January 21, 2015

UF announces plans to build indoor practice facility

GAINESVILLE -- Florida football’s reboot is just getting started. 

As the Gators usher in a new era, the University Athletic Association announced plans Wednesday to start construction on an indoor practice facility, giving coach Jim McElwain some new digs in his inaugural season. 

The facility -- a $15 million project slated for completion by “early September” -- will house a 120-yard, synthetic turf field, additional space for drills, three camera platforms, training-room facilities and storage. 

The project will be built on the site of the Sanders Football Practice Fields, and will feature a newly redesigned entrance to McKethan Stadium -- the baseball field located adjacent to the facility. 

“This is something we have talked about internally for some time,” UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. 

“We have always been able to utilize the O’Connell Center as an indoor option for the football team, but with the renovation starting this spring, it will no longer be available.”

Florida estimated that “30 practices were lost or altered” due to inclement weather last season. The facility also allows the school to keep up with Joneses in recruiting, as every other program in the conference has an indoor practice facility or plans to build one. 

According to the release, Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors out of Birmingham, Ala., will oversee the project and the facility will be funded “through private gifts and capital financing.”

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January 20, 2015

NCAA dagger? Florida mauled at home by LSU

GAINESVILLE -- It’s only January, but Florida’s NCAA Tournament hopes are already on life support. 

The Gators (10-8, 3-2 SEC) were mauled at home by the LSU Tigers, suffering consecutive conference losses for the first time since 2011-12. 

LSU (14-4, 3-2 SEC) trounced UF 79-61 on Tuesday in the O'Connell Center, spearheaded by Jarrell Martin’s game-high 22 points.

The 6-foot-10 forward was unstoppable inside, while fellow forward Jordan Mickey chipped in 14 points and 14 rebounds for his 10th double-double on the year.  

“They beat us in every facet of the game,” UF reserve swingman Alex Murphy said. 

“If we don’t come together as a team we’ll continue to get embarrassed.” 

Murphy was Florida's lone bright spot (a career-high 10 points), as little else went right Tuesday night.  

UF missed another prime opportunity for a statement win, as its usual maladies continued to plague an enigmatic group. 

Florida had no answer for Martin or Mickey, and its issues didn’t stop there, as the Gators were also gashed in transition (14 fast break points) and from downtown (8-of-13 from 3-point range). 

Tigers guard Keith Hornsby was 3-for-6 from deep, while point guard Tim Quarterman added 15 points and eight assists off the bench.  

UF played with minimal energy early, and consistently lacked execution and defensive discipline throughout. The Gators again demonstrated a lack of chemistry and continuity.  

“I’ve tried a lot of different things with [the team] but they’re going to have to go through [the growing pains] for us to get better,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. 

“Not enough competitiveness, not enough fight. Definitely not enough at all.” 

Florida’s offensive execution wasn’t any better, hitting just 3-of-16 from behind the arc and missing tons of shots around the rim. The Gators shot just 38 percent from the floor and had 13 turnovers. 

Donovan juggled his starting lineup again, going with Kasey Hill, Jon Horford, Jacob Kurtz, Michael Frazier II and Devin Robinson for just second time all year. Afterwards, Donovan acknowledged his rotation remains in flux, as he is desperate to find any sort of consistency from a 10-man rotation.

“It’s like a revolving door,” he said. 

“There’s no one else I can really put in there right now.” 

The Gators trailed 37-32 at halftime, but the Tigers slowly extended their lead and went on a 14-2 run midway through the second half. Florida responded with a quick 7-0 spurt to cut LSU’s lead to 10 with 5:54 remaining, but Martin tipped in a put-back and Quarterman drained a deep 3-pointer to stop the run. 

“Collectively, we’re not getting it done right now,” UF swingman Michael Frazier II said. 

“It’s really as simple as that.”

NOTES

Dorian Finney-Smith missed two days of practice with a hyper-extended knee and did not start. The redshirt junior had 10 points, eight rebounds and five turnovers off the bench. … The 18-point loss was Florida’s worst home defeat since 2010 against Ohio State. … LSU won in Gainesville for the first time since 2008. … The Gators return to action Saturday at Ole Miss (6 p.m., SEC Network). 

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NCAA grants McGee a sixth year?

GAINESVILLE — Roughly two weeks before National Signing Day, Florida’s offense received an early boost for next season. 

On Tuesday, Jake McGee, a senior tight end who broke his leg in UF’s season-opener against Eastern Michigan last year, tweeted he’s returning to school -- granted a medical hardship by the NCAA. 

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The school has yet to confirm the tight end’s waiver status, but McGee applied for a sixth year of eligibility in December.

McGee’s Florida career appeared over before it ever began in 2014, as the former Virginia standout was injured on a routine blocking play early in UF’s opener. 

He immediately upgrades UF’s tight end position -- one that figures to play a prominent role in the new staff’s offensive scheme. 

The 6-foot-6, 245-pound graduate student was pass-catching threat with the Cavaliers, leading the team in receptions (43) and yards (395) in 2013. He recorded 71 catches for 769 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons at UV. 

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January 15, 2015

Florida rolls Auburn, moves to 3-0 in SEC play

GAINESVILLE -- The Rowdy Reptiles chanted “Sweaty Bruce” all night, and Florida cruised past Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers without much fuss.

Pearl's jacket never even came off. 

The Gators (10-6, 3-0 SEC) trounced the Tigers 75-55, winning their 24th straight Southeastern Conference game Thursday. 

All ten regulars scored for Florida, with four players registering double figures -- led by junior Dorian Finney-Smith’s 14 points.

The versatile forward scored 12 points in the second half, overcoming early foul trouble.

“We’re a hard team to beat when we have four guys in double figures,” Finney-Smith said.

Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill was brilliant, stuffing the stat sheet with 12 points, seven assists, three steals, five rebounds and zero turnovers.

“I thought Kasey was really good tonight,” UF coach Billy Donovan said.

“Really it’s been two games now coming off that one assist, six turnovers against South Carolina that he’s had 14 assists and one turnover. You’re got to really give him credit. He’s done a great job running our team.

Florida never trailed Thursday, leading by as many as 24 points. The Gators stormed to a 24-8 advantage early, fueled by a 15-0 run midway through the first half.

Hill constantly got the hoop against AU’s matador defense in the early goings, speeding off screens for layups and easy assists.

The Gators got solid production off the bench, too, as Eli Carter (12 points) and Michael Frazier II (11 points, nine rebounds) chipped in noteworthy performances.

Meanwhile, Pearl's reintroduction to the O'Connell Center was rarely pleasant. 

The former Tennessee coach's team struggled to generate quality shots (tallying just 16 made field goals and shooting 32.7 percent) or impose his pressing defense.  

Cinmeon Bowers had 11 points and 11 rebounds for his 10th double-double on the year, while Antoine Mason led the Tigers (9-7, 1-2 SEC) in scoring with 13 points. 

The Tigers had a seven-minute field goal drought in the first half, and later went nearly 10 minutes without a bucket.

At one point after halftime, they had more turnovers (10) than made field goals (six).

The Gators held a 37-20 lead in the first half, but sloppy play (five turnovers, 11 fouls) allowed the Tigers to hang around. Auburn rallied for a 10-0 sprint to cut UF’s lead to 10 with 5:52 to play.

"There’s a lack of immaturity, a lack of understanding,” said Donovan, on Florida’s difficulty maintaining concentration and composure with late leads.

“We’re up 19 points and we have three empty possessions and they come down and make three-straight threes. All of a sudden the lead goes down to 10 and they look around and are like, ‘What happened?’ Like they have no concept. … My biggest problem right now is I felt like the last two years we were one of the best teams in the country playing defense without fouling. We are now fouling at an astronomical and alarming rate. It’s 20 fouls every game. Every game.” 

Florida did answer AU’s surge with a quick 6-0 dash, regaining control and effectively icing the game.

UF plays at Georgia on Saturday at 2 p.m. (CBS). 

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January 10, 2015

Gators cruise, extend SEC win streak to 23 straight

GAINESVILLE -- With junior sharpshooter Michael Frazier II limited by a respiratory illness, Florida (9-6, 2-0 SEC) turned to Eli Carter for some scoring punch.

Carter did his best Frazier impression, scoring 20 points (4-of-6 from downtown) off the bench on just eight shots, leading UF to a 72-47 thrashing over Mississippi State (7-8, 0-2 SEC) on Saturday night in the O’Connell Center.

“It felt good,” said Carter, who’s battled a myriad of injuries the last two seasons.

“It’s a weight off my shoulders.” 

Carter scored his most points (21) since UF’s loss to Miami, chipping in three assists and a couple nifty defensive plays, too.

The potential super-sub takes the Gators' offense to another level (extra ball-handler, legitimate perimeter threat), and Saturday's results beared fruit.  

“Eli Carter’s shot chart over his career is like EKG exam. He’s one of those guys that when his shot is not falling there have been other parts of his game that have fallen off,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.  

“This is a game where his shots were going it. It’s always easy to be engaged in a game when you’re making shots, or if it’s going well offensively.  … When he does not shoot the ball well we’ve got to get those other things from him and in the past he has not done that. He’s worming hard to become more [consistent]. He can make the game easy for other guts. We need that out of him.”

Meanwhile, Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith continued as UF's lone steady contributor, adding 16 points, six rebounds and two blocks.

Sophomore point guard Kasey Hill rebounded from a tough performance at South Carolina (six turnovers, one assists) to chip in seven points and seven assists with just one turnover.

The Gators never trailed and were never even threatened against MSU, storming to an early 22-7 lead thanks to some blistering shooting (9-of-10 start).

Bulldogs swingman Demetrius Houston drilled a 65-foot heave at halftime buzzer, but the miracle shot only cut the Gators’ lead to 20 points and was MSU’s lone highlight of the night.

UF led 39-19 at halftime and easily extended its school-record SEC winning streak to 23.

"I think we're getting better," Donovan said. "I think the best thing for this team, and who knows how the year finishes out, but the best thing in my opinion for this team, was the fact our schedule was so challenging."

MSU entered the night ranked last or near the bottom in nearly every offensive category in the conference, and Florida’s pressure defense made the Bulldogs’ putrid attack look even worse.

The Gators locked down the Bulldogs, forcing hurried shots and 15 turnovers and scoring 26 points off takeaways.

Meanwhile, UF’s offense was fluid and full of crisp passing. The Gators shot 52 percent and had 19 assists -- tying a season high.

"We played very unselfishly," Donovan said. 

"We really shared [the ball]."

UF hosts Auburn on Thursday at 7 p.m.

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January 09, 2015

Nord: Time to make UF's special teams scary again

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s special teams haven’t been particularly special the last two seasons, but new special teams coordinator Greg Nord is ready to transform the Gators’ third phase into a staple once again.

“I want to get us back to playing University of Florida special teams,” he said Friday.

“I've coached against this university at several other stops in my career and you used to have to hold your eyes with the cats they had back there deep.

"You used to cringe when you had to protect the guys getting ready to rush the punter. When you were returning a kick, you hoped they kicked it for a touchback because they were going to tackle you on the 10 [yard line]. They had an aura about them of having great special teams. That's what we're going to strive for. That's what we're going to work to try to get.”

After blocking six kicks in 2012 and recording six return touchdowns in Will Muschamp’s first two seasons, the Gators blocked just a single kick the last two years.

They tallied just three total special teams scores over that time period, too.

Special teams were a priority for Muschamp & Co., but dynamic results were few and far between.

Nord, who will also coach tight ends, is enthusiastically embracing the challenge to return the unit to its glory days under Urban Meyer, hopeful he can turnaround the inconsistent production with the athletes on Florida’s roster.

He simply has to get to know his players first.

“Everyone who walks down the hall, I grab them, ‘Hey, what teams are you on?,’’ he explained.

“Frankie [Hammond] was down in the office coming back, he was walking down the hallway. My eyes kind of lit up, ‘Hey, what teams were you on last year?' He said, 'What do you mean, coach?' I said, 'Special teams, which ones did you play?' He said, 'Well, I played them all.' I said 'That's great!' He said, 'Yeah, but I'm with Kansas City [Chiefs] now.' I was like, ‘Dang!’”

Nord said special teams builds continuity and team chemistry, and he’s looking forward to working with Florida’s entire roster and working towards a common goal: winning.

“It's [the one unit] that does help you mesh a team together,” he said.

"You'll have offense guys lined up next to defense guys. … We've got to blend that in, help that become part of the meshing with us, become part of the team, family, and get our explosive guys on the field, and help us win."

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January 08, 2015

One hire remaining: McElwain talks WR opening

GAINESVILLE -- Florida still has one assistant job opening, but new coach Jim McElwain is in no rush to tab a receivers coach to finalize his staff. 

“I don't know that I had a timetable for anybody, nor do I have a timetable for anybody within the infrastructure within the organization in general. The key is to get the best guy,” he said.

“The guy that is going to affect these young men’s lives. Allow them to perfect their craft. There's a lot of things going on out there in the world of football. I do know this, I think you guys will be happy with him."

McElwain, who coached wideouts at four different stops in his career, is taking a patient approach to the hire.

“We’ve got a ton of interest,” he said.

“There’s a lot of components that go into that. And so we’re still … look, am I just going to throw a dart at that board over there. No. Do I have a firm short list? Yeah. Am I ready to pull the trigger the plug right now and go at it? We’ll make it right.”

The new coach will inherit a green position group, with only sophomore Demarcus Robinson producing any sort of consistent production. Robinson finished the year with 53 receptions for 810 yards and seven touchdowns.

Chris Leak was Florida’s seventh receivers coach in as many seasons, but the former UF quarterback will not be on McElwain’s staff.

McElwain wasn’t aware of the seven assistants in seven years factoid, but he acknowledged continuity is key in developing the position.

“I knew there had been some changeover,” he explained.

“But I think part of what we need to do, and that is part of the reason I’m being probably so patient on the positions, is to make sure we get that right ingredient, that right person to give these guys some normality in their lives.

“I’ve been around some great ones and have known, I know what it takes to handle that room, for lack of a better term. That’s why I’m kind of sitting back." 

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January 06, 2015

Morrison spurns NFL, injury extent remains unclear

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s leading tackler Antonio Morrison will return for his senior season, the school announced Tuesday.

The middle linebacker, an All-SEC second-team selection, finished the year with 101 stops, but Morrison left Saturday’s 28-20 win in the Birmingham Bowl with a potentially serious knee injury.

Florida has yet to update the extent of Morrison’s injury, or whether it impacted the linebacker's decision to forgo an early entry into 2015 NFL Draft.

"I'm returning to Florida, and I will be getting my degree in 2015. That plays a big role in why I'm returning,'' Morrison said in a statement. 

"And as a leader of this team, I want to lead my team to Atlanta and possibly a national championship. Coach McElwain has put together a great staff and I'm looking forward to working with them this year."

Morrison was named to the SEC Honor Roll this fall.

On the field, he overcame his sophomore slump (spurred by improved conditioning and quickness) to become Florida’s most dependable linebacker.

The junior’s 101 tackles were the most by a Gator player since safety Ahmad Black recorded 108 stops in 2010. 

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Five-star freshman DE Gerald Willis to transfer

GAINESVILLE -- Florida dismissed former five-star defensive end Gerald Willis III on Tuesday.

Three days after forcing a fumble at the goal line in Florida’s win in the Birmingham Bowl, the freshman defensive lineman is no longer a Gator.

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According to multiple reports, Willis was involved in “another altercation with a teammate.”

The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder flashed his future potential in minimal playing time this season, but Willis was mainly a malcontent, frustrating coaches with his attitude.

He didn’t dress against Kentucky or Alabama for undisclosed reasons, and was involved in a notable fist-fight over cleats with reserve quarterback Skyler Morningweg.

In Florida’s regular-season finale against Florida State, former coach Will Muschamp benched Willis for delivering a sideline cheap shot on FSU quarterback Jameis Winston.  

Afterwards, Muschamp said, “If I was still the head coach, he’d be kicked off the team.”

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January 05, 2015

Bullard to return, while Humphries opts to go pro

GAINESVILLE -- A pair of former five-star linemen from North Carolina made decisions on their potential NFL futures in the last 24 hours.

Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries became Florida’s fourth underclassmen to declare early for the NFL Draft, announcing his intentions to forgo his senior season Sunday night on Twitter. 

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Meanwhile, junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard announced he will return for his senior season, anchoring the Gators’ young front as a steady presence in 2015. 

“I wasn’t projected where I wanted to go,” he said in a release.

“I want to leave a bigger make on the UF program than I have. … As a veteran player coming back, I want be a leader on this team as the program enters a new era with a new coaching staff,'' Bullard said. "I want to be a role model for the younger players and help them to buy into the future of the program."

Bullard, a hybrid tackle and end, capped his junior campaign with a sack in Saturday’s 28-20 win over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, finishing the year with 52 tackles (most for a UF defensive linemen), 8.5 stops for a loss and 2.5 sacks. 

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 1.47.52 PMWhile Bullard is staying in hopes of adding to his resume, Humphries leaves UF without ever really living up to his five-star billing.

The 6-foot-5, 295-pound tackle proved an impressive athlete, but he struggled with injuries and inconsistencies during his three-year career.

Humphries, ranked as the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect in 2012, per Rivals.com, missed the last seven games of 2013 with a knee injury.  

He started 12 games in his career, including eight at left tackle this season. His exit leaves Florida perilously thin along the offensive line, with just seven scholarship linemen currently on the roster. 

Humphries joins defensive end/rush linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., right guard Tyler Moore and tailback Matt Jones as Gator players to declare early for the upcoming NFL Draft. 

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Jeff Driskel transferring to Louisiana Tech

GAINESVILLE -- Jeff Driskel’s enigmatic Florida career is over.

The embattled redshirt junior will get a fresh start at Louisiana Tech, transferring to play his final season for coach Skip Holtz.

Driskel, who graduated last summer, is eligible to play immediately in 2015, per NCAA rules.

"I look forward to the upcoming chapter of my life,'' Driskel said in a statement.

"I have nothing but good things to say about the University of Florida and the football program there. I am grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to me over the course of the past four years. Although things did not play out on the field as I would have liked, I have no regrets on the choice I made to attend UF. Again, I appreciate everything that my coaches, teammates, strength coaches, athletic trainers, equipment staff, academic staff, fans, and the University of Florida have done for me.”

The former No. 1 high school quarterback prospect from Hagerty High finished his frustrating Gators career on a high note, commendably replacing injured starter Treon Harris in Saturday’s Birmingham Bowl.

Driskel’s stats were underwhelming (8-of-17 for 48 yards), but he converted the game-clinching third down with a 9-yard keeper.

Before Florida’s 28-20 win over East Carolina, new Florida coach Jim McElwain announced Driskel had been granted his release from the school. 

"We all have choices," McElwain said. "I'm not going to hold him hostage."

But the much-maligned signal caller was often treated like a prisoner in his own home for much of his Florida career.

Driskel won 10 games as a first-year starter in 2012, but UF finished last in the conference in passing and the defense was credited for the majority of the team’s success.

In 2013, Driskel had a three-turnover performance in a loss at Miami and suffered a brutal season-ending injury just two weeks later.

Chided for his inconsistencies, Driskel teased fans with his duel-threat talent only to turnaround and commit another terrible turnover. 

He started the first six games this year, but after 12 giveaways over a four-game stretch he was benched in favor of Harris.

"The amount of adversity he's had to go through in his career, to be honest with you, I don't know if I could've lasted through that,” interim coach D.J. Durkin said.  

“What he's gone through, at his age. It just says a lot about him. It says a lot about our team. Our guys still believe in him, and he believed in his teammates. I was very happy for him how it all worked out. He was able to go in there and play in the game and really help us go get a win."

Driskel, who endured as much vitriol as any Gator player in recent history, was 15-6 as a starter, completing 59.4 percent of his passes for 3,411 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. He also ran for nine scores and 644 yards.

He is the fourth Florida quarterback to transfer from the program since 2012.

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January 03, 2015

Gator Grades: A welcomed win

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The Gators capped the Will Muschamp Era with a fitting finale, winning their first bowl game since 2011.

Florida knocked off East Carolina 28-20 in the Birmingham Bowl, finishing 2014 with a winning record (7-5). 

OFFENSE – C

Muschamp was no longer around, but Florida’s offense didn’t look much different … except for the personnel. Fourth-string tailback Adam Lane had a breakout performance (109 yards, first-career touchdown) and little-used sophomore wideout Ahmad Fulwood scored an 86-yard touchdown on a quick screen -- the team’s most explosive play since 2011.

But Florida’s offense sputtered throughout, as freshman quarterback Treon Harris continued his inconsistent play (5-of-11 for 123 yards, two scores and a pick) and the offense coughed up the football three times.

Jeff Driskel, in relief of Harris, managed the Gators to a victory, but he didn’t create any explosive plays.

DEFENSE – B

ECU ran 101 plays and tallied 536 yards, 427 through the air, but the Pirates’ potent scoring attack was stymied by Florida’s suffocating red zone defense.

The Gators forced three turnovers (and another fumble that wasn’t recovered) -- two at the goal line. ECU scored touchdowns on just 2-of-7 trips inside the 20-yard line.

The NCAA’s all-time receptions leader Justin Hardy didn’t disappoint (11 catches, 160 yards and a score), but Gators All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III made the game-winning interception matched up against Hardy with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. had a terrific going away party, recording three sacks and three additional quarterback hurries. UF defensive backs Brian Poole (interception, forced fumble, recovery) and Marcus Maye (team-leading seven tackles, two PBUs) delivered solid performances, too.

SPECIAL TEAMS – C

Florida’s kickoff coverage was decent, and penalties negated a couple returns that gave the Gators poor field position. 

Brandon Powell did tally a nice 37-yarder, but the Gators definitely missed Andre Debose’s skills.

Senior punter Kyle Christy was solid but hardly spectacular in his final game at Florida (42.9 yards on eight punts).

OVERALL – B

Florida made just enough plays to win the game, as ECU self-destructed with some woeful turnovers in the red zone.

The Gators desperately wanted (and needed) to usher in a new era with some momentum and positive vibes, and they will.

Florida promised to play hard and motivated, and the staff and players deserve kudos for delivering a winning performance despite so many distractions over the last six weeks. 

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December 31, 2014

Reports: Randy Shannon to join Florida's staff

Former Miami head coach Randy Shannon is reportedly slated to become Florida’s linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator, according to multiple media outlets. 

The Twitter account @Brody_IAKOW first reported the news. 

Shannon returns to the state of Florida after spending three seasons in the Southwest, coaching TCU linebackers in 2012 and serving the same position, as well as associate head coach, at Arkansas the last two years. 

A Miami native, Shannon played for the Hurricanes from 1985-88, including starring on the 1987 national title team. After a brief NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, he returned to his alma mater as a graduate assistant in 1991. He left UM for the Miami Dolphins for three seasons (1998-2000), only to return the Hurricanes as defensive coordinator from 2001-06.

Upon Larry Coker’s firing in 2006, Shannon earned a promotion to head coach.

Shannon was just 28-22 with the Hurricanes from 2007-10, but he consistently displayed a prowess for recruiting the state, especially top talent in South Florida. 

He signed multiple top 25 classes, and his 2008 class was ranked No. 5 nationally per Rivals.com. 

Shannon becomes coach Jim McElwain’s third staff hire, and potentially signals a strong indication UF will lose current recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson. 

Robinson has been mulling staying at Florida or joining former coach Will Muschamp at Auburn, his alma mater. 

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Kurtz's tip wins game for Florida ... State

Florida lost to in-state rival Florida State in brutal fashion Tuesday night in Tallahassee, as senior walk-on Jacob Kurtz accidentally tipped in FSU guard Devon Bookert’s buzzer-beating shot that initially fell short. 

Kurtz tried to get the rebound, but the “own goal” snapped the Gators' modest four game winning streak and gave the Seminoles a 65-63 win. 

    Vine via Tim Reynolds 

Kurtz’s gaffe was the seminal moment in the game, but Florida was plagued by costly mistakes throughout, committing 17 turnovers, shooting just 21 percent (4 of 19) from 3-point range and hitting just 7-of-13 free throws. 

The Gators (7-5) are now 1-3 in games decided by five points or less. 

THIS & THAT

UF point guard Kasey Hill led all scorers with 17 points. … Senior guard Eli Carter sprained his ankle early in the first half and didn’t return. … The Gators were out-rebounded 38-37. 

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December 23, 2014

Report: McElwain tabs Nussmeier as OC

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will hire Doug Nussmeier as its offensive coordinator, according to multiple media reports.

Sports Illustrated first reported the news.

Nussmeier, who served as Michigan’s offensive coordinator this season, stands as Gators head coach Jim McElwain’s second staff hire.

The 44-year-old coach has a deep background developing quarterbacks, namely AJ McCarron at Alabama and Drew Stanton at Michigan State.

Nussmeier and McElwain previously worked together at MSU in 2003-05 under John L. Smith.

Later, Nussmeier succeeded McElwain as OC at Fresno State (2008) and Alabama (2012).

Michigan’s offense was a dumpster fire this season (111th nationally in total offense), but Nussmeier engineered an explosive Crimson Tide attack for two seasons.

In 2012, Alabama set school records in touchdowns, passing touchdowns, points and total offense en route to a 13-1 season and national championship.

Nussmeier also has NFL experience, coaching quarterbacks for the St. Louis Rams from 2006-07.

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December 19, 2014

Harris charged with second-degree misdemeanor

GAINESVILLE -- Florida starting quarterback Treon Harris was charged with a second-degree misdemeanor for operating a vehicle without a valid driver’s license last Saturday, according to Alachua County court records.

Harris, a 19-year-old freshman and former star at Miami Booker T. Washington, has a court date set for Jan. 15.

The Gainesville Sun first broke the news, reporting that Harris and two Florida teammates -- freshmen cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and J.C. Jackson -- were pulled over for speeding (10 miles per hour over) at 11:29 p.m. on Stadium Road.

According to the UPD report, officers smelled marijuana emanating from the car and discovered two small bags of the drug. However, since the vehicle did not belong to Harris or either passenger, no one was charged with possession.

Harris was also not issued a speeding ticket, per court records, and reportedly told officers he’s never had a driver’s license.

Tabor, an all-conference freshman honoree, was cited for marijuana possession on May 27 and completed a deferred prosecution agreement on Dec. 5.

UF issued a statement Friday, saying, “We are aware of the incident and are dealing with it internally and their bowl status hasn’t changed.”

Florida plays East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3. 

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UAA receives record $12.5 million donation

GAINESVILLE -- Christmas came early for the Gators.

An anonymous donor gifted $12.5 million to the University of Florida Athletic Association, and the school will use the funds to renovate its current student life center into a state-of-the-art facility.

The gift is the largest donation to UF athletics in school history, and will cover half of the $25 million project.

Construction “is expected to begin in March.” 

"We want our student-athletes to be champions on the field, court and in the pool - and in their lives and professions after graduation," UF president Bernie Machen said in a release.

"This new center will bring together and enhance our learning and career services for these students, ensuring they have every opportunity for academic as well as athletic excellence."

Formally known as the Office of Student Life, the Otis Hawkins Center for Academic and Personal Excellence will be housed in Farrior Hall. The facility will double the square footage of Farrior Hall, and include 50 tutoring rooms, three computer labs, a 100-seat classroom, a nutrition wing, a sports medicine research area and offices.

The project stands as a major recruiting tool and a welcomed need for UF student-athletes.

The Gators posted an 83 percent graduation success rate, per the NCAA's latest report, and last year 280 UF athletes earned a spot on the SEC academic honor roll.

"It's easy to admire the skill and drive of our athletes. But, they are no less remarkable in the classroom, where they balance UF's rigorous academic standards and the demands of a world-class college athletic program,” UF's athletics director Jeremy Foley said.

“The new center will give our student-athletes an academic facility that enhances the existing Farrior Hall and further demonstrates our commitment to the success of our student-athletes."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 18, 2014

Durkin denies TAMU deal, McGee petitions NCAA

GAINESVILLE -- Florida interim head coach D.J. Durkin denied a report he’s accepted the defensive coordinator opening at Texas A&M.

“I have not accepted any sort of job anywhere, here or anywhere else other than the job as interim coach for the bowl game. It's a great opportunity. I'm really excited about it,” the 43-year-old coach said Thursday.

“Obviously, there's some challenges and things that go along with it. But for Jeremy Foley to have the trust in me to do that, I'm appreciative of that and most importantly for our kids. I've been here five years with our guys, so our fifth-year seniors and fourth-year (juniors), the guys in that locker room, I've been here with. I want to make sure they get my very best as a head coach to go win this game and finish things off the right way. That's where my focus is."

Durkin is one of two holdovers from the Urban Meyer reigme, and has been linked to coordinator openings at A&M and North Carolina.

ANOTHER YEAR?

Senior tight end Jake McGee is in the process of petitioning the NCAA for a waiver granting a sixth year of eligibility after sustaining a broken leg in UF’s 2014 opener against Eastern Michigan.

“He’s trying to do that,” Durkin said. “We’re trying to get him another year. I totally believe he deserves it and that should work out for him, but we don’t know the answer on it yet.”

McGee transferred to Florida last summer after graduating from Virginia. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound tight end was pegged as a natural breakout candidate in UF’s new-look spread offense, but his Gators career appeared over before it ever got a chance to get started. 

McGee must appeal for a hardship waiver since he redshirted without a documented injury during his freshman season Virginia in 2010. 

THIS & THAT

Sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. will miss the bowl game with a hip injury after undergoing surgery Monday. The rest of the team is healthy, per Durkin. … Final grades won’t be posted until Saturday, but Durkin does not expect any players to be academically ineligible for postseason play. … Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was named a Sporting News first-team All-American on Wednesday, earning his fourth All-American honor (second-team Associated Press and Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com first-team) this December.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 16, 2014

Report: Florida hires MSU's Collins as DC

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s coaching overhaul is just getting started.

Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is expected to accept the same position at UF, according to multiple media reports.

Sports Illustrated first reported the news.

Collins, known as the “Minister of Mayhem,” has served as MSU’s coordinator since 2011, earning a promotion from co-coordinator and linebackers coach in 2013.

The Bulldogs rank 10th nationally in scoring defense (19.4 points per game) this season, playing an attacking, 4-3 style that’s yielded plenty of yards (just 82nd in total defense, No. 125 in passing) but few points (No. 1 red zone defense).

Many believed new Gators coach Jim McElwain would retain interim head coach and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, maintaining continuity from a unit ranked No. 9 this year in total defense (and top 10 the last four seasons).

Instead, McElwain is transitioning to Collins, a 43-year-old coach with plenty of ties to the state of Florida.

Collins was the defensive coordinator at Florida International in 2010 and served as Central Florida’s linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator from 2008-09. He was also Alabama’s director of player personnel in 2007.

Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen, UF's offensive coordinator from 2005-08, told reporters Tuesday that McElwain contacted him personally to seek permission to interview Collins. 

While Mullen granted the request, he said, "I don't like anybody leaving for what I would view a lateral move, to be perfectly honest."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 14, 2014

Florida cruises past Jacksonville, wins third straight

GAINESVILLE -- Florida has been a team defined by good (Kansas, Yale) and bad (Miami, Louisiana-Monroe, Kansas) runs this season.

Sunday’s spurt against Jacksonville proved its most impressive scoring flurry thus far.

The Gators throttled the Dolphins 79-34 in the O’Connell Center, ending the game on a 51-10 sprint and holding JU to a paltry 10 points after halftime.

Forward Dorian Finney-Smith scored a career-high 25 points with eight rebounds, shooting a scorching 5-of-7 from downtown.

“Tonight was just my night,” he said.

“It felt great. My teammates did a great job finding me when I was open. We really moved the ball well.”

Finney-Smith led the way with a dozen points in the first half, including a turnaround jumper off the backboard at the buzzer. He also threw down a left-handed tomahawk, alley-oop  -- the same hand with a pair of hairline fractures.

“I think for him everyday that goes by [his hand] gets a little better,” UF coach Billy Donovan. “Playing with that brace on isn’t the easiest thing for him. Each day he gets a little healthier.”

Junior sharpshooter Michael Frazier II added 22 points with six 3-pointers, while senior center Jon Horford chipped in a workman’s performance (12 points, 8 rebounds).

UF (6-4) won its third straight game, sweeping a three-game, five-day homestand. 

The Gators never trailed and were sizzling from outside, drilling a season-high 13 3-pointers and shooting (55 percent) from the floor.

They opened the game hot, hitting four straight treys and 6 of their first 10 shots. But UF’s 16-7 start was quickly erased, as halfcourt defensive lapses (JU shot 50 percent in the first half) and sloppiness (seven turnovers) allowed the Dolphins (2-9) to stay close.

“I was really disappointed in the first half,” Donovan said.  “We give up 50 percent from the field and didn’t come in with the right approach. This is part of these guys’ growing process. I thought from a competitive standpoint, I know the scoreboard didn’t show it, but they outplayed us.”

Florida’s intensity changed in the second half and the scoreboard absolutely conveyed the results.

The Gators dominated the Dolphins after halftime, shooting 68 percent from the field and suffocating JU defensively (16 percent from the field). 

“We played much better in the second half,” Donovan said. “We certainly did a better job with our intensity level in the second half. … Doe-Doe really elevated our team.”

THIS & THAT

UF started a pair of true freshmen (forward Devin Robinson, guard Chris Chiozza) for the first time all season. Chiozza started in place of sophomore point guard Kasey Hill, who played despite battling a stomach bug. … The Gators were 6-of-11 from the charity stripe. … Florida’s next home game is Jan. 3 against Connecticut, the defending national champs. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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