October 20, 2016

Bye Week Breakdown Part 4: The next three games

With No. 15 Florida on a bye this week, I am going to take the time to decipher the Gators’ performance through its first six games. This will be a four-part series focusing on a different aspect of the team each day. Part 4 focuses on Florida’s first three games after the bye week.

Oct. 29: Georgia (in Jacksonville)

Record: 4-3 (2-3 SEC)

Coach: Kirby Smart (1st season)

Offense Analysis:

The Bulldogs have the weapons to attack opponents in both the pass and the run game. On the ground, junior Nick Chubb (586 yards, five touchdowns, 5.1 yards/carry) is having a solid rebound season after a brutal knee injury cut short a 2015 season that had him in contention for the Heisman Trophy. Fellow junior Sony Michel (358 yards, one touchdown, 4.9 yards/carry) and freshman Brian Herrian (341 yards, three touchdowns, 6.6 yards/carry) have been valiant change-of-pace backs behind him. Herrian is third nationally in yards per carry among freshmen with at least 50 carries and Georgia is one of two teams in the SEC and one of just five in the Power 5 conferences to have three players to each have at least 300 yards and a rushing touchdown (the others: Alabama, Baylor, Ohio State and Nebraska).

In the passing game, freshman quarterback Jacob Eason has shown flashes of brilliance halfway into his first season. The former five-star recruit is third among true freshman quarterbacks in both passing yards per game (195.1) and quarterback rating (118.96) and has nine passing touchdowns to just five interceptions. He has posted a pair of 300-yard outings, including a 308-yard, three-touchdown performance against Missouri in which he capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 20-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie with less than two minutes left to play. McKenzie (30 catches, 415 yards, five touchdowns) has been Eason’s favorite and most consistent receiver thus far this season.

Defense Analysis

The Bulldogs have been stout against the run this season, placing third in the SEC and 15th overall in average yards allowed on the ground (111.1/game). They’ve held four opponents to no more than 125 rushing yards. Sophomore Trenton Thompson (five tackles for loss) anchors the defensive line and linebackers Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith (81 combined tackles) have been stout at linebacker.

Georgia’s pass defense, on the other hand, has not been as successful. UGA is giving up 228.6 yards per game, a mark that ranks ninth in the SEC and 67th among FBS teams. Most of the damage came in a back-to-back games against Missouri (376 yards) and Ole Miss (330 yards). The defense also collapsed late against Tennessee, giving up 136 second-half passing yards and three touchdowns in a 34-31 loss. The Bulldogs have also given up 11 passing touchdowns compared to forcing eight interceptions. Linebacker Lorenzo Carter leads the team with four sacks.

Final Words

A poor showing against Vanderbilt and a last-second hail mary from Tennessee are the only things stopping this team from being 4-1 in conference play heading into next weekend’s matchup against Florida.

 

Nov. 5: No. 22 Arkansas (in Fayetteville)

Record: 5-2 (1-2 SEC)

Coach: Bret Bielema (fourth season)

Offense Analysis:

Arkansas offense has been fueled by a powerful run game for most of recent time. This year, however, the Razorbacks’ passing game has found life and has helped the Hogs add an extra wrinkle to their offense. Redshirt junior quarterback Austin Allen, the younger brother of former Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen, is averaging 265.9 passing yards per game, good for third in the SEC and 31st in the nation. He has an SEC-best 18 touchdowns through seven games and has thrown at least two touchdown passes in every game this season.

In the ground game, sophomore Rawleigh Williams II is averaging 112.1 rushing yards per game, the second-best mark in the SEC and the 17th-best in FBS. He has four games with at least 120 rushing yards on the season and is averaging a staggering 5.6 yards per carry.

Defense Analysis:

While its offense has flourished, Arkansas’ defense has been a middle of the road group this season and has fallen apart in conference play. In three SEC contests -- a 45-24 loss to Texas A&M, a 49-30 loss to Alabama and a 34-30 win over Ole Miss -- Arkansas has given up a staggering average of 503.7 yards.

Final Words:

This game will be interesting. It’s the farthest road trip the Gators will make in the regular season and the outcome will more than likely determine the importance of Florida’s Nov. 19 matchup with LSU in terms of determining the SEC East champion.

 

Nov. 12: South Carolina (in Gainesville)

Record: 2-4 (1-4 SEC)

Coach: Will Muschamp (first season)

Offense Analysis:

Like most Will Muschamp offenses, South Carolina is struggling. The Gamecocks have the third-worst offense in the country, averaging 304.5 yards per game and are scoring an FBS-worst 14 points per game.

South Carolina is shaky at quarterback, with both senior Perry Orth (57/90, 661 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions in four games) and true freshman Brandon McIlwain (56/106, 567 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) receiving extensive playing time in the Gamecocks’ first six games. The State reported this week that Muschamp might turn the team over to another true freshman in Jake Bentley.

Freshman A.J. Turner leads the run game with a meager 300 yards and two touchdowns. His 50 yards per contest are tied for 21st in the SEC with UF freshman Lamical Perine (who is the second-best back in the Gators’ four-back committee).

Defense Analysis:

South Carolina’s defense can be described in two sentences. It excels against the pass. It fails against the run.

The Gamecocks are second only to Florida in the SEC in pass defense (173 yards allowed/game) and are last in the conference in run defense (222.7 yards allowed/game). Seven of the eight touchdowns South Carolina’s defense has given up during its three-game losing streak have been rushing touchdowns.

Final Words: Muschamp’s return to The Swamp on Florida’s senior night is an interesting way for the Gators to close out their home slate (remember: the Nov. 19 game against Presbyterian was canceled and the Gators will play LSU in Baton Rouge instead). This is arguably Florida’s lone guaranteed win left on the schedule. A win would have McElwain go undefeated at home in his second season, something that hasn’t happened for UF since 2012.

October 19, 2016

Bye Breakdown Part 3: Special Teams

With No. 15 Florida on a bye this week, I am going to take the time to decipher the Gators’ performance through its first six games. This will be a four-part series focusing on a different aspect of the team each day. Part 3 focuses on Florida’s special teams.

 

Field Goals

For three years, Florida fans watched nervously every time Austin Hardin stepped up for a field goal.

Over the last six games, they’ve chanted their kicker’s name.

Eddy Pineiro hasn’t been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but the junior college transfer and former soccer standout at Miami Sunset Senior High has held his own in his first season at UF.

Pineiro has made nine of his 12 field goal attempts -- that’s two more made field goals in half a season than Florida had all last year. He’s made six field goals that were at least 40 yards (including two from 53 and 54 yards away) and has notched all 19 of his extra point attempts.

 

Punting

Johnny Townsend has been nothing short of brilliant through the first six games. The redshirt junior’s 47.54 yards per punt leads the SEC and ranks third in the country. Fifteen of his 28 punts have traveled at least 50 yards and only two have resulted in touchbacks.

He’s the defense’s best friend, pinning opponents inside their 20-yard line on 13 of his 28 punting attempts this year.

On those 13 drives, Florida’s defense has given up zero touchdowns, allowed one field goal and forced a safety.

In other words, when Townsend pins the opponent deep in its own territory, Florida’s defense is only being outscored 3-2.

He’s also the offense’s best weapon, stretching the field every time a Florida drive stalls before reaching midfield.

And he’s probably the only player on the team who can rival special teams partner Eddy Pineiro’s fan base.

While Pineiro’s name is chanted each time he steps up for a field goal, Townsend has a movement on Twitter, with fans calling for him to become the first special teams player to win the Heisman.

While he probably won’t be named the best player in college football, Townsend has been the Gators’ best player so far this year, without a doubt.

 

Kick Returns

Florida’s kickoff return game is still up in the air.

The Gators are 22nd nationally and fourth in the SEC averaging 25 yards per return.

But the sample size is small. UF has only returned nine kickoffs this year and is one of just five schools with less than 10 returns at this point in the season. One of which was an onside kick that Antonio Callaway brought back 44 yards for a touchdown in the waning minutes against Missouri.

 

Punt Returns

Antonio Callaway lit up the punt return game as a freshman.

As soon as the ball was in his grasp, the speedy wide receiver sliced, diced and torched the coverage unit, each play a potential touchdown.  He ended the year returning two punts for touchdowns and averaged 15.5 yards per return — fifth-best in the nation.

This year, however, the punt return game has given Callaway problems. Six games into the season, a combination of poor decision making and an inability to find open lanes has caused him to struggle in a facet of his game where he should excel.

On 14 returns so far this year, Callaway is averaging 2.9 yards per return. That’s the fifth-worst in the country among qualified players. Two of his returns have gone for negative yards. He fumbled two others inside the 10-yard line.

Defensively, the Gators have done considerably well on punt return coverage, giving up an average of 8.5 yards per return and allowing just one return to go longer than 20 yards.

 

Final Words

Florida’s special teams passes the eye test through the first six games and could be a pivotal factor for the Gators as they go through their final five-game stretch.

 

Coming up on Thursday: A look at the road ahead

 

October 18, 2016

Bye Breakdown Part 2: The Defense

With No. 15 Florida on a bye this week, I am going to take the time to decipher the Gators’ performance through its first six games. This will be a four-part series focusing on a different aspect of the team each day. Today is Part 2: The Defense.

 

The Numbers

Total Defense: 252 yards/game (first in SEC; third nationally)

Passing Defense: 132.8 yards/game (first in SEC; second nationally)

Rushing Defense: 119.2 yards/game (fourth in SEC; 18th nationally)

Scoring Defense: 12 points/game (first in SEC; second nationally)

 

Individual leaders

Tackles: Jarrad Davis (48), Alex Anzalone (40), Marcus Maye (35)

Sacks: Jabari Zuniga (5), Jordan Sherit (3), Alex Anzalone (2.5)

Interceptions: Jalen Tabor (4), Quincy Wilson (3)

 

Defensive Line

Even through the rash of injuries the Gators have experienced as of late, the defensive line has been a disruptive force. Florida is tied 14th in the country and third in the Southeastern Conference in sacks per game (3.17) and is holding opponents to 3.16 yards per rush.

Freshman Jabari Zuniga already has five sacks this season, which is tied for the national lead among first-year players. Caleb Brantley has been disruptive on the inside, blowing up plays even though his name doesn’t always appear on the stat sheet. Jordan Sherit began the year on pace for a breakout season as an edge rusher before undergoing a minor arthroscopic knee surgery.

 

Linebackers

Senior Jarrad Davis and redshirt junior Alex Anzalone have become a valiant one-two punch at linebacker for Florida this year. The two have combined for 88 tackles, seven tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries. Outside of the stats, Davis and Anzalone share the responsibility of lining the defense up, calling audibles and making sure all 11 players on the field know their assignments.

Behind them, though, Florida’s depth is minimal. Senior Daniel McMillian has battled through injury, limiting his availability. True freshmen David Reese and Jeremiah Moon have garnered reps throughout the season and redshirt freshman Kylan Johnson has seen action in select packages.

The youngsters will have more opportunities to make an impact in the immediate future, though, as Davis recovers from a sprained ankle.

 

Defensive Backs

DBU (Defensive Back University) is living up to its name. The Gators have allowed just four passing touchdowns this season, all of which came during the second half of the team’s 38-28 collapse against Tennessee. Outside of that 30 minutes of regulation, the defense is giving up what would be a nation-low 102.2 passing yards a game.

The duo of junior corners Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson has combined for seven of Florida’s 10 interceptions and have been islands on the outside.

At safety, fifth-year senior Marcus Maye has been a rock, tying for the team lead with four pass breakups and sitting at third on the team with 35 tackles (20 solo).

 

Final Words

Outside of the second half against Tennessee, Florida’s defense has done more than held its own. However, the competition is about to get tougher. Four of Florida’s final five games are away from home against top-75 offenses.

 

Coming up on Wednesday: A look at Florida’s special teams

 

October 17, 2016

Bye Breakdown Part 1: The Offense

With No. 15 Florida on a bye this week, I am going to take the time to decipher the Gators’ performance through its first six games. This will be a four-part series focusing on a different aspect of the team each day. First up: The Offense.

The Numbers

Total offense: 426.5 yards/game (seventh in SEC; tied for 53rd nationally)

Passing offense: 244.7 yards/game (fifth in SEC; 50th nationally)

Rushing offense: 181.8 yards/game (eighth in SEC; 58th nationally)

Scoring offense: 30.3 points/game (eighth in SEC; 65th nationally)

 

Individual leaders

Passing: Luke Del Rio (998 yards, 57.6 percent completion, seven touchdowns, five interceptions); Austin Appleby (470 yards, 61.1 percent completion, three touchdowns, one interception)

Rushing: Jordan Scarlett (375 yards, 5.6 yards/carry, five touchdowns); Lamical Perine (300 yards, 6.3 yards/carry, one touchdown)

Receiving: Antonio Callaway (23 catches, 399 yards, 17.4 yards/catch, two touchdowns); DeAndre Goolsby (25 catches, 215 yards, 8.6 yards/catch, one touchdown)

 

Quarterbacks

Luke Del Rio came in and put on a show during his first three weeks of the year. He averaged 252 yards per game and almost 7.5 yards per attempt and turned the ball over just two times.Then he took a low hit against North Texas, sustaining a sprained MCL in the process.

During Del Rio's two-game absence, Austin Appleby took over and the offense rose to great heights for about 30 minutes (21 points, 300 yards) before falling back down to mediocrity for the final 90 minutes (20 points, 318 yards).

Del Rio was shaky in his return on Saturday, completing less than half of his passes (18 of 38) and throwing three interceptions to just one touchdown. He rarely looked past his first read, underthrew a handful of downfield passes and took shots into double and triple coverage.

 

Running Backs

McElwain is still adamant about incorporating all five of his running backs in the offensive attack -- yes, that includes fifth-year senior Mark Herndon.

In reality, two should be receiving the bulk of the carries: Sophomore Jordan Scarlett and freshman Lamical Perine.

Scarlett has shown the most upside through the first six games. He ranks 12th among running backs in the SEC in average rushing (62.5 yards/game) and is the only running back among the top 15 in the conference to have at least one rushing touchdown in each of the past five games. The former St. Thomas Aquinas standout has also proven to be an above average pass blocker.

Perine’s potential has come in bursts this year. After fumbling the lone snap he took in his first collegiate game against UMass, the freshman jumped onto the scene with a 105-yard outing against Kentucky. On Saturday, the 5-11, 221-pound tailback averaged 9.64 yards per carry against Missouri, racking up 106 yards on the ground while tacking on 31 yards on a screen pass.

Combined, Scarlett and Perine are averaging 5.9 yards per rush on 115 carries through six games and have six runs that have gone for at least 20 yards.

The other three running backs (sophomore Jordan Cronkrite, junior Mark Thompson and Herndon) are averaging 4.4 yards each time they carry the ball (85 total attempts), with only two runs longer than 20 yards on the season.

 

Receivers/Tight Ends

Antonio Callaway is still Florida’s lone true proven playmaker at receiver. The 5-11, 197-pound sophomore and former Booker T. Washington standout leads Florida with 399 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns on 23 catches. He is tied for eighth in the league with six catches that have gone for at least 20 yards. However, most of that production came in his first three games of the season. In Florida’s last two outings -- wins against Vanderbilt and Missouri -- Callaway has mustered just six catches for 64 yards.

True freshman Tyrie Cleveland has emerged as a second valiant in the passing game opposite Callaway over the past three weeks.

His first career catch was a 36-yard grab down the right sideline against Tennessee that moved the Gators into the red zone and set up a touchdown run three plays later.

During Florida’s homecoming win against Missouri on Saturday, Cleveland came down with three catches, a career-high 79 yards and his first career touchdown.

Junior Brandon Powell (23 catches, 206 yards, two touchdowns) has shown some bright moments while playing mostly out of the slot.

At tight end, junior DeAndre Goolsby has become a valuable security blanket in the flat. He’s third among SEC tight ends in total catches (25) and receiving yards (215).

 

Offensive Line

The group is still experiencing growing pains that date back to last season, but improvements have been made since last year when Florida gave up a nation-worst 45 sacks.

The line has allowed just six sacks through six games, which is tied with Texas A&M for the second-lowest in the SEC (Missouri leads the conference with just three sacks allowed), and has done a considerably improved job at creating running lanes compared to the 2015 season.

The trio of Martez Ivey, Cam Dillard and Tyler Jordan have done a passable job on the interior of the line. Left tackle David Sharpe, Florida’s most experienced lineman, has struggled at points over the last three weeks, failing to contain Tennessee’s Derek Barnett in Florida’s 38-28 loss to the Volunteers and committing three false start penalties on Saturday against Missouri. Freshman Jawaan Taylor, a 6-5, 340-pound tackle, has been a pleasant surprise since he shifted into the starting lineup.

 

Final Words

At times this season, Florida’s offense has shown spurts of brilliance. Other times, it looked dreadful. Penalties and lack of focus have caused successful drives to stall and force Florida to either punt or settle for field goals. With a grueling five-game schedule to close out the season, the offense has work to do if Florida wants to continue a potential SEC Championship run.

 

Coming up on Tuesday: A look at Florida’s defense

October 10, 2016

QB Luke Del Rio set to return to Gators lineup this week

Gators coach Jim McElwain said Monday that Luke Del Rio is back from his knee injury and should start No. 18 Florida's home game against Missouri on Saturday.

Del Rio sprained the MCL in his left knee after being hit low in his planted leg by a North Texas defender during the Gators' 32-0 win over the Mean Green on Sept. 17. He missed two games. The Gators went 1-1 in his absence and with Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby as the starter (38-28 loss to Tennessee; 13-6 win against Vanderbilt).

“We’re excited about that," McElwain said, adding that Del Rio would have been fine to play against LSU had the game not been postponed. "Luke is excited and itching to go."

In the first three games this season -- wins against UMass, Kentucky and North Texas -- Del Rio threw for 762 yards on a 61.4-percent completion percentage and had six touchdown passes to two interceptions.

"It's tough," Del Rio said, "but injuries are part of football and the training staff did such a tremendous job of getting me back quickly. We really attacked this thing with constant rehab and constant treatment. They did a tremendous job."

While Del Rio was on the sideline, Appleby threw for 440 yards, three touchdowns and an interception over the two road trips to Tennessee.

However, his production has stalled as of late. In the last six quarters of play (the second half vs. Tennessee and the entire Vanderbilt game), Appleby has 227 yards on 32-of-51 passing, one touchdown, one interception, four sacks and a fourth-quarter fumble at the Vanderbilt 1-yard line.

"Whether I am [the starter] or not, it doesn't change the preparation," Appleby said. "You prepare to be the starter. You prepare to play. My Monday is the same is the same as it was the week before, as it was the week before as it was the week before that. You prepare to play."

October 06, 2016

SEC will make final decision on UF-LSU game

The status of Saturday's home game between No. 18 Florida and LSU is still up in the air as of 2:30 p.m. Thursday. The lone certainty in the uncertainty: The Southeastern Conference will make the final decision.

Should the game be delayed or postponed, it would mark the first time since the 2004 season that a Florida football game was affected by a hurricane, when the season opener against Middle Tennessee State pushed back to mid-November because of Hurricane Frances. It’s also the first time that a Florida-LSU football was postponed since 1964.

“Here’s one thing I think that we lose sight of. I mean, this is something that could be devastating,” UF coach Jim McElwain said Wednesday. “It’s already been devastating in other countries, right? And we get so wrapped up in the importance of an SEC game on a Saturday, and yet my feelings, when you get a chance to actually sit back and maybe take a breath, are first responders that have to be on top of it.”

It’s a move that would be supported by U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who wrote a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday urging Scott to intervene and make UF change either the time or location of the game.

“UF’s decision endangers the safety and well-being of not only the players of UF and LSU, but also the fans, coaching staff, stadium workers, police, emergency medical technicians, and a host of other people who will have to travel to and stay in Gainesville if this game is held there,” Vitter wrote. “... Unless you and the UF Athletic staff want to end up on a segment of ESPN’s ‘C’mon Man,’ I urge you to work with the Athletic Department at UF to reconsider hosting this weekend’s game in Gainesville.”

Alachua County is expected to feel the brunt of Hurricane Matthew on Friday, at which point it is expected to be a Category 4 storm. Tropical storm force winds (39 mph) are expected to be felt in Gainesville starting around 11 a.m. Friday and continuing until 5 a.m. Saturday, according to a press release from the city. There is also an 80-percent chance that winds could reach up to 58 mph by 5 p.m. Friday and will last until about 11 p.m. Friday.

October 05, 2016

For now, there will be a football game in Gainesville on Saturday

It might change in the near future, but as of Wednesday afternoon, the No. 18 Florida Gators fully expect to host LSU for Saturday's noon game.

UF released a statement Tuesday saying there was no change in schedule for the game, which will be televised on ESPN, and said the same thing Wednesday morning.

"Obviously well aware of what could happen and the preparation for that," UF coach Jim McElwain said Wednesday on the weekly SEC Coaches Teleconference. "It’s one of those deals that whatever happens will obviously be the best for the campus, the state of Florida, first responders, all those type of things, but right now, we're planning to go ahead with whatever the plans were.”

Based on the latest forecast, Gainesville is expected to be hit by the outskirts of Hurricane Matthew between Thursday night and Saturday morning, at which point Matthew is projected to still be a Category 3 storm.

The university is monitoring the hurricane but UF Police Chief Linda Stump-Kurnick wrote in an email to UF students Wednesday that the uncertainty of the forecast makes it difficult for the school to jump to any conclusions.

"If the area is impacted by sustained tropical storm/hurricane force winds, the university will take appropriate steps to determine if normal operations need to be altered," Stump-Kurnick said.

UF is expected to have an update on the situation after 5 p.m.

Should the hurricane affect Saturday's kickoff, whether that means delaying the start, postponing the contest, or moving it to another venue, it would be the first time since the 2004 season that this occurred. In 2004, Florida's season opener against Middle Tennessee State pushed back to mid-November because of Hurricane Frances.

September 28, 2016

UF baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan becomes highest-paid college baseball coach

DSC_5462

It looks like Kevin O'Sullivan isn't leaving Gainesville any time soon.

The University of Florida baseball coach, heading into his 10th season at UF, signed a 10-year contract extension over the summer that keeps him with the Gators until at least 2025 and makes him the highest-paid college baseball coach in the country, the Miami Herald confirmed on Wednesday. 

The details of the contract: $1.25 million per year along with a $500,000 signing bonus. The contract also has a buyout clause worth $500,000 for each year remaining on the deal.

Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball was the first to report the contract extension.

O'Sullivan has revolutionized the Gators baseball program since he took over for Pat McMahon in 2008. Florida has won five total Southeastern Conference titles (three regular season championships, two tournament championships) and reached the NCAA Tournament in all nine years under O'Sullivan, the only school to do so during that time. The Gators have also reached the College World Series five times, finishing as the runner up in 2011. He has a UF-best .677 winning percentage since taking over at UF (396-189) with just one losing season (2013; 29-30 record). His 396 wins are the third-most in Florida history, trailing Joe Arnold (434) and Dave Fuller (557).

Sixty-nine of O'Sullivan's players at Florida have gone on to be selected in the Major League Baseball Draft, including eight in the 2016 draft this past June.

He has brought in top-10 recruiting classes every season, including three top-ranked classes (2009, 2013, 2015). UF's 12-member recruiting class this year was ranked sixth by Collegiate Baseball and has six players who were selected in June's draft but opted to come to school instead.

Florida is coming off a 52-16 season in which it set a school record for regular-season wins before being bounced from the College World Series after opening losses to eventual NCAA Champion Coastal Carolina and Texas Tech.

O'Sullivan's contract extension is another step that shows Florida's commitment to keeping the baseball program as one of the elite programs in the country.

Earlier this month, the University Athletic Association announced that a renovation to the baseball complex at McKethan Stadium is part of its $100 million master facility plan.

Additions to the baseball stadium include new club seating, a second-level concourse, an expanded press box and improved player amenities.

Incoming athletics director Scott Stricklin, who will be replacing Jeremy Foley beginning Nov. 1, also has a vested interest in baseball, having previously served as Auburn’s baseball contact as an associate media relations director from 1993-98. He also worked for the Mississippi State baseball team’s media department when he was a student there.

"I love college baseball," Stricklin said Tuesday. "I've seen a lot of SEC baseball games from my roles in different schools in the past, and I'm really excited to work with Sully and what he's got built here. And I'm looking forward to getting more details on what the vision is from the updating the baseball stadium. I think it's a great sport; right? And Florida's been really good at it, and I think we're going to make sure this facility matches that."

Teleconference notebook: Luke Del Rio, Brandon Powell and more

Florida head coach Jim McElwain talked about a handful of topics during his time on Wednesday's weekly Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. Here are a few highlights:

Del Rio will practice today

After sitting out Florida's 38-28 loss to Tennessee with a sprained MCL and not participating in practice on Monday and Tuesday, starting quarterback will return to practice Wednesday in a limited fashion.

Del Rio injured his left knee two weeks ago in the Gators' 32-0 win over North Texas when a Mean Green defensive lineman took a low hit on Del Rio's planted leg.

"He'll throw some (skeleton drills), some routes on air and probably two of the different team periods just to take a look," McElwain said. "We'll see how it goes and see how it responds from there."

Powell cleared to play

The SEC overturned Brandon Powell's first-half suspension for Saturday's game against Vanderbilt that stemmed from him "throwing a punch."

"We've received word that he'll go and you know nothing from there," McElwain said.

In the second half against Tennessee last week, Powell threw his arm out in the air in the direction of Tennessee defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, who flopped as if he was hit. The referees ejected Powell afterward.

"He was full go from Monday afternoon on," McElwain said.

On the season, Powell has recorded 15 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown this season.

Quotables

McElwain on how he hopes his team will respond: "I like the way they've been Monday and Tuesday. Obviously today is a big practice for us from a situation standpoint and yet the focus has been really good and the leaders have been really good, so it's too early to tell. I don't have a crystal ball and yet I think we'll bounce back pretty good." 

On Les Miles' firing at LSU: "This guy has done so much for this league. He's done so much on a national stage. He's obviously, I feel for those families within the organization but more so, you know what, the players and the lives he's touched. I hate to see it and I've got the utmost respect for what he's done and really more so what he's put into other peoples' lives in making a difference. He's a guy we're gonna miss."

On Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb, a Gainesville native: "Even at contact, his legs are constantly moving and he runs behind his pads. Now what do I mean by that? His body lean, his quickness in his jump cuts, especially in the power game, in the inside running game, that's very impressive. And when he gets to the second level, he can go ahead and give you a leg and take it away. He's a hard guy to tackle and get clean shots on and I think that's what really separates him and makes him what he is."

September 27, 2016

Scott Stricklin approved as next UF athletics director

The UF Athletic Association's board of directors on Tuesday morning unanimously approved Scott Stricklin to replace Jeremy Foley as Florida's athletics director.

The Independent Florida Alligator's Ian Cohen was the first to report.

A press conference will be held at 1 p.m. to formally introduce Stricklin.

Foley announced his retirement on June 13 and will step down from his post on Nov.1 after holding the position for 25 years.

"This is a new era for UF," Florida president Kent Fuchs said at the meeting, according to Cohen. "... I couldn't be more pleased."

UF reportedly reached out to Stricklin for a second interview last week after he turned down an initial offer from Florida about a month ago, according to the Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi.

Stricklin has been Mississippi State’s Director of Athletics since May 2010, during which time the program has seen its share of success.

The football team has reached reached a bowl game in each of the past six seasons and spent five weeks at the top of the AP Poll in 2014, marking the first time Mississippi State held the No. 1 spot in program history.

He oversaw the approval for more than $130 million in facilities renovations and upgrades, including a $75 million expansion to the program’s football stadium and the creation of a $25 million football complex.

He was named a 2015-16 Under Armour Athletics Director of the Year, an award which “highlights the efforts of athletics directors at all levels for their commitment and positive contributions to student-athletes, campuses and their surrounding communities,” according to the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

Stricklin began at MSU in media relations in 1990, according to his bio on Mississippi State’s athletic website. He had stints at Auburn, Tulane, Baylor and Kentucky, before returning to Starkville in 2008 to serve as the athletic program’s senior associate athletic director of external affairs. He became athletic director two years later.

Foley, who started as an intern in the UF Athletic Association in 1976, took over as UF’s Athletics Director in 1992 and has led the program to unparalleled success.

Under Foley’s direction, UF won 27 national titles in 13 sports. Among them are the school’s first three in football (1996, 2006, 2008) and back-to-back titles in men’s basketball (2006 and 2007). The school also won consecutive national championships in women’s tennis (2011 and 2012), softball (2014 and 2015), women’s gymnastics (2013-2015) and men’s track and field (indoor: 2010-2012; outdoor: 2012-2013; 2016). At least one UF team has won a national title for seven consecutive years.

“I never imagined this day to come,” Foley said during his retirement press conference on June 14. “I love what I do and love this place. But at some point in time you have to self-evaluate what's right for the place, in my opinion, and what's right for yourself in your opinion. So that's what I'm doing here.”

September 21, 2016

Highlights from Gators coach Jim McElwain on Wednesday's SEC Teleconference

Second-year UF coach Jim McElwain spoke about a handful of topics during his time on Wednesday's SEC Coaches Teleconference. Here are some highlights:

On sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who is still dealing with a lingering quad injury: "He tried to go a little bit [Tuesday] and you know, he kind of ran around there a little bit. I know he'll do everything he can to play, but as you probably know, guys have to practice on Wednesday and they've got to be able to show they can go. The one thing I will never do is put someone out there that isn't able to really go produce. Time will tell, but I'm expecting him to have at it, but we'll know a lot more after today's practice."

On Luke Del Rio's role this week following the knee injury: "He’s spent a ton of time down in the training room. He’s been, you know, came out to practice the other day and signaled and was there kinda, you know, in all the game plan things. So that room, you know, and you hear me talk about that, the room itself is the same. In other words, those four guys are in there going through the install and he’s preparing himself just like he’s the starter. And that really is what you expect from that position, and the guys around him, the team, they know he’s there. And we’ll take him on the trip for part of that reason. You know, we travel four quarterbacks and he’ll be a guy."

On not playing Rocky Top during practice: "I guess we’ll hear it enough when we get there, so there’s probably no reason to do it now."

On the fact that two SEC schools will be starting Purdue transfer quarterbacks (UF with Austin Appleby; LSU with Danny Etling): "Well, I guess that gives us something to write about. I don't really know what you want me to say. That's really good trivia. I love useless information so I'm going to log that one. Really what makes today the best is the fact that it's Earth, Wind & Fire's 21st of September today. I've kind of been singing that song all day, but let me put some thought into that Purdue thing. That's pretty cool."

 

On if he's ever seen a duck pull a truck (for context, please go here): “You know, somebody told me about that. That’s a classic right there. I gotta find out what the heck that means. But I guess I have watched an Aflac commercial, but I’ve never seen that duck do it, so I don’t know.”

Highlights from Gators coach Jim McElwain on Wednesday's SEC Teleconference

Second-year UF coach Jim McElwain spoke about a handful of topics during his time on Wednesday's SEC Coaches Teleconference. Here are some highlights:

On sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who is still dealing with a lingering quad injury: "He tried to go a little bit [Tuesday] and you know, he kind of ran around there a little bit. I know he'll do everything he can to play, but as you probably know, guys have to practice on Wednesday and they've got to be able to show they can go. The one thing I will never do is put someone out there that isn't able to really go produce. Time will tell, but I'm expecting him to have at it, but we'll know a lot more after today's practice."

On Luke Del Rio's role this week following the knee injury: "He’s spent a ton of time down in the training room. He’s been, you know, came out to practice the other day and signaled and was there kinda, you know, in all the game plan things. So that room, you know, and you hear me talk about that, the room itself is the same. In other words, those four guys are in there going through the install and he’s preparing himself just like he’s the starter. And that really is what you expect from that position, and the guys around him, the team, they know he’s there. And we’ll take him on the trip for part of that reason. You know, we travel four quarterbacks and he’ll be a guy."

On not playing Rocky Top during practice: "I guess we’ll hear it enough when we get there, so there’s probably no reason to do it now."

On the fact that two SEC schools will be starting Purdue transfer quarterbacks (UF with Austin Appleby; LSU with Danny Etling): "Well, I guess that gives us something to write about. I don't really know what you want me to say. That's really good trivia. I love useless information so I'm going to log that one. Really what makes today the best is the fact that it's Earth, Wind & Fire's 21st of September today. I've kind of been singing that song all day, but let me put some thought into that Purdue thing. That's pretty cool."

 

On if he's ever seen a duck pull a truck (for context, please go here): “You know, somebody told me about that. That’s a classic right there. I gotta find out what the heck that means. But I guess I have watched an Aflac commercial, but I’ve never seen that duck do it, so I don’t know.”

September 20, 2016

Quincy Wilson to Tennessee: 'Florida Gators are going to win. Simple as that.'

Quincy Wilson cut right to the chase.

Before a question could be asked, the UF junior cornerback and former standout at Fort Lauderdale's University School let reporters know how Saturday's matchup between No. 19 UF and No. 14 Tennessee was going to play out.

"We have a message from DBU to Tennessee," Wilson said as he stepped foot into Florida's Indoor Practice Facility. "Have you ever seen a duck pull a truck? Ducks don't pull trucks. Nobody has ever seen a duck pull a truck. Florida Gators are going to win, simple as that."

While possibly not the direct source, the analogy Wilson referenced appears in the '90s TV show "Martin": "If I tell you a duck can pull a truck, then shut up and hook the sucker up."

Ducks and trucks and metaphors aside, Wilson looks at recent history and sees the game playing out in Florida's favor.

The Gators have won 11 straight in the rivalry, dating back to a 16-7 win in 2005.

The rivalry has gotten closer in recent years, though, with Florida having to rally from double-digit deficits each of the last two years to win by one point (28-27 in 2015; 10-9 in 2014). The Volunteers, who are the preseason favorite to win the SEC East, are favored to win the game in Knoxville, which is slated to start at 3:30 p.m. on CBS and will host ESPN's College GameDay.

So why is Wilson so confident?

"I know what type of players we have on our team," he said. "I know what everybody can do, what we show in practice, how hard we go.

"I know that we can't be stopped."

So far this year, Florida hasn't been stopped. The Gators defense leads the country in average yards allowed (), average points allowed and total sacks (18), but those numbers come against a trio of teams in Massachusetts, Kentucky and North Texas -- not necessarily the stiffest of competition.

Saturday, Wilson said, is a chance to prove the numbers aren't a fluke. 

"We're going to go out there and play Gator football," Wilson said, "and win."

September 18, 2016

Gators move up to No. 19 in AP Poll

The Gators are climbing up the AP poll yet again this week.

Fresh off a 32-0 shutout victory over North Texas where Florida limited the Mean Green to just 53 yards of offense, UF rose four spots to No. 19 in the AP poll, released on Sunday afternoon. The Gators ranked 16th in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

Alabama once again held down the top spot in the AP poll, with Ohio State, Louisville, Michigan and Clemson rounding out the top five.

After playing its first three weeks at home, UF will travel to Knoxville to face No. 14 Tennessee on Saturday. The game, a matchup of undefeated SEC East teams vying for a trip to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, will kick off at 3:30 p.m. on CBS and will be home to ESPN’s College GameDay. It will be the first top-20 showdown in the series since 2006.

Once again, eight SEC schools are in the top 25: Alabama (1), Texas A&M (10), Georgia (12), Tennessee (14), Arkansas (17), LSU (18), Florida (19) and Ole Miss (23).

The full top 25 list is below (first place votes in parenthesis):

1.) Alabama (50)

2.) Ohio State (4)

3.) Louisville (6)

4.) Michigan (1)

5.) Clemson

6.) Houston

7.) Stanford

8.) Michigan State

9.) Washington

10.) Texas A&M

11.) Wisconsin

12.) Georgia

13.) Florida State

14.) Tennessee

15.) Miami

16.) Baylor

17.) Arkansas

18.) LSU

19.) Florida

20.) Nebraska

21.) Texas 

22.) San Diego State

23.) Ole Miss

24.) Utah

25.) Oklahoma

September 14, 2016

Injury report grows heading into North Texas game

The injuries are mounting up.

A half-dozen Florida players could miss Saturday's night game against North Texas, UF coach Jim McElwain announced on Wednesday in his final press conference before the game.

Highlighting the list is sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway (quad), who is highly questionable-to-doubtful for the game against the Mean Green, which is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.

“Callaway went bits and pieces. ... Got three periods in and that was about it," McElwain said. "Did a couple of things. We’ve got to see that. It loosened up really good this morning when he was in for treatment. We got a lot out of that. Didn’t think we got a lot out of it this afternoon.

In addition to Callaway, starting right guard Tyler Jordan is out for at least two weeks with an eye injury. Jordan started both games this season and the final three games of 2015 at guard. In Jordan's absence, redshirt freshman Richerd Desir-Jones is expected to start at right guard. Sophomore Fred Johnson and freshman Jawaan Taylor are expected to split reps at right tackle, McElwain said, adding he hopes to rotate between eight and nine linemen on Saturday.

Here's a synopsis of the rest of the group:

  • Freshman linebacker Jeremiah Moon injured his thumb and will require surgery. He is out indefinitely. Moon made appearances in both games this season and has recorded three tackles.
  • Wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland had another hamstring setback and will be out against North Texas.
  • Center Cam Dillard (elbow) and cornerback Joseph Putu (leg) also suffered injuries this week.
  • Wide receiver Dre Massey, who is out for the year after suffering a knee injury in the season opener against Massachusetts, underwent surgery on Wednesday. McElwain said it went well. 

Callaway 'wasn't himself' during practice on Tuesday

The effects of UF wide receiver Antonio Callaway's quad injury lingered into Tuesday's practice, but coach Jim McElwain remained optimistic that the sophomore could improve this week.

Callaway injured his quad late during the Gators' 45-7 win over Kentucky on Saturday. Despite the injury, the sophomore and former Booker T. Washington standout still had a career game, posting a career-best 129 receiving yards on five catches. His 78-yard catch-and-run over the middle on a deep pass from quarterback Luke Del Rio in the second quarter highlighting the outing.

"You know what, he tried. He went through most of it," McElwain said. "It's an interesting thing that the more you run and get it kind of heated up, the looser it becomes, but he definitely wasn't himself. And yet, you know, a lot of times on Tuesdays, still, that's the case. I'll be looking [and] excited to see how he looks today, especially if it goes all the way through practice because you could see he could run a little bit better as he worked through it."

Callaway has not been ruled out for Saturday's game against North Texas.

September 13, 2016

2017 SEC football schedule released. Here's how the Gators' season shapes up

The Southeastern Conference released the 2017 football season's conference slate. With that, the dates for all of UF's games next season are finalized. Here's what the Gators'  schedule looks like:

Sept. 2: Vs. Michigan (in Arlington, Texas)

Sept. 9: Vs. Northern Colorado

Sept. 16: vs. Tennessee

Sept. 23: at Kentucky

Sept. 30: vs. Vanderbilt

Oct. 7: at LSU

Oct. 14: vs. Texas A&M

Oct. 21: BYE

Oct. 28: vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville) — 3:30 p.m. on CBS

Nov. 4: at Missouri

Nov. 11: at South Carolina

Nov. 18: vs. UAB

Nov. 25: vs. Florida State

Dec. 2: SEC Championship Game (should Florida advance)

September 12, 2016

McElwain 'nervous' about Callaway injury

Antonio Callaway's status for Saturday's night game against North Texas is up in the air.

UF coach Jim McElwain said on Monday that the sophomore is being held out of practice today and could have limited reps for the rest of the week.

"I'm a little nervous about with his leg," McElwain said. "We'll see how that plays out as it goes on."

Callaway injured his quad late during the Gators' 45-7 win over Kentucky on Saturday. Despite the injury, the sophomore and former Booker T. Washington standout still had a career game, posting a career-best 129 receiving yards on five catches. His 78-yard catch-and-run over the middle on a deep pass from quarterback Luke Del Rio in the second quarter highlighting the outing.

Should Callaway not play against North Texas on Saturday, that will put a heavier burden on junior Brandon Powell. It also leaves room for increased reps from the rest of the wide receiver corps, including junior C.J. Worton and freshmen Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond. 

Even though the Gators are facing a bottom feeder Mean Green team that went 1-11 last year, McElwain said he isn't going to change how he handles Callaway's injury.

"Once you're cautious, that’s when you run into problems and that goes for anything you do in life," McElwain said. "You can't go into anything being cautious because as soon as that happens that’s when bad play happens that’s when you play."

September 11, 2016

Gators back in AP Poll at No. 23

Following Florida's 45-7 blowout of Kentucky to open Southeastern Conference play, the Gators re-entered the Associated Press' top-25 poll.

UF checked in at No. 23 in the poll, released Sunday afternoon.

Alabama once again held down the top spot in the poll, with Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson rounding out the top five spots.

The Gators climbed back into the poll after claiming their 30th straight win against the Wildcats on Saturday -- the longest active uninterrupted streak in Division I football.

UF totaled 564 yards of offense and forced four turnovers on defense. The Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) had a shutout until the final five minutes of the game.

The SEC leads the way in the poll with eight representatives. However, the top-ranked Crimson Tide is the only school from the conference in the top 10. In addition to Alabama and Florida, the SEC representatives in the top 25 are No. 15 Tennessee, No. 16 Georgia, No. 17 Texas A&M, No. 19 Ole Miss, No. 20 LSU and No. 24 Arkansas.

Florida closes out a three-game homestand to start the season on Saturday when it faces North Texas. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPNU.

The full top 25 list is below (first place votes in parenthesis):

1.) Alabama (56)

2.) Florida State (4)

3.) Ohio State

4.) Michigan (1)

5.) Clemson

6.) Houston

7.) Stanford

8.) Washington

9.) Wisconsin

10.) Louisville

11.) Texas

12.) Michigan State

13.) Iowa

14.) Oklahoma

15.) Tennessee

16.) Georgia

17.) Texas A&M

18.) Notre Dame

19.) Ole Miss

20.) LSU

21.) Baylor

22.) Oregon

23.) Florida

24.) Arkansas

25.) Miami

September 07, 2016

Wednesday UF notes: Luke Del Rio progression, injury updates and more

Some quick hit UF football notes from Wednesday

  • UF coach Jim McElwain said on Wednesday’s SEC Coaches Teleconference that he felt starting quarterback Luke Del Rio “did pretty darn good” in his first career start on Saturday against UMass. A redshirt sophomore, Del Rio threw for 256 yards and a pair of touchdown on 29-for-44 passing. Del Rio was the only SEC QB to complete 65 percent of his passes, throw for 250-plus yards, two touchdowns and zero interception in college football's opening week. “I’m kind of looking forward to seeing how he progresses,” McElwain said.
  • McElwain has embraced the opportunity to have Steve Spurrier working in the same building as him. With Spurrier, the former Heisman trophy-winning quarterback and national championship-winning coach, back in the building where he put Gators football on the map, McElwain has taken the chance to pick his brain. “Just being able to visit with him just about things that come up, with as many years as he sat in this chair, the different ways he might have approached (game preparation) ... has really been fun,” McElwain said.
  • Junior wide receiver and South Dade High alum C.J. Worton practiced and repped with the first team during the open portion of practice on Wednesday. He missed UF’s season opener with a high-ankle sprain he sustained during a mid-August practice. "He'll roll like those other guys did last week,” McElwain said. “They all played pretty much the same amount of plays. It just adds to that rotation. It picks up where obviously without Dre [Massey] going, there's some more snaps there that we can take some reps off of those other guys.”
  • Defensive back Duke Dawson (shoulder) and linebacker Daniel McMillian (high ankle sprain) were also full participants in practice.
  • UF announced it will host McElwain’s alma mater Eastern Washington during the 2020 season. This is the first nonconference game the Gators have announced for that season outside of the annual Florida-Florida State game. While Eastern Washington is a Football Championship Subdivision team, the Eagles are no pushover. They defeated Washington State of the Pac-12 45-42 on Saturday and defeated Oregon State 49-46 during the opening weekend of the 2013 season, “It’s an opportunity to get them some more exposure,” McElwain said. “We’re going to have to lace it up.”


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