GAINESVILLE -- Florida missed upwards of 30 tackles against Tennessee, and the Gators know they can’t afford a repeat performance against an explosive Ole Miss offense this weekend.
The No. 25 Gators spent an extended portion of practice Tuesday just working on the fundamentals.
“We did a poor job,” senior linebacker Antonio Morrison said.
“We were so into the gameplan we forgot the little things. The basics. We just got back to the basics today, you know wrapping up, clubbing up, running your feet and bringing your feet [to] the tackle.”
Last Saturday, the Volunteers’ Josh Dobbs (136 yards) and Jalen Hurd (102 yards) consistently reached the second level of UF's defense thanks to missed tackles at the line of scrimmage. Coach Jim McElwain said UF struggled with tackling in practice and wasn’t surprised with the team’s issues on gameday.
“These are prideful guys,” McElwain said.
“I want you to keep writing about it. That helps us.”
Unlike Tennessee, the No. 3 Rebels don’t tout a bruising, power-run game. Instead, their offense is predicated on playmakers making people miss in space, so UF’s secondary must be ready to tackle a group of athletic, rangy receivers 1-on-1.
“It wasn’t us,” said safety Keanu Neal, lamenting last weekend’s performance.
“We want to be BDN. We want to be the best in the nation and we didn’t show that.”
THIS & THAT
Morrison extended some high praise to freshman wideout Antonio Callaway, comparing Saturday's hero to a recent Top 5 NFL Draft pick. "Since he stepped on here I said he’s Amari Cooper in the making,” Morrison said. “Just watch and remember I said that. Amari Cooper from Alabama. That’s him right here.” … With more than nine players sidelined with flu-like symptoms, Florida didn’t practice Monday but returned to the fields for its normal work Tuesday afternoon. … McElwain on Florida’s big recruiting weekend: “The buzz, the amount of guys that were just here, the environment, I credit the Gator Nation for that. We’ll see how it pans out come February. … But’s it’s sure something that we’re excited about.”
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s meaninglessworthless perfunctory depth chart release Monday yielded a couple notable changes, highlighted by Demarcus Robinson’s promotion back to first-string in advance of Saturday's primetime tilt with No. 3 Ole Miss (7 p.m., ESPN).
The junior wideout leads the Gators in targets through four games, recording a team-high 20 receptions for 153 yards and a score.
Defensively, five-star freshman CeCe Jefferson is now the first-string defense end, while Jon Bullard, who’s delivered an All-American-type season, officially moved to tackle after playing the majority of snaps inside all year. Caleb Brantley was bumped down to second-team.
Meanwhile, Jalen Tabor returns from his suspension but there’s no longer an ‘OR’ at cornerback between Tabor and Quincy Wilson. Wilson, a sophomore from University School, is the unequivocal starter opposite of Vernon Hargreaves III now.
On special teams, veteran kicker Austin Hardin, who missed the Tennessee win with a leg injury, is no longer the starter, and the redshirt junior appears to be in McElwain’s doghouse.
The Florida Gators’ astonishing comeback over Tennessee was one for the ages, as youngsters Will Grier, Brandon Powell and Antonio Callaway combined for one of the most memorable plays in recent history and cemented their place in Florida-Tennessee lore.
Here’s how it all broke down according to Florida’s coach, players and popular radio team.
JIM MCELWAIN, UF head coach
“It’s Train Right, Jill, Big Ben, In. Why? Why not? That’s the name of it. We blow out the middle, run a little double-dig deal and hopefully you have enough time up front to read it inside-out. We try to get it to the sticks. It’s something we do every single Friday. … Something that our guys practice every week against teams that are in those long-yardage defenses. I mean, they probably could’ve answered what the call was going to be. So that’s good.”
WILL GRIER, UF quarterback
“It’s a kind of deep end. Two guys running just deep ends, kind of at the sticks. And I’m going inside dig, outside dig. It’s just a deep end flat package that we’ve had and repped every practice since camp started. You just gotta find the open guy and get it to him, convert the first down.”
BRANDON POWELL, UF receiver
“My responsibility was to get the corner route because hopefully he’ll throw it deep, and I’ll make the catch.”
***** With under two minutes remaining, Grier faced 4th-and-14 from UF’s 37-yard line. Tennessee lined up in a soft zone and Callaway found an opening for a first down … and then a whole lot more. *****
“Callaway. Just made a hell of a play, man. That guy has just stepped up and is making a lot of plays. He turned that first down into a touchdown. Big players make big plays in big games like that.”
“We knew there was something special in this kid when we started recruiting him and I think he’s proving that. And it’s still I don’t think really scratched the surface. He’s still learning how to play.”
JAKE MCGEE, UF tight end
“It was actually a five-wide receiver set, so I was [on the sideline]. Will rolled out of the pocket, Antonio came up and came open and then I thought it was going to just keep the drive going.”
***** But even with blazing speed, Callaway doesn’t go 63-yards to the end zone without the effort of diminutive wideout Brandon Powell, who took out three Vols on the play with a diving block. *****
“I was already up field, saw that he caught it, made a move and came back for a block and he just used his speed to score a touchdown and win the game.”
“It wasn’t just him. Brandon Powell, you know, got them peeling back on that and got in the way of those two guys who had angles on him that let him score there at the end. So to me, Brandon probably had more to do on that play because he had to clear out the middle than anyone else on the field there. That’s great to see. … It was pretty special and they deserve it.”
JARRAD DAVIS, UF linebacker
"When Will threw that ball, I was like there's so many white jerseys over there, and here comes Antonio out of nowhere. Catches it, wheels up the sideline and my man Brandon Powell. Coach McElwain says it every time, 'You have to be unselfish, you have to give it up for the team.’ [Powell] came in, he made an awesome block, sprung Antonio. He took it to the house, that Miami-Dade speed."
***** Florida practices Train Right, Jill, Big Ben, In every week. It’s never gone for a score though … until Saturday night.*****
MICK HUBERT, UF radio play-by-play announcer
“Snap to Grier. Grier looking, looking, got a receiver. There’s a catch made on the near sideline. Down the right sideline, 35, 30, it’ll be Callaway down the sideline. HE’S GOING TO SCORE. HE’S GOING TO SCORE. HE’S GOING TO SCORE. IT’S A TOUCHDOWN. OH MY. OHHH MYYYY.”
“That’s like one of the last plays we practice before we end practice. Coach Mac when we first started he was like, ‘This play is going to work one day.’ Tonight it did.”
“You know I haven’t seen it go for a touchdown if that’s what you’re asking. But sure glad it did today.”
***** Suddenly, The Swamp shook like it hasn't in years. *****
KEANU NEAL, UF safety
“I was praying but I didn’t think it was going to happen. It was amazing. That was a classic. … I just prayed and hoped for the best. He freaking scored. Just unbelievable. It was such a memorable moment.”
“I could not tell you that was coming. I went up to [Callaway] in the middle of the third quarter and said, ‘Hey look man, it’s going to come down to you on special teams. I thought it was going to be a punt return. He was doing his thing on punt return, next thing you know he does it on offense. … That kid right there is gonna be something special.”
“You’ve got to battle. You deal with adversity. You’ve got to respond. … We fought to the end and that’s what you’ve got to do to win games like that.”
“I was worried about our guys running down to celebrate with them to get a 15-yard penalty, to be honest with you. That was the only thing I was worried about at the time because I knew a field goal would beat us. We didn’t need that on the kickoff cover to be 15 yards back, but Antonio told me before the game that he was going to score. He thought it was going to be on a punt return. He actually wanted to practice chest bumping with me and I said I didn’t know if I could get up that high anymore.”
Even when Florida and Tennessee aren't any good, the game doesn't disappoint.
Florida capped a crazy comeback with some stupendous plays (hat tips to Will Grier, Antonio Callaway, Brandon Powell, Keanu Neal) and some stupefying decisions by Vols coach Butch Jones.
The Gators probably didn’t deserve to win, but they didn’t quit and found a way to anyway. That’s impressive.
Florida’s offense looked broken for much of the game, as Grier struggled with accuracy, happy feet and decision-making (his INT was a particularly heinous throw).
Then suddenly, the Gators flipped a switch late, and Grier became unstoppable on fourth down (5-of-5 for 123 yards and a score). Callaway made the game-winning play, but Florida never would’ve rallied without the contributions of Powell (several clutch catches and a critical block on the winning-play). The Gators gained 392 total yards and averaged just 5.5 yards per play.
The offensive line actually performed OK against a solid Tennessee front-seven. Kelvin Taylor rushed for 104 yards on 19 carries.
Florida didn’t incorporate wideout Demarcus Robinson (five catches after halftime) until it was almost too late, and DeAndre Goolsby, Ahmad Fulwood and the two freshmen tailbacks combined for just one touch.
Truly a mixed bag. Florida’s defense, particularly Neal (13 tackles) and safety Marcus Maye (10 tackles), laid some vicious hits, but the Gators also missed upteen tackles. Tennessee’s two-headed attack of Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd made the Gators look silly sometimes, as Florida surrendered 294 rushing yards after giving up 166 on the season entering the night.
On the other hand, UF’s defense eventually found its footing and forced Tennessee into abandoning the pass. Dobbs did everything for the Vols (led them in passing, rushing and receiving), but his fumble changed the game’s momentum.
The Gators were totally lost on both trick plays, but forcing a three-and-out at the end helped spur the comeback.
SPECIAL TEAMS C-
Johnny Townsend turned in a nice day, averaging nearly 50 yards (49.6) on seven punts, otherwise Florida’s special teams weren’t anything special. Callway had an explosive 65-yard punt return negated by a holding penalty, and the Gators allowed a couple big returns, especially on kickoffs. Redshirt freshman walk-on kicker Jorge Powell, filling in for the injured Austin Hardin, did drill all four extra points, though.
Jim McElwain summed up UF’s bonkers win best, saying, “Don’t know if we deserved it or not, but I sure like it this way than the other way. It was pretty cool, wasn’t it?”
The Gators made a lot of mistakes Saturday, but effort certainly wasn’t one of them. While this team remains a work in progress, beating Tennessee for the 11th straight year is nothing to bristle at. Somehow, some way, Florida's imperfect performance turned into a perfect ending.
GAINESVILLE -- Four coaches -- Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones -- and a decade later, Tennessee is still trying to beat Florida.
Is today's the day?
The once storied 1990’s rivalry has lost its luster as both programs devolved into conference also-rans, but today’s matchup is critical for both programs, just for different reasons.
The Volunteers are in Year 3 of a rebuilding project, eying a signature win on the road. Snapping an embarrassing streak would be nice, too.
Meanwhile, the Gators are just three games into their own rebuild, so a victory would maintain their supremacy over a division rival and give a young team confidence and a little momentum before a brutal gauntlet over the next month (No. 3 Ole Miss, at No. 25 Missouri, at No. 8 LSU, vs. No. 7 Georgia).
On Friday, former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow broke down the showdown.
"I think Tennessee is a really good football team," Tebow said.
"If they would've closed out and played a second half versus Oklahoma and played a little bit more free and to win, I think we would be talking about a Top 15 football team. And because they weren't able to really finish out that game I think that hurts a little bit from the national recognition. I still think they have a lot of talent. Young talent."
As for the Gators, Tebow said his alma mater needs to start winning marquee games to return to national relevancy.
"I think it starts [Saturday]," he said.
"It would be a big win. Guess what, next week it’s an even bigger game if you win. It’s crazy, but when you win, the games get even bigger, and then when you get a chance to be in those big games and you win, guess what? Everybody in the country is talking about you. Then it's 'The Swamp is what it was. The excitement is what it was. The recruits' … it changes.”
WHERE: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
WHEN: 3:30 p.m.
LINE: Tennessee -2
1. Can UF dominate the turnover margin for the 11th straight season?
2. Who controls the trenches (and who runs the ball more effectively)?
3. How will special teams factor into the ballgame?
Heed my advice, y’all, I’m a smokin’ 12-3 ATS to start the season.
Mississippi State at Auburn (-1.5)
Michigan (-5.5) vs. BYU
Georgia Tech (-7) at Duke
Texas A&M (-7) at Arkansas
Finally, Tennessee at Florida (+2). I expect an ugly, knock-down, drag-out Big 10-esque game. Just with more follies. First to 14 wins. The Volunteers have more talent, can run the ball better and should leave with a victory. But weird stuff happens in these games. After 10 years of futility, I don't have any confidence in picking Tennessee on the road, so I'm grabbing the points.
GAINESVILLE -- Following Florida’s close win at Kentucky, coach Jim McElwain refused to settle the Gators’ situation at quarterback.
Treon Harris may have done it for him.
Harris, a sophomore quarterback from Miami Booker T. Washington, and starting cornerback Jalen Tabor were suspended Wednesday for one game for undisclosed reasons, so McElwain said redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier will “have an opportunity to run the ship" against Tennessee.
Grier played every snap against the Wildcats, but McElwain said the freshman performed “just OK” and that Harris was positioned to see snaps versus the Volunteers.
Not anymore, as Grier will have a prime opportunity to seize the job.
McElwain acknowledged Harris’ “choice” will have serious consequences for Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS), as the Gators are down to just a single scholarship quarterback (Grier) and may be forced to break out a Wildcat package.
“We knew we were thin at the position coming in,” McElwain said.
“We only had a couple scholarship guys anyway, so that’s the reason we worked some special packages with guys back there and with the quarterback that maybe aren’t traditional quarterbacks.”
Vanderbilt graduate transfer Josh Grady, who played wideout in UF’s first three games, will presumably serve as the backup and run Florida’s ‘GatorTail’ package.
Grady practiced with the quarterbacks Tuesday and Wednesday, and was 3-of-7 for 27 yards and two interceptions in his career at Vandy.
Linebacker Alex Anzalone (shoulder) and tight end C’yontai Lewis (hand) are doubtful for Saturday. McElwain said Anzalone’s injury, thought to be season-ending, isn’t quite as serious as originally thought.
“Instead of having to go put superglue on the shoulder, he only needed some duct tape,” McElwain said.
“Great news. Better than expected.”
Meanwhile, starting defensive end Alex McCalister (shoulder stinger) is probable, but linebacker Jeremi Powell (foot) and safety Kylan Johnson (ankle) are out.
GAINESVILLE -- Two of the Florida Gators’ stars in their comeback win over Tennessee last season are suspended for Saturday’s showdown with the Volunteers.
Sophomore quarterback Treon Harris and cornerback Jalen Tabor will both miss the rivalry game “based on the choices they made,” according to coach Jim McElwain on Wednesday.
“They will be back the following week,” McElwain said.
“I'm not angry at them at all. It's a choice. … Disappointed? Yeah, but there again, we all have choices and decisions to make in everything we do. It wasn’t anything we did. The team didn’t do. I feel bad for the team.”
Florida aims to extend its winning-streak to 11 games over Tennessee (3:30 p.m., CBS), but the task just got harder without a top cornerback and a quarterback poised to see snaps.
Now, the Gators’ quarterback competition could be over, though, as Will Grier will take all the snaps for the second straight week.
A season ago, Harris and Tabor, both freshmen, spearheaded UF’s 10-9 comeback win over Tennessee with key plays after halftime.
Trailing 9-0, Harris, a former star at Miami Booker T. Washington, replaced struggling quarterback Jeff Driskel and led a pair of scoring drives, including Florida’s lone touchdown setup by a strip-sack from Tabor.
A day later, Harris was accused of sexual assault, but he was reinstated when the allegations were withdrawn and only missed the LSU game.
Then in December 2014, Harris was charged with operating a motor vehicle without license, a second-degree misdemeanor, with Tabor also in the car.
Officers discovered two bags of marijuana in the car, however, no charges were filed because neither player actually possessed the drugs and the car didn’t belong to them.
Tabor was cited for marijuana possession in May 2014.
Last weekend, Harris didn’t play against Kentucky, but the sophomore continued to compete for the starting job with Grier.
On the year, Harris is 19-of-27 for 269 yards and two touchdowns, adding 55 yards on the ground.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s offensive line has taken its lumps this season, and while it’s not exactly a surprise considering the unit’s inexperience, it is a concern since the Gators have played the three worst defenses they’ll face over the next two months.
UF’s offensive line, the youngest group in the SEC, has struggled with consistency and continuity early in 2015.
Position coach Mike Summers is pleased with the unit’s progress and willingness to learn, especially for a group that’s regularly featured three true freshmen.
Still, with coach Jim McElwain saying “glass eaters and fire breathers” loom on the schedule, the young group could get exposed soon.
On Wednesday, Summers spoke about that possibility, as well as the early maturation of freshmen tackles Fred Johnson and Martez Ivey and the group's issues creating holes in the run game.
On facing the defensive lines of Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Georgia…
“Even though you can stand here and say I feel like we’re progressing, I still have been doing this long enough to know we have a long way to go, and that’s certainly going to be evident as we get into tougher competition. These defensive lines we play in this league are so good, they’re going to expose our inexperience. They’re going to expose our lack of depth. They’re going to expose certain areas of what we do. We know that’s going to happen. We’re just trying to prepare ourselves for it as we go forward and do the best we can. That’s where we are right now. We’ve prepared as best we can and they’ve made progress and we’ll handle every challenge that comes to us. Some we’ll handle better than others.”
On freshman right tackle Fred Johnson…
“He's such an amazing surprise. His background in high school was not very extensive. I think he was a one-year starter in high school. His knowledge about football is way behind guys that have played and have more experience. But every day he comes over here he's got a smile on his face. It's a new day for him. He's excited to be there, and I'm excited to coach him. We work through the goods and the bads and somewhere in between we're seeing a guy really develop into a good offensive lineman."
On freshman left tackle Martez Ivey…
“He was such a successful high school player on a successful high school program. He got tremendous coaching in high school, especially in the run game. He had a real solid background in run blocking when he came in here and an understanding about football. He had been taught a lot of those things that you have to know to be able to be successful. So I think he did have a little bit of an advantage based on that background. But his advantage is in his heart. It’s in his brain. He’s a football player, and so he brings that every day. … They were a very effective run game in high school, a team that had a good running game. We spent our time in the pass game there. Really, I’ve seen tremendous improvement. It’s such a shame that he got hurt when he did because he was on such a fast pace to capture a lot of the things that we had been teaching him going into that first game. I was so impressed with where he was. Then to have a three-week setback was difficult for him and for all of us. But he really responded well. He worked hard in his rehab. He came right back in, got into practice last week and really got a lot more snaps Saturday than I thought he’d be able to take and be effective at it. I was really pleased with what he did.
He did really good. I was really encouraged with him. He's got such a spirit for playing football. He's a guy that loves to be in the game, loves to be at practice, loves to prepare himself to be ready to play. And so from that standpoint I'm just so excited about him.”
On the unit’s struggles in the run game…
“We work all facets of the run game every day. There’ll be plays that we get on the right landmarks and have our eyes and hands and feet in the right spot and we get good push, and there’ll be plays that we don’t. Obviously our challenge is to make sure that we have more of them that we do and less of them that we don’t. That’ll be the case as we go through the whole season. There’ll be days that we roll off the ball and we get in the right spots and we push guys back. Certainly as the competition gets better, there’ll be days where they’ll be able to handle us in that area. But that’s our challenge every day, is to try and create push and create vertical movement. Certainly that’s an emphasis.”
On the group’s overall inexperience…
“I don’t know if I've ever been in a situation where we’ve had this few returning players and have to work with a group of younger players and have them in such vital positions that we have right now. I don’t know if I've been in that situation. But I’ll follow that up and say I don’t know if I've ever been more enthused about coaching a group of guys that I am with this group. Their spirit to be Florida Gators, their competitive edge to want to make us into a good offensive line has been there. They want to be coached and so for this to be [Year] No. 36 for me and a lot of people might think that it’s old hat or routine, it’s been anything but that. The fact that they’re young is a challenge for me and their enthusiasm spurs my motivation and it’s been a really good coaching situation.”
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s offensive line is littered with youth, and the unit’s prized newcomer finally made his debut in the Gators’ 14-9 win at Kentucky.
Freshman tackle Martez Ivey, the nation’s top overall offensive line recruit in the 2015 class, played a number of snaps against the Wildcats and UF coach Jim McElwain was pleased with Ivey’s first collegiate game.
“I thought he knocked off some rust,” McElwain said.
“I thought he blew them off the ball pretty well. He did a really good job of creating some push. His quickness. He did good.”
The former five-star prospect was pegged as UF’s starting left tackle late in training camp, but Ivey missed the first two games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
“He brings a lot to the table,” starting guard Antonio Riles Jr. said.
“We have a lot more depth, versatility and all that [with him] back. ‘Tez is a good all-around player. We’re happy to have him back."
THIS & THAT
Former Gators great Alex Brown will serve as Florida’s honorary ‘Mr. Two Bits’ against Tennessee. The All-American defensive end famously sacked Volunteers quarterback Tee Martin five times in UF’s 23-21 win in 1999. … UF wideout Brandon Powell originally committed to Tennessee and coach Butch Jones, so the sophomore said he’s circled the matchup after missing the game due to an injury last season. “This is one of the games I’ve been looked forward to,” Powell said. … The Gators are encouraging fans to wear blue Saturday, hoping for blue-out The Swamp.
Jim McElwain secured his first SEC win in an-all-too-familar defensive struggle, but his young team overcame some second-half lapses to thwart a potential historic upset.
Will Grier was just OK. Again. He was gritty (12 carries for 62 yards and touchdown), but his accuracy and decision-making remained inconsistent. Grier played the whole game, a mild surprise, and he took a beating behind UF’s porous offensive line.
The redshirt freshman quarterback was aided by some fantastic catches (Antonio Callway, Jake McGee, Ahmad Fulwood), but Florida once again struggled to run the ball (3.2 yards per carry) against the nation’s No. 111 rush defense. That's not a good omen for the future.
With the line’s persistent issues, the offense will consistently struggle to generate any sort of rhythm moving forward.
The Gators’ defense submitted a dominant performance. They held UK to 241 yards, forced two turnovers and recorded six sacks.
Kentucky has playmakers, but Florida beat up quarterback Patrick Towles so much he couldn’t get them the ball.
Defensive linemen Jon Bullard (2 sacks), Alex McCalister (2 sacks) and freshmen CeCe Jefferson (1.5 TFL) were unblockable at times, while junior linebacker Jarrad Davis submitted a second-straight standout performance (10 stops, 1.5 TFL).
The Gators missed a bunch of tackles early, but the mistakes were quickly cleaned up and their secondary (finally at full-strength) suffocated UK’s aerial attack.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Quietly, UF’s special teams have been abysmal this season. Austin Hardin had a field goal blocked (his third straight miss), while Johnny Townsend averaged just 34 yards on two punts in the first half.
The coverage units were fine, and Callaway did chip in a nice 37-yard punt return, but for as much as McElwain emphasizes the importances of special teams, whatever he’s preaching ain’t working.
This was a Will Muschamp-esque victory. Florida survived and advanced to the next week. The offense is still a mess and it’s about square off against the defensive lines of Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU. Look out. Florida's passed its first test, but the teeth of its schedule is officially here.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Earlier this week, Florida coach Jim McElwain said, "This isn't the same old Kentucky. These guys are really good.”
True, but well, this isn't your '90's babies' Florida, either.
This is a sneaky intriguing matchup, featuring two teams with talent but plenty of flaws. Can UF avoid turnovers? Will UK bust the streak and storm the field? Would a loss unravel Florida's season, or a win thrust the team into the East race?
We'll find out.
First, the pregame primer
WHERE: Commonwealth Stadium
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
WATCH: SEC Network
LINE: UF -3.5
1. Part Deux: Can Will Grier seize control of the starting quarterback job?
2. How will UF’s secondary perform at full strength?
3. Can UF dominate the trenches against UK’s porous run defense?
I’m a redhot 9-1 ATS to start the season. Get rich, y’all.
BYU (+18) at UCLA
Ole Miss (+9.5) at Alabama
Georgia Tech (-2) at Notre Dame
LSU (-6.5) vs. Auburn
Lastly, Florida at Kentucky (+3.5). All the analytics favor the Gators. The ‘Cats probably should’ve lost to South Carolina, and while they’re definitely improved. they have just as many question marks (if not more) than the Gators. BUT …… I’m grabbing the points. Still think UF squeaks out a win, though.
GAINESVILLE -- Jarrad Davis is an instinctive thumper at linebacker.
The 6-2, 230-pound junior shoots gaps like a heat-seeking missile, and the weakside linebacker is enjoying an early breakout campaign in 2015.
After riding the bench due to injuries and strange coaches’ decisions the last two seasons, Davis leads the Gators in tackles (14) this season, recording 10 stops and 2.5 for loss in last weekend’s win over East Carolina.
Earlier this week, Davis spoke on overcoming last year's serious knee injury, his improvement, replacing injured linebacker Alex Anzalone’s production, the challenge UK presents and more.
On coming off last season’s knee injury:
"It's a lot more fun than sitting. Being out there in the action feels like old times. I was down for eight months. I didn't play football for eight months. Now that I've got the opportunity to go out and do what I love to do is awesome, just awesome. I'm just embracing the moment. … I started playing football when I was six-years-old. It was the longest time without football, eight months. I went crazy. It was hard. It was tough. It's something I don't ever want to have to go through again."
On his instincts:
"It's watching film throughout the week, making sure I'm up on my keys. Anyone can play fast if they know what they're looking at. It's like a car can't go without the key in the ignition. Watching film all week helps me make those plays.”
On replacing junior linebacker Alex Anzalone:
“Athletically, he was at the top of his game. He was outdoing almost everybody on the team in the linebacker spot. He’s a freak. He knows the game and he can go out there and perform. It’s hard for us to replace a guy like that, but we just have to make sure we play to the best of our abilities every time we step on the field and we’re not going to have an issue.”
On the “third test” of the season:
“We want to be in Atlanta and we want to be in the playoffs at the end of the season. That’s what we want to do. We’re in the third step of a 15-step process. That’s how I look. This is game three and we want 15 in that slate, 15-0. The stakes get higher. This game is the utmost important of the game of the season because it’s here and now.”
On playing against a competitive UK team:
“This is definitely going to be a challenge, especially going to their place. We have to make sure we’re really up all game. We can’t really mess around this week. Like I said, this is the utmost most important game of the season.”
GAINESVILLE -- Florida quarterback Will Grier will start Saturday’s SEC opener at Kentucky, the school announced Thursday.
The redshirt freshman quarterback will make his second straight start, but UF coach Jim McElwain plans to continue rotating Grier and sophomore Treon Harris until either quarterback seizes the job.
After playing the first four series in last weekend's win over East Carolina, Grier watched the fourth quarter from the sidelines following a pair of shaky second-half series. He’s turned the ball over twice in two games, while Harris has yet to commit a turnover on the year.
Still, Grier, who’s 26-of-35 for 317 yards and four touchdowns on the season, has the higher ceiling of the two, and will be given the initial opportunity to win the job outright against the Wildcats (2-0).
On Wednesday, McElwain said if one of the quarterbacks establishes the “hot hand” on Saturday (7:30 p.m., SEC Network) then the rotation would discontinue.
“That’s what we’d like to get to,” he said.
“You don’t take the guy out because he’s filling it up. … At the same time, it’s not going to be one of those deals where a guy makes a bad throw and then you’re [pulling him]. I don’t believe in that either. Again, we kind of have those reps, but obviously if a guy’s hitting it and distributing it and has a good stroke, then we’ll go with it.”
Harris is 19-of-27 for 269 yards and two touchdowns on the year, leading five drives for scores. He started at Vanderbilt and No. 3 Florida State last season, too, but McElwain downplayed the sophomore’s road experience and is more concerned with how the team plays around either quarterback.
"The big thing is the other 10 guys that are on the field need to make sure we're paying attention to details and stepping up and working forward," he said.
GAINESVILLE -- During training camp, junior linebacker Alex Anzalone emerged as one of Florida’s top playmakers on defense.
The junior led the team in tackles in UF’s opening-win over New Mexico State, but Anzalone reinjured his right shoulder against East Carolina and could be sidelined for sometime.
Gators coach Jim McElwain said Wednesday that the starting linebacker “is very doubtful to out” for Kentucky (7:30 p.m., SEC Network).
“That’s a recurrence of a pre-exiting injury that he had a couple years ago,” McElwain said.
Anzalone, a former five-star prospect, had shoulder surgery during the spring of 2013. He’s UF’s best coverage linebacker and is versatile enough to play both the MIKE and SAM.
“He was outdoing almost everybody on the team in the linebacker spot,” junior linebacker Jarrad Davis said.
“He’s a freak. He knows the game and he can out out there and perform. It’s hard for us to replace a guy like that, but we just have to make sure we play to the best of our abilities every time we step on the field and we won’t have an issue.”
Davis, a thumper at the weak-side linebacker spot, actually leads the team in tackles with 14, including 2.5 for loss against ECU.
McElwain acknowledged Florida is “thin at the position,” and needs some backups to be ready to play.
“[Jeremi] Powell and DMac [Daniel McMillian], those guys have got to get in there,” he said.
Meanwhile, McElwain delivered some positive news on five-star freshman tackle Martez Ivey, who hopes to make his collegiate debut this weekend after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery Aug. 28.
“Martez played very well yesterday and this morning, the response on that particular injury showed very good,” McElwain said.
Florida hopes to know more about Ivey’s status for Saturday following today’s practice.
Fred Taylor, Kelvin’s father and former UF and NFL star, told The Dan Le Batard Show on Monday that his son’s throat-slash celebration was simply an unfortunate reaction and a release of frustrations over playing time.
“He wants more reps," Fred Taylor said.
"He's a junior, he wants to make it happen. He wants an opportunity to not get caught up in the whole rotating three running backs. Two, well, you deal with it. Three? The rhythm and that piece of it, it's sort of frustrating. He had the opportunity to sort of punch on in and he got caught up in the celebration his old man used to do.”
Kelvin Taylor entered the season as UF’s featured-back, and after two games, he leads the team with 27 touches. He's rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, while adding three receptions for 47 yards.
The junior has split snaps with a pair of freshmen -- Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett -- and was demoted to third-string Monday as punishment for the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against East Carolina.
Taylor’s benching won’t last long, though, as McElwain said the junior will see the lion share of carries against Kentucky this weekend.
“K.T. will carry the bigger burden of everything,” just as he has in the first couple [of games],” McElwain said.
“We have to keep him fresh because I do love the way he plays with passion and goes 100 percent every time. We can’t beat him up. I don’t think that’s what we want to do there.”