November 12, 2014

Don't call it a comeback: Dunbar overcomes benching, posts career-high performance vs Vandy

Quinton+Dunbar+Vanderbilt+v+Florida+eCEPoexJyv8l WR Quinton Dunbar | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

GAINESVILLE -- Quinton Dunbar was benched against Missouri after three straight weeks with critical drops, but Florida’s senior receiver didn’t sulk and made the most of his opportunties in Saturday’s 34-10 win at Vanderbilt.

With Ahmad Fulwood sidelined with a turf toe injury, Dunbar hurled in four receptions for a career-high 97 yards.

Considering how another fifth-year senior handled similar circumstances, coach Will Muschamp was thrilled with Dunbar’s performance.

“He dealt with [the benching] very well,” Muschamp said.

"We weren’t getting the production we needed and Ahmad had been a guy that had done a nice job getting those opportunities. Quinton went in and did a good job. So you go in and cash in on your opportunities when you have it. Man down, man up and that’s what he did. So I’m very proud of how he handled the situation. … It’s the way you’re supposed to handle it.”

The former Miami Booker T. Washington standout had a 32-game reception streak snapped against LSU, and the following weekend, he failed to start for the first time since 2012.

In 2013, Dunbar registered career-highs in receptions (39) and yards (528), but his senior campaign has been lackluster, to say the least. 

Still, teammates say he never sulked or stopped working hard despite the adversity.

“He came out every day as a professional. He’s a senior, a fifth-year senior that’s just not starting after starting for three years,” junior wideout Latroy Pittman said.

“It’s kind of rough, but he never lets it get to him. He never badmouths anybody or acts out in any kind of way. His attitude has stayed the same. He just works hard and stays focused. 

“He knew what the situation. Obviously we all knew what the situation was. It just worked out that way to where he had to be benched. He came in the game and stepped up when Ahmad got hurt and had a big game.” 

THIS & THAT

Florida will host Eastern Kentucky at noon Nov. 22 on the SEC Network. … Fulwood (turf toe) and freshman defensive tackle Gerald Willis III (ankle) are probable for Saturday’s noon showdown with South Carolina, but sophomore starting safety Keanu Neal (high-ankle) and special teams ace Jeremi Powell (knee sprain) are doubtful to play. … Former All-American safety Matt Elam (2011-13) will serve as Florida’s honorary ‘Mr. Two Bits’ this weekend.

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November 10, 2014

Orr apologizes but Muschamp rules out return

GAINESVILLE -- Florida defensive tackle Leon Orr was dismissed from the football program Saturday after he left the team hours before its 34-10 win over Vanderbilt.

Since the senior’s spat with the coaching staff over the starting lineup, Orr has been apologetic on Twitter, contritely copping to his mistake.  

Still, coach Will Muschamp ruled out a return for Orr on Monday, bluntly saying, “No.”

“Muschamp is Muschamp,” senior center Max Garcia said.

“He’s not going to tolerate (Orr) putting himself about the team. It’s unfortunate what happened. We’re going to miss him because he was a big part of this team.”

Late Sunday evening, Orr posted a series of tweets apologizing for his actions. 

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November 09, 2014

Gator Grades: Music City Crushing

Treon-harris-ncaa-football-florida-vanderbilt-850x560Gators QB Treon Harris | Mark Humphrey/AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Florida avenged last season’s embarrassing home loss to Vanderbilt, teasing its future aerial attack under freshman quarterback Treon Harris.

The Gators rolled the Commodores 34-10, scoring 24 unanswered points after an early touchdown deficit. UF's slim conference title hopes remain alive … for now.

OFFENSE – B+

Florida completed a forward pass. Multiple in fact. Harris was solid in just his second-career start, finishing the evening 13-of-21 for 215 yards and two rushing touchdowns.

The duel-threat star flashed his complete skill-set, slicing Vandy’s defense with downfield throws (48 and 60-yard completions) and dashing runs (33-yard touchdown rush).

Florida’s grit-and-grind offense stalled in the third quarter, but after both teams traded punts the Gators’ new-look balanced attack eventually put the game away in the final period. UF totaled 429 yards (214 on the ground), mixing personnel (Jeff Driskel’s role was revealed, Brandon Powell, Chris Thompson and Quinton Dunbar all received playing time) all evening. Red zone woes are still an issue, though, and Florida survived (at least Saturday) a litany of offensive line injuries. 

DEFENSE – B+

Aside from a couple secondary busts (eye control, communication issues, no Keanu Neal), the Gators’ defense was excellent. Vandy converted just 4-of-16 third downs, and turned the ball over four times.

Freshman quarterack Johnny McCray was frustrated by UF's consistent presure -- Dante Fowler Jr. was unblockable, although the stat sheet disagrees -- as McCray was just 14-of-35 for 160 yards and two interceptions. 

Freshman defensive backs Jalen Tabor (a ridiculous, SportCenter highlight interception) and Duke Dawson (six tackles) delivered solid performances, as did Jon Bullard and Vernon Hargreaves III. 

SPECIAL TEAMS – B

Senior kicker Frankie Velez has become automatic (2-for-2 Saturday, 11-of-12 on the season, and Kyle Christy averaged 47.6 yards on five punts.

Andre Debose had several returns negated by silly penalties (multiple block in the back flags), while Florida’s coverage units were good aside from Darrius Sims' 33 yard return. 

OVERALL – B+

The Gators avoided a letdown, and Muschamp avoided becoming the first UF coach to lose back-to-back games against the ‘Dores. Effort remains excellent, and slowly the team's execution errors are going away. Saturday's showdown with South Carolina suddenly looms large.  

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November 06, 2014

Morrison flourishing amid newfound maturity

GAINESVILLE -- Away from the gridiron, Antonio Morrison isn’t much of a talker.

But Florida’s junior linebacker has not-so-quietly keyed the team’s defensive resurgence following the Alabama blowout.

Morrison -- who infamously was arrested last season for barking at a police dog -- has overcome multiple legal troubles and a sophomore slump to lead the Gators in tackles (67) this season.

The linebacker ranks third in the conference with nearly 10 stops a game, and Morrison credits his work ethic and natural development for his newfound consistency.

I just matured,” Morrison said.

"I treat every practice, I go as hard as I can. I treat it like a game. I get on guys and try to make the best out of our defense and our team. … I worked hard the whole offseason. I didn’t want to have the same results personally and as a team as we did last year.”

Morrison had a promising freshman season, highlighted by his ear-splitting tackle of former Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel.

The linebacker entered 2013 with lofty expectations, yet the off the field incident, poor conditioning and general inconsistencies (missed tackles, blown coverages) plagued the linebacker all season. 

The former hotshot prospect wasn’t even assured of a starting job this fall, but after reining in his intensity and focusing on his leadership role, Morrison has flourished into a tackling machine.

“I think he’s playing his best football here this year since he’s been here,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said.

“He’s been practicing really well, he’s been consistent with how he performs every day with us, which is great. I think he’s really stepped up as a leader. … He’s been very productive, and he’s been playing within the scheme of the defense. He’s not just out there making plays. He’s been real effective in many ways for us.”

Morrison has racked up double-digit tackles in five of six SEC games, a product of improved physical condition, per Durkin.

“He’s made those steps and those strides because of how he approaches the game,” Durkin said. 
“He’s very serious about football. It’s important to him. He’s a great guy to coach. He does anything and everything you ask him to do on the football field.”

A year ago, Gator players were forced to defend Morrison’s integrity. Now, teammates gush over the linebacker’s football impact.  

“He’s a rock in the run defense,” end Bryan Cox Jr. said.

“He’s the middle linebacker, so he’s like the quarterback of our defense. He’s been working really, really hard every day in practices and it shows up in the game.”

Sophomore cornbacker Vernon Hargreaves III added: “He’s grown up so much. He’s matured. He fell into his leadership role. He takes it very seriously. He’s playing well and I’m happy for him. … In practice, he’s always the guy who’s getting us going. He’s going to call you out if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And it shows on the field on Saturday.”

The Gators lost to Vanderbilt at home for the first time since World War II last year, and Morrison’s season ended in the embarrassing loss. On Saturday, he wants payback.

“I tore my meniscus and actually played the whole game,” Morrison said. “But I’m ready to play these guys.”

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November 03, 2014

Garcia chokes back tears discussing McNeely

 

GAINESVILLE -- Michael McNeely became a Florida folk hero after racing 21-yards untouched on a fake field goal, sparking a dramatic and inexplicable upset over heated rival Georgia.

McNeely -- a 5-foot-8, 175-pound wideout who earned a scholarship at the end of training camp and is a Publix bagger/cashier every Sunday -- evoked comparisons to “Rudy,” and Monday good friend and teammate Max Garcia emotionally discussed the receiver’s highlight moment.

“Man, I was so happy to see McNeely score,” the senior center said, choking back tears.

“I don’t think there’s anyone on this team more deserving to be the hero. He’s just a great dude. I get emotional talking about him. He’s a hard worker man. He’s just motivation for the team and guys like him are why we are going to be able to be successful because he cares about this program. I love him.”

Garcia, along with dozens of Florida fans, went and visited McNeely at work Sunday afternoon.

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“If we had a whole team full of McNeely’s, we’d be a national championship team,” Garcia said, crying.

“Everything he does on and off the field is championship level.”

Gators coach Will Muschamp, who acknowledged the trick touchdown changed the game’s momentum, praised the former walk-on’s effort on and off the field, saying he uses McNeely as an example for the rest the team.

“Walk-on or scholarship, it doesn’t matter,” Muschamp said. "The guy’s a good football player. He earned his scholarship.”

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November 02, 2014

Gator Grades: The Return of Murderball

940xMike McNeely | AP/Stephen B. Morton

JACKSONVILLE -- Two weeks ago, it was eulogizing time for embattled coach Will Muschamp.  

For a little while, anyways, the obits can wait

The Gators inexplicably stunned the No. 9 Bulldogs, steamrolling UGA 38-13 behind a smashmouth two-headed rushing attack. 

OFFENSE - A

The Gators promised to run the ball until “the wheels fall off,” but the tires held up just fine. 

Florida bullied UGA for 418 yards on the ground -- fifth-most all-time in school history. 

Freshman quarterback Treon Harris wasn’t asked to do anything (3-of-6 for 27 yards, just one attempt after halftime). Only he didn’t get in the way, either. 

The Gators’ offense stalled early, but the special teams touchdown seemed to spark the team and Florida never looked back. The Gators, thanks to a terrific effort by the offensive line, dominated the second and third quarters, as both Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones ran wild. 

The Gun, Meet Foot offense disappeared, for a day anyways.  

DEFENSE - B+

Georgia actually out-gained UF (460-445), but Florida’s defense had some monster stops (several three-and-outs, goal line stand) to halt UGA’s comeback attempt. 

Nick Chubb bulldozed the Gators in the first quarter (101 yards) but once the Gators got the lead, the impressive freshman tailback was mostly neutralized. 

Florida forced a key fumble in the second half, too. 

Dante Fowler Jr. was unblockable (2.5 TFLs), while linebacker Antonio Morrison was a tackling machine (15 stops). 

SPECIAL TEAMS - A

What a fake. Mike McNeely’s 21-yard dash to tie the score completely flipped the game’s momentum. It was a perfect, yet gusty call, and also perfectly executed. 

The winds play a key factor Saturday, as the kicking game was shaky for both teams. 

UF’s coverage teams were outstanding, and Andre Debose (who muffed a punt but recovered it) added a 38-yard return. 

OVERALL - A

Ultimately, Florida walked the walk this weekend. The Gators stunned the Bulldogs, but they weren’t surprised by their performance. Muschamp’s job is still on life alert, but the defibrillators can be shelved for the time being. 

Twenty years of frustration are finally over for Coach Boom.

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October 31, 2014

Backyard Brawl: "We want this one"

GAINESVILLE -- The chant echoed outside of Florida’s football facilities: “Beat Georgia! Beat Georgia! Beat Georgia!”

Following nearly two decades of dominance, the Gators -- losers of three straight in the border war -- hope to stem the tide in a series suddenly favoring the No. 9 Bulldogs.

“It’s personal,” said linebacker Jarrad Davis, a Georgia native.

“If we don’t get anything else [the rest of the season], we want this one. We want this one.”

The Florida-Georgia rivalry always heats up the hate and war of words, but with the Gators in dizzying tailspin for the second straight season, the fury has reached a fever pitch.

Florida (3-3, 2-3 SEC) is technically mathematically alive for the Eastern Division title, but Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS) is really about pride.

“We’re out to get a ‘W’ at all costs,” Gators left tackle D.J. Humphries said.

“It’s Florida-Georgia. It’s time to hit somebody in the mouth.”

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October 30, 2014

Mushcamp: execution not effort the issue

Missouri Florida Football (2)Will Muschamp | John Raoux/AP

GAINESVILLE -- A year ago, Florida’s season snowballed following a myriad of injuries and a fragile team psyche.

While the results haven’t been much better in 2014, beleaguered coach Will Muschamp is adamant Florida’s effort and attitude aren’t the issue this season. 

"I think our attitude has been outstanding,” Muschamp said.

“You go on the open week and we had very physical practices on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. We had 6 a.m. meetings on Thursday, everybody is there 20 minutes early getting ready to go. They understand what's at stake at this game playing Georgia. We had a great practice Monday and Tuesday and look forward to another good day today. Our attitude has been outstanding. I don't think for a second that our guys don't have confidence in what we're doing.”

Instead, the Gators -- 3-3 for just the second time since 1986 -- have been plagued by execution errors and a lack of production. Florida has turned the ball over 15 times in the last four games, and ranks 99th nationally in total offense. 

“I've never questioned our effort,” Muschamp said.

“Let's don't confuse effort with production. That's one of the things I told our team on Sunday after Missouri. You can go practice extremely well and practice hard and prepare yourself well and play hard in the game. But if you are not productive that's not what we're looking for. You've got to be productive. You can have great effort and maybe not have the production, the results that you want. We just need to be more productive.''

Florida fell behind Mizzou 42-0 before scoring the game’s final 13 points. It was hardly a rousing comeback, but the team didn’t stop trying even the with game out of hand.

“[The season] hasn't gone as planned, but when you watch these games we never have lost our fight in the game,” senior right tackle Chaz Green said.

“We didn't quit. That last drive vs. Missouri, we ended up scoring. Unfortunately the field goal was blocked. We never quit, though. We've just got to shore up some things and make sure we take care of the ball. That's huge. Don't turn the ball over. But we don't quit. We've got a lot of tough guys, which is a great starting point. We've just got to play a lot smarter across the board.”

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October 29, 2014

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party stirs hate

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida, on dizzying tailspin, looks to avoid a fourth straight loss to No. 9 Georgia for the first time since 1978-83.  

The border rivals have met annually in Jacksonville since 1933, with the lone exception a two-year stretch in 1994-95.

UF's embattled coach Will Muschamp -- winless in the series as a UGA safety and as Florida’s coach -- explained exactly what the Florida-Georgia rivalry is all about.

Several Gator players commented on the classic series history, too, many also admitting they don’t care what happens the rest of the season so long as they upset the Bulldogs on Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS).

***** WILL MUSCHAMP *****

“It’s one of the great rivalries in all of college football. There’s nothing like it coming over the bridge and getting ready for this game and the excitement that’ll be in the air certainly on game day but also in the buildup to it.

"We’ve had three games that have come down to the last time of the drive and we need to coach and play better in those situations. I told our team that Thursday. We’ve had our opportunities to get off the field defensively; we’ve had opportunities to go for a possible tie in another situation and we haven’t done it. Credit their team and what they’ve been able to do. We certainly had our opportunities.”

***** SENIOR CENTER MAX GARCIA *****

“I’m a Georgia boy. One of the first memories I have is watching this game. I just feel like this game has so much hype, so much tension about it. I don’t even know how to describe the atmosphere. It’s so much antsiness and anxiousness around the game. It’s a huge game."

***** SENIOR LINEBACKER MIKE TAYLOR *****

"It's a big rivalry game. It's probably one of the best college atmosphere you can play in knowing it's split down the middle. Georgia on one side, Florida on the other side. Coming out of the tunnel and on the field on a neutral site, it's something that you just pride yourself on playing in. You want to have a good game in this big game.

"You know being recruited by them and being recruited in the state of Georgia means a lot, because you chose to go away for college. So it is a big game, it impacts us, too, as it does Muschamp, too, because he went there so, it's a big game for all of us. It's a border rivalry. You want to play good in this game, and this game has decided who has come out the East the last couple of years except for last year.”

***** SENIOR RIGHT TACKLE CHAZ GREEN *****

“The rivalry speaks for itself. Like Muschamp said, the last few years its come down to the last drive. And you know they’ve got the upper hand the last few years and we want to be on the other side this year.

“You can see the tailgate, cause it’s crazy. You go over that bridge and then all of the sudden you see a bunch of Gator fans, a bunch of Georgia fans. It’s crazy because you don’t see it until you get all the way over the bridge. Your heart starts pumping. You finally know it’s about that time.” 

***** JUNIOR DEFENSIVE END DANTE FOWLER JR. *****

“It’s the Florida-Georgia game. I mean, everyone dreams of playing this game, seeing themselves in this game. A lot of people know each other. We have a lot of people on our team that’s from Georgia. They’ve got some players on their team that’s from Florida.

"It’s really crazy how it is. You go over the bridge. First of all it’s a nice bridge, just to see an NFL football stadium that you’re about to play in. That excites you ever more. And just seeing the cocktail party, tailgating, things going on. Seeing the Georgia fans and how they react. So I like things like that. That kind of gets me pumped up when I see our fans and you get to see their fans. It’s really emotional to see the blue and red split.”

***** SOPHOMORE LINEBACKER JARRAD DAVIS *****

“It’s always personal. … It just seems  like in this game everybody out there is just turned all the way up. No matter what is going on outside or what’s going on before the game or the week before or the week after. It’s just THIS game. When this game comes up, it’s all about THIS game from both sides, that’s what it seems like. 

“You can tell these guys they want it so bad. If we don’t get anything else, we want this one. I’m going to be honest with you, we want this one. That’s how we have to go out every week and that’s how we’re definitely going at it this week. We want this one. We want this one.”

***** JUNIOR LEFT TACKLE D.J. HUMPHRIES *****

“It’s Florida-Georgia, you know what I mean. It’s time to hit somebody in the mouth.

“It’s kind of one those things, I’m from North Carolina so I kind of just inherited this hate. I never really understood it. It’s kind of like Florida State. I never knew anything about Florida-Florida State, but as soon as I got there my freshman year, like I automatically hate them. It’s just like an aura when you get there. It’s like, ‘We don’t like you all all all. Period. It’s definitely personal, one of those physical, personal games.”

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October 28, 2014

Be careful what you wish for...

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators want Todd Gurley.

Seriously.

Georgia’s star tailback remains sidelined as the No. 9 Bulldogs await the NCAA’s ruling regarding his reinstatement, but Florida hopes the conference’s leader in all-purpose yards per game (194.6) is back on the field Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS).

“I think he’s going to play,” junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “I really want him to play. He’s a great player and great players bring great competition out of you. I feel like he’ll be a good competition for our defense coming up and just for the team. He’s a good player and I look forward to playing him.”

Added sophomore safety Keanu Neal, “I hope he's playing. It's always good to go against good, so I'm looking forward to going against him. … He's a freakish athlete. Anyone can see it. I'm looking forward to it."

Gurley has missed Georgia’s last two games while under investigation for allegedly receiving money for signing autographs.

The All-American tailback has dominated in his only two meetings against Florida, but the Gators are adamant they hope the former Heisman Trophy frontrunner plays. 

A year ago, Gurley, hobbled after missing nearly four straight games, torched UF for 187 total yards and two touchdowns in a 23-20 win. 

In 2012, then a freshman, the running back rushed for 118 yards and a score, becoming the lone player to crack the century mark against the nation’s fifth-ranked defense.

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Driskel's future role remains unspecified

GAINESVILLE -- Jeff Driskel will have a role against No. 9 Georgia this Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS), but it may be simply supporting starting quarterback Treon Harris from the sidelines.

The junior signal-caller, benched in UF’s 42-13 loss to Missouri, lost his starting job after turning the ball over 12 times in the last four games.

Expectations were high for Driskel entering his third year as a starter, but offensive coordinator Kurt Roper couldn’t “put his finger” on why Driskel has struggled so much in 2014.

“There’s been ups and downs,” Roper said.

“The LSU game there were a lot of good things. Kentucky game there were a lot of good things, Eastern Michigan, too. Tennessee was a challenge for us. The last game … the thing is he works hard, he’s prepared. He cares, it means a lot to him. He made some mistake in that last game that weren’t typical mistakes that weren’t necessarily mistakes he’d been making earlier in the year. It just is what it is.”

Driskel was hampered by an injured back against the Tigers. Still, his mistakes proved too costly to overcome, and a change was necessary.  

Driskel is the team's definitive No. 2 quarterback, and Florida isn’t heading to Jacksonville with a two-quarterback system.

“Treon’s going to go play well, we’re counting on Treon to play well,” Roper said.

“If something happens. Treon gets hurt, then we’ve got to be ready for Jeff to step in.”

Driskel could see a role as a designated runner, but that remains unknown. Regardless, Harris won’t be looking over his shoulder Saturday.

“You’ve got to be ready to go play the game, got to be ready to play situationally. If we feel like we need to put [Driskel] in and use his size [we will],” Roper said. “But I hope Treon plays well.”

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October 26, 2014

Tebow: "Stop booing"

 

GAINESVILLE -- Former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, now a SEC Network analyst, implored Florida fans to “rise above the booing,” and support embattled coach Will Muschamp.

Tebow, who just last week questioned his beloved Gators’ leadership, heart and offensive identity, said Florida should “be better than these other universities that boo their student-athletes.”

The SEC Nation crew -- Tebow, alongside Paul Finebaum, Marcus Spears -- discussed Florida’s woes this season. Their comments are presented below (courtesy ESPN).

The Gators (3-3, 2-3 SEC) take on No. 8 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) on Saturday in Jacksonville.

Tim Tebow -- "I think the University of Florida team has a lot of talent.  I think they have a lot of good coaches.  I don’t think they’ve played up to their potential.  I think this team has a chance to be pretty good.  Right now, they have the number three defense in the SEC.  But, offensively, I don’t think they have an identity.  I don’t think they have a leader that is taking people together saying let’s do our job, focus on doing your job, getting better and making everyone around them better. But, I also know Will Muschamp, when he was at Auburn, he had one of the best game plans I’ve ever played against in college.  This guy knows how to coach.  A few years ago, they went to the Sugar Bowl; they were 12-1.  He knows how to lead a team.  He knows how to be successful.  But, to do that, they have to find a way to score points, and they have to have better leadership offensively."

Marcus Spears -- "Players get coaches fired, and that’s what is happening at Florida right now.  These guys just have to play better.  The talent is there; the playmakers are there.  I would take this defense up against any team in the country.  When you have 10 interceptions in six games, when guys are dropping passes in the end zone, when those plays are not being made, giving up special teams touchdowns, letting turnovers go back to the house for touchdowns, that is a formula for losing football games; that has nothing to do with Will Muschamp. It’s easy to fire a coach, but let’s look at these guys." 

Paul Finebaum -- "Next week, the narrative is going to be “Do or Die.”  If he loses to Georgia, that’s four straight.  Losing four straight to Georgia will get you fired."

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October 23, 2014

UFPD report details Harris' alleged sexual assault

24_140815_HarrisTreon_7767_TimCaseyTreon Harris | Tim Casey/Gatorzone.com

GAINESVILLE -- On the same day Treon Harris was named the University of Florida’s starting quarterback, the school released the police report regarding the freshman’s connection to the Oct. 5 alleged sexual assault on campus.

Florida suspended Harris on Oct. 6 after the 19-year-old Miami native was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at the Springs Residential Complex, an on-campus dorm, around 3 a.m. the night before.

According to the 58-page report released Wednesday, the UF student accused Florida’s quarterback of rape in Harris’ dorm room, saying she voluntarily decided to sleep over but persistently rejected Harris’ sexual advances.

However, Harris told multiple investigators the encounter was consensual. 

Harris was never charged, and the woman withdrew her complaint four days later.

The former Booker T. Washington star, whose brother Tim ‘Ice’ Harris Jr. coaches the Tornadoes, was reinstated Oct. 10, but days earlier his attorney, Huntley Johnson, adamantly defended the freshman quarterback.

“Mr. Harris is not guilt of a crime and did not mistreat this young lady in any way that night,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the accuser had sexual relations with another man an hour before the alleged incident with Harris, and that she had text messaged Florida’s freshman quarterback immediately after he’d rallied the Gators to a 10-9 win over Tennessee in Knoxville.

The UFPD’s incident report corroborates Johnson’s claim, with a heavily redacted section detailing the alleged victim’s sexual encounter with another football player.

The report outlines Harris’ interactions with the accuser, including hanging out with the woman immediately upon returning from Knoxville.

According to the report, on Oct. 5, Harris and the accuser watched the Auburn-LSU game before parting ways.

Later that night, Harris, along with several of his teammates, met up with the accuser at ‘Rain,’ a Gainesville nightclub, partying until 2 a.m.

The group convened in the parking lot afterward, where they drove in multiple vehicles to a local Waffle House, which was closed. The group then drove to a Kangaroo gas station nearby, where surveillance cameras show Harris and the accuser walking arm-and-arm into the store.

There, Harris and the woman got into a separate vehicle and drove back to the Springs Complex, where the alleged sexual assault occurred.

The 175-page report covers multiple supplemental narratives, as well as Harris’ 63-page interview. 

During the interviews, Harris repeatedly denied he raped the accuser and expressed his disbelief in the situation. The freshman quarterback asked an officer for the opportunity to speak with the alleged victim, and struggled to grasp the gravity of the allegation, asking several times, “Is this going to be on ESPN and stuff?”

Later, Harris brought up Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s name, saying. “You think I’m going to do the same as that?” 

Text messages made up a comprehensive portion of the report, but ultimately, they shed little light on exactly what happened that evening.

Following the sexual encounter, Harris and the accuser had a notable back-and-forth, with Harris texting the alleged victim, “Don’t tell nobody bout nothing,” to which she replied, “Don’t try me ever again” and “I wouldn’t even come near me If I were yu.”

As part of the investigation, detectives interviewed 11 Florida football players: Harris, safety Jabari Gorman, wideout Demarcus Robinson, tailback Matt Jones, cornerback Marcus Maye, cornerback Quincy Wilson, receiver C.J. Worten, safety Keanu Neal, cornerback Brian Poole, tailback Kelvin Taylor and wideout Latroy Pittman. 

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October 19, 2014

Gator Grades: Kaboom

GAINESVILLE -- It’s not even the beginning of the end anymore for Will Muschamp.

That was Georgia Southern. 

Saturday night was worse

The Gators were humiliated -- in primetime -- on homecoming for the second straight season, embarrassingly falling to Missouri 42-13. It was a nightmare, dumpster-fire performance.

The Tigers were fresh of a shutout shellacking at home to No. 10 Georgia. Maty Mauk was terrible again. They didn’t eclipse 120 yards on offense … yet they still won by four touchdowns. 

#ItsgrimUF was the theme a year ago. Now, it’s eulogizing time.  

OFFENSE - F

There’s little left to say about a dreadful attack that continues to invent new ways to lose. 

The two-quarterback system was a bust, as both Jeff Driskel and Treon Harris struggled protecting the football. 

The Gators coughed up the ball six times and had just 66 yards by halftime. A rapture couldn’t have saved this offense.

Every drive was Gun. Meet Foot. 

Driskel, hampered by an ankle injury, was woeful once again. Muschamp all-but feed his third-year starter to the wolves in the third quarter before mercifully pulling the junior. Harris, with a limited playbook, wasn’t much better until it was too late. The freshman was indecisive and had as many errant throws early as Driskel. 

Florida’s revamped offensive line crumbled against Mizzou’s fearsome front-four, surrendering six sacks. 

DEFENSE - B+

Missouri had just 20 yards after halftime … and still outscored UF 22-13 in the second half. The Gators’ defense did its damnedest to put out all the self-inflicted fires, but the ugliness by the offense (and special teams) was too much to overcome. 

The Tigers had success running the ball in the first half, and once they jumped out to an insurmountable lead (for Florida’s offense) they simply stopped trying to score. 

Florida yielded just 2.4 yards per play, but a lack of sacks (just one) and forced turnovers (Marcus Maye’s interception was the lone takeaway) allowed Mizzou to just slowly grind the game away.    

SPECIAL TEAMS - F

A week after a dominating special teams effort, Florida had a putrid performance Saturday evening.

Marcus Murphy ran roughshod on returns (96-yard kickoff touchdown, 82-yard punt touchdown), and the Tigers also comically blocked an extra point late in the fourth quarter. 

Andre Debose did nothing (four punt returns for six yards), while Gators punter Kyle Christy averaged just 38 yards on five punts. 

OVERALL - F

In this section last week: "The ship may not be sunk, yet, but I’m not sure how much more water it can hold." It’s officially overflowing. 

For a team that’s lost 10 of 13, Saturday night’s ugliness was still unimaginable. In a mind-blowing stat (courtesy of ESPN), Muschamp's Gators are the only team in the last decade to lose a game -- TWICE -- when allowing fewer than a 120 yards.

All other teams are 94-0. Chew on that. 

Athletic director Jeremy Foley once famously stated, “What should be done eventually, must be done immediately.” We’ll know soon enough if that statement still holds true.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 17, 2014

McCalister talks breakout year, former hoop dreams

GAINESVILLE -- Alex McCalister dreamed of playing basketball for Roy Williams. Instead, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound North Carolina native has developed into a menacing pass rusher for the Florida Gators.

“He didn’t even know who I was,” McCalister said of UNC's legendary hoops coach.

McCalister was a star basketball player in high school, but football was his true destiny. 

Florida’s redshirt sophomore was guided towards football by his high school coaches. With raw and freakish athleticism, many major colleges viewed McCalister as a long-term project with limitless upside.

He's been worth the wait.

McCalister has gone from project to player, and is suddenly a budding star opposite preseason All-American Dante Fowler Jr.

He leads the Gators in sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (5.0). Earlier this week, he spoke on his previous basketball aspirations, development and early-season production.

On translating the preseason hype into production… 

“Coming out [this fall] my goal was to be a part of this team, bring something to this team. So, fulfilling those pass-rush goals, and keep working and keep working, just trying to help the team, that’s it. But I am glad I am producing for this team.”

On the “project” label out of high school

“Just that word, the ‘project.’ I mean, everybody wants to come in and play. Even my second year, my sophomore year, I still wanted to play but I was still that project. I still had to develop, I still had to learn. The biggest hurdle was really just accepting that, knowing that you are a project guy and you’ve got to just keep fighting, keep fighting, keep hurdling that stuff. And now it’s pretty much paying off. I’ve just got to keep working. Still got a long way to go.”

On his hoops skills…

"I don’t think nobody here can beat me. I say I’m top 3 on the team. I’m definitely [the best].”

On learning how to maintain weight… 

“[Gaining weight] wasn’t that fun. Not in the beginning. It was overwhelming. I came in at like 215. It was like you’ve got to eat, eat, eat if you want to play. OK, I’m eating but I’m not gaining weight. But I finally learned that too. I learned how to manage it. Eat certain amount of meals throughout the course of the day. I finally got that.”

********** BONUS QUOTE **********

“[He was] a stick. Like the dude from ‘A Bugs Life.’ The little stick figure. … He’s playing good. He’s long, extremely long, like 7-foot long. He can rush the passer. He can play the run. He’s playing good coming off the edge and getting to the quarterback. It’s just another good thing having him and Dante on both edges of the ball.”

--- Senior linebacker Mike Taylor, on McCalister’s sophomore season and inital impressions when the defensive end first arrived on campus

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October 15, 2014

Chris Walker still not "a savior," suspended 3 games

 

GAINESVILLE -- Florida forward Chris Walker will miss the team’s first three games (including an exhibition contest) for violating team rules, coach Billy Donovan announced Wednesday. 

At the team’s media day, the 6-foot-10, 225-pound sophomore declined comment on his suspension, only saying, “It’ll be tough, but I’ll get through it.”

Walker, a former five-star prospect and McDonald’s All-American, played just 18 games in 2013-14 after failing to qualify academically until December and later serving a NCAA suspension for receiving improper benefits. 

“He has such a long way to go as far as being reliable, accountable and disciplined,” Donovan said.

Walker averaged just 1.9 points, 1.3 rebounds on 4.8 minutes last season, and many expected the talented big-man -- currently projected as a 2015 NBA first-round pick -- to play a key role this year. 

Maybe, but maybe not, according to Donovan. 

“His biggest challenge this year is going to be his ability to manage expectations,” he said. “Chris Walker played four minutes a game and everybody thinks he’s this savior. I can’t really tell you he is ready to handle that or even capable of handling that.”

Donovan continued: “I’ve never seen a guy have more hype coming into the middle of a season. … I don’t know what kind of impact he’s going to make. He’s got a long way to go.”

Meanwhile, freshman point guard Brandone Francis is academically ineligible for the entire 2014-15 campaign, per Donovan. 

“He needs to prove himself academically,” Donovan said. 

Francis is enrolled at UF, but the 6-6 guard from the Dominican Republic, who moved to Jacksonville and finished high school at Arlington Country Day School, won’t practice with the team the first semester. 

“There’s things he has to do academically while he’s here to get himself eligible to play,” Donovan explained. “If he progress like we hope he will, he’ll be allowed to come back to practice for the second semester.”

INJURY UPDATE

Swingman DeVon Walker will miss the entire season with a torn ACL sustained during summer workouts, but Donovan said the junior guard may return to practice in January or February. 

Eli Carter (leg) and Dillion Graham (hips, ankle) are cleared for contact but both players remain limited as the Gators open practice. Carter and Graham both missed the entire 2013-14 season, receiving medical redshirts.  

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October 14, 2014

SEC announces 2015 schedule, UF to host Ole Miss

GAINESVILLE -- The Southeastern Conference announced the 2015 football schedule Tuesday night, with Florida’s slate officially set. 

While the Gators’ opponents were previously announced, the release confirmed the dates with Mississippi, New Mexico State (UF's opener), East Carolina and Florida Atlantic. 

UF will host Ole Miss, a playoff contender this year, on Oct. 3, kickstarting a brutal stretch during the heart of the season. 

Following the showdown with the Rebels, the Gators will play four of five games away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium -- with trips to Missouri, LSU, Jacksonville (Georgia) and South Carolina. 

The 2015 FLORIDA GATORS SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 - New Mexico State

Sept. 12 - ECU

Sept. 19 - at Kentucky 

Sept. 26 - Tennessee

Oct. 3 - Ole Miss

Oct. 10 - at Missouri 

Oct. 17 - at LSU

OPEN

Oct. 31 - Georgia (Jacksonville)

Nov. 7 - Vanderbilt 

Nov. 14 - at South Carolina 

Nov. 21 - FAU

Nov. 28 - Florida State  

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SEC commissioner Mike Slive to retire July 2015

GAINESVILLE -- Due to a recurrence of prostate cancer, Mike Slive will retire as SEC Commissioner on July, 31, 2015, the conference announced Tuesday.

Slive -- the league’s commissioner since 2002 -- leaves a historic legacy as the architect of the nation's most dominant conference. 

During 74-year-old’s 13-year tenure -- the SEC’s “golden age” -- the conference won seven straight BCS national times, 60 additional national championships, expanded into Texas and Missouri, launched an unprecedented TV network and increased revenues by record numbers.

“Mike possesses all of the qualities of a great leader – visionary, consensus builder, integrity, intuition and commitment, but more than anything he is a great friend to so many of us in this league,’’ said UF athletic director Jeremy Foley to Gatorzone.com.

“He’s led this conference to historical milestones during his tenure and the impact he’s had on collegiate athletics management and structure will be felt for many years. I look forward to working with him during his final year and in his future role as a consultant to the league.”

According to the release, Slive’s medical prognosis is “good,” and he will serve as a consultant for four years following his retirement. 

"I have been blessed in more ways than I can count and I will have as much passion for this job on my last day as I did on my first," Slive said.

"I consider my health situation a temporary detour in a remarkable road that has allowed me to meet amazing people, experience incredible events and celebrate historic victories. I will relish my final year in this position and look forward to being the biggest fan of the SEC for many years to come."

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October 13, 2014

QBs Driskel, Harris both to play against Missouri

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will play two quarterbacks in a pivotal must-win against Missouri on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2), coach Will Muschamp announced Monday.

Embattled starter Jeff Driskel will continue to work with the first-team offense, but dynamic true freshman Treon Harris will see extended snaps, too.

“We’ll work through the week and we’ll see how things go,” Muschamp said. “Right now, Jeff will probably start, but they’re both going to play.”

Driskel turned the ball over three more times in UF’s 30-27 gut-punching loss to LSU. The junior leads the conference in interceptions (8) and has eight total turnovers the last three weeks. 

Harris, a former star at Miami Booker T. Washington, was scheduled to see snaps against the Tigers before he was investigated for an alleged sexual assault last Monday. The freshman was suspended for a week, before the university reinstated him late Friday afternoon after the accuser withdrew her complaint.

Harris -- who watched the LSU loss from the press box -- missed a week of practice and film-study, a concern for Muschamp.

“He’s a freshman. It means more than a third or fourth year player, certainly,” Muschamp said. “We’ll see today.”

Meanwhile, Driskel lamented Florida’s missed opportunities against LSU -- some his own fault, others not -- and said the offense “is close” to eliminating the costly mistakes. 

Driskel has never played in a two-quarterback system before, but said he’s open to whatever is best for the team to succeed. 

“Believe it or not, I’m not worried about me, I’m worried about the team,” he said. “I want the team to play well. If it’s going to help the team, I’m all for it. We’re confident in Treon. I think the guys are confident in me as well. It’s not going to be something that’s going to divide the team or anything like that.”

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October 12, 2014

Gator Grades: Booted

GAINESVILLE -- (Breathe, y’all)

Florida dropped a gut-punching and dramatic affair to an average LSU team, finding a way to lose over and over again on a wild evening in The Swamp.

Tigers kicker Colby Delahoussaye nailed a 50-yard field goal with three seconds remaining, moments after the Gators looked poised to win the game outright.

Florida had little business escaping Tennessee with a victory two weeks ago, and the football gods weren’t as kind Saturday night.

OFFENSE - D

About that up-tempo, spread offense: Florida totaled 306 yards on just 57 plays.

Much-maligned quarterback Jeff Driskel can’t win for losing. Florida’s third-year starter was awful and awesome all in the same game, but if anything can go wrong for Driskel, it will.

He turned the ball over three more times, including the decisive tipped-pick with under 30 seconds left in the game.

Florida’s offensive line was up and down, as the Gators failed to establish an explosive running game against the nation’s No. 90 ranked unit. Andre Debose’s 35-yard jet sweep was UF’s longest run of the game.

Demarcus Robinson hurled in a perfect 11-yard touchdown, and later, Driskel’s 73-yard bomb, yet Florida Florida’d, failing to score a touchdown on first-and-goal at the 3-yard-line.

The playcalling was poor and the offense was ghastly in the third quarter: 16 yards on 10 plays.

Brandon Powell was a bright spot, but Kelvin Taylor remains M.I.A. (pass protection woes). 

DEFENSE - C-

The total yardage was fine (305 yards, just 4.2 y/p), but UF’s defense was inconsistent against a very subpar offense.

Florida’s front four mauled LSU on passing downs (four sacks), yet the Gators’ front-seven was gashed by dynamic freshman tailback Leonard Fournette (140 yards, two scores).

The busted coverage on 3rd-and-25 was inexplicable and was a microcosm of the night for the unit: When a big play was needed, it wasn’t made.

Without Vernon Hargreaves III for much of the game, the revamped secondary played well (aside from the key bust). Jalen Tabor continues to impress, as does Alex McCalister (2 sacks) and Bryan Cox Jr. (5 tackles, 1 TFL).

In a seesaw game where the Gators turned the ball over three times, zero takeaways were a killer.

SPECIAL TEAMS - A

Debose was electrifying, and would’ve been the Gators’ hero had they won the game.

He sparked three Florida touchdowns, including two dynamic punt returns — one for a 62-yard touchdown.

Kyle Christy was solid again (47.5 yard average on four punts) and the coverage (punts and kickoff) units were really good. 

OVERALL - D

Florida played hard, but it simply found a way to lose. Whether it was Driskel gift-wrapping turnovers or the defense folding at key moments, the Gators gave the game away.

Will Muschamp’s hot-seat is scorching. The ship may not be sunk yet, but I’m not sure how much more water it can hold. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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