October 16, 2013

Muschamp previews Mizzou

GAINESVILLE -- No. 22 Florida coach Will Muschamp offers an overarching glimpse at undefeated Missouri. The Gators (4-2, 3-1 SEC) tackle the Tigers (6-0, 2-0 SEC) this Saturday (12 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Columbia. 

Take a look...

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

"I've played ball for 16 years and never seen nothing like this before"

GAINESVILLE -- Redshirt junior Mack Brown always hoped to become Florida's featured tailback, but after idling on the bench for much of three seasons he never envisioned his opportunity would come at the hands of a fallen teammate. 

But after Matt Jones' season-ending knee injury against LSU, Brown, a former 4-star prospect from Georgia, is slated as UF's starter against Missouri this Saturday in Columbia (12 p.m. ET, ESPN). 

Brown actually leads No. 22 Florida in rushing yards (340), carries (91) and touchdowns (3), but he's averaging just 3.74 yards per carry. 

Although Brown will receive the early load, Florida is likely to move forward with a by-committee-approach, rotating Brown, freshman Kelvin Taylor and hybrid scat-back Valdez Showers. 

Brown dished on his opportunity, the Gators' crowded training table, UF's "hard season," pass protection woes and more.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

HOOPS: Gators pegged as No. 2 team in SEC

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida’s men’s basketball team enters the 2013-14 season as banged up as its football counterparts, but despite the plethora of injuries, the Gators were still picked to finish second in the Southeastern Conference, in a preseason media vote.

Billy Donovan’s team -- fresh off three consecutive Elite Eight appearances -- must replace its top three scorers from last season too, yet Florida received five first place votes -- to Kentucky’s 21 votes -- and a pair of UF players were tabbed as preseason all-conference performers.

Seniors Patric Young (center) and Scottie Wilbekin (guard) were both named to the All-SEC second team. Last year, Young and Wilbekin, who is suspended to start the 2013 season, earned honorable mention all-conference honors.

Preseason Poll

1. Kentucky

2. Florida

3. Tennessee

4. LSU

5. Missouri

6. Alabama

7. Ole Miss

8. Arkansas

9. Texas A&M

10. Vanderbilt

11. Georgia

12. South Carolina

13. Mississippi State

14. Auburn 

First Team All-SEC

(G) Trevor Releford – Alabama, SR

(F) Julius Randle – Kentucky, FR

(F) Johnny O’Bryant III – LSU, JR

(G) Marshall Henderson – Ole Miss, SR

(G) Jordan McRae – Tennessee, SR

Second Team All-SEC

(G) Scottie Wilbekin – Florida, SR

(C) Patric Young – Florida, SR

(F) Willie Cauley-Stein – Kentucky, SO

(G) Andrew Harrison – Kentucky, FR

(C) Dakari Johnson – Kentucky, FR

(G) Jabari Brown – Missouri, JR

(F) Jeronne Maymon – Tennessee, SR

(F) Jarnell Stokes – Tennessee, JR

SEC Player of the Year

Julius Randle – Kentucky

PERMANENT SEC TOURNEY SITE

The league announced Nashville, TN will host the men’s basketball tournament nine times between 2015 and 2025. The tournament will be played at Bridgestone Arena.

THIS & THAT

Donovan said his son -- walk-on guard Billy Jr. -- has a torn labrum he suffered in August but will play with the injury this season, postponing surgery. … Junior center Damontre Harris -- a transfer from South Carolina -- is out with a hamstring injury, while sophomore guard Michael Frazier has missed practice battling a virus.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 15, 2013

Total Freedom

GAINESVILLE -- Will Muschamp is Florida’s head coach, but Brent Pease remains adamant the team’s conservative, meat-grinder offense isn’t handcuffed by Muschamp’s defensive minded philosophy.

“How much does he exert control on me?” UF’s offensive coordinator said rhetorically. “Like any coach, and like all our coaches, we all have ideas we share. He's very open about what we do. He allows us to do our job, do what we want to do to be successful, and like he says, 'Do what we gotta do to win a football game.'”

Florida’s offense ranks 13th in the SEC (367.8 yards per game) and No. 88 nationally in yards per play (5.29). In Saturday’s 17-6 loss to LSU, UF failed to score a touchdown for the first time since the defeat to Georgia in 2012 (12 games) and didn’t reach the red zone until the fourth quarter.

After Pease experienced success as Boise State’s coordinator in 2011, some have questioned if his playcalling has been limited with the Gators. He dismissed that notion.

“I think [Muschamp] has got his philosophy on what the makeup of our team is,” Pease said. “Everybody is good with that, including myself."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Sometimes the road less travelled is less travelled for a reason, but...

The bumpy road to Atlanta (technically) runs through Gainesville. 

Florida's silver lining courtesy of redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor... 

"You know when you can control your own destiny you don't have to hope and pray for somebody else to lose. Knowing that if you win every game that you can reach all your goals that's always a good thing."

IMG_0085

"You know we were in this position last year. We were in this position the year before that. We've blown it two years in a row, so like we've all been saying, we're not going to blow it this year. We're going to take advantage of the opportunities that we have this year and not blow them like we did in the past."

Discuss away...

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Florida-LSU Rewind: Serenity now. Insanity later.

GAINESVILLE -- By the time the sun found its home in the western sky, the Gator tail was fried and burned.

It was hardly Saturday night in Death Valley -- early kickoff, poor alumni attendance, a blistering sun -- but with LSU’s theme song blaring on a loop and its favorite provocative chant also on repeat, Florida still left Tiger Stadium battered and bruised in a score (17-6) barely indicative of the actual game.

The Gators were outclassed -- especially on offense.  Much has been written about Florida’s struggles on both lines of scrimmage, so I’ll try not to rehash those too much, but this piece easily could’ve been titled: When Murderball shoots blanks -- or runs out of hammers.

Ultimately, Florida is a flawed football team, yet so is Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri (without quarterback James Franklin). The East remains wide open, but the Atlanta carrot might be a false door for Florida fans. Changes won’t (and can’t) happen overnight and the schedule doesn’t help either. 

To the bullet points…

* No offense Les, but Miles’ Tigers were quite hammer-ish on Saturday.

* Penalties killed LSU’s opening drive, but Florida once again struggled with tempo out of the gate. The Gators looked confused (see: a 12-yard completion to wideout Jarvis Landry) on multiple plays, substituting at the last second several times.

* LSU averaged 5.8 yards per play. The most of any opposing offense since… Furman (2011). Really.

* Marcus Roberson was toasted on his very first play returning from a knee injury that cost him three games. Fortunately for the junior though, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger airmailed his intended target. The Tigers senior QB was not particularly sharp throughout the game.

* As for UF’s signal caller, Tyler Murphy was erratically inaccurate and oblivious of the blitz for much of the afternoon. Of course, his receivers (especially the freshmen) did him little favors. Ditto for the offensive line. I counted two dropped pick-sixes (Lamin Barrow, on Demarcus Robinson’s wrong route; T. White, on a throw under siege) and another three (including a pair of batted balls at the LOS) potential interceptions also dropped.

* Best combination throw + protection of the day: Murphy’s 15-yard completion (on fourth down) to freshman Ahamd Fulwood on a deep square-in late in the fourth quarter.

* The official stat sheet credited the Tigers with 10 sacks + hurries. I counted 14. Yowzers. This too from a LSU defensive front that hit Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray ZERO times.

Deathvalleyvoice
(Courtesy cdn.fansided.com)

* Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease loves him some sprint rollouts and five-wide empty sets. I didn’t chart every rollout, but Florida ran seven empty set snaps -- despite an inability to pass block or identify the patented John Chavis special (the mystical 5+-man rush is commonly called a zone blitz). The results of the five-wide plays: A Trey Burton 14-yard reception, a batted down screen pass, a sack on a safety blitz, a 19-yard completion to Solomon Patton (a hurry credited with a nice escape by Murphy), an incomplete pass, a Fulwood 4-yard completion (zone blitz), 4-yard completion to Patton (another zone blitz). 

* I tweeted this Monday, but Florida tailback Matt Jones appeared to actually tear his meniscus on a non-contact jump-cut -- not when an LSU player allegedly rolled up on his knee. Rewatch his final run. Jones sees the hole, cuts and starts to go down before Barrow ever touches him. The sophomore tailback remained in the game for the next play, but Jones limped through the play action fake and barely jogged his route.

* Florida has a supremely talented and deep secondary, but the aggressive man-to-man defense comes at a cost against at quarterback who can throw a back-shoulder fade (throw). Mettenberger and LSU ran multiple iso plays resulting in a 17-yard gain to tailback Terrence Magee (vs. UF linebacker Antonio Morrison), Landry’s outstanding 29-yard catch against Vernon Hargreaves III and a 15-yard pass interference penalty on Roberson. Remember, Georgia and FSU love this throw too.  

* Speaking of Morrison -- Florida’s middle linebacker -- Oy. The talented sophomore did not have a good game Saturday. Morrison’s best two snaps were a pair of vicious stuffs at the goal line, otherwise he was seen chasing the play, getting run over or being targeted on passing downs.

Hillpensacolanewsjournal
(Courtesy pensacolanewsjournal.com)

He busted his assignment on Jermey Hill’s 30-yard reception, allowed a TE to run free down the seam for a would-be touchdown (another throw Mettenberger missed) and got straight run over by Hill twice.

* Others who struggled Saturday: Ronald Powell, Darrin Kitchens, Neiron Ball (who played more than I thought in real time), Damien Jacobs, Cody Riggs, Dante Fowler Jr. Offensively, Clay Burton, Tyler Moore, Jon Halapio, D.J. Humphries and Mack Brown. Halapio again proved: Great as run-blocking pulling guard. Awful as a one-armed pass protector (see: Anthony Johnson sack).

* Linebacker Michael Taylor and safety Jabari Gorman continue to surprise and play consistently well. Taylor is easily Florida’s best and most productive linebacker, while Gorman has emerged as Florida’s top tackler in the secondary. Also, another solid performance from VH3. He saved a touchdown on a long Hill run (more later), had a nice pass breakup in the end zone and nearly wrestled away an interception from a future NFL wideout.

* Hill’s 26-yard scamper on LSU’s fourth-quarter field goal drive was as well a blocked run play I’ve seen all season. Florida was absolutely destroyed across the line scrimmage, with linebackers/safety Kitchens, Riggs and Morrison all pushed 10+ yards down the field too. An all-out-effort tackle by VG3 saved a touchdown.

* LSU’s right guard definitely moved early on fullback J.C. Copeland’s one-yard goal line plunge. Copeland did run to the left side though, so there’s that.

Lsu2bleacherreport
(Courtesy bleacherreport.com) 

* Florida’s frosh receivers (Fulwood and Robinson) clearly have some size and skills, but Fulwood busted a pair of run-blocks and Robinson ran the wrong route multiple times. The on-the-job learning process remains ongoing.

* LSU converted five third downs in the first half -- not including Copeland’s one-yard rush on 3rd-and-goal. The backbreaking 22-yard completion on 3rd-and-17 was a poor execution of zone bracket coverage between Taylor and nickel back Brian Poole.

* After the game, Pease (and the much-maligned offensive line coach Tim Davis) was heavily criticized for shoddy playcalling. The run/pass ratio was to be expected in a hostile environment, but the lack of shots (especially against a secondary that looked so befuddled in the loss to UGA) was bizarre. The jumbo package was the ultimate meat-grinder formation: positive yards but zero explosive plays. Pease’s option pitch call on 4th-and-1 from the 48-yard line was a great call. LSU had nine guys in the box/between the hash-marks, and the pitch to the wide side resulted in an easy, but critical, conversion.

* The Little Giants-esque fumblerooski call on 2nd-and-goal though? Even the self-proclaimed ‘Tactical Genius’ thought that was awful.

* Finally, The Kelvin Taylor experiment era. The freshman displayed solid vision, natural cutback ability, some Knowshon-esque hip sinking and a total inability to pass protect.

Newsobserver
(Courtesy newsobserver.com)

At this point, Taylor is strictly a runner -- possibly a good one -- but the true loss of Jones will be felt on obvious passing downs. Mack Brown isn’t much better at blocking either (see: LSU’s finally sack -- a bust by Brown and Humphries), but it’s clear Taylor has little idea of the assignments or protections. I’m not sure Taylor had much of a chance on the broken 3rd-and-goal play anyways, but he still crashed into Patton without ever touching anyone in purple and white.

Thoughts? Comments?

Shoot.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 14, 2013

Benched

GAINESVILLE -- In 2012, Kyle Christy was an All-American and Ray Guy Award finalist. Now he’s No. 22 Florida’s second-string punter.

Following weeks of poor production, the junior has been officially benched in favor of freshman Johnny Townsend.

“We need to make a change there,” coach Will Muschamp said, who attributed Christy’s issues to mental fatigue.

“It's very frustrating, as much for him as it is for as it is anyone,” Muschamp said. “It's not from a lack of work or a lack of trying to get things right. There's no question about that. It's just a matter of him working through this and us continuing to try and search for answers. If you continue to do the same things, you're going to get the same results."

Kc
(miamiherald.media.com)

It’s been a mystifying fall from grace for Christy, who averaged nearly 46 yards per kick with 27 punts inside opponents’ 20-yard line as the nation’s No. 5 punter last season. 

This year, the junior is 13th in the SEC in net punting at just 39.6 yards per kick. In Saturday’s loss to LSU, Christy failed to pin LSU deep twice inside its 20-yard line -- the final straw for Muschamp.

Townsend was a late edition to Florida’s 2013 recruiting class, flipping his commitment from Ohio State on National Signing Day.

*** BONUS MUSCHAMP QUOTE ON CHRISTY’S STRUGGLES

“We've looked at his swing and different things and we've tried to continue to, we've looked at all those things. We've tried to make some corrections as far as his drop is concerned, as far as the placement is concerned, as far as the swing is concerned. And you know, it comes to a point where we've got to see some production, and right now we're just not getting it. I think Kyle's going to be fine. We just need to work through this time.”

POWELL DINGED UP

Muschamp is uncertain about redshirt junior linebacker Ronald Powell’s (ankle) status for the Missouri game. Powell was hurt late in the loss to LSU and Muschamp said he “hopes to get him back for Wednesday’s practice.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Gators offense disappoints defense once again

Before Matt Jones' injury was announced Monday morning, I took Florida's offense to task for letting down a championship-caliber defense. Again.

Jones' injury makes matters even more difficult for an already anemic unit, but losing widouts Trey Burton, Solomon Patton or Quinton Dunbar would've be a more signifcant loss considering the uncertainty of the freshman receivers. But alas, losing a starting tailback (especially for pass protection) is another burden the Gators must overcome. 

ICYMI: A tease... 

BATON ROUGE, La -- Deep in the noisy bowls of Tiger Stadium, Gators linebacker Michael Taylor was in no mood to point fingers following No. 22 Florida’s 17-6 loss to No. 6 LSU.

“We didn't hold them enough,” the junior said.

“That's the bottom line.”

Is it though?

Florida’s defense -- ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense entering Saturday’s showdown -- limited a potent Tigers offense to a season-low 327 yards and 17 points. LSU gunslinger Zach Mettenberger completed just nine passes for 152 yards with zero touchdowns and one inexplicable fumble.

The Gators’ defensive line struggled to get off blocks and slow down LSU tailback Jeremy Hill (121 yards), but the unit surrendered just 17 points in a hostile environment.   

It wasn’t enough though. Again.

Despite holding a conference opponent under 20 points for the 13th consecutive game, Florida lost for the fourth time in the Will Muschamp era when its suffocating defense yielded 17 points or less.

In all four losses -- including Saturday against LSU -- the Gators have scored zero touchdowns and totaled just 33 points.

“We didn’t create enough explosives down the field and a lot of that was we couldn’t get rid of the football,” Muschamp said. “We were under duress as far as pressure is concerned. There’s no question it’s a huge concern as we move forward.”

The Gators waltzed into Death Valley with their efficiently dull offense, but their methodical attack was no match against a young, fast and aggressive LSU defense.

Florida -- especially its offensive line -- wilted facing LSU’s relentless pressure, conceding four sacks, eight tackles for loss and six registered quarterback hurries... 

As for some stats and tidbits that weren't included in the story...

* Before Saturday's game, LSU's defense allowed 5.40 yards per play  -- including consecutive games of 7+ yards per play. Florida averaged just 3.53 y/p in the loss. 

* The Tigers' young secondary had surrendered 29 passing plays of at least 15+ yards. The Gators attempted just A SINGLE pass of more than 15 yards in the air all game. 

* Florida didn't reach the redzone until the fourth quarter. 

* The Gators ran the ball on 17-of-24 first down snaps. They averaged 4.5 yards a rush on first down, but just 2.5 yards a pass on seven first down throws. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

The Walking Wounded: Jones out for the year

This is getting ridiculous. Cue Queen...

 

GAINESVILLE -- No. 22 Florida continues to be decimated by injuries. UF’s latest causality is starting tailback Matt Jones -- who tore the meniscus in his left knee in the loss to LSU and is out for the season after undergoing surgery Monday morning.

“We thought it was a sprain in the knee, it turns out it was a torn meniscus,” coach Will Muschamp said. “I hate it for Matt. He's a great young man, to go through what he's been through this fall, missing all of, most of, fall camp. Working his way back in shape and starting to feel good about himself, as far as how he felt physically, mentally and then to have this setback is just disheartening for all of us.”

Jones
(Courtesy Columbiadailyherald.com)

The preseason all-conference tailback rushed for 339 yards and two touchdowns in five starts after missing UF’s season-opener battling a serious viral infection.  

Jones tallied four carries on Florida’s opening drive against LSU -- the final run his last of the year after getting rolled up on close to Florida’s sideline.

The sophomore is unlikely to be cleared for a medical redshirt, but Muschamp was unsure of the specifics.

Redshirt junior Mack Brown (340 yards, 3 touchdowns) and highly-regarded freshman Kelvin Taylor (98 yards on 16 carries) will spilt carries moving forward.

In all, it’s another setback for the Gators, as Jones is the fifth starter -- and seventh player overall -- lost to a season-ending injury: Jones, quarterback Jeff Driskel (fibula), defensive tackle Dominique Easley (knee), right tackle Chaz Green (shoulder) and kick returner/wideout Andre Debose (knee).

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Poll Position: A terrible tumble

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time all season, Florida is no longer considered one of the 20 best teams in the country. 

The Gators (4-2, 3-1 SEC) slid five spots in both the Associated Press top 25 and USA Today coaches poll, falling to No. 22 nationally after their 17-6 loss to LSU on Saturday in Tiger Stadium.   

The road doesn't get any easier this weekend, as Florida travels to Columbia for a pivotal SEC Eastern Division showdown with No. 14 (and undefeated) Missouri (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Gators finish the season with four of their final six games against teams currently ranked inside the top 15. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


October 13, 2013

ICYMI: A slow death

Links from last night...

* Murphy, bewhildered Gators overwhemled by LSU's constant attack

Hill
(Courtesy Naplesnews.com)

* The Tigers dominated both lines of scrimmage, sending the Gators home limping from another Bayou beatdown with notes on freshman tailback Kelvin Taylor, Florida's newest kicker, Kyle Christy's continued mysterious downward spiral and more. 

* Gator Grades

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Miles hammers reporter

Les Miles hates Home Depot. Or maybe Lowes. Just don't ask him about hammer and nails -- especially following an LSU victory no less. 

Once again, Miles said Miles things and went on a hilarious postgame rant following LSU's 17-6 win over Florida on Saturday afternoon in Death Valley. 

Please enjoy responsibly. 

 

(YouTube | ESPN)

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 12, 2013

They Said It – Florida-LSU

BATON ROUGE, La -- Postgame soundbites following Florida's 17-6 loss to LSU. 

First, Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy on LSU's pressure, the offense "shooting themselves in the foot" and a little more.

 

Right guard Jon Halapio

On the playcalling…

“I mean, Tyler didn’t have enough time. You know, he can’t pass the ball if we can’t protect, and that’s all on our shoulders.”

On the team’s 4-2 record and moving forward…

“Yeah, the East is still wide open. But right now we got to focus on us. We got to fix what we got – we got issues ourselves, so we got to fix our issues, or all those goals don’t mean anything.

Coach Will Muschamp 

On quarterback Tyler Murphy’s performance…

“I think we’ve gotta protect better. We had too many free runners at the quarterback. They did a nice job of pressuring us. We had too many times that he had too many guys in his face. We’ve gotta get him more time. I want to watch the film, but my initial thought is there was too much pressure.”

On kicker Frankie Velez…

“Frankie’s been a guy that-- We just open competition. We play the best players, regardless of who they are, if they’re a walk-on or whoever it is. He kicked the best this past week in practice. We traveled him for the first time for an away game and he did a fantastic job.”

On his post-game message to the team…

“Still everything’s sitting on the table as far as Atlanta is concerned. We need to take care of the SEC East. It’s wide open. It’s all in our hands. We just need to watch the tape and improve from this Saturday.”

Linebacker Michael Taylor

On the loss…

“Like after we lost to Miami, we said all of our goals was in front of us. This is an SEC team, a rivalry team, a team that we damn sure wanted to beat. But they’re not in the East, luckily. We’ve got all our East opponents ahead of us. I know we’re capable to beat all of them, so that’s what we’ll have to do.”

On Jeremy Hills’ 121 yards rushing… 

“We got beat in the front seven. They beat us at the line of scrimmage, at the point of attack, and that’s how you run the ball. Getting leverage on the other team, beating them at the point of attack, that’s what they did on a lot of plays.”

Quarterback Tyler Murphy

On so many short throws…

“They were kind of forcing us to go there because they were pressuring and then when they didn’t pressure, they tried to keep everything in front of them. We tried to nickel and dime them.”

On the defense’s performance…

“The defense did a great job. To only give up 17 points to an explosive offense like that and there were a few calls here and there where they might have even held them to less points. As an offense, we just need to get better and find ways to get the ball in the end zone.”

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger

On LSU’s offense…

We were so dominant up front running the ball. … Our offensive line is pretty outstanding.”

On the win…

“There was a lot of talking leading up to this game. We just wanted to remind Florida who we were, and I think the offensive line really played great. If we can keep playing like this week in and week out and execute a little better in the passing game, we’re going to be very tough to beat.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Gator Grades: Beatdown in the Bayou

BATON ROUGE, La -- Before I re-watch the tape (later in the week) of No. 17 Florida’s 17-6 defeat to No. 10 LSU, here are some rapid reaction grades.

OFFENSE D-

Woof. That was ugly. Brent Pease, UF’s offensive coordinator, didn’t have a great day, but the unit’s demise was mainly due to porous offensive line play. Quarterback Tyler Murphy was inaccurate and sluggish in his decision-making, but really, the redshirt junior never had a chance. The Tigers’ ferocious front-seven beat Florida at its own game in a reverse déjà vu performance from UF’s 14-6 win in The Swamp last season. 

Anthony Johnson and the rest of LSU’s relentless front harassed UF’s leaky offensive line to the tune of four sacks and eight tackles for loss. UF had 60 yards on its opening drive, but totaled just 34 yards the rest of the first half and struggled to run with ball with any real effectiveness (111 yards on 40 carries) all afternoon. Murphy is not the miracle man, as the Gators proved they still have plenty of issues on murderball offense.

DEFENSE B-

Florida’s defense didn’t play that poorly -- all things considered. The nation’s No. 2 ranked unit held LSU’s excellent attack under 400 yards, while Zach Mettenberger was a pedestrian 9-of-17 for 152 yards and zero touchdowns. But key penalties (roughing the passer, pass interference, offsides) and inconsistent rush defense plagued the Gators all afternoon.

LSU had just four first downs after halftime, but it was another little-to-late adjustments by Muschamp’s defense. Jeremy Hill gashed UF for 121 yards on 19 carries -- the first 100+ yard rushing performance since Todd Gurley of Georgia in 2012.

SPECIAL TEAMS B

Why hey there, Frankie Valdez. Florida just may have found its newest kicker in the most unlikely of people. The redshirt junior walk-on was a perfect 2-for-2 and displayed none of the jitters of his predessors (Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips). Coverage: both punt and kick were solid, and the fake-punt pass was well designed and executed. All-American punter Kyle Christy continues to be an enigma bad though. Seriously, what is wrong with the former Ray Guy Award runner-up?

Thoughts? Comments?

Have at it.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Saturday Selections: Florida-LSU thread

Greetings from Bayou Country. 

How's ya momma and dem?

Tiger

The Gators and Tigers square off in a pivitoal SEC showdown later this afternoon (3:30 p.m, ET; CBS)

ICYMI: The No. 17 Gators motivated for revenge after getting destroyed here two years ago.

A tease...

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s last visit to Death Valley became the ultimate Judgment Day on the team’s 2011 season.

Two years ago, the Gators — fresh off a 38-10 beatdown by Alabama in The Swamp — limped into Baton Rouge, La., without their starting quarterback and were humiliated 41-11 by top-ranked LSU.

It was Florida’s worst loss in 16 seasons.

“It was definitely a low point in most of our careers here,” senior safety Jaylen Watkins said. “It was definitely a bad taste in our mouth.”

But the No. 17 Gators (4-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) believe Saturday’s trip to Tiger Stadium at 3:30 p.m. will be different this time around.

“It’s a very tough place to play. We have a bad taste in there from the loss and just how rowdy their fans are,” Watkins continued. “But that’s the game of football. We get a chance to go back and try to redeem ourselves, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Many Florida players — and coach Will Muschamp — are using the 30-point loss as motivation — despite actually upsetting LSU 14-6 at home just last season.

PICKS 

3-3 last week. Pedestrian, again. I'm sorry. 

Scoreboard: 20-14-1 ATS, 1-4 selecting Florida games

This week's six-pack:

Okalahoma (-13.5) vs. Texas

Baylor (-17) at Kansas State

Michigan (-3) at Penn State

Alabama (-22) at Kentucky

Ole Miss (+9.5) vs. Texas A&M

I'll have more tidbits closer to kickoff, but for now, enjoy the early games. 
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 11, 2013

Notebook: Depth at tailback presents challenge for Gators

GAINESVILLE -- LSU is just ninth in the Southeastern Conference in rushing (197.33 y/g), but Jeremy Hill -- the Tigers’ physical load at tailback -- trails only South Carolina’s Mike Davis in total yards in the conference.

LSU’s four-headed monster in the backfield includes Hill, Kenny Hilliard, Alfred Blue and Terrence Magee -- with Hill as the lead workhorse.

130427163917-jeremy-hill-single-image-cut
(Jeremy Hill | Courtesy SI.com)

The 6-foot-2, 238-pound sophomore tailback is averaging 7.52 yards per carry and nearly 120 yards per game.
Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin called it a “real challenge” to stop any of the Tigers’ backs.

“They’re all talented, all those guys do a great job. When you watch the cut-ups from the tape, it’s not like the offense is changing much when [a different guy is] in there,” Durkin said. “They’re running their offense because all those guys can do it. They can all put a foot in the ground, they can break tackles, they can hit the big ones, and they’ve all had big plays. And they can all catch out of the backfield. The challenge is you’ve got a fresh guy in there running the ball and you’ve got to wrap him up and tackle.”

NEXT IN LINE

Durkin said freshman defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick would be the first player off the bench if the Gators run into depth issues at tackle this weekend.

Bostwick has yet to play this season and remains a likely redshirt candidate if he’s not needed over the next several weeks.

“Jay-nard is doing well. He’s continued to progress like a normal freshman would,” Durkin said. “He hasn’t had a lot of game time thus far, but he is ready if needed and if he has to go in there and do it. He’s practicing really well. He has made great improvements since day one until now, like most of our freshmen have. We’re going to keep prepping him and getting him ready every week and see what happens.”

ROBERSON RETURNS BUT…

Florida’s all-conference cornerback Marcus Roberson -- sidelined for three games -- is expected to return from a knee injury this weekend at LSU, but Durkin wouldn’t tip his hand if the junior defensive back would regain his starting job.

““We’ll see. We always determine that stuff at the end of the week,” Durkin said. “We keep our practices competitive at all spots, not just there. We play the guys or start the guys that practice the best and are playing the best.”

Freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has played terrific in Roberson’s absence and has rapidly developed into one of the nation’s top underclassmen.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

October 10, 2013

ICYMI: More shootout talk, agression vs. discipline & Pease on Leak

A pair of pieces some may have missed on the sister page...

* Florida's defense set to clash with LSU's potent offense

* UF's defense shows agression 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 09, 2013

HOOPS: Unknowns everywhere as Gators kickoff practice Friday

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida basketball team opens practice Friday, but one of the SEC’s premier programs will kickoff the 2013-14 season with a plethora of unknowns.

Billy Donovan’s bunch must replace its top three scorers – Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Eric Murphy -- and the Gators will kickoff camp shorthanded.

Starting senior forward Will Yeguete (offseason knee surgery) and junior guard Eli Carter (fractured fibula) won’t practice while continuing to battle significant injuries lingering from last season.

“I don’t know when they’ll be back. All I know is Friday they will not be available,” Donovan said.

“Right now you have to go with the guys that are there and in practice right away. Those are the guys you have to rely on and get them ready.”   

Yeguete, who underwent knee surgery late last May, is confident he will be ready to play in the opener Nov. 8 against North Florida.

IMG_0079
(Will Yeguete)

However, Carter -- the Rutgers transfer who broke his leg in a game against DePaul last February -- had no timetable on a possible return.  

“The only expectation I have right now is to play [sometime this season,]” Carter said.

In mid-September, the NCAA declared Carter eligible to play immediately for Florida after leaving the Scarlet Knights at the end of the 2012-13 season following the scandal involving former Rutgers coach Mike Rice.

“I feel bad for Carter,” Donovan said. “Any time you transfer in and you start your career at a different school on an injured note and not really able to go out there and prove yourself and play every day, I think that’s been difficult.”

Meanwhile, senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was reinstated to practice with the team, but remains suspended to start the regular season.

On June 10, Wilbekin was banned from all team activities after violating undisclosed team rules.

“I am really, really proud of him and what he has done and the way he has handled and conducted himself. From the spring all the way until now, it has been a long, long road for him being disconnected from our team, not working out with our team and not really being around our team and slowly trying to work his way back,” Donovan said.

“He has done everything that I could ask of him as a player in terms of taking responsibility and growing. He still has some things in front of him before he is fully back on our team, but we will give him the opportunity to practice.”

Wilbekin was not available for comment at Florida’s Media Day, but multiple teammates voiced their support for the senior, with sophomore guard Michael Frazier saying he’s excited to see Wilbekin back on the court.

During the summer, rumors also swirled that Dorian Finney-Smith, Damontre Harris and Casey Prather would be suspended to start the season, but Donovan addressed the alleged report, saying, “Everybody but Will Yeguete and Eli Carter is ready to practice going forward and on our team.”

 

(Donovan's opening statement at UF Media Day)

DONOVAN “OPTIMISTIC”

Five-star forward and McDonald’s All-American Chris Walker continues to work to qualify academically for the spring semester.

The freshman signee from Holmes County High failed to enroll in August, but Donovan is confident the 6-foot-10, 225-pound athletic big-man will wear a Gators uniform at some point this season.

“He’s working really, really hard. I’m optimistic that he’ll be back here,” Donovan said.

Florida’s coach said Walker’s recruitment and the ensuing limbo reminded him of the Kwame Brown situation in 2001. After committing to UF, Brown never enrolled at Florida and was the No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Wizards in the NBA Draft.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Notebook: Easley in good spirits, LSU's 10-year reunion & injury updates

First: ICYMI: A piece on quarterback Tyler Murphy’s steady demeanor, with a couple notes on Florida’s kickoff time against Georgia Southern and a comment from offensive coordinator Brent Pease on the possibility of redshirting tailback Kelvin Taylor.

EASLEY UPDATE

Two weeks ago, star defensive tackle Dominique Easley could barely stomach watching the Gators play Kentucky after suffering a season-ending knee injury (ACL) earlier in the week. 

But according to UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, Easley “has his spirits back,” and remains a vital part of the team moving forward.

“He's been around [the facility.] Dominique is a big part of our team even though he's not playing. His personality, his energy is something that is contagious to all those around him,” Durkin said. “He's got great respect from the coaches, from his teammates, and so he's a guy we want around as much as we can, and he's been around. He's a part of this team no matter what."

Durkin talked of a special relationship with Easley -- a player he recruited to Florida as a staff member under former coach Urban Meyer -- and downplayed the tricky situation of Easley rehabbing for the NFL Draft.

“Dominique and I have spent four years here together. He's a special guy to me. I feel for him, but you know what, he's as tough as they come,” Durkin said. “Sometimes you get dealt tough circumstances and that's where tough guys rise to the top, and he'll rise to the top. He'll play a lot of football.

“He's still a great career ahead of him. I think we all saw that in the snaps we were able to get out of him. He's a difference maker, a great football player and he'll have a great future."

10-YEAR REUNION

LSU will honor its 2003 national championship team for its 10-year reunion at halftime Saturday, but coach Will Muschamp -- the Tigers’ defensive coordinator that season -- will not participate in the celebration.

“I’m worried about that 2013 LSU team not the 2003 one, that’s for sure,” Muschamp said. “But it will be good to see those guys, I guess, on the field a little bit. It was a special group. One of the players sent me a picture when I was at Texas of the team and wanted me to sign it and send it back to him. Just looking at the pictures, it was guys who understood their role in the organization. Guys that are all successful people. Granted, we had a bunch of guys go play on Sunday, but we had a bunch of successful people whether they are teachers or they are in the business world, they have all done an outstanding job, and it was a lot of fun.”

Muschamp pointed out the Tigers’ lone loss in 2003 was to Florida (19-7).

“Old Ben Troupe and Ciatrick Fason got after us pretty good that day and Chris Leak, who is on our staff as a graduate assistant now,” Muschamp reminisced. “It was a special year. Nothing but great memories. I’ve got great respect for the LSU program. I think any time in the coaching profession you spend a time at a place, you always have fond memories of it. Carol and I still have great friends in Baton Rouge.”

INJURY REPORT

Muschamp said cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) had his best practice since he’s been back and “will be full-speed Saturday ready to go.” Also, freshman linebacker and special teams ace Jarrad Davis (cheek laceration) will play Saturday, but Alex Anzalone, a freshman reserve linebacker, will miss the game with a sprained ankle he suffered in the win over Arkansas. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

High praise

GAINESVILLE -- The Old Ball Coach knows a thing or two about quarterbacks, and now South Carolina’s coach is among those impressed with Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy.

“He’s a dang good player,” Steve Spurrier said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference. “His throwing motion is beautiful. Throws a nice, catchable ball. He can move around in the pocket. You’d never think the young man hadn’t played but what two or three games?”

USC travels to Arkansas this weekend -- a team Murphy shredded for 240 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday.

“We’re watching Florida’s offense against Arkansas -- who we play this week,” Spurrier continued. “We’re watching Tyler, and he just throws the ball beautifully. Fundamentally, he’s very sound. … He’s a very good quarterback. …

“He must’ve looked good in practice down there, but he finally got his chance. Sometimes that’s the way it works out. You get your change and make the most of it.”

High praise. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 08, 2013

Garcia talks OL & LSU

In recent weeks, Gators left guard Max Garcia has been singled out as Florida's most consistent offensive lineman by coach Will Muschamp. 

After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, the former Maryland guard had an up-and-down first two games before really settling in the win over Tennessee. 

The junior spoke about how the game has slowed down for him, the offensive line's performance against Arkansas, the team's recent offensive continuity and the looming trip to LSU.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

Purifoy's paydirt: Anatomy of a play

Each week, I’ll breakdown (in a simplified manner, hopefully) a pivotal play in Florida’s game. I decided against lots of arrows and pointers so as not to distract from the overall picture, but if you’d prefer that in the future, let me know.

Today's play is Loucheiz Purifoy’s pick-six early in the second quarter of Florida’s 30-10 victory over Arkansas. It was a long time coming for the playmaker with tons of tantalizing talent and gall to wear No. 15 for the Gators. Purifoy recorded his first-career interception -- the eighth consecutive game for the Gators with at least one pick. Overall, the dynamic junior -- riddled by inconsistencies and murmurs of criticisms in recent weeks -- delivered the most complete and dominating performance of his career: an interception-turned-touchdown, a sack-fumble, four tackles, three pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. The pick-six highlighted UF’s win over Arkansas, giving UF an early 10-7 lead it never relinquished. Here’s how it unfolded.    

#1

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 11.01.09 AM

On a 3rd-and-6 close to midfield, Florida is aligned in its base nickel (4-2-5) defense with a one-high safety (Cody Riggs, No. 31) look. Jaylen Watkins (No. 14) is on an island at the top of the screen -- responsible for either Arkansas’ tailback or tight end. 

#2

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 11.01.55 AM

Off the snap, Dante Fowler Jr. (No. 6, the right defensive end) performs a rush-stunt with Gators defensive tackle Jon Bullard (No. 90). Bullard engages two offensive linemen, while Razorbacks all-conference center Travis Swanson is focused on blocking UF’s other defensive tackle -- Leon Orr (No. 44) -- who is also performing a stunt-rush with left bookend Ronald Powell (No. 7).

#3

  Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 11.01.26 AM

Florida’s designed rush immediately flushes the pocket (and quarterback Brandon Allen) right -- exactly towards UF’s bracket coverage inside. Fowler Jr. has a free release, as Arkansas’ offensive line is totally confused and tailback Jonathan Williams (No. 32) doesn’t block anyone and accidently runs into his own teammate.

#4

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 11.06.25 AM

The pass rushes forces Allen to throw the ball too soon and into double bracket coverage (Purfioy and Antonio Morrison, No. 3). Arkansas wideout Keon Hatcher wasn’t ready for the pass and was just completing his break when the poor throw was already in the air. 

#5

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 11.07.37 AM

Here’s another angle. Hatcher is just now looking for the ball, but it’s already floating towards the eager hands of Purifoy.

#6

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 11.02.21 AM

42-yards to paydirt. Purifoy “took it to the crib” (Quote: courtesy of junior linebacker Michael Taylor), escorted by a convoy led by Orr and Fowler Jr. Purifoy likely didn’t need the block, but UF’s two defensive linemen shoved Allen into the ground for good measure to totally clear the path into the end zone. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

 

“I’m just a big, goofy, teddy bear guy"

GAINESVILLE -- “I’m just nice to everybody. It’s crazy though, because on the football field, I probably say some things and people will be looking at me like, ‘What?’ And I’m like, ‘Sorry, bro. It’s football.’”

Dante Fowler Jr., ladies and gentlemen. Florida’s menacing pass rusher -- a team-leading 3.0 sacks and two forced fumbles -- is really just a big kid at heart with an infectious personality. 

Don't let Dominique Easley's infamous Chucky doll -- something Fowler Jr. lugs around in memory of his injured teammate -- fool you. 

“Look at me, I’m smiling right now,” Florida's sophomore defensive end said. “I like to play around and stuff like that. I just turned 19, so I just try to love life. I’m still a kid I’m not 21 yet. My mom still washes my clothes.”

Even while at school?

“When I go home. Now [at Florida] I have to. It sucks.”

Fowler Jr., a former five-star recruit, had a solid freshman campaign, but has exploded as a playmaking sophomore. Coach Will Muschamp praised the pass rusher's acceptance to coaching -- something the defensive end attributed to tough love from his dad, Dante Fowler Sr.

“Dante has a great personality. He’s a lot of fun to be around and coach. He’s a joy to coach,” Muschamp said. “He’s always got a smile on his face. You can coach Dante hard. Guys of his caliber sometimes are not approachable in that situation. He’s a guy that take coaching. He wants to be coached. He wants to be coached hard. When he makes a mistake he wants to know what he can do to get better. He’s just a very coachable player. That’s what makes him a really good player. God has blessed him with a lot of ability. But the flip side of that is the guys I’ve been around who are really, really good you can coach those guys. They’re willing to listen. They don’t think they have all the answers. They understand they have improvements to be made. He watches the film. He understands that good plays take care of themselves and negative plays are the ones he need to correct. He’ll correct them himself.”

In the clip, Fowler Jr. talks LSU’s shootouts, his Dad’s influence as a “coach,” “breaking his opponents” and more. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Shootout???

GAINESVILLE -- In three conference games, No. 10 LSU has scored 35, 41 and 59 points. The Tigers -- No. 23 nationally in total offense (488.8 y/g) -- also dropped 37 points in their season opener against TCU -- the nation’s No. 32 ranked defense.

The Tigers can score -- a lot. So are the No. 17 Gators -- as currently constituted -- prepared for a potential shootout?

“Honestly, I got real caught up in all that stuff when I was a coordinator,” coach Will Muschamp said. “When I’m a head coach, I wanna win. If it take 51-50, lets go. … As long as we win I don’t care.”

First-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has transformed LSU's attack, aided by the development and maturity of senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

A year after throwing just 12 touchdowns all season, LSU’s signal caller has 15 touchdowns to just two interceptions -- tops in the SEC. Mettenberger struggled mightily in the 14-6 loss to UF last season, completing just 11 passes for 158 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

"Where they've taken the next step has been in the throwing game," Muschamp said. Mettenberger is playing at a very high level. What strikes you is he's completing [68.2] percent of his passes, and he's so efficient and effective throwing the vertical balls down the field."

But in an era of offensive expositions -- especially for the SEC -- Florida continues to zig while everyone else zags.

The Gators have held 12 consecutive conference opponents to 20 points or less. Alabama has the next longest streak at one game: An astounding statistic.

Meanwhile, UF’s offense has topped 30 points just a single time all season, but quarterback Tyler Murphy thinks Florida is “capable” of winning a shootout, if necessary.

However, the redshirt junior aslo said, “With the defense we have, I think it's just important that we take care of the ball, try to stay on the field as much as possible. If we do that, if we keep their offense off the field, I think we can be successful.”

Gators safety Jaylen Watkins broke down the matchup, including LSU’s offensive strengths, Mettenberger’s maturity and the Tigers’ talented wide receiver duo (Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry) and their propensity for winning jump balls. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 07, 2013

Notebook: Purifoy honored after gaudy performance

GAINESVILLE -- Gators cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy collected his first-career interception during Saturday’s win over Arkansas, earning himself a pair of respected honors Monday.

Following a splendid statistical performance -- a pick-six, sack-fumble, four tackles and three pass breakups -- Purifoy was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week and the Southeastern Conference Player of the Week.

“We weren’t playing very well defensively,” coach Will Muschamp said. “Then [Loucheiz] leveraged the receiver perfectly, and the ball was thrown behind the receiver. It was a really nice play on the ball, and obviously, scoring [afterwards.]”

Purifoy’s interception-turned-touchdown highlighted the Gators’ 30-10 win over the Razorbacks, giving the Gators an early 10-7 lead they never relinquished.

GAME TIME ANNOUNCED

Florida’s Oct. 19 travel to No. 25 Missouri is set for 12:21 p.m. ET and will be televised on SEC TV.

The Tigers -- in just their second year in the SEC -- are one of only two remaining undefeated teams (Alabama) in the league.

DRISKEL UPDATE

Muschamp said injured quarterback Jeff Driskel (broken leg) has been present for all team meetings and was at Florida’s team hotel last weekend, but is unsure if Driskel will make the trip to LSU.

“I don’t know that he can [physically] travel,” Muschamp said. “He still has a pretty large sized boot on his ankle. As far as a cast is concerned, traveling is kind of hard. But I’ll talk to him about it.” 

THIS & THAT

Muschamp (again) stated cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) would play Saturday against LSU. Roberson has missed UF’s last three games. … Freshman linebacker Jarrad Davis -- winner of this week’s special teams hard hat award -- suffered a laceration to his cheek in the win over Arkansas but was stitched up and is fine to play this weekend. “He’s a guy that going to throw his face in the fan, I can assure you that.” … Muschamp said nose tackle Darious ‘Bear’ Cummings played his best game of the season versus the Razorbacks. … LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (former San Diego Chargers OC) squared off against Muschamp (defensive staff member of the Miami Dolphins) one time when both coaches were in the NFL in 2005. The Dolphins beat the Chargers 24-20 late in the year. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

"I don't take any offense to it"

ICYMI: Yesterday, I wrote a piece on Tyler Murphy's rapid progression as Florida's starting quarterback and included several (rather defensive) comments from coach Will Muschamp labeling Murphy "a game manager." 

On Monday, UF's redshirt junior responded with his thoughts of "what a game manager is," as well as his admiration for Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, LSU's electric Death Valley, being a tough "self-evaluator" and Florida's offensive improvement in recent weeks. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Muschamp Musings

GAINESVILLE -- A midday buffet of coach Will Muschamp’s best quotes from Monday’s press conference…

* On good-on-good work in practice…

“We work good on good every day. I just don’t know how you get better. Iron sharpens iron. And you’ve got to go against good people in order to do that because in our league that’s what you’re going to face every day. Every Saturday.”

* On LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s improvements this season…

“Everybody matures as different ages. I know we're all in an instant coffee society where we want it right now and that's not always the way it is. Sometimes that happens with players, so from a maturity standpoint he's playing at an extremely high level."

* On LSU being so good at Death Valley because of the assembled talent…

“There ain’t no doubt, normally whose on the other sideline helps.”

* On mixing coverages versus the Tigers’ talented recieveing corps…

“Defensive football is a lot like war. If you line up in the same spot, you’re going to get blown up. So you got to be able to change some things up, play some split safety, play some middle field coverage, get your numbers right in the box and stop the run. But against a quarterback like Zach [Mettenberger] and the talents they have on the receivers position you got to be multiple in what you do.”

* On biggest red-zone improvement in recent weeks…

“Taking care of the football. If you end every possession with a kick, you’re going to win a lot of games. So I think we’ve been more efficient. We’ve worked in there a bunch in training camp, so I can’t sit there and tell you we’ve spent more time in the red-zone. We’ve spent a bunch in training camp because that was a huge emphasis for us coming into the season. But I think more than anything just taking care of the football, making better decisions.” 

* On the possibility of winning a 51-48 shootout…

 “As long as we win, I don’t care. Honestly. I got real caught up in all that stuff when I was a coordinator. When I’m a head coach, I wanna win. If it takes 51-50, let’s go. .. Absolutely [long pause) and then we’d watch the film on Sunday and figure out what we need to do to get better, but I can tell you right now, I used to grab those stat sheets when I was a coordinator. Not anymore. There’s one stat that matters and that’s winning. Do what you gotta do to win games. It’s hard enough on Saturday afternoon without worry about all that other stuff. Just do what you gotta do to win.”



* On junior linebacker Michael Taylor…

"He is a tenacious young man. Michael is around the ball a lot. Obviously, in our defense we try to clear some things up for the linebackers to make plays. He's a guy who is around the ball, has very good instincts, and when you're around the ball a lot is going to happen. … He's a very colorful young man. Probably the best way I can say it. Football is very important to Mike. He goes out and practices every day. He brings his heart out there and he works extremely hard, he's very smart, he understands our defense.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Poll Position: Movin' on up

Florida rolled past Arkansas 30-10 on Saturday night in The Swamp, and for the second week in a row UF was rewarded with a slight bump in the national polls. 

The Gators (4-1, 3-0 SEC) jumped one spot the Associated Press top 25 (No. 17) and two spots in the USA Today coaches poll (No. 17). 

Florida travels to Baton Rouge this weekend for a SEC showdown with No. 10/11 LSU (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS).

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 06, 2013

Gators Grades: Three in a row

GAINESVILLE -- Before I re-watch the tape (later in the week) of No. 18 Florida’s ho-hum 30-10 win over Arkansas, here are some rapid reaction grades.

OFFENSE C+

Tyler Murphy had some early jitters, but he settled down and otherwise was excellent. Solomon Patton did most of the legwork on both long touchdowns, but Murphy was accurate, elusive and efficient once again. UF’s running game though, was anything but. The Gators ran for just 142 yards on 41 attempts -- a 2.8 average yards per carry. It was Florida’s lowest (355) offensive output of the season thanks to its poor rushing attack. Zero turnovers were a plus, however. You could talk me into a slightly better grade, but it's late. 

DEFENSE A

Arkansas gained just seven yards on the ground after halftime. UF actually struggled containing Alex Collins and Jon Williams in the first half -- lots of over-perusing -- but once the gaps and assignments were straightened out its defensive line dominated. Brandon Allen was beaten and battered all night, completing just 17-of-41 attempts. Loucheiz Purifoy (pick-six, sack-fumble) was a gangbuster, as was Dante Fowler Jr. (two sacks). The unit again lacked discipline, committing three personal foul penalties to extend drives. Overall, it was a very commanding performance against a physical Razorbacks offense. 

SPECIAL TEAMS C

Punt returns: excellent. The coverage units: sublime. Everything else? Yuck. Austin Hardin was benched following another miss -- this time a low blocked kick -- but his senior replacement (Brad Phillips) shanked an extra point. All-American punter Kyle Christy remains an enigma (A 15-yard punt with no pressure???), while Purifoy was fortunate an (odd) technicality negated a muffed punt return.

Thoughts? Comments?

Have at it.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Riding Solo...Again

GAINESVILLE -- It turns out, the Gators’ go-to playmaker was under their noses all along.

It just took Florida a long while to find a little guy.

Solomon Patton, come on down.

UF’s diminutive -- 5-foot-9, 168 pounds -- receiver again showcased his electric ability Saturday night, tallying career-highs in receptions (6), yards (124) and touchdowns (2).

The slippery speedster dashed for a pair of long scores (51-yards, 38-yards) on two intermediate throws -- game changing plays for a sluggish offense.

“Our guys can’t catch him,” coach Will Muschamp said. “And we can really run.”

Patton dished on his most recent breakout performance.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Will Muschamp postgame press conference snippet

GAINESVILLE -- A happy Will Muschamp.

Following Florida’s 30-10 win over Arkansas on Saturday night in The Swamp, UF’s coached talked quarterback Tyler Murphy’s “talent” and “awareness,” cornerback Loucheiz Purfoy’s first-career interception and wideout Solomon Patton’s playmaking ability and progression as a player.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 05, 2013

Saturday Selections: Florida-Arkansas thread

Well, good morning.

Florida plays its first night game in The Swamp since its 2011 regular-season finale loss to FSU.

The Gators and Hogs kickoff tonight at 7 p.m on ESPN2.

ICYMI: A piece on UF’s defensive dominance – especially on third down.

A tease...

GAINESVILLE -- The No. 18 Gators are world-beaters in a number of defensive categories nationally, but UF is Floyd Mayweather Jr. money when it comes to forcing opponents off the field on third down.

Sophomore sensation Dante Fowler Jr. calls it “gold time,” as the Gators top the country in third down defense: allowing a ridiculous 17.8 percent (8-of-45) conversion rate.

Filthy.

“We emphasize it a lot, 'cause that's basically the down you get off the field, so three-and-outs, third downs, things like that,” said Fowler, who is second in the Southeastern Conference in tackles for loss (6.0).

“Everybody, the defensive line pins their eyes back and the secondary gets ready, so we can get off the field and get our offense back on the field. That's like putting up points for us."

Florida (3-1, 2-0 SEC) and Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 SEC) kickoff Saturday at 7 p.m on ESPN2 -- UF’s first night game in The Swamp since its 2011 regular-season finale loss to Florida State -- in a battle of strengths: The Gators’ suffocating defense versus the Razorbacks’ physical rushing attack.

Arkansas -- under new coach Bret Bielema -- average 237 rushing yards per game, more yards than Florida has allowed on the ground all season (214).

In addition to their third down dominance, the Gators lead the nation in rushing defense, surrendering just 53.50 yards per contest.

Something’s got to give tonight...

Onto the selections

PICKS 

3-2-1 last week. A garbage touchdown in the South Carolina-UCF game stole a win.

Scoreboard: 17-11-1 ATS, 1-3 selecting Florida games

This week's six-pack:

Miami (-5.5) vs. Georgia Tech

Georgia (-11.5) at Tennessee

LSU (-9.5) at Mississippi State

Stanford (-6.5) vs. Washington

Vanderbilt (+1) vs. Mizzou

And finally, Arkansas (+13) at Florida. Ok, I’ve been pretty damn good picking every game EXCEPT the team I cover on a daily basis. Weird. I technically hit on the under again last week (-46 vs. UK) but taking the Wildcats at +11 proved futile. So why am I doing it again? I don’t know, but that’s a lot of points for a UF team that still struggles to produce explosive plays. With its upcoming schedule, the Gators really, really, really need this win, so perhaps they’ll stuff Arkansas lethal rushing attack and hit a couple home runs.

Enjoy the early games, everybody.

I’ll have more later closer to kickoff.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 04, 2013

To redshirt or not to redshirt?

The Kelvin Taylor Dilemma.

Florida’s five-star freshman tailback -- one of the most ballyhooed running back recruits in Florida history and the state’s all-time leading rusher -- has just one more carry than his retired dad, Fred, since Florida’s season opener.

Against Toledo on Aug. 31, Taylor carried the ball five times for 43 yards on Florida’s final possession in a 24-6 victory. The Swamp went bananas. The Gator Nation was positive the brief cameo was merely a tease of the future.  

Perhaps it will be, but maybe the distant future.

Screen shot 2013-10-03 at 12.22.07 PM
(Kelvin Taylor. No. 21)

Taylor has tallied just a single carry in Florida’s last three games -- a ho-hum three-yard run against Tennessee. As I joked in the UF-UT retro diary, the crowd roared in adulation for the most mundane of plays. Gators fans love them some Kelvin Taylor -- perhaps irrationally so right now.

Taylor’s path to the present has been well documented.

An early enrollee in January, Taylor had an excellent spring camp, before hitting the proverbial freshman wall in August. He struggled through a frustrating training camp, plagued by issues with ball security, pass protection and playbook knowledge.

When the 2013 season kicked off, Taylor was buried on the depth chart behind Matt Jones, Mack Brown, Mr. Red Herring Mark Herndon and Valdez Showers.

But then the Toledo performance happened -- albeit versus an undersized and gassed front -- and Taylor’s role seemed to be reevaluated.

Following his strong debut Muschamp said the following about his freshman tailback:

“I think his role will continue to develop through the season. We’ll see how much as we move forward. He’s a natural runner, he has really good vision. He has to continue to do some of the other things you have to do at the position. But he’s a guy we’re excited about, no question.”

Muschamp also highlighted Taylor’s development, saying, “It’s been night and day [since spring camp].”

Miami: 0 carries. Tennessee: one rush. Kentucky: 0 carries.

And yet, the praise for Taylor continues.  

UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease -- before the Tennessee game -- “Kelvin has done a lot better in practice. He’s hitting that flow like Matt [Jones] did last year when Matt started showing up and doing good things in practice and he started taking off. Kelvin is starting to hit that.”

Pease -- after the Kentucky game -- “He’s still in the mix. We want to get him in there. I think coach [Brian] White has a good feel on how he controls those guys and how the game flow is going and where we’ve got to pick our spots. It’s hard with one ball, three players. They’re all capable. They’re all very good. A couple of them have experience. We spot guys in certain packages to use at certain times. We’ve got to continue. The good thing about it is they’ve all been very unselfish and they’ve all grown and continued to practice real well.”

Hollow words? Classic coach speak? When asked if Taylor was once again a redshirt candidate, Pease emphatically stated: “No.”

But the “one ball, three players” thing gets extra tricky when you include Valdez Showers -- who returns Saturday against Arkansas after missing Florida’s previous two games -- into the mix as well.

Before Jones’ exposition against Kentucky (career-high 176 yards and touchdown), Muschamp stated repeatedly the Gators would go with a “hot hand” approach at tailback.

Loosely translated: If not Jones then Mack Brown.

Taylor’s preseason fumblitis was certainly a cause for concern -- especially coupled with Jones’ own early season ball security issues -- but there’s been no indication Taylor is still struggling in practice. It appears, he's simply not ready to play in the SEC. 

Said Jones: “He has a great work ethic. Sometimes when you don’t get in as a freshman it is kind of hard of you coming from high school, like I was last year. I was kind of the same way, like why wasn’t I getting in. But sometimes, you’re not ready for the SEC or whatever. I think he’s ready. It’s not my decision. But his demeanor is great in practice.”

Jones does know what Taylor feels like, but I’m not sure his freshman season is a comparable litmus test. In 2012, UF’s staff practically begged Jones to topple Brown for the backup job. Ultimately, he did.

This year, Taylor is in no position to leapfrog Jones or Brown. And now this week, he’s again battling Showers for third-string reps. 

To redshirt or not to redshirt? 

Most signs point to one direction.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Fun With Stats (& more UF-ARK tidbits)

Saturday marks UF’s third straight conference game against a first-year SEC coach -- Butch Jones (Tennessee), Mark Stoops (Kentucky) and now Bret Bielema.

To whit: Bielema is 36-8 (.818) lifetime when facing an opponent for the first time.

Florida and Arkansas have just nine meetings all-time.

Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 1.17.49 AM

The Gators are ranked No. 18. Arkansas is 5-0 all-time vs. the No. 18 ranked team in the nation.

Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 1.24.30 AM

South Plantation High standout Alex Collins became the first tailback in SEC history to rush for at least 100-yards in his first three career games. Also: Collins leads all freshman backs in the nation with 597 rushing yards.

The Razorbacks are the only team in the SEC with a 100-yard receiving game and a 100-yard rushing game from a freshman.

Arkansas’ seven 100-yard rushing performances are the most in the SEC in 2013. No other team has more than three.

Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 1.27.39 AM

Arkansas averages 237 rushing yards per game. Florida has allowed just 214 yards on the ground all season. UF tops the nation in rush defense (53.50 y/g).

Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 1.30.27 AM

The Razorbacks lead the SEC in sacks (15) and fewest sacks allowed (3).

A battle of the kickers? Advantage Razorbacks. 

Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 1.30.10 AM
According to UF senior wideout Trey Burton, the Gators will wear all-blue uniforms Saturday night. UF is 12-3 in the all-blue sets since 2005. 

Screen shot 2013-10-04 at 10.36.05 AM
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 03, 2013

ICYMI: Bullard's move inside, Collins impressing Muschamp

A teaser to a feature on Gators sophomore Jon Bullard and his transition to defensive tackle in place of the injuried Dominique Easley

GAINESVILLE -- In 2012, Jon Bullard came to UF as the nation’s top defensive end prospect and the sixth-ranked player in the country.

In Saturday’s 24-7 win over Kentucky, the sophomore recorded his first sacks of the season, and coach Will Muschamp called it “the best game Bullard has played at Florida.”

It happened to be Bullard’s most challenging game, too.

After star defensive tackle Dominique Ealsey was lost for the season with a torn ACL last Tuesday, the coaching staff moved Bullard -- a 6-foot-3, 270-pound lineman -- inside.

It’s not a permanent move but one that suits Florida’s impenetrable defense best for now.

“I'm not going to say I enjoy it, but it's what I've gotta do,” Bullard said who had 1 ½ sacks against Kentucky. “At the time being, it's what we need, so I've got to step in and do it the best I can.”

Also: a notebook on Arkansas freshman running back Alex Collins -- a South Plantation High star -- and Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease calling UF's nation-leading average time of possession "an overrated statistic."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Riggs talks Razorbacks (& more)

Gators safety Cody Riggs is buddies with Wisconsin tailback James White -- a former St. Thomas Aquinas High teammate -- so Riggs said he's plenty familiar with Bret Bielema -- Arkansas' new coach -- and his physical style of offense.

Riggs also spoke of his chemistry and rapport with senior safety Jaylen Watkins, Jabari Gorman's emergence, Vernon Hargreaves III and a comical moment when he confused who Alex Collins -- the Hogs' prolific freshman tailback -- was.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton   

Notebook: Halapio alters workout approach

GAINESVILLE -- Gators right guard Jon Halapio -- a preseason all-conference selection -- is playing with an “80 percent tear” in his pectoral, he said Wednesday.

Halapio missed Florida’s first two games after injuring himself during a weightlifting session right before training camp in August.

The senior started against Tennessee and Kentucky, while also battling back, shoulder and eye injuries.

Although teammates -- especially center Jon Harrison -- ‘Wow’ at Halapio’s weightroom wonders, the right guard has altered his ‘star’ workouts due to his significant injury.

“I've backed off a lot upper body wise as far as pressing, bench pressing, dumbbells, anything that has to do with pressing,” he said. “I do a lot of band work, back activation workouts. A lot of shoulder mobility stuff, things like that. I just pretty much stay away from all the pressing."

Halapio said it’s unlikely he will lift traditional weights again until after the season for fear of re-tearing the muscle.

A LITTLE OF BOTH

Coach Will Muschamp has mixed feelings about No. 18 Florida’s unassuming group of tight ends.

On the one hand, UF’s tight ends -- a unit comprised of Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook and Colin Thompson -- have blocked reasonably well. On the other, the group has tallied just a single catch in four games.

“I think we’ve been very good as far as the blocking and things are concerned. Clay Burton had his best game as far as that’s concerned up at Kentucky last week,” Muschamp said. “Tevin Westbrook has done a nice job. … But a little frustrated to be honest with you as far as the production in the passing game. We would like to get more out of it. But again, I think that Trey [Burton] has assumed that role and done a really nice job in the slot. Very similar to how we used Jordan [Reed] last year by design to be our leading receiver.”

4c9fffd8a91a0.image
(Courtesy Alligator.org)

Burton, a hybrid slot wideout, leads the Gators in receptions (20) this season -- alleviating the loss of Reed despite negligible production from the “actual” tight end group.

Instead, Burton has assumed the role of UF’s go-to tight end receiver -- especially on third down.

“[Reed] was a very good weapon for us in the passing game. Trey has been, too, and really has been a guy we have counted on in the passing game as opposed to the running game this year,” Muschamp said. “We’ve gotten the production from the position, just with a different type of body doing it, maybe a different type of label as far as the position is concerned.”

HARDIN JEALOUS

Gators kicker Austin Hardin was green with envy last Saturday night.

Hardin, a redshirt freshman, could only dream when he watched Kentucky kicker Joe Monsour scamper 25 yards for a touchdown on a fake field goal in the first quarter of UF’s 24-7 win in Lexington.

“I was pretty jealous of him, I’m not gonna lie. Every kicker wants to go run a touchdown,” he said. “We actually, it was funny, I think it was during halftime or after the game all the kickers went up to him and congratulated him and were like ‘Man, you just lived out our dream’. I thought that they caught us in something, I thought they executed pretty well and it was cool to see a kicker score a touchdown.”

With the score, the Wildcats actually tied the game at 7-all, but Hardin was still amused.   

“We were just joking around with him and were like, ‘That’s awesome that you got to score a touchdown.’”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 02, 2013

Gradual improvement

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s transition from All-American kicker Caleb Sturgis to redshirt freshman Austin Hardin has been predictably bumpy.

Hardin -- the nation’s top rated kicking prospect in 2010 according to ESPN -- is just 4-of-7 on field goals this season with a career-long of 33 yards.

Following Florida’s win over Tennessee, coach Will Muschamp put both specialists (Hardin and punter Kyle Christy) on notice and Hardin heard the warning loud and clear.

“It just pushes me to continue to learn and get better,” he said. “I think me being a young guy of course he doesn’t want me to be kinda like complacent in the spot I’m in. He wants to keep pushing me and I think they have every right to do that and it makes sense to keep the competition open and keep pushing me to do my best week in and week out. Because I think I have the potential and can do a really good job here.”

Hardin missed a 53-yard kick in the win over Kentucky, but connected on his second attempt (33) and also had four touchbacks.

It was an encouraging performance, according to Muschamp.

“I was very pleased with four out of five touchbacks we were able to pin ‘em back, very pleased with how Austin kicked in the game. The 53-yarder I had all the confidence in the world he would make it he made ‘em all in pregame and you gotta put ‘em out in those situation and let ‘em kick. Really pleased with how he handled last week, the challenge and the opportunity that we presented in front of him, very pleased with his performance.”

For what it's worth: Hardin’s confidence has never waned.

“I think I just take it kick by kick and forget all the other ones to be honest," he explained. "I really don’t keep track of it. I just go out there and take it kick by kick. If I make it I make it if I miss it I miss it. I try not to think about where I am on the year or where I missed from or how may misses I have on the year. It’s one kick and that’s kick at that time.”

The Gators doesn’t need -- or expect -- Hardin to be Sturgis. They just want him to perform better. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

"The freaks come out at night"

Michael Taylor loves to talk … even to the media.

"I’m gonna let you know what I’m [fixing] to do, and I’m gonna do it," Taylor said."That's just how I play."

Florida’s redshirt junior linebacker has emerged as a quality replacement for NFL rookies (and ex-Gators) Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic. Taylor is second on the team in tackles (20) and has positioned himself as an every down linebacker.  

Taylor, one of UF’s more spirited characters, has also surfaced as the defense’s vocal leader after star defensive tackle Dominique Easley was lost for the season last Tuesday.

This week, Taylor dished on why he writes: “4 U 2 NANA” on his wrist tape, facing Razorback tailback Alex Collins, taking advantage of increased playing time this season, talking trash, playing a night game in The Swamp and more. 

 

*** BONUS QUOTE ***

This nugget didn't make the video but is well worth sharing. Taylor's reaction to UF quarterbacks going on a nature walk before the Kentucky game:

Would the defense ever doing anything like that?

"No. Uh, uh. We ain’t taking no risk of running into any bears. We’re good."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 01, 2013

Nasty Hogs

Arkansas center Travis Swanson was a preseason all-conference pick and has conducted the SEC's second-leading rushing attack. 

The senior's play -- both before and after the whistle -- is ever-present on tape according to one Gators defensive lineman.

UF nose tackle Damien Jacobs spoke highly of the Razorbacks' physicality before quickly adding, "I think they're a little chippy. They're a little dirty. So we're going to have to be ready for it all this week.

Dj
(Courtsey ESPN.com)

"I just see, from film, a lot of stuff after the play, especially with the center, No. 64 [Swanson]," Jacobs said. "He’s a good athlete after the play. He makes you want to do something to him. We’re gonna have to try to keep our temper and keep cool on that.”

How?

"Just him in the mouth, first. Just keep hitting him until he quit. That’s how we do it.”

Behind Swanson and underclassmen tailback duo Alex Collins (FR) and Jonathan Williams (SO), Arkansas is No. 21 nationally in rushing offense, averging 237.0 yards per game.

However, the Gators lead the nation in rushing defense, surrendering just 53.50 y/g. The Razorbacks average more yards per contest than Florida has allowed all season (214).

Something's got to give Saturday night. 

“They gonna be physical. They gonna definitely try to come out and establish their will," Jacbos said. "They’re a team just like our offense. They gonna line up there and run it there and they gonna run it there until you stop them. We’ve gotta strap it up this week. It’s gonna be fun.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Pull: Anatomy of a play

Each week, I’ll breakdown (in a simplified manner, hopefully) a pivotal play in Florida’s game. I decided against lots of arrows and pointers so as not to distract from the overall picture, but if you’d prefer that in the future, let me know.

Today's play is Matt Jones’ 67-yard scamper early in the second quarter in Florida's 27th consecutive win over Kentucky. The sophomore tailback tallied career-highs in attempts (28) and yards (176) in the victory, but his long sprint really kick-started Jones’ red-letter day. Although the Gators force-fed Jones on their 13-play, 93-yard opening touchdown drive, he wasn’t particularly effective. Jones had six carries for just 12 yards until his explosive run. Here’s how it unfolded.

#1

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 1.45.55 PM

The Gators are in a pistol set, with Trey Burton (slot) and Solomon Patton lined up to the left. Tight end Clay Burton (No. 88) is also lined up on the left of the offensive line. 

#2

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 1.46.45 PM

Off the snap, center Jon Harrison (No. 72) pulls to the outside, as does left tackle D.J. Humphries (No. 70). Clay Burton does an excellent job sealing the edge. Immediately, Kentucky is doomed to surrender a big play. The Wildcats have eight blue shirts in the picture (sucking inside), and UF’s pulling linemen had a free release and are already chugging towards the second level. Meanwhile, T. Burton and Patton are in position to make one-on-one blocks to seal the sideline. Look what happens just a split-second later…

#3

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 1.47.09 PM

There are now nine Wildcats in the picture, but seven are already beaten and are now chasing the play. T. Burton locks up the UK nickel back, while Harrison has yet to block anyone yet. Humphries is in position to take out two 'Cats with a single pancake.  

#4

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 1.54.53 PM

Now six yards down the field, Harrison is finally forced to engage a defender and he subsequently (along with Humphries) manhandles a pair of Wildcats. Patton delivers a strong block too, giving Jones daylight up the sideline.

#5

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 1.55.13 PM

See: here…

#6

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 1.55.27 PM

Jones then displays great vision, cutback ability and explosiveness to Scooby-Doo the UK safety and charge inside towards the end zone.

#7

Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 1.55.40 PM

Well, about that. It looked like a sure touchdown until teammate Quinton Dunbar eventually (accidentally) tackled him. It was a well-intended hustle play that ultimately mattered naught, as Tyler Murphy tossed a nine-yard strike to Wildcat killer T. Burton two plays later. The Gators went up 14-7 -- a lead they never relinquished in route to a 24-7 win.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Nothing but bad luck

GAINESVILLE -- Since training camp, No. 18 Florida has lost six players -- four starters -- to season-ending injuries.

When Dominique Easley tore his right anterior cruciate ligament last Tuesday, it was UF’s third (Andre Debose, Matt Rolin) non-contact knee injury in six weeks.

While some questioned Florida’s training program, Muschamp remained adamant the Gators are “doing nothing wrong.”

UF’s head coach said he reevaluated the strength and conditioning program and talked extensively with medical personnel and chalked up the injuries to brutal luck.    

Muschamp also dismissed the notion Easley was hurt because of soggy practice conditions (it poured in Gainesville last Tuesday) -- quieting the angry townspeople demanding an indoor practice facility.

Muschamp’s full statement on UF’s run of injuries…

“We’re constantly looking at those things. You go back. I went back. You’re always looking from a strength and conditioning standpoint the things you’re doing. I’ve been asked the question about the ACLs. I did date research after Matt and Andre both had [theirs] within a four-five day period ACLs, totally non-contact situations, plant and change direction. No. 1, football is a very violent game. Guys have gotten stronger, their bodies have gotten stronger. Sometimes it’s harder for their bodies to hold based on the orthopedic surgeons I talk to. Sometimes things just happen. In our first two years here, we had two ACLs with Dominique Easley against Florida State when he was rolled up down there in the south end zone. Then you had Ronald Powell in the spring game [in 2012]. That was it. We’ve had three in two months.

“There’s nothing that we can look at from a standpoint of strength and conditioning that shows any information that would show you something’s not going right. We also look at shoulder injuries from a standpoint of, a lot of the shoulder injuries, we’ve had six since we’ve been here in three years and four of them had labrums coming into Florida. That’s a preexisting situation. Also a preexisting situation as you look at Ronald’s re-tear and you look also from the situation with Matt Rolin. Matt had an ACL in high school. Your percentage of patella tendon, tying the ACL back is 1-of-12 change for re-tear. If you use a cadaver, it’s 1-of-4. So all of those things, when you’ve had a preexisting injury, which we’ve had in a lot of those situations, there’s a chance for that to happen. I’m not saying that it should happen again, I’m just being realistic here.

“But two in three years is good. You never want it to happen. Two in three months, then you’re scratching your head a little bit in how you practice and are you practicing the right way. It’s three non-contact situations. It’s a guy planting and changing directions, that can happen in the offseason program. That can happen walking to class. They’re gonna go to class. We constantly evaluate those situations, absolutely. And making sure we’re going the right things. I’ve pulled our medical staff in, our strength staff in. I’ve consulted with outside orthopedics to make sure and watch the film in certain situations. There’s nothing we’re doing wrong.”

*** NOTE *** Not saying Muschamp is incorrect, but I have yet to confirm the statistics he offered on ACL re-tears. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

September 30, 2013

Notebook: Easley chooses NFL

GAINESVILLE -- Star defensive tackle Dominique Easley is officially headed to the NFL in 2014, bypassing the chance to take a medical redshirt and play another season at Florida.

Easley, a dominating interior lineman, tore his right anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in a non-contact drill during practice last Tuesday. Before the season-ending injury, Easley was rated the nation’s ninth-best draft eligible prospect according to ESPN Scouts Inc.

IMG_0056

Coach Will Muschamp confirmed Easley’s plans, and said he supports the senior’s decision 100 percent.

“He's a guy that's had two ACLs,” Muschamp said. “That's the best move for him right now and going to prepare himself for April and get ready for that.”

GAME TIMES ANNOUNCED

No. 18 Florida (3-1, 2-0 SEC) and Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 SEC) will kickoff under the lights Saturday (7:00 p.m., ESPN2), UF’s first night game in The Swamp since its 2011 regular-season finale against Florida State. 

Meanwhile, Florida’s highly-anticipated showdown with No. 10 LSU (4-1, 1-1 SC) in Death Valley (Oct. 12) has been tabbed the SEC’s Game of the Week. The Gators and Tigers will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. on CBS.

INJURY UPDATE

Aside from a pair of dinged up tight ends, the Gators are no longer the walking wounded.

Backups Colin Thompson (foot) and Kent Taylor (ankle) are out against the Razorbacks, but Muschamp said, “other than that, we should be good to go.”

Hybrid tailback Valdez Showers (ankle) and starting cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) are expected to play after both missed Florida’s previous two games.

Roberson participated in pregame warmups against Kentucky and told Muschamp he wasn’t 100 percent but could play. Muschamp opted to rest the junior an additional week for precautionary reasons.

“Marcus is a team guy. He’ll do anything for the team, but I just didn’t feel comfortable putting him in that situation,” Muschamp explained. “He and I talked after he came off the field. I said, ‘Let’s ice you down and get ready for next week.’”     

HARGREAVES EARNS HONOR

Freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was named the SEC’s freshman of the week for his performance in Florida’s 24-7 over Kentucky.

Hargreaves picked off his third pass of the season and is now tied for the league lead. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Murphy's walkabout

Tyler Murphy displayed total composure in his first career start against Kentucky.

All he needed was a quick nature walk and some classic tunes to purge his pregame butterflies.

Murphy, a redshirt junior, said offensive coordinator Brent Pease took Florida's quarterbacks "on a little nature walk" during the downtime before UF's 7:00 p.m. kickoff versus the Wildcats. 

Pease texted the quarterbacks Saturday morning: “Nature walk, 1:30 p.m. Don’t be late.”

“We didn’t sing any songs, but it was fun," Murphy said. "Coach Pease growing up, being from the Montana area, where he went to school, he knows a lot about nature. It’s kind of cool just to learn about different trees and bushes and stuff like that. It was fun.”

Tailback Matt Jones heard the stroll was "a pretty boring trip," but Murphy -- at least publicly -- disagreed.

"It was interesting," Murphy said -- although the quarterback couldn't recall any specifics learned on the walk.

“What did I learn? Uh, that’s awful. I mean I learned a bunch of different stuff, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. You know, I learned a few things about oak trees, saw grass, and just stuff like that.”

Oak trees and saw grass. Gameday, baby. 

Murphy said the trip did calm his jitters, as did listening to Jay-Z, Wale, jazz and a little gospel.

“I just put it on shuffle and just let it go,” he said.

Murphy -- through his coolness, confidence and production -- has quickly endeared himself to Florida fans. He finished the Kentucky game 15-of-18 for 156 yards and two scores (one rushing) and one interception.   

Murphy also talked about his first career start, dreams of being Steven A. Smith, pressing in practice last week, his perfect 13-of-13 start and a touchdown-saving tackle.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

HOOPS: Carter eligible

For once, the NCAA got it right. 

Rutgers transfer guard Eli Carter officially received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately at Florida. 

"We are happy to have Eli available to play this season," head coach Billy Donovan said in a school release.

Last season, Carter -- a 6-foot-3 junior -- averaged 14.9 points as a sophomore for the Scarlet Knights before gruesomely suffering a season-ending injury (a fractured fibula) against DePaul in mid-February.

Carter transferred to UF this offseason following the ugly scandal involving former Rutgers head coach Mike Rice.

In 2011 as a freshman, Carter actually torched UF for 31 points in a double-overtime upset victory for Rutgers. 

Although the junior guard is technically eligible to play this season, that doesn't mean he will. 

Carter's health is still a major unknown, as he has still not been medically cleared by Florida's doctors.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

Oh Shoot!

After a dominating performance (3 TFL, 2 FF) against Tennessee earned Dante Fowler Jr. the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week, Florida's BUCK linebacker again showcased his pass rushing prowess in the win over Kentucky. 

The sophomore recorded two sacks -- both in the fourth quarter -- in No. 18 Florida's 24-7 victory in Lexington and placed Fowler near the top of the SEC's leaderboard in quarterback takedowns.

On Monday, UF's "oversized baby" dished on the team's third down defense, Dominique Easley's Chucky doll and Fowler's reaction during his second sack.

  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 29, 2013

Poll Position: A slow climb

Florida cruised to a 24-6 victory over Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday and was rewarded with a slight bump in one national poll. 

The Gators (3-1, 2-0 SEC) jumped two spots in the Associated Press top 25 and now sit at No. 18. 

However, Florida remained ranked at No. 19 in the USA Today coaches poll

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

They Said It: Florida-Kentucky

WILL MUSCHAMP

On his team’s performance…

“Very proud of our football team, it’s been a long week for us, psychologically and mentally as much as anything. When you go through Jeff’s (Driskel) situation and then Domonique’s (Easley) situation on Tuesday night, they are very frustrating but you can’t always control your circumstances in life but you can control your vision. I told our players, ‘no excuses and no regrets.’ That’s just who we are, we have an expectation level here at the University of Florida in what we’re going to do and where we’re headed with our program. I’m very pleased with how our guys pulled together and the Gator Nation pulled together and came up here and did what we did.”

On Tyler Murphy’s first start…

“Outstanding, I mean really good. Again, he’s a very cerebral kid and he’s very smart, he gets the game. I think we’ve done a good job, I think (offensive coordinator) Brent (Pease) did a really good job of putting him in some good situations. We checked everything at the run game based on the look that they were a three-down and four-down team. Just really proud of his performance, he continues to improve and gain confidence in his play.”

On Matt Jones’ career-day…

“Well I think it just takes some time, I think we all knew that a little bit and you don’t ever want to admit it because Matt is a good football player and a guy we were really counting on coming into the season but when you miss four weeks, maybe a little over a month of exercise and activity, I don’t care how old you are, it’s going to shut your body down a little bit, it takes some time to respond, especially with some of the physicality, holding on to the ball and doing some of that stuff. Real proud of Matt, I pulled Matt in Monday and I said, ‘man, you need to cut it loose and play. You’re very tentative when you run it, you look like last year at the beginning of the year. If you make a mistake, put it on me, I don’t care, everybody else does. So just run the ball hard, run the ball hard, cut it loose and go play.’”

QB TYLER MURPHY

On his comfort level going into the game…

“I had a few nerves just like every game. I was able to hand off the ball to Matt Jones and throw a swing route to get the offense going. I was then able to settle down. I felt really calm as I had the support of my teammates. They made my job real easy.”

On his interception and tackle…

“The defense made a nice play, but I tried to force it. I will get in the film room to evaluate the play. He made a good play, and I made a bad decision. I just need to learn from that. I can’t make mistakes like that against Arkansas. It was a big tackle for me and it prevented them for scoring. We have a great defense and they stopped them after I threw that interception.”

WR TREY BURTON

On dealing with adversity this week…

“Extremely tough. It would have been worse if we would have came out with a loss. So we knew we had to go take care of business and get a win for those guys.”

On Florida’s opening drive (13 plays, 93 yards and a touchdown)…

“Yeah it was a good start for us. (Tyler) Murphy did a good job running the ship. It felt like we had the ball forever. I don’t know how many minutes (it was) but it felt like we had it forever and that it was our job to keep the ball and keep the defense off the field and ready to go.”

(All quotes courtesy UF Sports & Information)

September 28, 2013

Saturday Selections: Florida-Kentucky thread

Sooo, I'm not in Lexington, KY today. I was going to go -- then not -- and ultimately was given the weekend off. 

But we can't have a gameday without picks, thoughts, etc, right? 

First, ICYMI: My advance for tonight's game (7:00 p.m., ESPNU) detailing an anxious Tyler Murphy and his first career start.

A tease...

GAINESVILLE -- Tyler Murphy will make his first-career start Saturday at Kentucky.

Déjà vu anyone?

Exactly 10 years ago, former Gators quarterback Chris Leak — then a wide-eyed freshman — made his first career start in Commonwealth Stadium and delivered a marquee fourth-quarter performance.

Florida (2-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) rallied from a 21-3 deficit to win 24-21 — its largest road comeback in school history.

Murphy, a redshirt junior, hopes his first start doesn’t come down to a frenetic finish, but he’s excited either way.

“I’ll have butterflies,” he said. “I’ll be anxious, but you know, I’ll get out there and maybe complete my first pass. Once I get hit, I think I’ll be fine. I don’t think it will be as bad as it was this [past] week.”

Now onto the Saturday Selections.
PICKS

Tough week. I went a pedestrian 3-3 -- but with two brutal losses.

As I jokingly tweeted:

Screen shot 2013-09-28 at 11.00.07 AM

A late Tennessee touchdown screwed up Florida’s cover and the under (which I suggested taking).

Insane.

Anyways, on to another weekend. 

Scoreboard: 16-9 ATS, 1-2 selecting Florida games

This week's six-pack:

South Carolina (-7) at Central Florida

West Virginia (+23.5) vs. Oklahoma State

Georgia (-3) vs. LSU

Washington (-7) vs. Arizona

Texas A&M (-3.5) at Arkansas

And finally, Kentucky (-13.5) vs. Florida. I’d prefer to cheat again and lay the under (-46). The Gators are a battered bunch. I believe they’ll win -- and they must if they’re going to somehow salvage a season decimated by injuries -- but it promises to be another ugly, ugly game. Maybe it will be no Driskel, no Easley, no problem. We’ll see. I have my doubts.

Enjoy the game, everybody. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 27, 2013

Friday Fodder: Who can (should) shoulder the load?

I’ll make this brief: Quarterback Tyler Murphy -- no matter if people believe he’s better than Jeff Driskel or not -- still needs lots of help.

In 2013, Florida’s tailbacks (mainly junior Mack Brown) have been solid, but hardly spectacular.

Checkout those yards per carry averages. Florida’s (weekly) makeshift offensive line has certainly derailed some of the production, but UF’s tailbacks have had issues with vision early in the season.

Screen shot 2013-09-24 at 7.01.13 PM
(Courtsey cfbstats.com)

Just one week ago, Matt Jones promised “to put the team on his back,” and that’s not happening.

No. 20 Florida is moving forward with the “hot hand” approach -- a completely different strategy than the Gators’ preseason expectations.

Florida presumed Jones would simply carry the 1,000-yard torch from Mike Gillislee. Alas, probably not. 

Coordinator Brent Pease continues to heap praise on freshman Kelvin Taylor, but Taylor’s received just a single carry in the past two games.

With Jones’ ball security problems, it’s not totally surprising Florida’s staff has been hesitant to play Taylor extensively considering his well-documented fumbling issues during training camp.

But what do y’all think of UF’s new by-committee approach? 

Is there a legitmate workhorse in the group?

Kentucky struggles stopping the run -- 185.7 y/g, good for 13th in the conference -- so Saturday offers an opportunity for a breakout game.

Discuss away.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton