November 24, 2016

Clutch shooting down the stretch lifts Gators hoops over Seton Hall in Advocare Invitational

In a game with eight ties and a dozen lead changes, the Florida Gators found a way once again to end up on top.

Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen scored 21 points, graduate transfer Canyon Barry added 20 of his own off the bench and the Gators closed out their opening round of the Advocare Invitational in Orlando by making six of their final eight free throws to defeat Seton Hall 81-76 on Thursday. 

Streaky shooting plagued Florida (5-0) throughout the game, but the Gators made shots down the stretch when it mattered.

With UF holding onto a 58-57 lead with a little more than eight minutes left in the game, Allen stepped back and attempted a fadeaway jumper. As the shot bounced off the backboard, Justin Leon corralled the ball and fired it up for a quick putback as he was fouled.

UF went on to make seven of its final eight baskets to end the game with a 44.8-percent shooting efficiency (54.5 percent in the second half) put the game out of reach despite a relentless attack from Seton Hall. Neither team led by more than eight points in the game.

Foul trouble hindered Florida early. A trio of UF frontcourt players -- Devin Robinson, John Egbunu and Kevarrius Hayes -- had two fouls each by halftime.

By the end of the game, Robinson (5 points, three rebounds) and both of UF’s point guards -- Kasey Hill (6 points, two assists, five turnovers) and Chris Chiozza (14 points, two assists) -- fouled out of the game.

The Pirates (3-1) led 40-39 at halftime and had as much as a six-point advantage (45-39) early in the second half after UF went scoreless in its first six second-half possessions (0-2 from the field, four turnovers) before Florida began to find its stride. Junior guard Khadeen Carrington led the Pirates with a game-high 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting before fouling out with 20 seconds left in the game.

With the win, Florida advances to Friday’s semifinal game in the invitational against No. 11 Gonzaga, which defeated Quinnipiac 82-62 earlier in the day Thursday. This will be UF’s first game this season against a ranked opponent.

Tipoff between the Gators and the Bulldogs is set for 9:30 p.m.

November 21, 2016

Gators hoops improves to 4-0 with win over Belmont

Canyon Barry scored 17 points off the bench, three other Florida players scored in double digits and Gators men’s basketball team improved to 4-0 on the year after defeating Belmont 78-61 in Tampa on Monday.

Florida led the entire game, but Belmont (1-2) made it interesting early in the second half when a Taylor Barnette three-pointer cut the Gators' lead to 43-34 with 16:56 to play. Florida went off from there, though, rattling off 16 straight points in about four minutes to push their lead to a game-high 25 points and put the game out of reach.

UF shot 45.8 percent from the field but struggled from beyond the arc, missing its first nine three-point shots. UF finished the game making five of 21 three-pointers. Florida also managed to make 19 of its 24 free throws (79.6 percent).

Florida led 38-26 at halftime after opening the game on a 15-0 run that was fueled by six turnovers that led to 10 points.

Forward Evan Bradds led Belmont with 17 points.

UF’s next game is Thursday against Seton Hall in Orlando, the first of three straight games the Gators will play as part of the Advocare Invitational. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. UF has the potential to face No. 11 Gonzaga and No. 21 Iowa State on Friday and Saturday, respectively, depending on how the tournament plays out.

November 17, 2016

Gators hoops slips past St. Bonaventure, improves to 3-0 on young season

The Florida Gators men's basketball team almost saw a double-digit lead fade away, but a last-minute run kept the Gators undefeated with a 73-66 win over St. Bonaventure on Thursday in Lakeland.

Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen and graduate transfer guard Canyon Barry led the Gators (3-0) with 16 points each, while junior forward Devin Robinson chipped in 14 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting clip.

After a back-and-forth first half that saw Florida lead 38-32 at intermission, the Gators found their offensive stroke in early in the second half, opening on a 9-2 run. UF would go on to make half its second-half shots and end the game making 41.1 percent of its shots overall, including a 47.1-percent clip from three-point range (8-for-17).

But after taking a 60-45 lead with 11:29 left to play, Florida saw its second-half lead over St. Bonaventure slip away almost as quickly as it was gained.

The Bonnies (1-1) went on a 21-6 run to tie the game at 66-66 with 1:37 left to play. Guards Matt Mobley and Jaylen Adams fueled the run, scoring 19 of the 21 points on the run. Mobley led all scorers in the game with 28 points on 10-of-21 shooting (6-for-12 from three-point range). Adams was close behind with 20 points.

But a pair of dunks from John Egbunu and Robinson along with three free throws from Barry in the final 53 seconds along with a suffocating defense can Florida just enough to leave with the win. St. Bonaventure's final five possessions consisted of three missed shots and a pair of turnovers. Overall, the Gators held the Bonnies to a 38.1 percent shooting clip from the field and won the rebounding battle 41-36.

Florida's next game is Monday against Belmont in Tampa.

Pineiro could face two counts of misdemeanor for reportedly damaging scooters on campus

UF kicker and former Miami Sunset Senior High soccer standout Eddy Pineiro could face a pair of misdemeanor charges after police said he damaged two scooters while on campus earlier this month.

According to a UF Police Department sworn complaint, Pineiro was walking toward a scooter parking lot on campus on Nov. 7 at about 2 p.m. and pushed over a pair of scooters that were next to his.

“Pineiro damaged two scooters by kicking them and then ripping off the side mirrors," according to the complaint, which was filed to the Alachua County Clerk of Courts on Wednesday. “Pineiro then got on his scooter and drove away.”

The total cost of the damage was about $800, according to the complaint.

Graham Hall of the Gainesville Sun was the first to report.

Pineiro's status has not changed for Saturday's road game between No. 21 Florida and No. 16 LSU.

"We have been aware and it has been handled," the University Athletic Association said in a statement. 

UF coach Jim McElwain on Wednesday said that Pineiro has been at practice.

“I’m telling you, he kicked the heck out of it [Wednesday],” McElwain said. “Made it rain a couple of times. Did good.”

A junior college transfer from ASA College in Miami, Pineiro is in his first year at UF. The redshirt sophomore has made 13 of his 17 field-goal attempts, including three from at least 50 yards. On kickoffs, 35 of his 47 attempts have resulted in touchbacks.

 

November 13, 2016

Florida men's basketball moves to 2-0 with win over Mercer

A late first-half run, a solid performance at the free-throw line and a stifling defensive performance pushed the Florida men’s basketball team to a 76-54 win over Mercer on Sunday night at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.

Senior Justin Leon led Florida (2-0) with 17 points and was one of three UF players to score in double figures. Junior Devin Robinson (12 points, nine rebounds) was one rebound away from posting the team's first double-double of the season. All 12 UF players who saw time on the floor scored at least one point.

After the Bears cut the Gators’ lead to 18-12 with 5:37 left in the first half, Florida’s offense came to life, ending the frame on an 18-2 run in which the team went five-for-14 from the field -- including a floating layup from Kevarrius Hayes on an inbound pass from KeVaughn Allen as time expired -- and made all six of its free-throw attempts to go into halftime with a comfortable 36-14 advantage. The Gators finished the game making 80 percent of its free-throw attempts (24 of 30) and outrebounded Mercer 47-32 (20-10 on the offensive glass). Florida finished the game shooting 36.1 percent from the field.

Junior guard Ria’n Holland led Mercer (1-1) with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting. No one else scored more than seven points for the Bears, who turned the ball over 17 times and shot 37.3 percent from the field.

Florida’s next game is Thursday against St. Bonaventure in Lakeland. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

November 11, 2016

Florida soccer wins opening round of NCAA Tournament; Men's, women's basketball win season openers

After 65 minutes of missed shots in Florida soccer’s NCAA Tournament opener, UF’s Meggie Dougherty Howard found an opening.

The senior midfielder took a short pass from sophomore Samantha Chung and fired 8 yards across the box, past Florida Gulf Coast goalkeeper Melissa Weck and into the lower left quadrant of the net.

Dougherty Howard’s 66th-minute goal provided a much-needed spark for the No. 1 regional seed Gators in their 3-0 victory against Florida Gulf Coast on Friday at UF’s Donald R. Dizney Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 1,132.

Freshman defender Julia Lester and senior forward Savannah Jordan provided the Gators with insurance goals in the victory.

“Our sport is a strange one,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said. “I felt like we had a really dominating performance but still you have to put the ball in the back of the net and Gulf Coast had a lot to do with that, why it wasn't in the back of the net. Give credit to them, but I think our ability to stay composed and stay relaxed in spite of not scoring and still doing the things we knew would lead us to that, that was really important."

The Gators (16-4-1), ranked No. 9 in the country, dominated possession for the majority of the match and spent the majority of the game on FGCU’s half of the field. Florida outshot the Eagles 22-2 and had 12 shots on goal but faced stiff competition early from FGCU’s goalkeeper Weck. The freshman ended the match with nine saves, including a pair in the first half that forced her to jump and twist to punch the ball away from the net.

“I think they did a really good job defensively,” said Jordan, the NCAA active leader in goals (81) and points (189). “They gave their 100 percent effort in blocking shots and kind of denying us the first half. I think we stayed patient with that but I do think they did a really good job of holding us defensively.”

But as the second half progressed, Florida broke through FGCU’s defense. After Dougherty Howard gave Florida the lead with about 25 minutes to play, Lester provided an insurance goal in the 78th minute, an unassisted 5-yard shot in the middle of the box. Not even five minutes later, Jordan responded with a 5-yard blast off an assist from midfielder Mayra Pelayo to close out scoring. It was Jordan’s team-high 16th goal of the season. FGCU (14-5-1) attempted just one shot each half.

With the win, the Gators advance to host the second and third rounds of the NCAA Tournament face Wisconsin (9-4-8) in the second round on Friday at 7 p.m.

Men’s basketball comes back to defeat Florida Gulf Coast

A late second-half surge, four double-digit scoring performances and a strong showing at the free-throw line lifted the UF men’s basketball team to an 80-59 win over Florida Gulf Coast in its season opener on Friday at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.

The Gators (1-0), trailed 50-49 with 13:23 to play, closed out the game on a 31-9 run that saw Florida shoot 11-for-16 from the field and make all eight of its free throws. Seven players scored during the final surge.

Junior forward Devin Robinson led the Gators with 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting and six rebounds, two blocks and three steals.

Center John Egbunu (13), guard Canyon Barry (13) and point guard Kasey Hill (11) also had double-digit scoring efforts for Florida, which went 28-of-62 from the field (45.2 percent) and made 76.9 percent of its free throws.

Brandon Goodwin led FGCU (0-1) in scoring with 14 points.

The Gators return to Jacksonville on Sunday to play Mercer.

UF women’s basketball surges in season-opening win

Behind an all-around consistent offense and a suffocating defense, the No. 20 Florida women’s basketball team cruised to an 85-33 season-opening win over South Alabama on Friday at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.

Senior Ronni Williams, junior Haley Lorenzen and sophomore Eleanna Christinaki led scoring with 16 points each. Williams added a game-high 10 rebounds for a season-opening double-double, and Florida collectively shot 53.5 percent from the field.

The Gators (1-0) stifled South Alabama (0-1) all night, limiting the Jaguars to a 19.6 percent shooting clip on the night. Savannah Jones led South Alabama with six points.

After jumping out to a 37-15 halftime lead, Florida stepped on the gas in the third quarter, opening the second half on a 20-0 run over a seven-minute stretch to put the game out of reach.

Florida’s next game is Monday at Chattanooga.

November 10, 2016

NCAA: UF freshman Gak can play this season

DSC_1214

UF freshman forward/center Gorjok Gak during practice on Nov. 3, 2016.

Florida men's basketball freshman Gorjok Gak has been ruled eligible by the NCAA for the season after the school's waiver appeal was approved, UF announced Thursday evening. Gak will have four full years of eligibility and will be available for the Gators' season opener against Florida Gulf Coast in Jacksonville on Friday.

“I’m extremely happy for Gorjok,” second-year UF head coach Mike White said in a release. “Our administration spent a lot of time fighting for him and during that time, despite assuming he wouldn’t be eligible to play this season, Gorjok was a steady contributor at our practices with his work ethic.”

The release added the team was already en route to Jacksonville when White heard Gak's eligibility was restored. The freshman joined the team later.

"I was in my apartment getting ready to go to tutoring when Coach White called me," Gak said according to the school's website, FloridaGators.com. "I couldn't believe it. I called my mom right away and she got very emotional. … So did I." 

In July, the NCAA initially declared the 19-year-old Gak ineligible to compete during his inaugural season due to questions about the number of games he played at Bradenton (Fla.) Victory Rock Prep after arriving there from Australia.

He was allowed to enroll at UF and practice, but his role with the team was limited to that.

An athletic, 6-11 post player, Gak was rated a three-star prospect by Rivals, ESPN and 247sports. Gak averaged 13.8 point and 9.3 rebounds during his senior season at Victory Rock and has a 7-foot-4 wingspan. 

He adds depth to a Florida frontcourt led by veterans John Egbunu, Devin Robinson and Justin Leon. Sophomore Kevarrius Hayes, redshirt freshman Keith Stone and senior Schuyler Rimmer should also see playing time this season.

November 07, 2016

Luke Del Rio out for foreseeable future

Luke Del Rio will not take the field Saturday against South Carolina -- and possibly for the rest of the season.

Coach Jim McElwain announced Monday that the redshirt sophomore quarterback injured his shoulder during Florida's 31-10 loss to Arkansas and will be out of commission for the foreseeable future.

"It's bad, man," McElwain said. "When you can't lift your duffel bag up, chances are something's hurt."

McElwain said Del Rio suffered the injury during the first half of the game and in hindsight should have been taken out of the game at halftime.

"He's a tough guy and never said anything [during the game]," McElwain said. "... It speaks for him."

For the season, Del Rio has thrown for 1,358 yards on a 56.7-percent completion rate and has eight touchdowns to eight interceptions. 

It's Del Rio's second injury this season. The first came late against North Texas on Sept. 17, when Mean Green defensive lineman Joshua Wheeler dove into Del Rio's planted leg, which resulted in a sprained MCL. Del Rio missed the next two games -- a 38-28 loss to Tennessee and a 13-6 win over Vanderbilt. In the three games since his return, Del Rio has thrown just two touchdowns compared to six interceptions.

With Del Rio out yet again, McElwain said this week will be an open competition among graduate transfer Austin Appleby and true freshmen Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks for the starting job.

"We'll find out," McElwain said. 

October 31, 2016

Additional stories and anecdotes about outgoing AD Jeremy Foley

After almost 25 years as Florida’s athletic director, Jeremy Foley’s final day has come. The 63-year-old is stepping down from his post. A full story on Foley can be found here, but there are more memories from those he worked with that didn't make it into the piece. Below is a look at some additional memories from former and current UF athletes, coaches and administration about Foley.

 

Becky Burleigh, UF soccer coach, 1995-present

“He just gave us everything we needed to be successful early. I can particularly remember back in that time frame, we were one of the leading schools by far in terms of the way we were funding programs, the way we were handling even a startup. We had a whole year before we started, which is somewhat commonplace now, but back then that was kind of unheard of. It wasn’t like he was taking a club team and turning it into a varsity program. He really wanted to be successful right from the very start. I’ll always appreciate the faith he had in me and I’ll always appreciate the resources that he provided us and the leadership not even thinking for a minute that we couldn’t be competitive right from the beginning.”

 

Rhonda Faehn, former UF gymnastics coach and current senior vice president at USA Gymnastics

“What first struck me was just his enthusiasm and his passion for the University of Florida and his commitment to just every single student athlete. I felt it. And I was so pumped and so excited that I was ready to step in right there. ‘Anything you want, I’m ready to go.’ After just that 48 hours, I was excited and was offered the job and never regretted one day. It was absolutely an incredible experience working for Jeremy Foley. He was just a class act.”

“There were so many amazing moment, just so many little ones. I remember my first couple of years, he was always giving positive encouragement and support because in the beginning, it wasn’t easy. It was a building process. No matter what, he would be flying out for a flight at like 5 in the morning and he would call to say ‘Hey, I’m sorry I’m not going to be at the meet this weekend. I’m at a meeting.” But yet he was very dedicated to making sure that I felt supported, that the team felt supported and he was at every competition that he could be at right there at that table. After one of the meets, he said ‘When are one of your athletes going to have Aerosmith for floor music?' It was just awesome. You could see that he was passionate and excited. The little things stuck with me more than any one thing. What was incredible was that he never ever failed to tell me how proud he was or how thankful he was for just the dedication of the athletes and the coaching staff. You could tell he was always just appreciative.”

 

Kent Fuchs, UF President

“It's not that Jeremy set the bar. The bar's above Jeremy in terms of what we have to do in fundraising, what we have to do in just making sure we're supporting our students. It's just the bar keep getting up a little higher because we want to be ahead of everyone and not just where we were over the past 25 years."

 

Gabby Mallette, former UF volleyball player, 2012-2015

“I think that Jeremy Foley had a huge part in volleyball. He didn’t just help with the sports that are the major ones on campus -- football, baseball, basketball. There are so many times in my four years that Jeremy would just walk into the Lemerand during our practice just to say hi to Mary and see what we were up to. I think when you’re a part of such a big program, you don’t expect that, especially from Jeremy Foley who is the best athletic director in the country.”

 

Aubree Munro, former UF softball player, 2013-2016

"Jeremy Foley set the bar for Florida Athletics. He stressed the championship experience with integrity, and that’s exactly what I experienced while at UF. My favorite thing about Jeremy Foley is that he always asks how I’m doing. He would remember my name and then ask me how I was doing. He was the AD at a top school and he would always stop and say hello, ask me how things were going and always showed support for me and my team. Softball, while we were successful in my four years, isn’t considered a revenue sport, so I imagine it would be easy for some athletic directors to not take a lot of pride in those sports. Mr. Foley never missed a regional, super regional, or world series appearance. He was there on the field with us to celebrate all of those wins with us. He offered hugs and high fives when we won back to back championships. And now that I’m done playing he still says hi and asks me how I’m doing when our paths cross in the weight room. I came to Florida to win, but what I didn’t realize was that I would become the person I had always wanted to be by coming to this special place. I have Jeremy Foley to thank for that because he brought in the coaches that made our program what it was and he created a culture of success on and off the field. He set the bar of excellence not only at Florida but for athletic departments across the country. And he did it while being personable to his athletes and making them all feel valued."

 

Amanda O’Leary, UF Lacrosse coach, 2010-present

“Without him, we wouldn’t be here. It’s just his commitment to our program from Day 1. When we started, we didn’t have a facility. He was instrumental in the recruiting process and the building of the facility and just keeping it moving forward. I owe him everything. I just owe him everything. He was just really straightforward. He said we're going to build you a facility that's going to be worthy of your student-athletes. He said it's not going to be the Taj Mahal of lacrosse facilities even though it ended up being the Taj Mahal of lacrosse facilities, so he was actually wrong there. He did provide for us and said the support was going to be there financially. And just from Day 1, it's all come to fruition. He has ultimately provided not only our student-athletes but our staff with every possible opportunity to succeed. That's all you really ask for."

 

Scott Stricklin, incoming UF athletics director

“Much of the success that has happened here is credited to great athletes, great coaches, great staff, but certainly there's one person the last quarter century who's driven that boat, and that's Jeremy, my good friend. Jeremy, arguably -- and it may not be much of an argument -- is the best athletic director in the history of the SEC. And I firmly believe that. And there's been some really good ones. But Jeremy has set a standard. Last several years I've gotten to know him as a colleague and then as a friend, and he's always been there with a word of advice. Sometimes it was wanted, sometimes not. But he's been a great confidant. I can't imagine how special it is to walk into an opportunity like this and have a guy like Jeremy available to seek as a resource.”

 

Tim Tebow, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at UF, current SEC Network analyst

“I just remember most about Jeremy was just how genuine he is and he’s never someone that was big time. He was never someone who was too busy. He was just someone that was always genuine, that was there for all the students and he was always there for all of us athletes. I really appreciated that about him.”

 

Mary Wise, UF volleyball coach

“It would be hard to put into words because with Gator Nation, he is the rock to it. He’s been such a wonderful mentor as a coach and giving his advice and his take on something when I ask for it. He’s a wonderful fan. He’s a great supporter. And he’s a really, really good friend.”

“I just can’t thank him enough for his tutelage, the leadership he’s provided at the council and leading from the top. There’s a reason why people stay and it all starts with him and the culture he’s created here.”

October 28, 2016

Mark Thompson not traveling with Gators for Saturday matchup vs Georgia

No. 14 Florida's four-headed running attack will be one short against Georgia on Saturday.

The Gators announced Friday morning on Twitter that junior college transfer running back Mark Thompson is not traveling with the team to Jacksonville because of "choices and decisions" he has made.

In six games this season, Thompson ranks third on the team with 262 rushing yards and has two touchdowns on 57 carries (4.6 yards/carry). However, the 6-2, 232-pound runner is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry in five Southeastern Conference games.

With Thompson unavailable, the Gators will likely give more carries to sophomore Jordan Scarlett and true freshman Lamical Perine, a duo that has slowly separated itself from the rest of the running back pack. Scarlett leads the team with 375 rushing yards and has scored a touchdown in each of the last five games. The former St. Thomas Aquinas standout has also proven to be one of the team's more reliable pass blockers in the backfield.

Perine is second on the team with 300 rushing yards and has also tacked on 88 yards and a touchdown on three catches.

October 26, 2016

Linebacker Jarrad Davis a gametime decision vs Georgia

When UF linebacker Jarrad Davis went down with a sprained ankle against Missouri two weeks ago, his status for No. 14 Florida's game against Georgia looked bleak.

After practice on Wednesday, UF coach Jim McElwain seemed slightly more optimistic.

McElwain said Davis went through portions of practice and is expected to be a gametime decision for the Gators' 3:30 p.m. showdown in Jacksonville with the Bulldogs on Saturday. 

"It was really uplifting to the team to have him out there today and seeing him go through some things in some of the segments of practice, especially in the third-down stuff we did in the red area and, you know, during all the non-contact skel drills and that kind of stuff," McElwain said. "I thought he moved pretty well. One of the tackling circuits he got beat up by one of the sleds. The sled bit back, but it was good to see."

Davis, a senior, has been one of Florida's anchors on defense this year. The 6-2, 238-pound linebacker leads the team in total tackles (48), is tied for the team lead in pass breakups (four) and also has 3.5 tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and two sacks. Should he be unable to play, freshman Blake Reese is likely to take over Davis' starting role on Saturday.

"Obviously, guys, that will be one of those that it’s got to be right with him, got to be right with the doctors," McElwain said. "We’ll see."

In other injury news:

  • The trio of starting defensive linemen in Jordan Sherit, Joey Ivie and Bryan Cox are expected to play against Georgia. All three have been either limited or sidelined since Florida's 13-6 win against Vanderbilt on Oct. 1
  • Tight end DeAndre Goolsby is also expected to play after injuring his finger.

USA Today: McElwain 15th-highest paid college football coach

The USA Today released its annual college football head coach compensation database on Wednesday, and Florida coach Jim McElwain is up in the upper echelon in terms of salary.

The second-year UF coach is being paid $4,268,325 for the 2016 season, which ranks as the 15th highest among the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision coaches whose salary information was released. Salary information for coaches at nine schools -- eight of which are private universities -- was not released.

Michigan's Jim Harbaugh has the biggest payday for this year, earning just over $9 million for the season.

McElwain's salary mark is also the sixth-highest in the Southeastern Conference, with Alabama's Nick Saban ($6.9 million; second-highest nationally) having the highest salary in the conference.

McElwain earned a $750,000 annual raise at the end of the 2015 season after leading the Gators to a 10-4 record, the SEC East title and UF's first appearance in the SEC Championship Game since 2009.

"It's so good to know that your university and your administration believes in the direction that we're taking this thing," McElwain said on March 28. "It's something that sends a message in recruiting. Just the belief in our organization and where we're going. We got a ways to go now, but I'm happy for all of us."

This season, the No. 14 Gators are 5-1 overall and lead the SEC East with a 3-1 conference record.

For USA Today's full database, click here.

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."


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