GAINESVILLE -- Emmitt Smith is a Florida legend and the most successful NFL tailback of all-time, but the former Gators star made a rare return to The Swamp over the weekend.
Smith addressed coach Jim McElwain’s team the night before Florida’s shocking 38-10 beatdown over then-No. 3 Ole Miss.
Smith then watched the game from the sidelines and drew a raucous cheer when he was acknowledged over the PA system.
“I love the [former] Gators coming back,” McElwain said.
“I was like a kid in a candy store. I actually got to shake Emmitt Smith’s hand. That was pretty neat. … I was a little giddy. I had a chance to meet one of the best ever at his position. Never would have thought that would happen.”
McElwain said having former players back around the program helps Florida restore its old order.
“Our guys got to understand they’re carrying on a legacy that’s bigger than them,” he said.
“You think about -- not only Emmitt, but a lot of those players. Every time people see them, they say the University of Florida. That’s top-of-mind awareness. From a business standpoint, think of what he’s generated for the University of Florida. I’m not sure you can put a number on it.”
Smith wasn’t the only former Gator on the sidelines, as former defensive tackle Dominique Easley served as the honorary ‘Mr. Two Bits’ and former first-round safety Matt Elam was also in attendance.
Junior safety Marcus Maye called the experience “awesome,” saying, “That was really cool. … Having an NFL great and Gator great come back and share some knowledge and some of his experience with us was awesome because you don’t get that everywhere.”
Smith’s relationship to his alma mater hasn’t exactly been chummy in recent years, though.
After starring at UF from 1987-89, Smith hardly ever returned to Gainesville and didn’t even mention the Gators in his Hall of Fame speech.
In 2013, he criticized former quarterback Jeff Driskel on Twitter and later apologized to Driskel and former coach Will Muschamp.
So the fact Smith is back around the program again is a big deal.
“Coach always says you’re playing for something bigger than yourself,” defensive end Alex McCalister said.
“I was getting dressed and I just had happened to turn right and Emmitt Smith is sitting down right there. My heart dropped for a second. I was like, ‘Dawg, Emmitt Smith is really right here in our locker room just chillin.’ That’s big, that’s big for everybody though. Former Gators coming back and helping us out, talking to us here and there. I love that.”
The Gators’ 2016 class is ranked No. 14 nationally with 20 verbal commits, per 247 Sports.
THIS & THAT
Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk remains indefinitely suspended and will not play against UF. Freshman quarterback Drew Lock will make his second straight start. … Despite playing every snap the last three weeks, Will Grier still isn’t listed as UF’s unquestioned starter at quarterback -- at least not on the depth chart. There were no changes to the Week 6 two-deep, as the ‘OR’ remains between Grier and sophomore Treon Harris.
Will Grier was the star (24-of-29 for 271 yards and four touchdowns), but Florida’s offensive line and offensive coordinator deserve major kudos, too. Doug Nussmeier called a brilliant game, keeping Ole Miss’ aggressive and attacking defense off balance with motions, play action, boot-legs and a lot of easy reads for Grier.
Florida couldn’t really run the ball (111 yards on 34 yards), but they didn’t really have to because the OL held up well enough in pass protection. Demarcus Robinson was great (8 for 94) and Brandon Powell showed off the jets on a 77-yard score.
Grier was simply one of many sick players, but he played nasty, too. He threw four touchdowns in the first half and managed an offense that never turned the ball over and went 8-of-16 on third down.
The Gators didn’t gain many yards after halftime, but they capitalized on a couple of turnovers and ran the clock with some key first downs.
DEFENSE - A+
Mercy. Florida’s violent, swarming, mauling defense was unrelenting Saturday night. The Gators held the Rebels’ to a season-low 328 yards and just 10 points.
Quarterback Chad Kelly took a beating (4 sacks, numerous other hits) and UF’s secondary held Ole Miss’ talented receiving corps in check.
The Gators forced 4 turnovers, had 11 tackles for loss and sealed the blowout with a critical goal line stand in the third quarter.
Jon Bullard was terrific again (shocker), but fellow senior Antonio Morrison finally looked like his old self (13 tackles, 3.5 TFL). Vernon Hargreaves collected another interception and five-star freshman CeCe Jefferson nearly recovered a popup fumble (a nifty one-handed snag) for a touchdown.
All in all, it was dominant performance from a defense that prides itself as #BDN.
SPECIAL TEAMS - A
Florida’s third unit also delivered its best performance of the season. The missed PAT led to some interesting decisions, but otherwise UF was great.
Johnny Townsend averaged 47 yards on five punts and his 57-yard boot after Florida’s opening three-and-out immediately flipped field position and was an underrated play early in the game.
Jorge Powell drilled both field goal attempts and might’ve usurped Austin Hardin’s job.
The coverage units, especially punt coverage, were excellent.
OVERALL - A
A month ago, I said Florida’s opening win felt different. But nothing looked that different as UF struggled to beat East Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee. Welp ... the Gators’ days an SEC doormat appear over. McElwain is the first UF coach to start 5-0 since Steve Spurrier in 1990. The atmosphere was electric.
The Gators didn’t just win. They destroyed a consensus national title contender. I don’t know if Florida is truly back, but suddenly it doesn’t seem like we’ll have to wait so long to actually find out.
GAINESVILLE -- There’s no shortage of storylines for today’s primetime tilt between No. 25 Florida and No. 3 Ole Miss, but Friday’s Will Grier-is-sick-news has overshadowed all the other pregame chatter.
Here’s what we know: Grier, UF's redshirt freshman quarterback eying his fourth-straight start, has an illness that kept him out of practice Thursday. He was at Friday’s team walk-through and there’s hope he plays.
Grier’s father, Chad, told The Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley his son wouldn’t miss the game.
Yesterday, ESPN’s Brad Nessler was on The Paul Finebaum Show and opened the whole can of worms, saying, “It’s going to be a major theme to see if Will Grier is even ready to go. He had the flu. … So [coach] Jim McElwain told us he’s not going to name a starting quarterback until they do their Gator clap before they go on the bus and come to the stadium. So we don’t know right now. We think that Treon Harris might be the guy that starts. They’ll probably play both.”
According to Nessler, Florida had as many as 21 players sick this week.
As for those healthy enough to play, here’s several storylines to watch.
* Are the Gators truly a Top 25 team?
* Can UF’s offensive line hold up against Robert Nkemdiche & Co?
* Who will win the ballyhooed Vernon Hargreaves-Laquon Treadwell matchup?
* Will Florida’s defensive line create enough pressure to disrupt Chad Kelly?
The Gators feel primed to shock the country. At least that's what they're saying.
“You can feel it in the air," wideout Valdez Showers said.
"We've been sick of not being ranked and not playing Top 25 opponents and stuff like that, so we're not taking this lightly. When you start winning games and get on a four-game win streak that gives us momentum going into the fifth game and gives us a lot of confidence. You feel like you can definitely take these guys, too.”
WHERE: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
WHEN: 7 p.m.
LINE: Ole Miss -7
1. Who can win the turnover battle?
2. Can the Rebels run the ball to stymie Florida’s pass rush?
3. Will UF play loose, confident and throw the kitchen sink at Ole Miss?
I’m ready to bounce-back after my first crappy week of the season (2-2-1). Still a bodacious 14-5-1 ATS on the year.
Arkansas (+8) at Tennessee
Baylor (-17) vs. Texas Tech
Oregon at Colorado (+8)
Alabama at Georgia (PK)
Lastly, Ole Miss (-7) at Florida. A flu-ridden roster probably curtails Florida’s real chance to spring the upset, but I’m not sure the Gators have enough anyways. If you’re an optimist, Florida does have some favorable matchups (DL, secondary). Still, UF has overachieved a bit and this game is a measuring stick to see exactly where it stands in the conference. Should be a live atmosphere in The Swamp.
Should Grier be unavailable, sophomore quarterback Treon Harris would get the start and make his first appearance since closing out UF’s 31-24 win over East Carolina on Sept. 12.
Earlier Friday, Nessler was on The Paul Finebaum Show and let slip some details from his production meeting with UF’s coaches and players.
“It’s going to be a major theme to see if Will Grier is even ready to go. He had the flu,” Nessler said.
“So [coach] Jim McElwain told us he’s not going to name a starting quarterback until they do their Gator clap before they go on the bus and come to the stadium. So we don’t know right now. We think that Treon Harris might be the guy that starts. They’ll probably play both.”
Last weekend, Grier was one of the hero’s in Florida's comeback over Tennessee, engineering a 13-point fourth-quarter rally and cementing his status at the team's starting quarterback.
GAINESVILLE -- With a pair of starting offensive linemen limited in practice this week, Florida has worked five-star freshman left tackle Martez Ivey at guard in advance of Saturday’s game against No. 3 Ole Miss.
Starting guards Trip Thurman (shoulder) and Antonio Riles (ankle) are expected to play against the Rebels’ fearsome defensive line, as UF coach Jim McElwain said Ivey’s move “is strictly because of depth.”
“We’re just trying to make sure we’ve got enough [bodies] that should something happen we’re able to plug in the next best available.”
Despite serious limitations (depth, experience), the Gators’ young offensive line has performed adequately this season. At times, Florida has played as many as three true freshmen (Ivey, tackle Fred Johnson and guard Tyler Jordan) together.
Still, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche -- the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Drat -- and the rest of Ole Miss’ talented front pose the toughest challenge UF has seen to date.
“As I tell them, I don't care how many starts you have, I don't care how young you are. We're playing in the SEC and we're playing conference games, so you've got to play like a veteran,” McElwain said.
“That's the expectation. I think we'll continue to grow at that spot. I think we'll get better and better with every rep that we take. But there is no time for the future. It's about the now and, you know, they've held up OK. The guys they're playing this week, they're probably licking their chops and think they're going to set an NCAA record on sacks or something.”
Florida’s All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III reaggravated a lower back injury against Tennessee, but McElwain said the junior isn’t even on the injury report before his marquee showdown with Ole Miss wideout Laquon Treadwell.
“I haven’t noticed anything on him,” McElwain said of Hargreaves.
“I haven’t even seen his name on the injury list all week.”
Meanwhile, starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison (knee) sat out portions of practice this week for precautionary reasons and McElwain is confident the senior will play Saturday.
Redshirt freshman tight end C’yontai Lewis remains questionable with a hand injury. McElwain said if Lewis can get a soft cast on his left hand he should be able to give it a go.
Linebackers Alex Anzalone (shoulder) and Jeremi Powell (ankle) remain sidelined, while wideout C.J. Norton (leg) and backup guard Travaris Dorsey (undisclosed) are questionable.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida missed upwards of 30 tackles against Tennessee, and the Gators know they can’t afford a repeat performance against an explosive Ole Miss offense this weekend.
The No. 25 Gators spent an extended portion of practice Tuesday just working on the fundamentals.
“We did a poor job,” senior linebacker Antonio Morrison said.
“We were so into the gameplan we forgot the little things. The basics. We just got back to the basics today, you know wrapping up, clubbing up, running your feet and bringing your feet [to] the tackle.”
Last Saturday, the Volunteers’ Josh Dobbs (136 yards) and Jalen Hurd (102 yards) consistently reached the second level of UF's defense thanks to missed tackles at the line of scrimmage. Coach Jim McElwain said UF struggled with tackling in practice and wasn’t surprised with the team’s issues on gameday.
“These are prideful guys,” McElwain said.
“I want you to keep writing about it. That helps us.”
Unlike Tennessee, the No. 3 Rebels don’t tout a bruising, power-run game. Instead, their offense is predicated on playmakers making people miss in space, so UF’s secondary must be ready to tackle a group of athletic, rangy receivers 1-on-1.
“It wasn’t us,” said safety Keanu Neal, lamenting last weekend’s performance.
“We want to be BDN. We want to be the best in the nation and we didn’t show that.”
THIS & THAT
Morrison extended some high praise to freshman wideout Antonio Callaway, comparing Saturday's hero to a recent Top 5 NFL Draft pick. "Since he stepped on here I said he’s Amari Cooper in the making,” Morrison said. “Just watch and remember I said that. Amari Cooper from Alabama. That’s him right here.” … With more than nine players sidelined with flu-like symptoms, Florida didn’t practice Monday but returned to the fields for its normal work Tuesday afternoon. … McElwain on Florida’s big recruiting weekend: “The buzz, the amount of guys that were just here, the environment, I credit the Gator Nation for that. We’ll see how it pans out come February. … But’s it’s sure something that we’re excited about.”
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s meaninglessworthless perfunctory depth chart release Monday yielded a couple notable changes, highlighted by Demarcus Robinson’s promotion back to first-string in advance of Saturday's primetime tilt with No. 3 Ole Miss (7 p.m., ESPN).
The junior wideout leads the Gators in targets through four games, recording a team-high 20 receptions for 153 yards and a score.
Defensively, five-star freshman CeCe Jefferson is now the first-string defense end, while Jon Bullard, who’s delivered an All-American-type season, officially moved to tackle after playing the majority of snaps inside all year. Caleb Brantley was bumped down to second-team.
Meanwhile, Jalen Tabor returns from his suspension but there’s no longer an ‘OR’ at cornerback between Tabor and Quincy Wilson. Wilson, a sophomore from University School, is the unequivocal starter opposite of Vernon Hargreaves III now.
On special teams, veteran kicker Austin Hardin, who missed the Tennessee win with a leg injury, is no longer the starter, and the redshirt junior appears to be in McElwain’s doghouse.
The Florida Gators’ astonishing comeback over Tennessee was one for the ages, as youngsters Will Grier, Brandon Powell and Antonio Callaway combined for one of the most memorable plays in recent history and cemented their place in Florida-Tennessee lore.
Here’s how it all broke down according to Florida’s coach, players and popular radio team.
JIM MCELWAIN, UF head coach
“It’s Train Right, Jill, Big Ben, In. Why? Why not? That’s the name of it. We blow out the middle, run a little double-dig deal and hopefully you have enough time up front to read it inside-out. We try to get it to the sticks. It’s something we do every single Friday. … Something that our guys practice every week against teams that are in those long-yardage defenses. I mean, they probably could’ve answered what the call was going to be. So that’s good.”
WILL GRIER, UF quarterback
“It’s a kind of deep end. Two guys running just deep ends, kind of at the sticks. And I’m going inside dig, outside dig. It’s just a deep end flat package that we’ve had and repped every practice since camp started. You just gotta find the open guy and get it to him, convert the first down.”
BRANDON POWELL, UF receiver
“My responsibility was to get the corner route because hopefully he’ll throw it deep, and I’ll make the catch.”
***** With under two minutes remaining, Grier faced 4th-and-14 from UF’s 37-yard line. Tennessee lined up in a soft zone and Callaway found an opening for a first down … and then a whole lot more. *****
“Callaway. Just made a hell of a play, man. That guy has just stepped up and is making a lot of plays. He turned that first down into a touchdown. Big players make big plays in big games like that.”
“We knew there was something special in this kid when we started recruiting him and I think he’s proving that. And it’s still I don’t think really scratched the surface. He’s still learning how to play.”
JAKE MCGEE, UF tight end
“It was actually a five-wide receiver set, so I was [on the sideline]. Will rolled out of the pocket, Antonio came up and came open and then I thought it was going to just keep the drive going.”
***** But even with blazing speed, Callaway doesn’t go 63-yards to the end zone without the effort of diminutive wideout Brandon Powell, who took out three Vols on the play with a diving block. *****
“I was already up field, saw that he caught it, made a move and came back for a block and he just used his speed to score a touchdown and win the game.”
“It wasn’t just him. Brandon Powell, you know, got them peeling back on that and got in the way of those two guys who had angles on him that let him score there at the end. So to me, Brandon probably had more to do on that play because he had to clear out the middle than anyone else on the field there. That’s great to see. … It was pretty special and they deserve it.”
JARRAD DAVIS, UF linebacker
"When Will threw that ball, I was like there's so many white jerseys over there, and here comes Antonio out of nowhere. Catches it, wheels up the sideline and my man Brandon Powell. Coach McElwain says it every time, 'You have to be unselfish, you have to give it up for the team.’ [Powell] came in, he made an awesome block, sprung Antonio. He took it to the house, that Miami-Dade speed."
***** Florida practices Train Right, Jill, Big Ben, In every week. It’s never gone for a score though … until Saturday night.*****
MICK HUBERT, UF radio play-by-play announcer
“Snap to Grier. Grier looking, looking, got a receiver. There’s a catch made on the near sideline. Down the right sideline, 35, 30, it’ll be Callaway down the sideline. HE’S GOING TO SCORE. HE’S GOING TO SCORE. HE’S GOING TO SCORE. IT’S A TOUCHDOWN. OH MY. OHHH MYYYY.”
“That’s like one of the last plays we practice before we end practice. Coach Mac when we first started he was like, ‘This play is going to work one day.’ Tonight it did.”
“You know I haven’t seen it go for a touchdown if that’s what you’re asking. But sure glad it did today.”
***** Suddenly, The Swamp shook like it hasn't in years. *****
KEANU NEAL, UF safety
“I was praying but I didn’t think it was going to happen. It was amazing. That was a classic. … I just prayed and hoped for the best. He freaking scored. Just unbelievable. It was such a memorable moment.”
“I could not tell you that was coming. I went up to [Callaway] in the middle of the third quarter and said, ‘Hey look man, it’s going to come down to you on special teams. I thought it was going to be a punt return. He was doing his thing on punt return, next thing you know he does it on offense. … That kid right there is gonna be something special.”
“You’ve got to battle. You deal with adversity. You’ve got to respond. … We fought to the end and that’s what you’ve got to do to win games like that.”
“I was worried about our guys running down to celebrate with them to get a 15-yard penalty, to be honest with you. That was the only thing I was worried about at the time because I knew a field goal would beat us. We didn’t need that on the kickoff cover to be 15 yards back, but Antonio told me before the game that he was going to score. He thought it was going to be on a punt return. He actually wanted to practice chest bumping with me and I said I didn’t know if I could get up that high anymore.”
Even when Florida and Tennessee aren't any good, the game doesn't disappoint.
Florida capped a crazy comeback with some stupendous plays (hat tips to Will Grier, Antonio Callaway, Brandon Powell, Keanu Neal) and some stupefying decisions by Vols coach Butch Jones.
The Gators probably didn’t deserve to win, but they didn’t quit and found a way to anyway. That’s impressive.
Florida’s offense looked broken for much of the game, as Grier struggled with accuracy, happy feet and decision-making (his INT was a particularly heinous throw).
Then suddenly, the Gators flipped a switch late, and Grier became unstoppable on fourth down (5-of-5 for 123 yards and a score). Callaway made the game-winning play, but Florida never would’ve rallied without the contributions of Powell (several clutch catches and a critical block on the winning-play). The Gators gained 392 total yards and averaged just 5.5 yards per play.
The offensive line actually performed OK against a solid Tennessee front-seven. Kelvin Taylor rushed for 104 yards on 19 carries.
Florida didn’t incorporate wideout Demarcus Robinson (five catches after halftime) until it was almost too late, and DeAndre Goolsby, Ahmad Fulwood and the two freshmen tailbacks combined for just one touch.
Truly a mixed bag. Florida’s defense, particularly Neal (13 tackles) and safety Marcus Maye (10 tackles), laid some vicious hits, but the Gators also missed upteen tackles. Tennessee’s two-headed attack of Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd made the Gators look silly sometimes, as Florida surrendered 294 rushing yards after giving up 166 on the season entering the night.
On the other hand, UF’s defense eventually found its footing and forced Tennessee into abandoning the pass. Dobbs did everything for the Vols (led them in passing, rushing and receiving), but his fumble changed the game’s momentum.
The Gators were totally lost on both trick plays, but forcing a three-and-out at the end helped spur the comeback.
SPECIAL TEAMS C-
Johnny Townsend turned in a nice day, averaging nearly 50 yards (49.6) on seven punts, otherwise Florida’s special teams weren’t anything special. Callway had an explosive 65-yard punt return negated by a holding penalty, and the Gators allowed a couple big returns, especially on kickoffs. Redshirt freshman walk-on kicker Jorge Powell, filling in for the injured Austin Hardin, did drill all four extra points, though.
Jim McElwain summed up UF’s bonkers win best, saying, “Don’t know if we deserved it or not, but I sure like it this way than the other way. It was pretty cool, wasn’t it?”
The Gators made a lot of mistakes Saturday, but effort certainly wasn’t one of them. While this team remains a work in progress, beating Tennessee for the 11th straight year is nothing to bristle at. Somehow, some way, Florida's imperfect performance turned into a perfect ending.
GAINESVILLE -- Four coaches -- Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley and Butch Jones -- and a decade later, Tennessee is still trying to beat Florida.
Is today's the day?
The once storied 1990’s rivalry has lost its luster as both programs devolved into conference also-rans, but today’s matchup is critical for both programs, just for different reasons.
The Volunteers are in Year 3 of a rebuilding project, eying a signature win on the road. Snapping an embarrassing streak would be nice, too.
Meanwhile, the Gators are just three games into their own rebuild, so a victory would maintain their supremacy over a division rival and give a young team confidence and a little momentum before a brutal gauntlet over the next month (No. 3 Ole Miss, at No. 25 Missouri, at No. 8 LSU, vs. No. 7 Georgia).
On Friday, former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow broke down the showdown.
"I think Tennessee is a really good football team," Tebow said.
"If they would've closed out and played a second half versus Oklahoma and played a little bit more free and to win, I think we would be talking about a Top 15 football team. And because they weren't able to really finish out that game I think that hurts a little bit from the national recognition. I still think they have a lot of talent. Young talent."
As for the Gators, Tebow said his alma mater needs to start winning marquee games to return to national relevancy.
"I think it starts [Saturday]," he said.
"It would be a big win. Guess what, next week it’s an even bigger game if you win. It’s crazy, but when you win, the games get even bigger, and then when you get a chance to be in those big games and you win, guess what? Everybody in the country is talking about you. Then it's 'The Swamp is what it was. The excitement is what it was. The recruits' … it changes.”
WHERE: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
WHEN: 3:30 p.m.
LINE: Tennessee -2
1. Can UF dominate the turnover margin for the 11th straight season?
2. Who controls the trenches (and who runs the ball more effectively)?
3. How will special teams factor into the ballgame?
Heed my advice, y’all, I’m a smokin’ 12-3 ATS to start the season.
Mississippi State at Auburn (-1.5)
Michigan (-5.5) vs. BYU
Georgia Tech (-7) at Duke
Texas A&M (-7) at Arkansas
Finally, Tennessee at Florida (+2). I expect an ugly, knock-down, drag-out Big 10-esque game. Just with more follies. First to 14 wins. The Volunteers have more talent, can run the ball better and should leave with a victory. But weird stuff happens in these games. After 10 years of futility, I don't have any confidence in picking Tennessee on the road, so I'm grabbing the points.
GAINESVILLE -- Following Florida’s close win at Kentucky, coach Jim McElwain refused to settle the Gators’ situation at quarterback.
Treon Harris may have done it for him.
Harris, a sophomore quarterback from Miami Booker T. Washington, and starting cornerback Jalen Tabor were suspended Wednesday for one game for undisclosed reasons, so McElwain said redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier will “have an opportunity to run the ship" against Tennessee.
Grier played every snap against the Wildcats, but McElwain said the freshman performed “just OK” and that Harris was positioned to see snaps versus the Volunteers.
Not anymore, as Grier will have a prime opportunity to seize the job.
McElwain acknowledged Harris’ “choice” will have serious consequences for Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS), as the Gators are down to just a single scholarship quarterback (Grier) and may be forced to break out a Wildcat package.
“We knew we were thin at the position coming in,” McElwain said.
“We only had a couple scholarship guys anyway, so that’s the reason we worked some special packages with guys back there and with the quarterback that maybe aren’t traditional quarterbacks.”
Vanderbilt graduate transfer Josh Grady, who played wideout in UF’s first three games, will presumably serve as the backup and run Florida’s ‘GatorTail’ package.
Grady practiced with the quarterbacks Tuesday and Wednesday, and was 3-of-7 for 27 yards and two interceptions in his career at Vandy.
Linebacker Alex Anzalone (shoulder) and tight end C’yontai Lewis (hand) are doubtful for Saturday. McElwain said Anzalone’s injury, thought to be season-ending, isn’t quite as serious as originally thought.
“Instead of having to go put superglue on the shoulder, he only needed some duct tape,” McElwain said.
“Great news. Better than expected.”
Meanwhile, starting defensive end Alex McCalister (shoulder stinger) is probable, but linebacker Jeremi Powell (foot) and safety Kylan Johnson (ankle) are out.
GAINESVILLE -- Two of the Florida Gators’ stars in their comeback win over Tennessee last season are suspended for Saturday’s showdown with the Volunteers.
Sophomore quarterback Treon Harris and cornerback Jalen Tabor will both miss the rivalry game “based on the choices they made,” according to coach Jim McElwain on Wednesday.
“They will be back the following week,” McElwain said.
“I'm not angry at them at all. It's a choice. … Disappointed? Yeah, but there again, we all have choices and decisions to make in everything we do. It wasn’t anything we did. The team didn’t do. I feel bad for the team.”
Florida aims to extend its winning-streak to 11 games over Tennessee (3:30 p.m., CBS), but the task just got harder without a top cornerback and a quarterback poised to see snaps.
Now, the Gators’ quarterback competition could be over, though, as Will Grier will take all the snaps for the second straight week.
A season ago, Harris and Tabor, both freshmen, spearheaded UF’s 10-9 comeback win over Tennessee with key plays after halftime.
Trailing 9-0, Harris, a former star at Miami Booker T. Washington, replaced struggling quarterback Jeff Driskel and led a pair of scoring drives, including Florida’s lone touchdown setup by a strip-sack from Tabor.
A day later, Harris was accused of sexual assault, but he was reinstated when the allegations were withdrawn and only missed the LSU game.
Then in December 2014, Harris was charged with operating a motor vehicle without license, a second-degree misdemeanor, with Tabor also in the car.
Officers discovered two bags of marijuana in the car, however, no charges were filed because neither player actually possessed the drugs and the car didn’t belong to them.
Tabor was cited for marijuana possession in May 2014.
Last weekend, Harris didn’t play against Kentucky, but the sophomore continued to compete for the starting job with Grier.
On the year, Harris is 19-of-27 for 269 yards and two touchdowns, adding 55 yards on the ground.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s offensive line has taken its lumps this season, and while it’s not exactly a surprise considering the unit’s inexperience, it is a concern since the Gators have played the three worst defenses they’ll face over the next two months.
UF’s offensive line, the youngest group in the SEC, has struggled with consistency and continuity early in 2015.
Position coach Mike Summers is pleased with the unit’s progress and willingness to learn, especially for a group that’s regularly featured three true freshmen.
Still, with coach Jim McElwain saying “glass eaters and fire breathers” loom on the schedule, the young group could get exposed soon.
On Wednesday, Summers spoke about that possibility, as well as the early maturation of freshmen tackles Fred Johnson and Martez Ivey and the group's issues creating holes in the run game.
On facing the defensive lines of Tennessee, Ole Miss, LSU and Georgia…
“Even though you can stand here and say I feel like we’re progressing, I still have been doing this long enough to know we have a long way to go, and that’s certainly going to be evident as we get into tougher competition. These defensive lines we play in this league are so good, they’re going to expose our inexperience. They’re going to expose our lack of depth. They’re going to expose certain areas of what we do. We know that’s going to happen. We’re just trying to prepare ourselves for it as we go forward and do the best we can. That’s where we are right now. We’ve prepared as best we can and they’ve made progress and we’ll handle every challenge that comes to us. Some we’ll handle better than others.”
On freshman right tackle Fred Johnson…
“He's such an amazing surprise. His background in high school was not very extensive. I think he was a one-year starter in high school. His knowledge about football is way behind guys that have played and have more experience. But every day he comes over here he's got a smile on his face. It's a new day for him. He's excited to be there, and I'm excited to coach him. We work through the goods and the bads and somewhere in between we're seeing a guy really develop into a good offensive lineman."
On freshman left tackle Martez Ivey…
“He was such a successful high school player on a successful high school program. He got tremendous coaching in high school, especially in the run game. He had a real solid background in run blocking when he came in here and an understanding about football. He had been taught a lot of those things that you have to know to be able to be successful. So I think he did have a little bit of an advantage based on that background. But his advantage is in his heart. It’s in his brain. He’s a football player, and so he brings that every day. … They were a very effective run game in high school, a team that had a good running game. We spent our time in the pass game there. Really, I’ve seen tremendous improvement. It’s such a shame that he got hurt when he did because he was on such a fast pace to capture a lot of the things that we had been teaching him going into that first game. I was so impressed with where he was. Then to have a three-week setback was difficult for him and for all of us. But he really responded well. He worked hard in his rehab. He came right back in, got into practice last week and really got a lot more snaps Saturday than I thought he’d be able to take and be effective at it. I was really pleased with what he did.
He did really good. I was really encouraged with him. He's got such a spirit for playing football. He's a guy that loves to be in the game, loves to be at practice, loves to prepare himself to be ready to play. And so from that standpoint I'm just so excited about him.”
On the unit’s struggles in the run game…
“We work all facets of the run game every day. There’ll be plays that we get on the right landmarks and have our eyes and hands and feet in the right spot and we get good push, and there’ll be plays that we don’t. Obviously our challenge is to make sure that we have more of them that we do and less of them that we don’t. That’ll be the case as we go through the whole season. There’ll be days that we roll off the ball and we get in the right spots and we push guys back. Certainly as the competition gets better, there’ll be days where they’ll be able to handle us in that area. But that’s our challenge every day, is to try and create push and create vertical movement. Certainly that’s an emphasis.”
On the group’s overall inexperience…
“I don’t know if I've ever been in a situation where we’ve had this few returning players and have to work with a group of younger players and have them in such vital positions that we have right now. I don’t know if I've been in that situation. But I’ll follow that up and say I don’t know if I've ever been more enthused about coaching a group of guys that I am with this group. Their spirit to be Florida Gators, their competitive edge to want to make us into a good offensive line has been there. They want to be coached and so for this to be [Year] No. 36 for me and a lot of people might think that it’s old hat or routine, it’s been anything but that. The fact that they’re young is a challenge for me and their enthusiasm spurs my motivation and it’s been a really good coaching situation.”
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s offensive line is littered with youth, and the unit’s prized newcomer finally made his debut in the Gators’ 14-9 win at Kentucky.
Freshman tackle Martez Ivey, the nation’s top overall offensive line recruit in the 2015 class, played a number of snaps against the Wildcats and UF coach Jim McElwain was pleased with Ivey’s first collegiate game.
“I thought he knocked off some rust,” McElwain said.
“I thought he blew them off the ball pretty well. He did a really good job of creating some push. His quickness. He did good.”
The former five-star prospect was pegged as UF’s starting left tackle late in training camp, but Ivey missed the first two games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
“He brings a lot to the table,” starting guard Antonio Riles Jr. said.
“We have a lot more depth, versatility and all that [with him] back. ‘Tez is a good all-around player. We’re happy to have him back."
THIS & THAT
Former Gators great Alex Brown will serve as Florida’s honorary ‘Mr. Two Bits’ against Tennessee. The All-American defensive end famously sacked Volunteers quarterback Tee Martin five times in UF’s 23-21 win in 1999. … UF wideout Brandon Powell originally committed to Tennessee and coach Butch Jones, so the sophomore said he’s circled the matchup after missing the game due to an injury last season. “This is one of the games I’ve been looked forward to,” Powell said. … The Gators are encouraging fans to wear blue Saturday, hoping for blue-out The Swamp.