The offense MAY no longer be the laughing stock of college football. Comfort + confidence + coaching = PROGRESS. 

2. Florida has a fleet of talented, shifty and hungry tailbacks, an intriguing group of promising wideouts and a solid starting offensive line, BUT…

3. BIG DUMB WILL MUSCHAMP FOOTBALL could reemerge FAST if just a single injury occurs along the offense line. Quality depth is a major concern heading into the fall. 

4. Jeff Driskel appears healthy and happy, but Kurt Roper's tailor-made scheme doesn't suddenly erase the quarterback's deficiencies -- namely telegraphed throws, inconsistent accuracy and indecisiveness.

5. Dante Fowler Jr., Vernon Hargreaves III and Jon Bullard are studs, while Keanu Neal, Jarrad Davis and Marcell Harris proved potential standouts-in-waiting.      

6. Florida’s youth movement along the defensive line and in the secondary will experience plenty of growing pains, especially…

7. Up front. Bullard better love DT, while Leon Orr and Darious Cummings best be prepared to play plenty of snaps because Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley and others appear no where near ready to play.

8. The Gators are still searching for a consistent -- Alex McCalister and/or Bryan Cox Jr., perhaps? -- pass rushing option opposite of Fowler Jr. to emerge. 

9. Specialists remain suspect. Kicker Austin Hardin rebounded from a rough fall (4-4 FG), but punter Kyle Christy was still shaky while long-snapping was an issue as well.

10. The Gators will be a better team in 2014, but pronouncing them East Champs after a solid spring is silly (and stupid and short-sided and senseless and shall I continue?)

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 12, 2014

VIDEO: Muschamp, Driskel talk Orange & Blue Debut

GAINESVILLE -- Florida head coach Will Muschamp and quarterback Jeff Driskel talk the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut. 

Saturday's spring scrimmage hilariously ended in a tie (23-23), but UF's revamped offense (amazingly) wasn't a complete joke.

Driskel talked the offense's tempo, efficiency, the instillation process and adjustment period, while Muschamp dished out kudos to coordinator Kurt Roper and Florida's entire offensive staff. 

 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 11, 2014

Fantasy Draft: Recapping Florida's selection show

Header_5(Courtesy Gatorzone.com)

GAINESVILLE -- Fun and fancy are two words rarely (if ever) associated with Will Muschamp, but Florida’s coach -- or PR department -- is dabbling with some different ideas to up the team’s entertainment value during a critical 2014.

On Thursday, Florida held a live stream “Orange & Blue Debut Selection Show,” as “Gator Great” captains -- Josh Evans and Shane Matthews for the Orange Team, and Jelani Jenkins and Chris Doering for the Blue team -- selected a dozen players each to build preliminary rosters for Saturday’s spring game (1:30 p.m., PPV).

The “fantasy draft” was essentially an innovative way for Florida to unveil its depth chart (thereby avoiding a repeat of Muschamp’s LSU disaster) -- with the Orange team serving as the No. 1 defense and the Blue team as the No. 1 offense.

The selection results are below, but first a couple interesting notes...

The first team offense was predictable -- although Brown at guard seems more like an experiment than a guarantee at this point -- but defensively Maye, Neal and Cox Jr. were all notable selections. 

Despite missing much of the spring with a bum hamstring, Neal, an explosive and cerebral sophomore, appears to be a starter at safety. Meanwhile, Maye looks to be in position to start as Florida’s (all-important) nickel cornerback and Cox Jr. has (seemingly) earned an initial nod at defensive end (opposite of Fowler Jr. at BUCK).

All three are worth keeping an eye on Saturday. 

ROUND

ORANGE TEAM

BLUE TEAM

1

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB

Jeff Driskel, QB

2

Dante Fowler Jr., BUCK

Quinton Dunbar, WR

3

Antonio Morrison, LB

Michael Taylor, LB

4

Valdez Showers, WR

Kelvin Taylor, RB

5

Jonathan Bullard, DL

Chaz Green, RT

6

Mack Brown, RB

Jalen Tabor, CB

7

Keanu Neal, S

D.J. Humphries, LT

8

Latroy Pittman, WR

Demarcus Robinson, WR

9

Marcus Maye, S

Duke Dawson, CB

10

Jarrad Davis, LB

Trenton Brown, OL

11

Hunter Joyer, FB

Max Garcia, C

12

Bryan Cox Jr., DE

Alex McCalister, DE

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 10, 2014

VIDEO: "It's not his first rodeo"

GAINESVILLE -- Kurt Roper met with the media for the final time before fall camp, and Florida's offensive coordinator dished on a number of topics including his Orange & Blue Debut expectations, the offense's installation progress and quarterback Jeff Driskel's development and comfort within Roper's up-tempo scheme. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 09, 2014

Grounded: 'Sky' returns to Gators

GAINESVILLE — Former McDonald’s All-American Chris 'Sky' Walker is returning to Florida for “one more year.”

The five-star freshman announced his decision Wednesday via Twitter, with the school quickly confirming the news. 

  Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 9.00.47 PMWalker missed the first three months of Florida’s historic 2013-14 season — first delayed by academic issues then serving an NCAA-mandated 12-game suspension for accepting impermissible benefits. 

In 18 games, the freshman was a little-used role player during UF’s Final Four run, but with a full offseason of strength and conditioning he’s expected to be a breakout contributor next season. 

Walker flashed his elite athleticism for small stretches for the Gators (see: Three minutes of brillance against UCLA in the Sweet 16), but the freshman mostly struggled understanding the nuances of coach Billy Donovan’s system — offensively and defensively. 

The 6-foot-10 power forward averaged just 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.8 minutes per game, but according to numerous mock drafts he projected as a first-rounder in the upcoming NBA Draft based largely on his limitless potential. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Driskel earns praise

GAINESVILLE — Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel continues to shine during spring practice, according to coach Will Muschamp. 

Driskel, a redshirt junior, is quickly mastering Kurt Roper’s no-huddle system, flashing the offense’s (professed) explosive potential in last weekend’s scrimmage. 

“He’s throwing the ball extremely well,” said Muschamp, who delayed the start date of Florida’s spring camp so that Driskel’s broken leg would be fully-healed. 

“I think he had three dropped on Saturday on a bubble, slant and dig. The [one] interception should’ve been caught. I think he’s throwing the ball very accurately.”

Driskel, much-maligned for two years at UF, played in just three games in 2013 before sustaining a gruesome leg-fracture in the first quarter against Tennessee.  

Florida’s offense was the laugh-stocking of college football last season, but Muschamp (reluctantly at first) embraced a philosophical shift and hired Roper and a system suited to Driskel's skill-set. 

So far, so good. 

While Roper's offensive instillation is not complete, Driskel has steadily improved this spring, Muschamp said.

Florida's coach also commented on the offense's ability to avoiding bad plays under Roper's easy audible system -- something strikingly missing in 2013.  

“We create a lot of run-pass issues, run-pass conflicts I would say for a defense with what we’re doing in the run game and off the passing game off,” Muschamp explained. 

“If we get a bad run box, we’re able to get out of it with a quick game, whether it’s a slant or a bubble or a quicks outside. Jeff has done a really good job because that takes quick hands to get the ball from a play action situation up and out. I think he’s doing extremely well.”

NO SEPARATION 

Muschamp remains mum on naming a backup quarterback, opting to blanket redshirt-sophomore Skyler Morhinweg and early enrollee Will Grier with universal (albeit generic) praise. 

“No [separation],” Muschamp said. “Both guys have done some nice things. Will made a really nice adjustment off a corner pressure and hotted the ball to Andre Debose in the red zone. It was a really nice throw. Skyler does some nice things. Both of those guys will continue to get reps with that group.”   

ORANGE & BLUE DETAILS

Florida’s annual spring scrimmage will kickoff Saturday at 1:30 p.m. from The Swamp, and the spring game will be televised on tape delay on Sun Sports (statewide) starting at 5:00 p.m.

The Orange & Blue Debut will be available live for GatorVision subscribers or for purchase ($3.99) on pay-per-view. 

INJURY UPDATE

Former walk-on tailback Mark Herndon, a spring standout to date, sustained a high-ankle sprain during Saturday’s scrimmmage and will miss the remainder of camp. 

According to Muschamp, the injury isn’t serious and will not require surgery. 

Sophomore linebacker Daniel McMillian missed the scrimmage with an ankle injury, while safety Marcus Maye pulled a hamstring during the scrimmage -- both players are questionable for Saturday’s Orange & Blue Debut. 

Meanwhile, offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (concussion) remains sidelined and is unlikely to play Saturday.   

QUOTABLE 

“In a perfect world you like to have four guys inside and four guys outside. If you're able to play with between eight and 10 players in this league, which normally in my experience is what it's going to take. Now, you can survive with three inside and three outside, but you're living a dangerous life with injuries. … I think all of those guys have the ability to be in that group. I really do. Now will they take that next step from a maturity standpoint and understand to battle through pain and mental and physical toughness to have it for the position? Because I think they have the ability. I think that's there. It's just a matter of how quickly it's going to come for them at a championship level."

-- Muschamp, on Florida’s youth along the defensive line and finding a consistent rotation. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

April 08, 2014

Steady progress

GAINESVILLE — Spring football is always full of eternal optimism, but Florida coach Will Muschamp is confident he isn’t spewing hot air. 

Muschamp, oozing positivity Tuesday, recapped UF’s latest scrimmage and declared Florida fans will be delighted with what they see during Saturday’s Orange & Blue Debut (1:30 p.m., PPV). 

“I think when they see our football team and offensively where we are, I think they’ll see a formidable unit on defense playing well,” Muschamp said. “They’re going to see a good-looking team. We’re going to have a good team next year. We just need to continue to progress. … Our guys have a lot of confidence in what we're doing [offensively].  A lot of belief in what we're doing. I think we lost that late in the year and that's changed automatically without having to do anything.”

Other than multiple staff changes.

But according to Muschamp, Florida’s new offensive staff has excited a hungry group —  especially quarterback Jeff Driskel — eager to wash away the ills of a year ago. 

The instillation of Kurt Roper’s up-tempo, spread offense has gone smoother than Muschamp anticipated, with the offense’s potential (purportedly) showcasing well in the closed scrimmages. 

"Overall, pretty pleased with the Saturday [scrimmage],” Muschamp said. 

“The effort, guys got after it and competed. I think offensively we're further ahead than where I thought we would be at this point as far as from an execution standpoint. There's still some things that we've got to get better and clean up, but I'm pleased with where we are.”

During the Muschamp’s scrimmage summation, he noted standout efforts from Driskel, junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., sophomore safety Keanu Neal, the first-team offensive line and others. 

In less than one week, Gators fans will have their own chance to gauge the offense's improvements in a game-like atmosphere, but in the meantime here's a bevy of notes from the closed scrimmage.

********** GOOD **********

* The offense produced 10 explosive plays — five running, five passing.

* Tailbacks averaged more than five yards per rushing attempt.

* Florida’s inexperienced receiving corps continues to improve, highlighted by Ahmad Fulwood’s 52-yard touchdown catch. Demarcus Robinson also collected a touchdown reception during the scrimmage. 

* Other positives included third-down efficiency and the quarterback run game.

* UF’s specialists — disastrous last season — had a productive day, as Austin Hardin (7-of-9) and Frankie Velez (7-of-8) were “much more accurate kicking the football.” Muschamp also noted punter Kyle Christy’s spring revelation. 

“He's really punted well. I think he's had a good spring. I really do, I think he's punted well. His confidence is up and he's done some nice things."

********** BAD **********

* The offense had four procedure penalties. 

“Four too many,” Muschamp said. “We have to continue to get that out of our game.” 

* Driskel threw one interception — “a nice play” by early enrollee Jalen Tabor. But according to Muschamp, the ball “should’ve been caught or knocked down by the receiver." 

* Other noted issues: two fumbles (none lost), three drops, offensive line fatigue. 

********** UGLY ********** 

* Muschamp said the defense had 22 missed tackles — the majority coming in the secondary — and 18 “eye control” errors in the defensive backfield. 

“We don’t have a starting nickel right now,” he said, in a rare moment of frustration Tuesday. Brian [Poole] and Duke [Dawson] have been in there. We may look at Marcus Maye in there. We need to get better at that position. It’s a position that’s been very productive for us over the years, but we need to get better at that position.”

* Continued shotgun snap issues. 

“Disappointed [with the poor snaps]. … If we continue to have those, we need to look in another direction.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 05, 2014

VIDEO: Young talks Final Four defeat

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Top-seeded Florida's locker room, full of heartbreak, tears and soundless seconds, felt a lot like a funeral Saturday night. 

The Gators' special season -- a 30-game winning streak, historic undefeated record in conference play, a fourth straight Regional Semifinal's -- ended with a disappointing dud, a 63-53 loss to seventh-seeded Connecticut in the Final Four. 

Senior center Patric Young, who tallied a season-high 19 points in the final game of his career, managed to collect some thoughts on the loss, his career and more. 

 

NCAA Final Four: Live from AT&T Stadium

2013-final-four-dallas

ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida's 'Core Four' starts its Texas revenge tour in roughly one hour.

The top-seeded Gators and seventh-seeded Connecticut Huskies tipoff at 6:09 p.m. (EST) on TBS at Jerry World AT&T Stadium. 

Florida has won all four tournament games by double-digits — the only team to do so — and enter the matchup as prohibabtive favorites (BPI 80 percent, FiveThirtyEight 70 percent, Vegas -6.5), but can Shabazz Napier complete the Kemba Walker metamophsis and engineer an upset?

We'll see. 

ICYMI: A sampling of the Miami Herald's extensive pregame coverage:

* Adam Beasley's tremendous feature on Billy Donovan. 

* The heavyweight match-up between Napier and UF guard Scottie Wilbekin.

* Will Kasey Hill be the X-factor?

* Overcoming the distractions at the Final Four.

* An early preview. 

Here's a six-pack of keys to watch during the Final Four showdown. 

CONTROLLING THE PAINT

The Gators physically dominated the Huskies on Dec. 2, as UF outscored Connecticut 32-14 in the paint, had a plus-eight margin on the glass and forced both Huskies centers (Phillip Nolan, Tyler Olander) to foul out. 

Patric Young was unguardable, tallying 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting. 

Also: Florida has been a steady rebounding team (42nd defense, 41st offense) all season, while UConn struggles to control the boards with a guard-heavy lineup. Napier is UConn’s leading rebounder (5.9 rpg), as Nolan — its starting big-man — grabs just 2.9 boards per contest. 

FREE THROWS

[See: UCLA note, lather, rinse, repeat]. The Gators, porous from the charity stripe most of the season (66.3 percent), have shot 73.9 percent in four NCAA Tournament games, but UConn is better… much better. Napier has shot 93 percent from the line in the Big Dance, 87 percent on the season. UConn averages 21 free throws a game. 

BEHIND THE ARC 

The Gators shot a woeful 6-for-25 from downtown in two games last year at the cavernous AT&T Stadium, but players swear depth perception won’t be a factor tonight. In Michigan’s Elite Eight drubbing, Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II never attempted a trey.   

BENCH 

Kasey Hill didn’t play (ankle). Chris Walker wasn’t on campus yet (ineligible). Dorian Finney-Smith had one of his worst games of the season (4 fouls, 3 points). Florida’s depth is one of the team’s major strengths, as UF reserves have outscored their counterparts 62 percent of the time this season. In the first meeting, UConn had a plus-nine advantage (12-3). Look for that to flip tonight. 

TURNOVERS

Florida had its worst assist-to-turnover ratio of the season against UConn (8:16), as Finney-Smith (6), Wilbekin (3) and Casey Prather (5) struggled to take care of the ball. The 16 turnovers were one shy of Florida’s season-high, and the Gators haven’t coughed the rock up as many as 14 times in six weeks. 

OVER/UNDER 25.5

Napier sliced the Gators for 26 points in the first matchup, highlighted by his buzzer-beating fadeaway. Napier has scored 25 (or more) points 10 times this season — with UConn winning eight of those games. If the Gators hold the All-American under 25 points they should roll to the finals, otherwise things could get tricky.

Enjoy the game, everybody. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 03, 2014

Muschamp Musings: Demarcus Robinson's maturation, tailback plans & more

GAINESVILLE -- Florida is a couple days removed from the midway point of spring practice.

The Gators have six practices remaining, as camp concludes April 12 with the annual Orange & Blue Debut (1:30 p.m.).

Coach Will Muschamp has been steadily impressed with Florida's offensive progress under new coordinator Kurt Roper, but earlier this week the Gators' coach dished on some specifics, including the maturation of sophomore wideout Demarcus Robinson, Florida's tailback depth chart, the offensive line and more.

On DeMarcus Robinson...

"I think he has done some fantastic things in the passing game. He’s an explosive receiver. He’s a tough match one-on-one because of his size, his athleticism. He’s got really good ball skills down the field. I think again, sometimes maturing a little bit. We mature different times. I think we’ve seen some strides there. I’ve been pleased to this point. There’s no question from a matchup standpoint, he’s a guy that can do some things. A lot of it goes into assignments. Are you blocking the right guy? Are you running the right route? Are we sight adjusting this? You’ve got to be able to see when they bring two off the edge. Got to be able to sight adjust with the quarterback splattered. There are things like that we’ve got to continue to iron out. That’s part of the maturing process on and off the field.”

On a possible tailback-by-committee approach…

"Kelvin has run the ball well, Mack had a nice run yesterday. Very pleased with where we are with the position overall. But whoever the best players are and we'll move forward with that. I have very good confidence with the guy's we've got. And of course Matt [Jones] is sitting out and [injured early enrollee] Brandon Powell. Powell is a guy that in our offseason program he's got a different gear, quick change of direction and can do a lot of things. Disappointed he's not able to practice, but he's a guy that gives us a little juice."

On Taylor's improvement this spring…

"He's more confident in what he's doing. Much better protection than he was a year ago where he needed to take some big steps. He's got natural running instincts when running the football. This offense is a little different for these guys in how they're getting the ball. We still run the counter. We still run the power. We still run the inside run. We still run the stretch, but they're angles to the line of scrimmage are a little different, and I think they've all adjusted very well."

On how Florida's offensive line is taking to new coach Mike Summers…

"It's going well. I think again you know I've been pleased with our progress. I think D.J. [Humphries] and Chaz [Green] and Max [Garcia] have all played really good football for us. Trip's done a nice job playing at the guard position, Tyler's [Moore] handling the elbow situation--there was a time that we we didn't even know if he was going to be able to through spring, and he hasn't missed a snap. So, pleased with his progress, feels more comfortable playing inside. I think those guys have adjusted and adapted well to it."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 01, 2014

Traditional Orange & Blue Debut set

GAINESVILLE -- A year removed from holding a glorified practice in The Swamp, the Gators will play a traditional spring game April 12.

Florida’s customary Orange & Blue Debut was scrapped last spring due to minimal depth along the offensive line, but on Monday coach Will Muschamp announced the normal format is back on.

“We'll do like the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense, and then they score for one team,” Muschamp explained. “And then the No. 2 offense vs. the No. 2 defense scores for the other team. And then incorporate some kicking game things within the game. Absolutely. Try to get as much game day as you can. Wanted to have that last year. I just didn't feel like it was fair with the offensive line situation that we had."

The Gators’ first- and-second-team units will alternate possessions, as Florida will not conduct a faux-draft for the game.

Muschamp referenced (a comical) story of a poor experience with a spring draft at LSU.

“We had Marcus Spears matched up on a guy like me playing tackle. And then Jimbo [Fisher] and Nick [Saban] have to answer the entire offseason why our passing game wasn't very good,” he said. 

“Well, you know, “Will” couldn't block Marcus very good. Marcus had like 14 sacks. So the draft pick stuff is great, but I don't know that you want that matchup. I want good on good. I want to see the best players going against the best players and being able to as a staff match up guys that we know we need to find out things about.”

INJURY REPORT

Muschamp said sophomore safety Keanu Neal is “close to 90 percent” after sustaining a pair of offseason hamstring injuries.

Neal, who is competing for a starting job in the secondary, is expected to return to practice Wednesday.

“He wanted to go [Monday],” Muschamp said.  “We held him to just make sure this thing’s completely healed before we get you back and strain on that right now. He needs to be a part of the spring game. He needs to get in front of the crowd and play. He needs to be in practices 10, 11, 12 and 13. I didn’t want to lose him another day.”

Meanwhile, sophomore wide receiver Chris Thompson (undisclosed) was fully-cleared for practice after working non-contact Monday, while redshirt freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson remains out with a concussion.

“He still has not been cleared,” Muschamp said. “We’re hoping Wednesday, I don’t know. That’s a doctor’s call.”

THIS & THAT 

Muschamp was asked about the status of incoming freshman defensive back J.C. Jackson (Immokalee) -- who reportedly injured his shoulder and might require surgery. “Not sure right now,” Muschamp said. “He had a little accident playing tackle football or something. We’re looking into that.” … Muschamp heaped praise on Florida’s overall offensive progress, but said the unit’s tempo must “pick up.” … Florida’s backup quarterback job remains in flux, as Muschamp refused to applaud true freshman Will Grier or redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg. “Both of them need to pick it up.” … Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Cameron Dillard was named UF’s backup center.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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