GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s bumbling offense ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in most categories in 2013, and with so much uncertainty (no offensive coordinator or line coach) six reserves chose to leave the program Thursday.
In a house cleaning of sorts, UF announced the departure of six offensive players -- including freshman quarterback Max Staver and former five-star tight end sophomore Kent Taylor -- in a statement released by the school.
Coach Will Muschamp confirmed the transfers of Staver, Taylor, redshirt junior offensive lineman Ian Silberman, redshirt freshman offensive tackle Quinteze Williams, freshman offensive tackle Trayon Young and redshirt freshman fullback Raheim Ledbetter.
“These young men felt it was in their best interest to look for an opportunity to play somewhere else,” Muschamp said. “We wish all of them the best of luck.”
The mass exodus may not be complete, as additional departures loom.
Several players tweeted goodbyes throughout the day.
Silberman, who started seven games in the last two seasons, actually graduates Saturday and is eligible to play his senior year at any school outside the SEC in the fall.
Staver, Young and Williams were all three-star prospects who never saw the field at Florida, while Ledbetter came to UF as a safety but was switched to fullback last spring. The cousin of former UF star linebacker Brandon Spikes played sparingly on special teams during Florida’s 4-8 season.
Taylor, a hybrid tight end who struggled with weight gain and run blocking, was hampered by injuries during his sophomore season and never saw the field after catching a touchdown pass in the Sugar Bowl. It was a disappointing end for the former heralded recruit who was positioned to vie for serious playing time during preseason camp.
Aside from Silberman's graduation,none of the transfers were surprising. The departures do open up scholarships for February's National Signing Day, allowing the Gators to add up to 22 players.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 19 Florida bullied No. 13 Kansas 67-61 in a raucous O’Connell Center on Tuesday night.
The Gators picked up their first marquee win of the year thanks to a suffocating defensive effort -- including a 21-0 run in the first half -- and a transcendent performance by senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin.
Here are three thoughts on UF’s victory.
1. Age trumps beauty
Kansas (6-3) started four freshmen -- guard Andrew Wiggins, guard Frank Mason, guard Wanye Selden Jr. and center Joel Embiid -- for the first time in their program’s rich history. Meanwhile, the veteran Gators (7-2) started four seniors -- Wilbekin, forward Casey Prather, forward Will Yeguete and center Pat Young. So something had to give. Ultimately, Florida’s experience schooled Kansas’ young talent, but coach Bill Self’s gamble worked for about three minutes. And then it didn't. After the Jayhawks jumped out to an early 10-3 lead, they chased the scoreboard the rest of the game as their freshmen were visibly rattled by the rowdy atmosphere and Florida’s punishing press and 1-3-1 zone defense. The Gators stymied the Jayhawks’ aggressive penetration, forcing 16 first-half turnovers en route to a 36-21 halftime lead. Selden, KU’s third-leading scorer who finished with just four points and three turnovers, was so flustered by Florida’s pressure he didn’t log a single minute in the second half. Still KU’s talented freshman, especially Mr. Wiggins (more in a second), flashed enough playmaking skills UF coach Billy Donovan said afterwards, “There may not be a team in the country that has as high of a ceiling as (Kansas does)." Having said that… Florida’s ceiling is rather high too. The Gators toppled a very good team Tuesday night, and the game may have been a blowout had they knocked down free throws (a measly 59 percent) or avoided another second half marred by complacency (40 points allowed). Florida still isn’t totally healthy and the (likely) addition of athletic forward Chris Walker will make an-already very solid defensive team potentially dominant. Donovan can only hope to bottle-up Young’s recent production (12 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block) while he tinkers with various lineups involving Kasey Hill, Dorian-Finney Smith, Michael Frazier and the other three seniors.
2. H.A.M Part I
Wilbekin was masterful Tuesday night despite being fresh off an ankle sprain late in a disappointing performance in Florida’s buzzer-beating loss at Connecticut. The senior point guard, who played with constant energy and fire, flashed his newly-polished offensive skills -- filthy floaters and finishes, improved 3-point range -- while continuing his outstanding hustle and tenacious perimeter defense. He finished the evening with 18 points, six assists and four steals, but his stat-sheet stuffing hardly does just on his impact. The Gators clearly fed of his intensity and passion throughout the evening.
3. H.A.M. Part Deux
Florida’s Rowdy Reptiles provided an electric atmosphere for the primetime showdown. The boisterous students waited in the rain all day Tuesday, making Donovan joke postgame, “I don’t know if our student body is going to pass any of their exams.” And yet, the crowd’s “OVERRATED” chant IN THE FIRST HALF at KU’s freshman phenom was utterly ridiculous. Asinine actually. Wiggins, a tantalizing talent who effortlessly impacts every facet of the game, was scary good Tuesday night without ever actually dominating the game. The freshman did not disappoint with a career performance, recording a collegiate-high 26 points (including three treys in a span of 90 seconds to close KU’s deficit to five late) and 11 rebounds. His monstrous block (second only to Embiid’s insane rejection on Prather) and gliding transition finish were just two plays that left a bevy of NBA scouts salivating.
THIS & THAT
Roughly 20 NBA scouts were in attendance. … Hill and Wilbekin played together for the first time all season. … Florida extended its home-winning streak to 21 games. … The Gators forced 24 turnovers. Kansas’ season-high was 16. … Kansas, who ran the clogged toilet offense for much of the first half, slowly grinded its way back into the game with contstant fouling. At one point Self employed the hack-a-Pat strategy, as the Gators struggled to hit free throws. Prather was a cluch 10-for-10 before missing two late, but the rest of the team was a dreadful 10-of-22. … Finney-Smith was 1-of-10 from 3-point range in his last four games, but the redshirt sophomore drained 4-of-6 from behind the arc Tuesday night.
GAINESVILLE -- Freshman phenom Vernon Hargreaves III was a rare bright spot in an otherwise miserable season for Florida, and the outstanding cornerback was rewarded by media members for his strong play Monday.
Hargreaves III was one of three Gators named to 2013 The Associated Press All-SEC Team. The cornerback was UF's lone first-team representative and also the sole freshman (true or redshirt) named to the first team.
The dynamic defensive back, ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the country according to Rivals.com, flashed his electric talent immediately for the Gators. Hargreaves, who recorded picks in three of his first four collegiate games, burst onto the scene in such a fashion the team actually changed his uniform number from 16 to 1 after just a single game.
Hargreaves III played in all 12 games for Florida, starting the final 10. He recorded 38 tackles, three interceptions, 11 pass breakups and a conference-leading 14 passes defended.
In a bit of a snub, Hargreaves -- Florida's first true freshman named to the All-SEC first team since punter Shayne Edge (1991) -- was not honored as the league's freshman of the year.
Arkansas tailback Alex Collins took home the award despite not being named to either team.
Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who recently declared for the 2014 NFL Draft, and sophomore BUCK linebacker/defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. were named to the All-SEC second team.
Hargreaves was also named to the Coaches' All-SEC first team. The cornerback was again the lone freshman honored.
Florida wideout Solomon Patton was named to the second team as a return specialist. The senior led the Gators in all-purpose yards (1269), including 642 kickoff return yardage and a 100-yard touchdown.
Note: Following a 11-win season in 2012, the Gators had seven representatives -- including six first-team members: TE Jordan Reed, RB Mike Gillislee, K Caleb Sturgis, DT Sharrif Floyd, S Matt Elam, P Kyle Christy -- on the AP All-SEC teams. ... The coaches All-SEC teams will be released later this week.
GAINESVILLE -- For the first time all season, Billy Donovan's team will have both its headliner point guards available for the same game.
Scottie Wilbekin (ankle sprain) and Kasey Hill (high ankle sprain) will play in No. 19 Florida's marquee matchup with No. 13 Kansas on Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN), Donovan announced Monday.
Wilbekin -- hurt late in UF's heartbreaking loss at Connecticut (Dec. 2) -- was originally diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, but team trainers later reclassified the senior's injury and ruled Wilbekin "probable" over the weekend for UF's top-25 showdown.
Hill, sidelined since Nov. 18, practiced full-contact Sunday for the first time since sustaining his injury against Southern University. Donovan acknowledged the staff doesn't quite "know what we're going to get from him," but did say Hill will at least "get an opportunity."
McDonald's All-American forward Chris Walker has completed the necessary coursework and could be admitted to the university sometime this week, Donovan said.
The freshman, ineligible for the fall semester, is waiting for the green light from both UF's admissions department and the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Donovan said the situation is "out of our hands," but that Walker " has done everything he needs to do."
The earliest the 6-foot-10, 225-pound forward can practice with the team is Saturday -- the day after final exams end for the fall semester. But Donovan immediately ruled Walker out for Florida's next game -- a New York City showdown with Memphis on Dec. 17 (Madison Square Garden, Jimmy V Classic).
THIS & THAT
Sophomore swingman DeVon Walker (foot sprain) is healthy and expected to play normal minutes Tuesday. … Redshirt junior guard Eli Carter (broken leg) will officially redshirt, Donovan confirmed. Carter, who averaged just 7.6 minutes in seven games this season, will apply for a medical redshirt due to his slow-healing broken leg suffered last February as a member of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. … Donovan denied a report suspended center Damontre Harris, a transfer from South Carolina, has been dismissed from Florida.
Ok, y’all already knew that, but UF’s brain trust (coach Will Muschamp and athletic director Jeremy Foley) is taking its sweet-time searching for Florida’s third coordinator in four seasons.
While speculation has run rampant since Brent Pease’s firing, the Gators are unlikely to hire a new coach before the end of bowl season.
Muschamp actually took a similar approach the last time he faced such a predicament -- hiring Pease on Jan. 10, 2012 -- but considering his ultimate fate with the Gators likely rides on his next hire, he’d be wise to take his time again.
Florida’s (rumored) list of potential coordinator candidates runs longer than an episode of A Prairie Home Companion, but here she goes.
Arizona State’s Mike Norvell and Southern California’s Clay Helton are the presumed frontrunners, while Dave Christensen (ex-Wyoming head coach), Texas’ Major Applewhite, Texas A&M’s Jake Spavital and North Carolina’s Blake Anderson are alleged candidates too.
Really, who the hell knows right now?
I continue to hold out hope for Ed Orgeron because why not? Having no offensive coordinator would be the most Will Muschamp thing ever.
PURIFOY BOLTS TO THE NFL
As anticipated, junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy declared for the 2014 NFL Draft earlier this week.
In an official statement released by the school, Purifoy said, “I have had a great three years at the University of Florida, but at this time I think it's best for me and my family to pursue a career in the NFL. Coach Muschamp and Coach [Travaris] Robinson have put me in a position to take the next step. I know there is still a lot of work for me ahead, but I appreciate what everyone at Florida did to get me to this point. As much as I look forward to playing in the NFL, I will miss my teammates and coaches and look forward to watching them play next year."
Purifoy, a dynamic athlete ranked as the No. 27 overall prospect according to Scouts Inc., ended his Florida career as a tantalizing talent.
The junior flashed his playmaking skills with blocked punts, blindside sacks and interceptions, but his inconsistencies (especially tackling) frustrated many fans’ lofty expectations.
During the preseason, the junior was hyped as a potential offensive threat, but a lingering wrist issue thwarted any extensive role.
Purifoy finished his junior year with two interceptions (one for a touchdown), seven pass breakups and 3.5 tackles for loss (two sacks).
"There are a lot of factors that go into making these individual and personal decisions and I'm 100 percent supportive of Loucheiz's choice to enter into the NFL Draft," Muschamp said. "Loucheiz has come a long way from when I sat in his living room with his family during the recruiting process, and he also knows his work is not done. We wish him nothing but the best of luck and look forward to watching him on Sundays. As we have with other former Gators, we encourage him to return to Florida and complete his degree."
SENIOR BOWL INVITES
Right guard Jon Halapio and defensive back Jaylen Watkins both accepted invitations to the 2014 Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL.
Watkins, who mostly played safety as a senior, finished third on the Gators in tackles with 52, while Halapio tallied 43 career starts.
2014 wideout Ryan Sousa (Lake Nona High, Orlando) flipped his verbal commitment from Florida State to Florida late Monday evening. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound three-star prospect had been a longtime Seminoles commit before switching his allegiance to the Gators following his visit to Gainesville during the FSU-UF game. The Gators’ 2014 class, ranked No. 15 by Rivals.com, now has 16 verbal commitments.
Meanwhile, five-star tailback Dalvin Cook has reportedly (according to multiple recruiting websites) signed financial aid agreements with Miami, FSU and UF, allowing the teams’ staff unlimited contact throughout the remainder of the recruiting process. While it’s been a bumpy recruitment, Cook remains a UF commit despite rumors swirling of an impending flip to an archrival school.
Finally, quarterback prospect Will Grier -- perhaps Florida’s most important oral commit in its 2014 class -- was named the Gatorade North Carolina Player of the Year for the second straight year.
GAINESVILLE -- Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin (high ankle sprain) is expected to play against No. 6 Kansas on Tuesday (7 p.m. ESPN), according to sources with knowledge of Wilbekin’s injury situation.
Wilbekin rolled his right ankle late in Florida’s buzzer-beating loss at No. 12 Connecticut on Monday, and the school later announced X-rays were negative but that they showed a high-ankle sprain.
If Wilbekin -- who is averaging 11.3 points, 5.7 assists and 3.3 steals in three games this year -- is unable to suit up against the athletic Jayhawks (6-1), the shorthanded Gators (6-2) face the prospect of playing a second game this season without a traditional point guard.
With positional uncertainty, the Gators desperately need versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith to step up.
Although the redshirt sophomore has rebounded (both offensively and defensively) at a ridiculous rate this year, the former Virginia Tech transfer has been inefficient in nearly every other facet of his game.
Teased as a playmaking point-forward, Finney-Smith has struggled as facilitator, finisher and shooter for Florida.
The 6-foot-8, 205-pound sophomore poses matchup problems for opposing defenses, but early in the season he’s caused more troubles for UF’s otherwise efficient offense (48 percent field goal shooting ranks No. 8 nationally).
After tallying 17 points and nine rebounds in his Gators debut, Finney-Smith has produced wildly inconsistent results since.
In Florida’s last four games, Finney-Smith has 12 turnovers to five assists and is an abysmal 1-of-10 from 3-point range. His 36 percent field goal shooting is the lowest of any UF rotational regular averaging at least 20 minutes per game.
Finney-Smith is immensely talented, and during the summer he was rumored to be the best player on the team, but the Gators need his versatile skill-set and athleticism to translate into consistent production.
GAINESVILLE -- The No. 15 Gators men’s basketball team, who lost a buzzer-beater to No. 12 Connecticut 65-64 Monday night in Storrs, Conn., had some issues leaving the Gainesville Regional Airport on Sunday afternoon, but eventually they caught their ride.
Unfortunately, roughly 50 stranded passengers -- travelling on the Sunday after Thanksgiving -- weren’t so lucky.
As first reported by the Gainesville Sun, Florida’s charter plane, scheduled to depart at 3 p.m., was grounded due to engine maintenance issues.
In an effort to limit delays, Delta Airlines Flight 5059 -- an Atlanta-bound commercial connection plane scheduled to depart Gainesville at 3:26 p.m. -- was converted into a private charter for the basketball team.
Delta delayed and ultimately cancelled Flight 5059, originally telling travelers there were mechanical difficulties until some of the passengers noticed the team boarding their aircraft.
The Sun reported several passengers drove to Jacksonville, Orlando or Tampa to catch alternate flights, but some were stranded in Gainesville as late as Monday afternoon.
Delta Airlines accepted full responsibility for the travelers’ inconvenience, saying “the University of Florida in no way participated in the decision-making process.”
In an official statement, Delta explained they intended to accommodate both the Florida basketball team and the private passengers but their plan fell through.
“Delta Connection partner ExpressJet, which operated both the charter as well as the regularly scheduled flight, made the operational decision to swap aircraft as the maintenance work was expected to be done quickly. Unfortunately, it was not and Delta flight 5059 was cancelled. Delta made every effort to reaccommodate those customers on alternate flights and we apologize to the 50 customers who were inconvenienced.”
The airline also said an internal review is underway to determine “the specific circumstances around this aircraft substitution.”
GAINESVILLE -- Something is seriously in the water in Gainesville.
No. 15 Florida lost a heartbreaker 65-64 to No. 12 Connecticut on the road Monday night, but another late-game defeat -- dropping UF coach Billy Donovan’s career-record to 59-78 in games decided by five points or less -- is hardly the team’s most pressing matter moving forward.
On Tuesday, the school announced senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who stepped on an opponent’s foot with 3:01 remaining in the loss to the Huskies, is out indefinitely with a high-ankle sprain.
Although X-rays were negative, the senior’s injury leaves UF’s backcourt (and an-already snakebitten team) paper-thin.
Wilbekin averaged 11.3 points, 5.7 assists and 3.3 steals in three games since returning from a six-game suspension to start the year.
Florida (6-2) is down to just six healthy scholarship players and could face No. 6 Kansas (6-1) next Tuesday (Dec. 10) without its best ballhandler or perimeter defender.
UF has just one available guard (sophomore sniper Michael Frazier II), although sophomore swingman DeVon Walker, currently sidelined with a foot sprain, is expected to return against the Jayhawks.
The Gators are now without six players expected to contribute this season:
* Freshman point guard Kasey Hill (high-ankle sprain suffered Nov. 18)
* Junior transfer guard Eli Carter (broken leg)
* Junior transfer center Damontre Harris (suspended indefinitely)
* Freshman forward Chris Walker (academic eligibility)
* Sophomore guard Dillon Graham (hip bone spurs)
THIS & THAT
Carter will officially redshirt, the USA TODAY reported. The junior guard’s fate had been a foregone conclusion, as the Rutgers transfer -- hampered by a slow-healing broken leg sustained last February -- averaged just 7.6 minutes in seven games this season. Carter did not play against UConn. … During the UF-UConn telecast, ESPN analyst Andy Katz reported freshman-signee Chris Walker remains on pace to join the Gators sometime in mid-December. According to Katz, the freshman is waiting on an academic decision by the NCAA Clearinghouse. … Florida will play in a loaded eight-team field for the 2014 “Battle 4 Atlantis.” The Gators join a monster group including North Carolina, UCLA, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Butler, Oklahoma and UAB for the Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Paradise Island, Bahamas.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s season mercifully ended following Saturday’s 37-7 whooping at the hands of archrival Florida State. The Gators ended the season on a seven-game losing streak. Here’s Florida’s 2013 statistical finish. Note: All rankings are national.
* No. 112 scoring offense (18.8 points per game). From the power five conferences, only Wake Forest, Kansas and Purdue finished behind UF.
* Florida State (84) scored 57 more touchdowns than Florida (27).
* No. 114 total offense (316.7 yards per game)
* No. 110 yards per play (4.79). Florida was the only Southeastern Conference offense to average less than five yards a play.
* No. 87 rushing yards (144.58 ypg). Florida’s 3.63 yards per carry ranked No. 100 in the country.
* No. 82 sacks allowed (27).
* No. 78 third down conversion rate (38.73 percent).
* No. 114 scrimmage plays 10+ yards (131). Oregon led the country with 251.
* No. 121 red zone efficiency (69.77 percent).
* No. 19 scoring defense (21.1 ppg). Florida was the SEC’s fourth-best scoring defense.
* No. 10 total defense (314.3 ypg). The Gators played the seventh-fewest defensive snaps in the nation.
A day removed from Florida’s worst home loss ever to Florida State -- a 37-7 thrashing -- UF coach Will Muschamp decided change couldn’t wait.
The Gators fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis early Sunday afternoon, confirming weeks of speculation and scapegoating.
"I have a lot of respect for Coach Pease and Coach Davis,'' Muschamp said in an official statement. "They are both good football coaches and even better people. There have been a lot of unfortunate circumstances this year, but that is part of the game sometimes. I want to thank each of them for their contributions to the program both on and off the field."
(Tim Davis | courtesy UF Communications)
The Gators (4-8), who ended the season on a seven-game losing streak, will conduct a search for an offensive coordinator for the third time in four years.
Pease, a veteran coordinator at Kentucky and Boise State before coming to Florida in 2012, presided over a unit that ended the year ranked No. 114 nationally and last in the Southeastern Conference in total yards (316.7 ypg), average play (4.79 ypp), scoring offense (18.8 ppg), touchdowns (19) and red zone offense (44 percent).
UF’s attack was decimated by injuries -- two quarterbacks, a starting tailback, three offensive tackles -- but its weekly “ineptitude” was too much to overlook, according to Muschamp.
Muschamp called Florida’s offensive struggles “infectious” following the team’s humiliating loss to FCS-foe Georgia Southern two weeks ago.
The contagion spread to UF’s once-impenetrable defense, which was shredded through the air and on the ground over the final month of the season.
“The offense is just three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out,” sophomore defensive end Jon Bullard frustratingly admitted after UF’s season-ending thumping to FSU.
“Give us 21 a game,” he said. “If they can do that, then I would put the blame on us if they score 21 points or over. Hopefully change for the better, because what we're doing right now just ain't working.”
Pease, who was under contract through 2015 and owed roughly 1.2 million, said earlier last week he deserved another season based on so many extenuating circumstances.
But for the third straight season Florida’s offense finished the year ranked in the bottom-20 nationally in total yards -- the last two seasons under Pease’s control -- and failed to score over 20 points during the team’s longest losing streak in 34 years.
"I know we came up short of our ultimate goal, but I will carry on knowing I gained valuable friendships and relationships during my time here,” Pease said in UF’s official statement.
Against FSU, Florida tallied less than 200 yards for the second time this season and nearly had as many drives under four plays (six) as first downs (eight). Afterwards, Muschamp refused to comment on any potential coaching changes but acknowledged a reevaluation of UF’s offensive philosophy.
“We need to take a look at ourselves schematically with what we’re doing,” Muschamp said. “There have been some things that have happened that are very difficult to overcome, but schematically, there’s no question we need to take a look at ourselves.”
Muschamp also dismissed the notion he only prefers a grind it out, ball-control offense is wrong.
“Perception’s not always reality,” Muschamp said. “I’m willing to do what we need to do to score points and win games.”
GAINESVILLE -- According to multiple reports (AP, CBS Sports), offensive coordinator Brent Pease has been fired following Florida's first losing season in 34 years.
Offensive line coach Tim Davis was also let go, according to several reports.
***** UPDATE *****
The school offically confirms Pease and Davis were fired.
Pease, scapegoated following Florida's 4-8 year including a 37-7 thrashing at the hands of archrival No. 2 Florida State, presided over an offense that ended the year ranked No. 114 nationally. Florida's offense was decimated by injuries, but for the third straight season the unit finished in the bottom-20 of the country in total yards.
Pease is owed roughly 1.2 million for the two years remaining on his contract.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 2 Florida State (predictably) smoked Florida 37-7, mercifully ending the Gators’ brutal season (seven straight losses and no bowl game). With a roaring ‘War Chant’, the Seminoles took over The Swamp en route to their 12th win -- and now just one victory away from Pasadena. Saturday’s rapid reaction grades on UF’s abysmal performance.
Florida tallied under 200 yards for just the second time this season. The Gators nearly had as many drives of four plays or less (6) then first downs (8). Trey Burton’s shoulder injury hurt -- limiting UF’s Wild-Gator attack -- but considering Saturday was Florida’s “bowl game,” there were no additional wrinkles. It was hardly a kitchen-sink game plan. UF was just 1-of-11 on third down. Yikes.
Last week, the Gators didn’t allow a single completion. On Saturday, Jameis Winston -- sublime all afternoon -- shredded Florida for 327 yards and three scores. Wideout Kelvin Benjamin (219 yards, three touchdowns) was unstoppable. Florida actually played inspired, spirited defense to start the game (two sacks, an interception, lone field) before FSU’s 96-yard touchdown drive jumpstarted the blowout. UF also wore down up front, as FSU rushed for 153 yards -- 142 after halftime. The Seminoles gashed the Gators on third down, converting 9-of-15.
SPECIAL TEAMS C
Another missed field goal (DRINK), but the coverage units were again solid. Freshman punter Johnny Townsend pinned a 46-yard kick at the 4-yard line, while Solomon Patton had another long kickoff return.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp -- somber and solemn -- addresses reporters following Florida's seventh-straight loss, a 37-7 beatdown to archrival Florida State.
The Gators' three-game skid in The Swamp is their longest losing streak since 1988.
DE Jon Bullard
“I don't think I really ran out of gas, but I think everybody started looking at the scoreboard as a collective group and saying, ‘Dang, the offense is just three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out.’ But I mean, it's not all on them. We let them get 37 points. We've just got to regroup, get better next year and hopefully our D-line can be even better than it was this year.”
“Whatever [the offense changes this offseason] do hopefully is changed for the best. Give us 21 a game. If they can do that, then I would put the blame on us if they score 21 points or over. Hopefully change for the better, because what we're doing right now just ain't working.”
DB Cody Riggs
“We have a lot of payback [to dish out]. Lost to a lot of teams this year, and we have a lot of games marked on our schedule next year.”
LT Max Garcia
“It hasn’t been the season we wanted, and we really felt like a victory today could have atoned for the past year. Obviously we didn’t get that done, so extremely upset about it. I wish [the seniors] could have gone out with a win.”
“It hasn’t been the season we wanted, and we really felt like a victory today could have atoned for the past year. Obviously we didn’t get that done, so extremely upset about it. I wish they could have gone out with a win."
“Honestly, I feel like we hit rock bottom this year. I feel like the only way we can go is up. … You have to remember what happened, and you want to not let that happen ever again. We don’t want to feel that pain. We don’t want to feel this pain ever again. I’m sick and tired of losing. Next year, we have that pain to sit in our hearts. We have to work through that, and we have to take that pain and make it into intensity , make it into effort, make it into want-to.”
GAINESVILLE -- We're moments away from a windy (and chilly) Senior Day kickoff in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators hope to avoid losing three straight games at home for the first time since 1986. The Gators are nearly four touchdown underdogs, but they insist they can still upset the No. 2 Seminoles.
It's a late arriving crowd (again), as the student section isn't even halfway filled.
Much of the morning has been dominated by Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley's impromptu press conference, where he reiterated his unwavering support for embattled coach Will Muschamp.
I'll have more on Foley's message later.
PREGAME NEWS AND NOTES
* Redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg will make his third straight start.
* Florida won the toss and opted to RECEIVE
* The Gators honored 15 seniors in a short ceremony
Scoreboard: 44-24-2 ATS, 6-5 selecting Florida games
Florida (+27.5) vs. Florida State. Because why not. The Gators won't pull off the upset but I can see this being an ugly, slow game.
GAINESVILLE -- Dorian-Finney Smith labored all evening. He missed two one-handed dunks, was 0-of-4 from the 3-point line and seemed to mentally press on his first game on a national stage, but the Virginia Tech transfer overcame all his struggles to ultimately make the game-winning play for the Gators.
Finney-Smith’s free throw with 1.3 seconds sealed No. 15 Florida’s fifth straight win over Florida State 67-66 in a rocking (and sold out) O’Dome on Friday night.
The sophomore, who finished with six points (on 2-of-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds (six on the offensive glass), corralled Scottie Wilbekin’s missed jumper and was fouled on his put-back attempt. He missed the first free throw before connecting on the second attempt.
But the drama was hardly over.
The Gators averted a late collapse after FSU guard Ian Miller, who drained a contested 3-pointer moments earlier, narrowly missed a halfcourt heave at the buzzer.
Senior forward Casey Prather led the Gators with 19 points and had the highlight of the game: a hellacious alley-oop dunk on a beautiful pass from Wilbekin out of a timeout. Sophomore sniper Michael Frazier II added 15 on five timely treys.
* FSU’s 7-footers Michael Ojo (7’2”) and Boris Bojanovsky (7’3”) -- despite their relative inexperience and subpar season statistics -- were a tough matchup for Florida’s frontcourt. Bojanovsky, FSU’s Slovakian sophomore, scored a career-high 14 points on a perfect 6-for-6 from the field. Ojo, a sophomore who weighs nearly 300 pounds, chipped in 10 points and six rebounds in just 14 minutes. Both bigs were in and out of foul trouble though, a key factor late in the game.
* Wilbekin did a lot of everything Friday night – good and bad. The senior guard, playing in just his second game since returning from a six-game suspension, scored just seven points (2-for-12) as he could never find his midrange touch. Yet Wilbekin again proved his value distributing the ball and piloting UF's aggressive on-ball defense. The senior finished with eight assists and five steals.
* While the second half was entertaining, Friday’s contest was another game marred by whistles and poor shooting. The Gators opened the evening 4-of-19 and finished the night shootin just 38.5 percent from the field. The two teams combined for 38 fouls and 21 turnovers.
* Cult hero Jake “The Snake” Kurtz continued his impressive play, as the walk-on chipped in eight points and five rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. Meanwhile, seniors Patric Young (four points, four rebounds, four fouls) and Will Yeguete (six points, six rebounds) labored for much of the evening.
* Florida State nearly rallied late to upset UF thanks to some strong free throw shooting. FSU was 20-23 from the charity stripe, while Florida shot just 62 percent (15-of-24) from the line.
GAINESVILLE -- Sophomore guard DeVon Walker is “day-to-day” and questionable for Friday’s game against Florida State with a mild foot sprain, according to coach Billy Donovan.
Walker sustained the injury in Florida’s 86-60 win at Jacksonville on Monday night.
“X-Rays came back negative,” Donovan said. “No break. It’s not even a sprained ankle. … He tweaked his ligament kind of down on the bottom or side of his foot.”
Donovan also updated the status of injured point guard Kasey Hill, sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.
“He’s making positive progress,” Donovan said.
HARRIS UPDATE Donovan remains very disappointed with South Carolina transfer Damontre Harris, a 6-foot-10 center who hasn’t practiced with the team since Nov. 1.
Harris, currently suspended indefinitely after already sitting out all of the 2012-13 season due to NCAA transfer stipulations, is “at a crossroads” and must “make a life decision.”
“We support people here. We're always willing to reach out and to help, but when it is a consistent pattern of behavior, of not accepting, taking the help or going where you're supposed to be, being where you're supposed to be or doing what you're supposed to do. At a certain point, he's got to want to say this is what I want and this is what I'm prepared to do,” Donovan explained. “He has not done that. He has said, ‘This is what I'd like. I want to play on the team.’ Well, this is what you have to do. What he wants and what he has to do are not matching up. I'm now at a crossroads in the dilemma. Does he want to play? Does he not want to play?”
Donovan didn’t mince his words with Harris’ struggles, saying, “When you have all the resources here at Florida to really help someone in every possible area -- on the court, off the court, academically, weight room, film -- and you’re not taking advantage of it, at some point he’s the one responsible. ... He’s in the dorm. It’d be very easy for him to come over to my office to talk. He’s not come over here one time. And I’m certainly not going to chase him around. That’s got to be something he wants to do.”
Donovan continued: “But there’s zero accountability at all. You can’t call meetings or have a strength coach be here to work you out and just not show up. … There are things you have to do and when you don’t do that, at some point, there are consequences and levels of accountability you have to assume as a young man. I’m all for giving guys second chances. I think Scottie [Wilbekin] is a much better player and person for what he had to go through. And I think Damontre has to make a decision. Do I want to change? Do I want my life to change for the better? Or do I want to just through cruise through life and not do anything. He’s got to make that choice.”
GAINESVILLE -- Jon Halapio never imagined his senior season spiraling out of control.
Florida’s gritty right guard -- a four-year regular with 42 career starts -- admitted he’s “ready to move forward with life,” but the fifth-year senior said he's also proud of what he accomplished at UF and “wouldn’t want to play on any other team.”
“I had a wonderful opportunity to play at, still in my opinion, the best school education-wise, and I wouldn’t want to play on any other team,” said Halapio, who's played through a painful torn pectoral muscle all season. “It’s hard to say that with the stuff that we’ve been going through, but I still feel the same way. I wouldn’t want to be on any other team.”
When Florida hosts Florida State on Saturday (noon, ESPN) -- as a four-touchdown underdog -- 18 seniors will wear the orange and blue for the final time.
FSU is UF’s bowl game this season.
The Gators, 4-7 and mired in a six-game losing streak, will honor Halapio, Trey Burton, Jeremy Brown, Dominique Easley, Jon Harrison, Damien Jacobs, Darrin Kitchens, Kyle Koehne, Solomon Patton, Jaylen Watkins, Tim Clark and six walk-ons in a pregame ceremony.
Throughout the week, several seniors reflected on a trying season, their careers and an upcoming emotional day.
RG Jon Halapio
*** “I never thought that my senior season would go like this, especially with four wins at this point. I just experienced a lot here at this program and it’s just gonna make me as an individual stronger.”
*** “There’s a little sense of excitement moving forward with our lives and for this week. It’s FSU week, it’s a rivalry week. I sense a little bit of excitement, yeah, just to move on with our life.”
*** “Man, I just hope I don’t cry. Everybody else has been saying. .. it’s going to be very emotional coming out of the tunnel one last time. I’m very excited, but sad at the same time.”
*** "This is by far the worst season since I've been here."
OL Kyle Koehne
*** “It’s a huge day, you know, last game in The Swamp. I’ve been thinking about this since senior year. It’s hard to believe that the day has actually come but I’m super excited. It’s gonna be awesome to have my family out there on the field with me. It’s been an awesome experience here.”
*** “It’s definitely not how I pictured my senior year. I live and die for this place. Everything we do we do as a team, we do it together. If we’re having a good year, as long as we stick together, we’ll be ok.”
WR Trey Burton
*** “Lot of mixed emotions, really happy for my time here I wouldn't wanna take anything back. The challenges, all that type of stuff has helped me mature as a man and I'm really happy with the way things have gone.”
*** “You never really think about that, you think about and you imagine, picture winning championships and stuff like that.”
*** “Well, I know everything happens for a reason. Obviously we don't know the reason for this right now, but I truly believe that and going through this will help me later in life somehow and that's how I look at it.”
DT Damien Jacobs
*** “It’s bittersweet. Not even just for the simple fact that it’s been a bad season, but mostly because I’m ready to move on to the next part of my life. That’s why it’s bittersweet.”
*** “There’s always something to play for – pride and respect, not just myself, but this school.”
DB Jaylen Watkins
*** “It’s going to be very emotional for all of us. We’ve been here four years, some five. We have some who have been here six years. It’s a new chapter for most of us to after football and actually graduating. Some of us are graduating next month. It’s going to be very exciting for both us and our families.”
*** “This is our last game we’ll ever play in The Swamp in an orange and blue jersey, so all of the seniors I know are going to go out and give everything they’ve got.”
*** “The injuries, just to see my teammates, the ones that are injured on the sideline knowing they can't help. That's the toughest thing for me. I'm pretty sure if we had all our guys this season it would be different. I'm not making any excuses, but it's tough to see everyone else play through that. We've got younger guys having to step up, but I'm pretty sure that'll be good experience for them in the future.”
*** "This has been a rough year for all of us. I'd like for all of us to go out and compete this last game and show the Gator Nation we still are here and that we're going to keep playing no matter what."
VIDEO: Halapio talks “the last one,” the chance to “resolve the whole season,” Florida’s infamous blocking gaffe and more.
GAINESVILLE -- Brent Pease appears resigned to his fate.
During a somber press conference Tuesday, Florida’s besieged offensive coordinator was peppered with hot-seat questions instead of how to score on No. 2 Florida State’s hotshot defense.
Pease said he hopes to return to the Gators in 2014 and believes he’s earned the right do so, but the embattled coach acknowledged his murky future with the team.
“I think you look at the first year and some of the situations and knowing the body of work and not just a game-to-game basis and situations we’ve been under [this season]. I hope any evaluations are looked at that way,” Pease said in his defense. “But I understand things, too. It’s not like, I know you’ve got to win and have success. If it’s not meant to be… I came into this with friends, and I’m walking out of it with friends.”
During a lengthy press conference -- possibly Pease’s final meeting with the local media with numerous reports regarding his future employment -- UF’s second-year coordinator spoke softly but candidly, handling a number of tough questions with dignity and grace.
Inundated with inquires regarding the fans’ ever-deafening criticism, Pease said, “That’s how it is. If it's coming my way, then it's coming my way. You've just got to kind of take the blows."
Florida’s attack ranks in the bottom-20 nationally in scoring offense (No. 111), total offense (No. 113) and red zone offense (No. 118), but it’s been a unit decimated by injuries. The Gators have lost two quarterbacks, three offensive tackles and a starting tailback to season-ending injuries.
Although head coach Will Muschamp has received a public vote of confidence from the school’s administration, Pease -- and the rest of UF’s offensive staff -- has not. After Florida dropped its sixth-straight game Saturday -- a mind-blowing defeat to Division 1-AA Georgia Southern -- Muschamp called UF’s offensive woes “infectious.”
Muschamp has cited the team’s injury list as a reason to skirt complete culpability for UF’s woeful 4-7 season, and Pease was asked if he’s feeling scapegoated despite the same facts.
"I don't know,” he said. “That's a tough question to answer. … You can always address that question later.”
VIDEO: Pease on the offense's "infectious" role, his future, why he deserves to return in 2014 and more.
Muschamp (Wednesday on Pease): "When you lose three offensive tackles, two quarterbacks, a 1,000-yard rusher and a receiver, it makes it very difficult. Very difficult to call plays. Brent's a good playcaller and an outstanding football coach. It's been frustrating for all of us, including him, our production offensively this year."
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s dreadful season has been no joke, but everyone -- offensive coordinator Brent Pease included -- got a chuckle out a mind-blowing play that seemed to epitomize UF’s struggles on the offensive side of the ball.
In a (low)light that’s circled the Internet and been featured on ESPN Monday Night Football’s “C’mon Man” segment, two Florida players -- center Jon Harrison and receiver Quinton Dunbar -- blocked each other on a reverse during the second quarter of Saturday’s 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” right guard Jon Halapio said. “I thought it was comical. We’re all in the locker room joking around about it. I don’t even know what happened on that play. I honestly don’t know. [Harrison] was supposed to pull to the right and I think Solomon [Patton] had the ball or something. I guess Quinton got in his way.”
Pease, who caught the play during film study Sunday, said, “Sometimes you just have to laugh, I mean, I’m just like that is … C’mon.”
“I know what Jon was doing,” Pease added. “He’s trying to get around. I guess I’d tell Quinton to keep his eyes open a little bit.”
Halapio thought Harrison “had perfect technique,” but should’ve pancaked his teammate too.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s sputtering offense barely managed 20 points in Saturday’s humiliating loss to Georgia Southern, and now the freefalling unit must prepare for the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense: archrival Florida State.
UF ranks last in the Southeastern Conference in scoring (19.9) and total offense (327.9 yards per game), but redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg said the offense must execute better and play with more confidence considering the sizeable mismatch.
“We gotta make some plays,” Mornhinweg said. “We’ve got to go out, execute and put points on the board.”
FSU has allowed more than 17 points just one time all season, while the Gators haven’t scored more than 20 points in nearly eight weeks.
Quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) is questionable for Saturday’s rivalry game, while sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL sprain) remains doubtful.
Junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) is expected to play, as is sophomore defensive end Jon Bullard (knee swelling).
Starting middle linebacker Michael Taylor, injured in the loss to GSU, is out with a Grade 2 MCL sprain, but the injury will not require surgery. However, freshman linebacker Alex Anzalone, also hurt in the loss, will have offseason shoulder surgery.
“I love you guys. … I don’t have any problem with anybody. Everybody has an opinion and everybody is certainly entitled to that. That’s part of it. That’s part of the job. I don’t have any issue with that. … If it’s personal to me, then maybe I’ve gone a little over the edge in those situations. That’s who I am. I say what’s on my mind, I tell you the way it is. I won’t beat around it or anything. I don’t have any problem with anybody sitting in the room. I really don’t, from the stand point of you’ve got jobs to do. And sometimes your opinion may be different from mine. One of my favorite sayings, and if you’ve worked with me before, it’s ‘let’s agree to disagree.’ And that’s fine. I’m involved in day-to-day operation of the program. You’ve got to see the big picture of where we are and more than anything where we’re headed. It’s been very frustrating, and it’s all on me. I get all that and we need to improve and get better, and that’s what we’re going to do. But I ain’t got any problem with any of you.”
-- Will Muschamp, on his relationship with the media
GAINESVILLE -- Late last week, No. 15 Florida topped Middle Tennessee State by double-digits without a point guard, but coach Billy Donovan’s offensive gamble lasted just a single contest.
Florida -- shorthanded with just seven available scholarship players -- will receive a much-needed boost Monday against Jacksonville (7 p.m.) as point guard Scottie Wilbekin returns to action following a six-game suspension.
“He’s done everything. I’m really proud of him,” Donovan said. “As I have mentioned before, he has really stayed on course since last spring.”
UF's senior point guard, a preseason all-conference pick and one of the top defensive guards in the country, was suspended indefinitely June 10 after violating team rules for the second time in eight months. Donovan actually gave Wilbekin the option to transfer, but the senior chose to earn (and fight) his way back onto the team.
“He’s grown up in a lot of ways. I think that he obviously made some poor choices last year. You would hope that situation would have been kind of an eye-opener for him, with his level of accountability and responsibility to himself and to his team,” Donovan explained. “For whatever reason, that experience, those first three games last year, did not register with him at all, at the level I wanted it to. And I think with the situation we put him in the spring, as it related to him having to work his way back on the team, not doing anything in Summer B or Summer A with our team, going through the conditioning in the month of August and September away from our team, slowly getting him back. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is a total change in his attitude, his behavior. Scottie was never ever a bad kid. It was of kind of like a warrior mentality, like, ‘I’ll take anything on. I can deal with it.’ And I think he’s gotten a lot more humble. I think he has a much, much better understanding of how his actions and things that he does impact not only himself, but other people. I really have seen a great growth in him.”
Wilbekin, who averaged 9.1 ppg. and 5.1 apg. in 29 starts last season, returns at an important time for Florida. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill sustained a high-ankle sprain in last Monday’s win over Southern, forcing Donovan to juggle as many as four guys at the position during Thursday’s 20-point win over MTSU.
Hill remains in a boot except during rehab activities and is expected to miss around a month with the injury.
Following Monday’s road tilt with JU (2-3), Florida (4-1) faces a brutal schedule over the next three weeks: home vs. FSU, at No. 13 Connecticut, home vs. No. 2 Kansas and vs. No. 21 Memphis in Madison Square Garden.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s historic defeat to Georgia Southern -- a middling and mediocre Football Championship Subdivision team with double-digit losses to Samford, Wofford and Appalachian State -- ignited a wildfire in an-already toxic environment.
A seething Gator Nation hoped (and presumed) a seismic coaching shakeup was looming. One week prior to Saturday’s embarrassing loss, Florida fans were told to “get a grip,” and then the Gators dropped a home game to a FCS foe winless in 20 tries against FBS competition.
But to the dismay of a disgruntled fan base, embattled head coach Will Muschamp isn’t going anywhere.
“It’s all disappointing. It’s hard to really measure it,” Muschamp said following Florida’s sixth straight loss. “It’s my job to get it fixed. We will get it fixed.”
Muschamp will presumably get that chance.
Despite presiding over one of the worst defeats in school-history -- the Gators paid the Eagles $550,000 to come into The Swamp and humiliate a team that won 11 games just last season -- UF’s third-year coach is all-but-assured to return in 2014.
UF’s 4-7 campaign, its first losing season since Jimmy Carter was president, has been effectively written off by the school’s administration because of the team’s crippling injury situation, losing 10 players to season-ending surgeries including quarterback Jeff Driskel, star defensive tackle Dominique Easley and three offense tackles.
Two weeks ago, following a then-momentous home loss to Vanderbilt, athletics director Jeremy Foley released a public vote of confidence, saying he’s “a thousand percent convinced” in Muschamp’s leadership. Despite Saturday’s harrowing defeat, the administration’s sentiment hasn’t changed, according to UF spokesperson Steve McClain.
On Sunday, McClain told ESPN’s Joe Schad that Foley’s position remains resolute.
But while Muschamp will survive the tidal wave of criticism, Florida’s program remains seemingly directionless and answerless.
UF’s defense -- Muschamp’s brainchild -- surrendered 429 yards rushing, but for the first time all season, Muschamp lashed out at UF’s incompetent offense.
Florida’s coach called their struggles “infectious,” while distancing himself from beleaguered coordinator Brent Pease. ..."
GAINESVILLE -- Florida paid $550,000 just to get embarrassed by Georgia Southern. The Eagles shocked the Gators 26-20 on a picturesque -- unless you were wearing orange and blue -- Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. Here’s some rapid reaction grades on UF’s harrowing (and historic) defeat.
Florida jumped to a 10-point lead and then sneezed. The Gators gained just 279 total yards against a GSU-team that had allowed 30+ points to Appalachian State and Wofford. Coordinator Brent Pease had little faith in redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornihinweg – and with good reason. The redshirt freshman nearly tossed three interceptions on his first five passes and demonstrated his accuracy issues, questionable arm-strength and footwork concerns.
UF’s rushing attack didn’t fair much better either though. Aside from a dominant first drive (which again stalled in the red zone), Florida couldn’t run against a front that averaged just 260-pounds. Will Muschamp's postgame "talent" rant was embarrassing, but if the triple-option is such a great equalizer perhaps Florida should consider running it to wake up its anemic beggared offense.
The Gators didn’t allow a single completion. The good news ends there. GSU gained 429 yards on the ground -- the fourth-most yards allowed UF history. Those other teams? 1996 Nebraska, 1979 Alabama (one of Bear Bryant's national championship teams) and a Georgia squad led by Hershel Walker. The Eagles may run the triple-option, but you’d be hard-pressed (or insane) to find someone who’d confuse them with the aforementioned teams. Florida -- struggling with assignments, discipline and gap control throughout its lengthy losing streak -- couldn’t stop GSU’s dive, veer, pitch, reverse, anything. The triple-option is plenty tricky to prepare for, but Florida looked like it'd never seen it before -- even in practice.
SPECIAL TEAMS C-
Another missed field goal (blocked), poor punt coverage, a shanked punt. Really, aside from Solomon Patton’s 54-yard kickoff returns Florida’s third unit again disappointed.
***** VIDEO *****
Muschamp talks Florida's soul-crushing loss to GSU.
GAINESVILLE -- Losers of five straight, Florida isn’t overlooking any team, even a Football Championship Subdivision foe 0-9 all-time versus Southeastern Conference schools.
The Gators (4-6) square off against Georgia Southern (6-4) today at 2 p.m. (pay-per-view) in The Swamp, a matchup featuring two injury-depleted rosters and a whole lot of running.
The Eagles stroll into Gainesville with their prolific triple-option attack, while Florida appears poised to start its third-string quarterback, Skyler Mornhinweg, for a second-straight week.
There will be no looking ahead to archrival No. 2 Florida State.
“If you don’t come out prepared and ready to play you can lose to anybody. We lost to Vanderbilt. We hadn’t lost to Vanderbilt in 20-something years,” junior linebacker Michael Taylor said. “Any team is capable of losing on any day. I know this team put up 352 yards on [Georgia] last year, so this is no team to push aside. This is a team to be prepared for.”
Georgia Southern’s dynamic and efficient rushing offense (353.3 yards per game) presents a unique challenge for an already teetering UF rush defense.
The Eagles’ traditional dive-oriented triple option is alien to most Gator players.
“It’s a total technique change,” defensive tackle Leon Orr said. “It’s all about focus, when it comes down to it. It’s something our defense gotta hone in on and be able to focus on your role. …It’ll be something of a challenge for us, but at the end of the day we ain’t got no choice but to get it done.”
Twelve different players have scored at least one rushing touchdown for the Eagles this season, and their offense also averages nearly 19 yards a competition. …”
***** UPDATE *****
Couple pregame announcements: Mornhinweg will start, while UF also announced defensive end Jon Bullard is OUT with an undisclosed injury and freshman wideout Demarcus Robinson is suspended for the remainder of the season (2 games) for violating undisclosed team rules. Remember (in the preseason) when I said Robinson could be more George Farmer than Stefon Diggs? What a disappointing freshman campaign for such a talented prospect.
Scoreboard: 39-23-2 ATS, 5-5 selecting Florida games
This week’s six-pack
Missouri (-2) at Ole Miss
Clemson (-42) vs. Citadel
Idaho (+57) at FSU
LSU (-3.5) vs. Texas A&M
Oklahoma State (+9) vs. Baylor
And finally, Georgia Southern (+28) at Florida. The Gators SHOULD snap their long losing streak, but I have little faith this team can actually cover 28 points against a triple-option attack (i.e. very, very quick game) with a third-string quarterback. Motivation will be another interesting storyline to watch too -- despite the normal weekly game-by-game platitudes expressed during the week.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 14 Florida dismantled Middle Tennessee State -- an 11th seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament -- 79-59 thanks to a 15-4 run early in the second half Thursday night in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Six players scored in double figures -- Dorian Finney-Smith (14), Will Yeguete (10), Michael Frazier (13), DeVon Walker (10), Casey Prather (11), Patric Young (16) -- as a shorthanded Florida team discovered some offensive cohesiveness following a horrid first half playing without freshman point guard Kasey Hill (high-ankle sprain).
Although the balancing act took awhile, it was an impressive win after an ugly start.
“I thought our offense was really good without a point guard in the second half,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.
Prather, plagued by first half foul trouble, scored all 11 of his points after halftime, while Young finished the night with six rebounds, three assists and 16 points -- six via the foul line.
“I thought Patric did a great job tonight,” Donovan said. “I thought he set the tone defensively. He made a diving play in the first half, which was phenomenal. He was active. He rebounded, made his free throws. I was proud of him tonight.”
UF -- propelled by a dominating defensive effort -- jumpstarted its second half offense with transition buckets, four 3-point plays and several wide-open treys.
The Gators also held MSU’s top two scorers -- Shawn Jones and Kerry Hammonds, both who average 16 points per game -- to a combined nine points.
“We were really committed to that end of the floor,” Donovan said. “We were engaged. We were disruptive.”
But the first half barely resembled basketball.
Two quality teams combined for 26 fouls, 32 free throws and just 17 baskets in a brutal opening 20 minutes -- one that Donovan called “painful to watch.”
It was another game marred by fouls (43), but Florida at least made them count, shooting 83 percent (25-30) from the free throw line.
“It’s going to take some time for everyone -- officials, coaches, players -- to adjust,” Donovan said of so many whistles. “It maybe a painful year from the spectators standpoint for awhile, but hopefully we move into a positive direction once [the new rules] becomes second nature.”
VIDEOS: Young talks Florida's simplified offense without a true point guard and the team's second-half explosion, while Finney-Smith dishes on his role as a point-forward, the slow start and his loud momma.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s defense still ranks No. 7 nationally (288.6 yards per game), but the unit’s lofty rankings have camouflaged its struggles during the team’s five-game losing streak -- especially in a statistical category it dominated a season ago.
The Gators are no longer forcing turnovers.
In 2012, Florida was a ball-hawking, playmaking defense that recorded 30 takeaways, and as a team finished with a plus-15 turnover margin -- good for No. 7 in the country.
This season, the offense has struggled to protect the football, while its defense -- supposedly the rock of the team -- has done little to counter the problem.
“We have missed some opportunities,” coach Will Muschamp said. “We've had some opportunities at interceptions that were dropped, and we've had some balls on the ground that we haven't gotten. We haven't had as many strip opportunities as we would like. That's one thing we have looked at as a staff. … We've got to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Florida has forced 15 turnovers this season, but 10 came in a three-game stretch against lowly conference competition with a combined league record of 1-17.
During its five-game losing streak, Florida has just four takeaways, while turning the ball over eight times.
“We’ve had opportunities to make them and haven’t really made them at times. Usually, when someone makes one of those plays, a tough play and gets one, then you kind off get a couple more. It spirals that way,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “We’ve had those chances in games, and just most recently haven’t made them. It’s something we emphasize, work on and talk about in meetings. We know how critical it is to our success. We’ve got to protect the ball and get the ball out on defense. Obviously, we’re not winning in that area right now, and it’s affecting the outcome of the games.”
GAINESVILLE -- Florida assistant coach D.J. Durkin said he has head coaching aspirations, but UF’s defensive coordinator refused to discuss any offseason hypotheticals and said he’s solely focused on Florida’s next opponent: Georgia Southern.
Durkin -- in his fourth year with the Gators -- has been rumored as a possible candidate for several potential Mid-American Conference jobs, a league that includes his alma mater and the school he kick-started his coaching career (Bowling Green).
(D.J. Durkin & Will Muschamp | media.miamiherald.com)
“I haven't been approached by anyone or anything,” he said. “Yeah one day I do want to be a head coach. It would have to be the right situation, the right place, a lot of factors go into it. It wouldn't just be any job.”
Quarterback Tyler Murphy participated in Tuesday’s practice and is now questionable for Saturday’s game.
According to coach Will Muschamp, redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg is still in line for another start, but Murphy’s injured shoulder is improving.
“It’s all about his discomfort level right now,” Muschamp said of Murphy’s AC sprain in the quarterback’s throwing shoulder. “It’s gotten better every day. If you look from Sunday to today, it’s much, much, much improved. We’ll just to continue to work through that. It’s all about his comfort level. Right now, the shoulder is stable.”
Muschamp also said left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL sprain) and cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) would not play this weekend.
Junior cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy are two players many expect to leave Florida for the NFL following the 2013 season.
According to defensive tackle Leon Orr, playing at the next level is readily discussed in the locker room amongst Florida players.
“When you in the locker room you hear the word ‘NFL’ because there’s a lot of guys who play college ball and see themselves at the next level. So it’s definitely conversation about certain players going to the NFL and certain player not going to the NFL,” Orr explained. “It’s just one of those things, you never know what anybody thinking. You can never hold much weight into conversation, just more listen to them.”
Orr, a redshirt junior who’s started seven games this season and recorded 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, admitted he’s also contemplating his future.
“I mean I definitely feel like I want to be a Gator next year. I want to do a lot of things for this school that I haven’t had the opportunity to do but I feel like this who NFL thing and this whole going to the next level thing is so new to me, and I don’t know much about it, that I want to be able to be well informed before I make any type of decision on that,” Orr said.
“I'm a drop-back quarterback. I think ESPN had me at deceptively athletic, so I'll throw in a spin move every now and then. But you know I drop back and try to throw it as hard as I can in an accurate spot. That's how I play."
-- Christian Provancha, Florida’s unlikeliest No. 2 quarterback against Georgia Southern with injuries to Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy. Provancha, nicknamed Provolone, is a walk-on senior from Cocoa Beach.
GAINESVILLE -- Although Florida is mired in its worst losing streak in over two decades, not everyone in the Gator Nation is down on the team.
Left tackle Max Garcia said between eight to 10 Gator fans were waiting in the rain holding signs of support as Florida returned to Gainesville following its 19-14 loss to South Carolina.
(Max Garcia | courtesy forxsportsflorida.com)
“I was like 'Wow, that's so uplifting.' You don't see that often. I've never seen that type of support before," Garcia said. "You get tweets like 'Oh, we're still behind you' and stuff, but when you see it actually in real life, you know, our fans are still out there waiting for us, they didn't know when we were coming back, you know, so they could have been out there for hours. Stuff like that, I really appreciate that, the team really appreciated that.”
* Florida linebacker Michael Taylor, the team's leading tackler (61 stops), candidly dishes on UF's five-game losing streak, the "frustrating loss" to South Carolina, stopping Georgia Southern's triple option and fixing the defense's assignment issues.
* Defensive tackle Leon Orr, a redshirt junior who met with reporters for the first time since media day in August, talked about the team's failed fake punt in the loss to USC, the origins of the play, his development at Florida and slowing down an offense (triple-option) most guys haven't seen since high school.
GAINESVILLE -- Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy (AC shoulder sprain) remains day-to-day and is unlikely to practice early this week, so Florida is preparing to start redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg for the second game in a row.
The Gators (4-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) host Georgia Southern (6-4, 4-4 SoCon) on Saturday (2 p.m., PPV) hoping to snap a five-game losing streak.
Murphy attempted some light throwing Sunday, but his session was short due to lingering soreness.
“It was just painful,” Murphy said. “There wasn’t much velocity on the ball. ... It wasn’t coming out pretty.”
Florida coach Will Muschamp said the team is moving forward with the notion Mornhinweg will start again, and if Murphy were able to play it would be “a bonus.”
Morhinweg was 9-of-12 for 107 yards and an interception in his first-career action in Florida’s 19-14 loss to South Carolina on Saturday.
Sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL sprain) remains doubtful for Saturday’s game, according to Muschamp.
“I'll probably know more Tuesday or Wednesday whether or not he'll be able to play, but it looks doubtful at this time,” Muschamp said.
Meanwhile, cornerback Marcus Roberson -- suspended against South Carolina for violating unspecified team rules -- fulfilled his punishment even though the junior was unlikely to play in Columbia with a lingering ankle injury. Muschamp said the team hopes to get Roberson back this weekend.
Freshman wideout Ahmad Fulwood (shoulder) left Florida’s loss to USC, but is “fine” and not expected to miss any time.
“We had no other significant injuries from the game,” Muschamp said. “We had a couple guys banged up, but everyone should be available for this weekend.”
No longer a marquee matchup this season, the Sunshine State showdown -- normally reserved for primetime -- is scheduled for an early afternoon kickoff.
Florida will host No. 2 Florida State at noon on Nov. 30, the Southeastern Conference announced Monday. The game will be televised on ESPN.
The last time to two teams played at noon was in 2006, when No. 4 Florida tripped up unranked FSU 21-14 in Tallahassee.
“Shoot I didn’t even see what happened there, I’m not even quite sure what happened still. I just saw him with the bloody fingers.”
-- Mornhinweg on Muschamp punching a chalkboard sometime during Florida’s loss to USC.
GAINESVILLE -- No. 14 Florida downed Southern 67-53 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, but it was a UF player who scarily went down that was prevailing storyline Monday night.
Florida’s freshman phenom Kasey Hill injured his left ankle with 18:04 remaining in the second half, screaming loudly as he crashed to the floor on an aggressive drive to the basket.
The point guard, who writhed in pain after rolling his ankle to a near 90-degree angle, could miss -- at minimum -- a month of action with a severe ankle sprain, coach Billy Donovan announced afterwards.
“It’s one of those sprains where it’s certainly a longer healing process and when you try to rush guys back too soon it normally complicates things,” Donovan said. “So right now I think in talking to the doctor and talking to our trainer, the minimum right now is we’re looking at a month before we can consider getting him back on the floor.”
Hill will undergo X-rays Tuesday.
The freshman point guard left the game with eight points, three assists and a steal. The former five-star recruit again flashed his sublime finishing ability -- especially in transition -- scoring all eight of his points in Florida’s dominant first half (35-19).
But the Gators, already shorthanded with multiple suspensions including senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, appeared shell-shocked after the injury, and so did a stunned and silent O’Dome crowd.
Southern -- a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season -- actually outscored the Gators 34-32 in the second half, as Florida was lost on offense without a true point guard and played lazy defensively.
Shooting guards Michael Frazier and DeVon Walker both took turns handling the ball, as did forward Dorian Finney-Smith.
According to Donovan, Florida will utilize a combination of Walker, Frazier and even Finney-Smith in a point-forward role for the foreseeable future.
“The hardest part for me is it really eliminates a real opportunity to get creative on offense because you really have to shorten up the play calls because for a guy like DeVon and Michael Frazier to know the 2, and the 3 and the point, their head would explode,” Donovan said. It's not fair to them. So there's some concepts and some things we can get into, we can run, we do and execute that puts them in a position they know exactly what is going on. We may have to add some things and make some different adjustments and because of the injuries we might be looking to play a little bigger.”
Donovan confirmed Wilbekin remains suspended and will not play Thursday against Middle Tennessee State (7:30 p.m., Sun Sports).
VIDEO: Donovan and senior center Patric Young talk Hill's injury. (Note: I apologize for the grainy Blair Witch project-esque footage. A TV light soiled the shot a bit. Apologies.)
OTHER INJURY UPDATES
Rutgers transfer guard Eli Carter played 10 minutes Monday night, but the hobbled junior appears destined for a medical redshirt with his broken leg still not fully-healed. Carter visibly limped up and down the court, unable to plant his leg with any force. … Donovan also announced sophomore guard Dillion Graham will miss the remainder of the season with bone spurs in both hips. “He’s having a very difficult time sleeping. He can’t lie on his side. Really was a decision that he decided to make with his family,” Donovan said. “There are options. That was the option they wanted to take. Whatever we can do to help him in that situation, we will. What he’s going to end up doing probably in the next week or so is probably get some kind of MRI from the doctors and try to figure it out. I think it’s a pretty complicated surgery and it’s a very, very long recovery (four months).”
THIS & THAT
Florida out-rebounded Southern 43-29, including a 18-9 advantage on the offensive glass. … Young finished with a season-high 12 points. Senior forward Casey Prather again filled up the stat sheet: 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks and one steal. … Frazier was 3-of-7 from 3-point range, while the rest of the team shot a combined 3-for-13. … The Gators tallied 19 points off 12 turnovers and 16 second chance points.
GAINESVILLE -- Embroiled in swirling negativity as Florida suffers through its worst season since 1979, coach Will Muschamp received a public vote of confidence from UF’s administration last week.
In Muschamp’s two media appearances since athletic director Jeremy Foley and school president Bernie Machen said they were "1000 percent" behind the embattled coach, Muschamp acknowledged his gratitude in Foley and Dr. Machen for “seeing the big picture” and “willing to stand up for what’s right.”
“I’m very appreciative of Jeremy and Dr. Machen. Thank goodness I have two guys that see the big picture and understand where we’re headed with the program, where we were, in a two-year period what we’ve accomplished and understand the circumstances we’re in right now. And more than anything, where we’re headed. They’re in the day-to-day operation, so it’s very rewarding to have a strong athletic director and a strong president that’s willing to stand up and fight for what’s right. And I appreciate that very much.”
-- Muschamp after Florida’s demoralizing 19-14 defeat to No. 11 South Carolina.
“It says a lot about Jeremy and Dr. Machen from a standpoint of seeing where we were three years ago and understanding, making good decision within our program to see the day-to-day operation and understand the steps you made in year two and why we are where we are right now. And nobody’s happy with that. Absolutely nobody is happy. The expectation level here is to win championships, and we haven’t done it. But I think it’s seeing the big picture, too, and understanding where we are with the program and feeling good, not necessarily where we are right now, but understanding why we are where we are and where it’s headed. We’ve got a bunch of good young players in this program, a bunch of good kids in this program. We’re recruiting extremely well. Things are heading in the right direction, it’s just been a frustrating time for us this season.”
-- Muschamp on Monday during his weekly press conference.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida dropped a hard-fought slugfest to South Carolina on Saturday night in Columbia, S.C. and an exasperated Will Muschamp criticized a portion of Florida’s fan base, saying some “need to get a grip.”
On Monday, Muschamp slightly amended his comments, softening his tone while still censuring “a small percentage” of a fuming Gator Nation.
Florida (4-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) has dropped five-straight for the first time since 1979 -- UF’s last losing season.
“We have great fans here,” Muschamp said. “It’s a small percentage. It’s just frustrating for me. Anybody that knows me, I care about the kids. It’s just frustrating for me. I’m fine with it. That’s part of the profession. But for our kids it’s frustrating. They’re working extremely hard, and that’s who I hurt for. We have great fans. I’m talking to a small percentage of our fans.”
Florida’s 19-14 loss to No. 10 South Carolina was another bold ‘L’ in the win/loss column, but UF displayed tremendous resiliency playing with its third-string quarterback and a depleted offensive line.
During Saturday’s postgame press conference, Florida’s coach was pressed to elaborate on his team’s fight despite so much adversity.
Muschamp’s fiery sound bite -- to the chagrin of many Florida fans -- went viral almost immediately.
“It’s not excuses. It’s real. It really is,” Muschamp said of the impact of UF’s serious injury situation. “You can say what you want to say and write whatever the hell you want to write, but it’s real. It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for that locker room. To hell with me, I worry about the kids. These kids fought their butts off. There’s a lot of negativity out there, and some of our fans needs to get a grip. They really do. We have a bunch of kids in that locker room fighting their butt off. You can criticize me all you want. I’m great with that. They pay me enough money to deal with it, but those kids don’t. They really don’t. They fought their butts off, and they continue to fight and play hard. Nobody has ever questioned their efforts. I’m just extremely proud of them and of the resolve and the fight and coming together like Florida Gators do.”
Florida hosts Georgia Southern this Saturday at 2 p.m. (PPV),
VIDEO: Here's Muschamp clarifying his recent comments, as well as previewing GSU's triple option, discussing South Carolina's game-changing play (Shon Carson's 58-yard run) and more.
"COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Florida is mired in its worst losing streak since its 0-10-1 season in 1979, but despite another disheartening defeat -- its fifth-straight -- the mood following UF’s 19-14 loss to No. 10 South Carolina on Saturday night was surprisingly optimistic.
The Gators -- decimated by injuries and with a coaching staff fighting all sorts of swirling negativity -- rallied together and nearly pulled off a major upset on the road.
“They fought their butts off, and they continue to fight and play hard. Nobody has ever questioned their efforts,” coach Will Muschamp said. “I’m just extremely proud of them and of the resolve and the fight and coming together like Florida Gators do. Extremely proud of them. … The bottom line is winning, and we didn’t do it. We did not get the job done, so that’s on me. We’ll go back and continue to work hard and get these last two. I’m looking forward to that.”
A resilient team down to its third-string quarterback and a make-shift and reshuffled offensive line rushed for 200 yards and two touchdowns against one of the top front-seven’s in college football. UF’s defense -- much-maligned in recent weeks -- frustrated USC’s duel-threat quarterback Connor Shaw, while limiting star tailback Mike Davis to a season-low 54 yards on 13 carries.
The Gators displayed toughness, grit and effort.
Despite so many odds, they didn’t quit.
“That was the intensity of the whole week. We were gonna run the ball, play smash-mouth football, play Florida football,” left tackle Max Garcia said. “We didn’t come out with a win but I think we showed people that we’re physical, we’re still physical, we’re still Florida. ...”
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Before I re-watch the tape of Florida's fifth-consecutive loss in a dismal 2013 season, here are some rapid reaction grades from UF's 19-14 defeat to South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium.
The total yardage was nothing to sneeze at (307 yards), but coordiator Brent Pease's gameplan was brilliant considering the cirumstances (third-string quarterback, down three offensive tackles). Skyler Mornhinweg attempted just two passes before halftime, but Florida rushed for 169 yards unitizing some trickeration (direct snaps, jet sweeps, Wild-Gators), unbalanced lines and misdirection.
Unfortunately, the whole "no passing" thing caught up to UF, as USC’s nasty front-seven eventually slowed Florida's rushing attack. Still Florida moved the ball despite so many uncertainties and few expectations.
South Carolina tallied just 377 total yards, as tailback Mike Davis and quarterback Connor Shaw were both (mostly) held in check. Shaw struggled with his accuracy and rarely made plays with his legs, while Davis was slowed by an ankle.
Florida's secondary did lose multiple receivers, but Shaw was unable to take advantage. A tight end again killed slaughtered UF's linebackers (Rory Anderson, 3 catches for 69 yards).
Florida’s red zone defense -- especially compared to last weekend -- was fantastic. Florida forced USC into five field goal attempts, a key component in keeping the game at striking distance. Ultimately though, Florida's defense still couldn't get off the field (USC's game-sealing 95-yard touchdown drive; Shaw's fourth-down touchdown pass) when it had to have a stop.
SPECIAL TEAMS C-
A well-designed but failed fake-punt (deep in own territory too), another shanked field goal (Austin Hardin's seventh missed kick this year), solid coverage units -- pretty much the same old, same old.
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp -- embroiled in heat as Florida suffers through its worst season in 34 years -- slammed some of UF's fan base, as well as the media, for the swirling negativity surrounding the program.
Muschamp also voiced his thanks for athletic director Jeremy Foley's public support.
COLUMBIA, SC – I’m in the house here at Williams-Brice Stadium. With Georgia getting shellacked at Auburn, this should be a rowdy nighttime crowd.
Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy is out stretching, but has yet to throw a pass. I still expect Skyler Morhinweg to make his first-career appearance today. That or we could see a whole-lotta Trey Burton Wild-Gator magic!
***** UPDATE *****
It's official, Morhinweg is the announced starter. Also, junior cornerback Marcus Roberson is suspended for violating team rules.
My pregame teaser…
GAINESVILLE -- No. 11 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC) has won six of its last seven games, is fresh off an idle date and stars two of the top players -- tailback Mike Davis and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney -- in the Southeastern Conference.
Meanwhile, Florida (4-5, 3-4 SEC) limps into Columbia down to its fourth- and fifth-string offensive tackles and could start a redshirt freshman at quarterback taking his first-career collegiate snap.
This could get ugly -- fast.
Florida and South Carolina square off in prime time Saturday night (7 p.m., ESPN2) in a battle of the ascending versus the fading.
The Gators -- in the midst of their second four-game losing streak in three seasons -- must pull off at least one upset -- over No. 11 USC or No. 2 FSU -- to avoid their first losing season since the Iran hostage crisis (1979).
Embattled head coach Will Muschamp -- who received a public vote of confidence from the UF administration on Wednesday -- called his team “fragile” this week and cited a pervasive “woe-is-me” mentality after the humbling loss to Vanderbilt last Saturday.
“We’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to find ways to put our guys in better position, better situations to overcome that,” he said. “The psychological battle of getting our guys in the right situations to be successful. That’s our job as coaches.”
Scoreboard: 39-22-2 ATS, 5-4 selecting Florida games
I've been on the road today, so this week’s six-pack single selection: South Carolina (-13.5) vs. Florida. With so much uncertainty at quarterback, I’ll be impressed if Florida scores over 10 points today.
GAINESVILLE -- Sophomore tailback Mike Davis -- a longtime Florida commit before flipping to South Carolina late in the 2011 recruiting cycle -- poses a major challenge for UF’s leaky run defense Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2) in Columbia, SC.
Davis tops the SEC in rushing with 1,058 yards, averaging 6.37 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns.
“He's a really good player, a guy we thought a lot of coming out of Stephenson (Ga.) there in Atlanta,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “He is having an outstanding year, and certainly has been a huge different in their run game, especially losing [Marcus] Lattimore last year.”
Davis, a 5-foot-9, 215-pound hammer, is also South Carolina’s second-leading receiver with 29 catches for 326 yards.
“I’ve seen a lot of explosive runs from him. He is physical, runs hard,” senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs said. “We’re going to have to really key in on him because he’s one of the top rushers in the SEC.”
Without star defensive tackle Dominique Easley (torn ACL), Florida’s run defense has slipped significantly in recent weeks. During the team’s four-game losing streak, the Gators have surrendered three -- LSU’s Jeremy Hill, Missouri’s Henry Josey and Georgia’s Todd Gurley -- 100-yard performances.
SPURRIER ENDORSES MUSCHAMP
While much of the Florida faithful has soured on coach Will Muschamp, a former Gators legend continues to voice his support for UF’s maligned head coach.
“I admire the way he coach his team, runs the show down there,” said Steve Spurrier, in his ninth season as South Carolina’s head coach. “Obviously they’ve had a rash of injuries all over the team that’s really hurt them. But they’ve still got plenty of ball players and they’re still a very hard-nosed physical-type team. … I don’t know if I’ve ever seen quite as many [injuries on one team] as they’ve had.”
Muschamp has never shied away from voicing his respect for Florida’s former coach from 1990-2001.
“I admire the job that he’s done as a head coach. Whether it’s at Duke or Florida or South Carolina,” Muschamp said. “Obviously him being a Gator, that’s important. Being the head coach at Florida, I think you ought to have that relationship with him. … He’s done it the right way, too. He does things the right way. He does things first class. He handles things the right way. I really have a lot of respect for the man.”
THIS & THAT
Quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder sprain) remains unable to practice. The redshirt junior appears doubtful for Saturday’s game. Redshirt freshman Skyler Morhinweg would make his first-career start if Murphy were unable to go. … Left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL sprain) is officially out against the Gamecocks, while cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) is still listed as day-to-day. … Linebackers Antonio Morrison (torn meniscus) and Jeremi Powell (torn ACL) both had knee surgery Wednesday morning. Morrison (torn meniscus) is expected to return to action at the start of spring practice next year after injuring his knee in the loss to Vanderbilt. … Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said freshman outside linebacker Jarrad Davis would make his first-career start against the Gamecocks.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida must win two of its final three games to avoid its first losing season in 34 years.
Despite losing four-consecutive conference games, players continue to preach hope and say all the right things -- even if their body language tells a different story.
Florida’s media access this week was particularly short (and that’s really staying something), but here’s a collection of comments from various players -- including several team leaders -- on the group’s ‘woe is me’ mentality, not becoming ‘that’ team, avoiding checking out and the emotional state of the team.
UF travels to South Carolina this weekend to square off in primetime against the Gamecocks on Saturday night (7 p.m., ESPN2).
On not becoming that team…
DT Damien Jacobs
“We don’t want to go down as the team that broke the streak for the bowl game. We already feel bad about the Vanderbilt thing. We don’t want to be those guys, just like coach said. That’s a bad feeling, knowing you’re the team that broke the streak. It would suck to be here and win four or five games, come up short.”
On not checking out mentally...
LT Max Garcia
"I know that I can answer for myself. I have the same fight. I want to win, that's what I want to do. I'm a competitor. God have given me the ability to play this game and I want to use my ability and glorify him with it. I mean, I want to go out there and give it my best. I can only speak for the O-line and yes, I think we still want to fight and we still have the same goals. We're out there together and we're not going to give up."
RG Jon Halapio
“We definitely need to look out for that. I feel like maybe younger players would have that mentality. I know the older players are trying to keep the team together. That’s something we’ve got to guard against with the younger players. We’re trying to keep everybody up and keep everybody together.”
QB Tyler Murphy
“We have to make sure that we stay on top of each other and make sure nobody gives up on the season because we still have three games. Things can get a lot worse if we do that stuff. We have to keep things going and try to find a way to pull two out of these next three so we can make a bowl game.”
C Jon Harrison
“Obviously, it’s not an ideal season for how we wanted it to go. But we just have to keep fighting and keep battling adversity. Life is full of adversity. Life will throw curveballs at you. It’s how you deal with them that makes you a better person. … We just know that we have to keep fighting that the season isn’t done. Regardless of the circumstances or the outcome of the previous week, we still have to keep fighting and working.”
On the need for added leadership…
RG Jon Halapio
“Muschamp’s been saying that all year. I’ve been trying to do a good job about it. I’m more of a lead by example kind of guy. I’m not one of those go out there and hoorah the guys. I’m doing my part and I know Harrison’s doing his part and Solomon Patton’s doing his part.”
QB Tyler Murphy
“Usually the quarterback is the leader of the group. I’m gonna make sure guys are focused and not giving up on the season. We have to do a great job, especially for the seniors. We want to send the seniors out the right way, send them to a bowl game, so they can make the best of their last year here.”
DT Damien Jacobs
“It’s not really been that hard for me because I know we’ve got to just try to keep the intensity. So I just try to be a role model for the younger players because I know it’s probably hard for them just watching us go through this. So not for me, but I’m pretty sure for the other guys it might be. That’s why we try get it to them. … I think especially this week we’re trying to pick it up a little bit. We’re just trying to stay positive around here, man. Attitudes are not going to help us.”
On the emotional state of the team and the ‘woe is me’ mentality…
FB Hunter Joter
"We're just trying to get these wins. You never want to have a losing record or not be able to make it to a bowl game, so we're just trying to win for our pride and for ourselves. You know most of our goals, as you know, are out so there's no SEC Championship to be playing for but we're still trying to win, trying to compete. … It’s very shocking, but it's life and we just got to deal with it and move on.”
C Jon Harrison
“The more mature your team is, the better you are at being able to handle adversity because you've been through more adverse situations. But the fact that you have a young team that maybe hasn't been through as many ups and downs as the older players have, it's hard for them to stay focused through all the adversity. I agree with coach Muschamp, I really do. It's unfortunate, but it's just something that we are working on as a team, just being able to work through adversity and not letting adversity beat us down.”
On tuning out the criticism…
LT Max Garcia
"I was really into sports journalism and the media and things like that. That's why I went up to Maryland in the first place. I did want to be a sports journalist. So I understand what the media does and how it has its effects on players and teams. So I kind of just did away with the media from when they started bashing us. So I kind of just tuned that out as a whole, because I know what it's all about -- trying to get the best story, trying to get the most clicks on your site."
C Jon Harrison
“It comes with maturity it really does come with maturity. It took me about four years to be able to tune out all the distractions to be able to tune out the nonsense that’s going on off the field, to tune out fan’s comments and what people may have to say about you and really just until up about halfway through the season I haven’t been able to master that. But that’s something that comes from growth and maturity, being able to tune out all the distractions, all the adversity, being able to focus on the task at hand, it’s almost like having blinders up really. … We can feel the tension, obviously because we’re not having the season that the University of Florida is known to have, so that’s why the tension it there. We’re fully aware that we need to gel as a team and we need to pull together if we want to finish this season.”
But the prevailing sentiment in recent weeks -- even after a third-straight loss to Georgia -- was that Muschamp’s job was safe for 2014.
Yes, the Vanderbilt defeat was humiliating, catastrophic and [enter any hyperbole and multiply it by 1000. Hey just like Foley!!!], but to think one loss should suddenly change Foley’s judgment on a coach is myopic and stupid.
Foley’s declaration was bold, but hardly tangible and definitely not black or white.
Muschamp is 22-13 at Florida with a fluky, funky, fortunate 11-2 season sandwiched between his tough first season as a head coach (7-6) and now Florida’s worst fall campaign since the Iranian hostage crisis.
There’s little need to rehash Muschamp’s line-by-line resume, but it’s suffice to say, he’s breaking too many wrong records. Florida’s third-year head coach is a defensive savant, but he’s presided over an offense even masochists find appalling. Florida’s program might’ve been “broken” in 2010, but it wasn’t devoid of talent -- as so many experts wailed.
To date, Muschamp’s credentials as a bonifide CEO remain unknown -- a frightening proposition for a school with such history and resources.
Significant issues with talent evaluation, player development and, yes, basic wins and losses (even with so many injuries this year) have led to Muschamp’s comeuppance.
It appears when not if he’s no longer the head coach of the Gators.
And yet, maybe not and that’s what makes Foley’s PR move so interesting.
Foley’s “1000 percent convinced” could be one-billionth percent, but it doesn’t change Muschamp’s murky future.
But if taken literally??? Foley could be committing to Muschamp well past 2014 -- even with a third (out of four) rebuilding season in sight.
Staff changes appear in order -- although Foley’s comment about UF’s Sugar Bowl season at least hints this too may fall in the grey -- but that’s a slippery slope that almost always leads to the head coach seeking future employment too.
While conventional wisdom says what should be done eventually must be done immediately, [COVER YOUR EYES AND EARS, GATOR NATION] there’s a chance additional staff turnover could only further exacerbate the problems in the present. So how long is Foley willing to wait on the future?
How long is that rope? Is the investment -- and chance Muschamp does develop into a great CEO -- worth doubling-down?
While many have called Muschamp’s pressure Zookian -- they’re wrong. It’s worse. Florida won two national championships after Ron Zook was not-so-kindly asked to exit stage left.
The malaise surrounding Florida’s program is part Muschamp’s bunker-mentality and part unbridled delusion of a fan base. After losing just seven games in a ridiculous four-year stretch, Florida’s lost 18 games (and counting) in the four seasons since. That’s as many as Texas and more than Virginia Tech (15), Michigan (14), Kansas State (15) or Nebraska (15). The Gator Nation considers itself a class above all those teams.
Even with a pair of beatdowns looming, Muschamp -- with all the injuries, one-season removed from a BCS appearance and his yearly recruiting exploits -- deserves a fourth year, but the lame duck questions won’t go away.
A ringing endorsement from one of the nation’s most powerful ADs simply confirmed the consensus for this offseason, but 2014 is still shaping up to be a tumultuous year in Gainesville.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida -- a preseason top 10 team -- appears poised for its first losing season since 1979, but embattled head coach Will Muschamp has not lost the support of the UF administration.
For the first time since hiring Muschamp in December 2010, athletics director Jeremy Foley and school president Bernie Machen publically reaffirmed their commitment to Muschamp in an official statement released on the school website Wednesday afternoon.
“As athletic director, I’m a thousand percent convinced that Will Muschamp is the guy to lead this football program,’’ Foley said. “Nothing has changed in what we feel about Will Muschamp from the day we hired him. “Everyone around here wants the same thing. We want to do what is right for the University of Florida. We understand that this football season has not gone the way any of us wanted it to go, certainly not the way our fans wanted it to go, and most of all, not the way Will Muschamp wanted it to go.”
Added Machen: “I want the Gator Nation to know that I have full confidence in Coach Muschamp and his leadership of the football program.’’
Muschamp is 22-13 as Florida’s coach. The Gators went 11-2 just a season ago, but in the midst of their second four-game losing streak in three seasons -- Florida’s only such skids since 1990 -- the Gator Nation has grown restless.
Florida was humiliated last Saturday, losing to Vanderbilt 34-17 at home for the first time since World War II (1945).
But despite a season marred by injuries (10 season-ending surgeries), offensive ineptitude (a likely third-straight finish in the bottom-20 nationally in total offense) and all the wrong records being broken (Florida’s 22-season bowl streak), Foley remains assured Muschamp is the right man for the job.
“I understand the passion and the disappointment,’’ Foley said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got great fans, they love the Gators and their passion makes this place special. They are hurting, they want the program to be successful and we feel that hurt.”
“We have a history of being successful, we have a history of fixing things when they need to be fixed, and that is what is going to happen here, and Coach Muschamp is the one that will fix it.”
Muschamp’s contract runs through 2017. Foley pleaded for fans’ patience, while also citing his faith in Muschamp’s coaching abilities.
“We will get better under Will Muschamp’s leadership,’’ Foley said. “This is not the quote-unquote dreaded ‘vote of confidence.’ This is just how we all feel around here. We have a strong faith and a strong belief in his capabilities, in his leadership skills, in his ability to evaluate what needs to be fixed.”
“Go back to a year ago: we’re 11-1 and beat four teams in the Top 10 and he was SEC Coach of the Year. I don’t think that was a fluke. I think coaching had a lot to do with that. We’ll stay the course here. We’ll get it right. We’re not going to let Gator fans down. We want the same thing they want.”
GAINESVILLE -- Brent Pease is not oblivious to the criticism. Florida’s embattled offensive coordinator hears fans’ frustrations. But ultimately, UF’s second-year coordinator is ignoring the noise by practicing what he preaches.
"It's the same thing we tell the kids, you've got to be mentally tough. You've got to shut it out sometimes,” he said. “And I understand what people are saying and frustrated with. Do they understand all of the circumstances? Not all of the time. But you've got to work through it. In my situation I don't think you can lose confidence in who you are and what you believe in and how you have got to do your job.”
Florida’s woeful offense is destined for a third consecutive finish in the bottom-20 in all of college football. The Gators rank No. 111 nationally and last in the SEC in total offense. UF is also last in league in touchdowns and yards per play (4.82) -- the only team in the conference averaging less than 5.33 per touch.
With the injuries, ineptitude and a swelling cacophony of vitriol aimed in his direction, Pease admitted he’s pondered his job security.
“I mean, it’s human nature to probably think about that,” he said. “But I still got an obligation to this team, and the head coach, and the players I coach and the administration that I work for.”
Quarterback Tyler Murphy said Pease’s demeanor and daily drive hasn’t changed at all though during the team’s recent tough stretch.
“He's still working hard, still coaching hard. Still treats everyone the same. I haven't noticed a change in him. He's upset with how we're performing and that we're losing but he's still working hard day in and day out,” Murphy said.
Murphy also voiced support for Pease, saying the coach absolutely puts the players in the best position to succeed but they’re simply not making enough plays.
“Coach Pease calls plays and puts us in good situations. We just haven’t been successful as players doing that. We have to hold ourselves accountable and find ways to get the job done,” he said.
Although Pease has definitely struggled with player development during his time in Gainesville, injuries have derailed his coaching abilities this season.
Five offensive players -- starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, starting tailback Matt Jones, starting offensive tackles Tyler Moore and Chaz Green and wideout Andre Debose -- have been lost for the year to season-ending injuries, while another handful of key contributors -- right guard Jon Halapio, left tackle D.J. Humphries and hybrid tailback Valdez Showers -- have missed action too.
“It’s tough, and I mean, what are you going to do?,” Pease said. “You got to play the cards you’re dealt.”
But while Florida has flopped mostly 2’s and 7’s, players continue to endorse their beleaguered coach.
“It's a team thing. It's not just Brent. It's not just coach Pease that's affecting the team,” fifth-year senior center Jonotthan Harrison said. “No, it's a team thing from the players, from the leadership of the players, from coaching. Whatever it is, it's just a whole team thing and we just need to pull tighter as a team. There's no one person that we can really blame for any of our problems. We just need to pull tighter as a team and gel as a team as a whole.”
Harrison added: “It is unfair to blame coach Pease for everything.”
GAINESVILLE -- Offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison, a fifth-year senior who has started 36 straight games, spoke to reporters for the first time since his ejection in the third quarter against Arkansas on Oct. 5 -- Florida’s last win.
Harrison -- who was tossed for touching an official -- charged his ejection to an incensed reaction following continuous racial slurs hurled at him by an unnamed Razorbacks player.
Harrison alleges, “What happened was, one play I got face-masked, then the next play I got called every version of the N-word known to man. And I went up to the ref and I'm like, 'Ref, please, you have to control this player. He's been calling me every racial slur.'
Harrison said after the third-down play, the Arkansas player again crossed the line and Harrison pleaded with the official before making a boneheaded mistake.
“I talk with my hands as you guys probably have seen this whole time and I touched the ref in his chest. I didn't poke him, but I was talking like this. I didn't even know I got ejected,” he said.”
“I was sitting on the sideline talking to the coach and I heard my number, and then they just walked me off the field. There was no malicious intent. I wasn't trying to be an a-hole or anything like that. I was honestly was just trying to tell the ref to get this player because I was getting attacked. I felt like I was getting harassed, and it was beyond football. Calling me the N-word and everything is not football anymore. It is just going out of your way."
VIDEO: Harrison also dished on offensive coordinator Brent Pease's job security, his "erasing" of the Vanderbilt loss, the injuries and the "woe is me mentality" and playing South Carolina not Jadeveon Clowney.
-- Florida’s field goal kicking carousel won’t stop spinning.
Will Muschamp again shuffled kickers in Saturday’s loss to Vanderbilt, but the “hot
hand” approach yielded similar results with another missed kick.
-- frustrated by the lack of consistency -- said the competition remains open this
week and the staff will reevaluate who practiced best before the team travels
to South Carolina.
freshman Austin Hardin (4-of-10) and walk-ons Brad Phillips (2-of-2) and
Frankie Velez (4-of-5) have all taken shots as the starter, as Florida ranks
No. 104 nationally in field goal percentage (58.8 percent) and are tied for the
fourth-most misses (10-of-17) in the country.
said the team has scratched the long- and short-kicker philosophy, saying, “Right
now we just need to have the one guy that’s hitting the ball the best and most
TALKING THE OLD BALL COACH
he's got a statute in front of the stadium. I've got great respect for him
because he's won, and he's done it the right way. And everywhere he's been,
he's been successful. And he's an outstanding football coach, but he does
things the right way. He handles things the right way. And I just have a lot of
respect for him as a player, coming up and playing against him, and now as a
coach that's coached against him multiple times. Just a guy that I've got
tremendous respect for."
Muschamp on why it was important for him to reach out to South Carolina head
coach Steve Spurrier when he was first hired by Florida in 2011.
THIS & THAT
Debose -- sidelined for the season with a torn ACL -- will return for a sixth
season in 2014, according to Muschamp. Debose must petition the NCAA for a
sixth year of eligibly, but the wide receiver/kick returner should qualify due
to multiple season-ending injuries over his career. The fifth-year senior has
eight career touchdowns -- four as a returner and four as a wideout. … Since
the Missouri game, running backs coach Brian White has moved from the coach’s
box to the sidelines. “Just with the youth at running back, we felt like he
needed to be on the field to make sure we’re getting the communication with
those guys,” Muschamp said.
GAINESVILLE -- Antonio Morrison -- Florida’s starting middle
linebacker and team-leading tackler with 56 stops -- will miss the remainder of
the season with a knee injury, coach Will Muschamp announced Monday.
“He tore his meniscus. It’s a radial tear, the same thing
[tailback] Matt Jones did,” Muschamp said. “Just very disappointed for him.”
UF’s sophomore linebacker was suspended to start the season,
missing the opener against Toledo before starting Florida’s next eight
games. Morrison entered the year
with lofty expectations, but the linebacker struggled for much of the season, plagued
by missed tackles and blown coverages.
According to the school, Morrison actually tore his meniscus
early in the loss to Vanderbilt but never left the game due to injury,
recording a team-high 10 tackles.
Freshman linebacker Jarrad Davis, a special teams ace, will
enter the starting lineup at the weak-side linebacker position, while redshirt
junior Michael Taylor will shift to his natural position and play middle
Morrison is UF’s seventh-starter -- and 10th player overall
-- to sustain a season-ending injury.
Quarterback Tyler Murphy (AC shoulder sprain) will miss
Monday and Tuesday’s practice, but the team is hopeful the redshirt junior can
still start Saturday at South Carolina. Murphy, who tossed for a career-high
305 yards but also three interceptions in the homecoming loss to Vanderbilt,
admitted if the game were today he would be unable to play.
“It’s very difficult just because after these last few
losses and not playing well on Saturday, I need all the practice I can get,” he
said. “It’s just frustrating being banged up a little bit and having to sit out
and try to get healthy. I’m just gonna live in the training room and get
healthy and try to get back out there as soon as possible.”
Murphy added that his shoulder sprain hasn’t completely
affected his gameday performances.
“Going into the practices and stuff like that, I've been
fighting a little bit of pain, but nothing too crazy. But when I get to the
game, adrenaline takes over, and I'm usually good to go."
VIDEO: Murphy talks Saturday's performance, the mental state of the team and dealing with so many season-ending injuries.
Starting cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) is questionable
for Saturday’s game and will miss the first two days of practice this week.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL sprain) is doubtful, but wideout Solomon
Patton’s knee “is fine” and the senior should start this weekend.