January 20, 2015

NCAA grants McGee a sixth year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 15, 2015

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

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

Pearl's jacket never even came off. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 10, 2015

Gators cruise, extend SEC win streak to 23 straight

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

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

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

“It’s a weight off my shoulders.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We played very unselfishly," Donovan said. 

"We really shared [the ball]."

UF hosts Auburn on Thursday at 7 p.m.

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January 06, 2015

Morrison spurns NFL, injury extent remains unclear

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

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

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

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

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

Morrison was named to the SEC Honor Roll this fall.

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

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

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Five-star freshman DE Gerald Willis to transfer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 03, 2015

Gator Grades: A welcomed win

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

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

OFFENSE – C

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

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

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

DEFENSE – B

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

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

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

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

SPECIAL TEAMS – C

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

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

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

OVERALL – B

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 31, 2014

Reports: Randy Shannon to join Florida's staff

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

The Twitter account @Brody_IAKOW first reported the news. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

December 16, 2014

Report: Florida hires MSU's Collins as DC

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

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

Sports Illustrated first reported the news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 12, 2014

Reports: Muschamp to Auburn, Robinson too?

GAINESVILLE -- Will Muschamp is heading back to the Plains. 

Florida's former head coach agreed to a lucrative three-year contract to become Auburn's defensive coordinator Friday, according to multiple media reports.

Muschamp -- who started his coaching career with the Tigers as a graduate assistant in 1995 -- wasn't on the market long, coaching his final game at UF just two weeks ago.

This marks his third stint with the Tigers, serving as the team's defensive coordinator in 2006-07 before jumping to Texas. Muschamp forms a dynamic duo with offensive guru and head coach Gus Malzahn, who's defenses have traditionally struggled with his up-tempo attack.

Muschamp will reportedly earn around $1.6 million annually, making the 43-year-old coach the highest-paid coordinator in the FBS.  

His deal does not affect the $6.3 million buyout Florida owes him over the next three years. 

The news could be a blow for the Gators, as Muschamp may lure UF defensive backs coach and relentless recruiter Travaris Robinson back to his alma mater. 

Robinson was an All-SEC safety for the Tigers and started his coaching career under Muschamp. 

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December 08, 2014

Five Gators named to AP All-SEC teams

GAINESVILLE -- Five Florida football players earned Associated Press All-SEC honors Monday, headlined by sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

Hargreaves was UF’s lone first-team selection, ranking third in the conference in passes defended (15). He finished the regular season with two interceptions and 45 tackles, too.

Two other UF defenders received recognition as well, with junior linebacker Antonio Morrison earning second-team honors and junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. named honorable mention.

Fowler Jr., a likely 2015 first round draft pick, had 5.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hurries. Meanwhile, Morrison led the Gators in tackles with 98.

UF had no offensive players named, but punter Kyle Christy (second team) and kick returner Andre Debose (honorable mention) were awarded recognition for their strong performances in 2014.

Christy bounced back from a miserable 2013 season, averaging 44.5 yards a punt -- fourth in the SEC. 

Note: AP voters could only vote for a first team.

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December 07, 2014

Florida vs. ECU, other SEC bowl pairings

GAINESVILLE -- It was a circus event Sunday, but the SEC (eventually) released its 2014-15 bowl assignments, with Florida taking on East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3. (Noon, ESPN/ESPN2).

Here are the 12 matchups involving SEC teams.

Duck Commander Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La.)South Carolina vs. Miami (Dec. 27, 3:30 p.m., ABC)

Autozone Liberty Bowl (Memphis, Tenn.)Texas A&M vs. West Virginia (Dec. 29, 2 p.m., ESPN)

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (Houston, Texas)Arkansas vs. Texas (Dec. 29, 9 p.m., ESPN)

Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn.)LSU vs. Notre Dame (Dec. 30, 3 p.m., ESPN)

Belk Bowl (Charlotte, N.C.)Georgia vs. Louisville (Dec. 30, 6:30 p.m., ESPN) 

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (Atlanta, Ga.)Ole Miss vs. TCU (Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m., ESPN) 

Capital One Orange Bowl (Miami Gardens)Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech (Dec. 31, 8 p.m., ESPN)

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (Orlando)Missouri vs. Minnesota (Jan. 1, 1 p.m., ABC)

Outback Bowl (Tampa)Auburn vs. Wisconsin (Jan. 1, noon, ESPN2)

Allstate Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, La.)Alabama vs. Ohio State (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m., ESPN)

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl (Jacksonville)Tennessee vs. Iowa (Jan. 2, 3:20 p.m., ESPN)

Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham, Ala.)Florida vs. East Carolina (Jan. 3, noon, ESPN)

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December 03, 2014

Muschamp mulling multiple offers, per report

GAINESVILLE -- Will Muschamp is currently unemployed, but certainly not unwanted.

Florida’s dismissed head coach, fired Nov. 16 after four frustrating seasons with the Gators, is reportedly mulling lucrative job offers from Auburn, Texas A&M and two unknown NFL teams, according to Rivals’ AuburnUndercover.com.

The Tigers fired defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson following Saturday’s 55-44 loss to Alabama, while the Aggies canned coordinator Mark Synder after losing to LSU at home on Thanksgiving.

Muschamp, a defensive savant who masterminded four top-10 defenses with the Gators, coached at Auburn in 2006-07 and also worked in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins in 2008.

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December 02, 2014

Florida's next head coach?

GAINESVILLE -- Four years ago, Jeremy Foley lured a former Nick Saban disciple to Florida, hoping to replicate Alabama’s football juggernaut.

It didn’t work, but UF’s athletic director is courting another coach with a Saban pedigree, interviewing Colorado State’s Jim McElwain on Tuesday afternoon, per multiple reports.

According to FlightAware.com, a private jet owned by a Florida booster left Jacksonville early Tuesday morning, picking up Foley in Gainesville and flying to Joplin, Mo., for a brief stop. The flight then landed in Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal airport in Colorado.

The website OnlyGators.com first reported the flight plan.

McElwain, 52, was named the Mountain West Conference coach of the year Tuesday, rapidly turning around a perennial bottom-feeder in three seasons at CSU.

The Rams were 3-9 for three consecutive years before McElwain took over in 2012.

He’s 22-16 at CSU, including 10-2 this season with wins over Power Five schools Colorado and Boston College.

Following four years of offensive futility at Florida, Foley aimed to hire a coach “with a track record” of offensive acumen.

McElwain fits the bill. 

He won a pair of national titles as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator from 2008-2011, and this season, CSU averaged 35.9 points a game, ranking seventh nationally in third down efficiency (51 percent) and passing (323.6 ypg).

Senior quarterback Garrett Grayson is third in the country in passer rating, boasting 32 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Meanwhile, wideout Rashard Higgins, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, leads in the country in receiving yards (1,640) and touchdowns (17).

Since 2013, CSU has scored 30+ points in 17 games. The Gators managed such a feat just 16 times in four seasons under Muschamp.

After a flurry of rumors over the weekend, Florida zeroed in on McElwain when Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze signed a four-year contract extension Monday, removing a potential target from the mix.

Foley turned his focus to McElwain, flying to personally interview and potentially offer the job Tuesday afternoon. 

McElwain signed a five-year contract extension with CSU in August, with an annual base salary at $1.5 million and a $7.5 million buyout.

According to McElwain’s contract, the buyout is negotiable with “extenuating circumstances,” meaning Florida could pay the sum in whole or agree to a neutral-site contest to cover the cost.

If hired, McElwain aims to “retain” UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, esteemed defensive coaches and a pair of outstanding recruiters, per multiple reports.

Despite his SEC experience, McElwain is a Western native, born in Montana. He played quarterback for Eastern Washington (1980-83), and coached QBs and receivers at his alma mater from 1987-1994.

He was an assistant for 15 years in the Big Sky Conference before jumping to bigger jobs, including Louisville (2000-02), Michigan State (2003-05), the NFL’s Oakland Raiders (2006), Fresno State (2007) and then Alabama. 

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December 01, 2014

Going bowling 2.0: All over the map

GAINESVILLE -- Florida finished the regular-season 6-5, barely eligible for postseason play.

The Gators could’ve been 9-2 (really 10-2 counting the rained-out Idaho opener) or 4-7 and home for the holidays for the second straight season.

UF is one of 12 SEC teams bowl eligible and despite the cache of The Gator Nation, Florida isn’t a hot commodity with an interim staff  and an unmarketable offense. 

Where will the Gators will go bowling remains a clouded mystery, but here are Monday’s latest projections, per the "experts."

CBS Sports

Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit, Mich., Dec. 26) – Florida vs. Virginia Tech

ESPN

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 27) – Florida vs. Virginia; Belk Bowl (Charlotte, N.C., Dec. 30) – Florida vs. Duke

Phil Steele

Heart of Dallas Bowl (Dallas, Tex., Dec. 26) – Florida vs. Marshall

Sporting News

Music City Bowl (Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 30) – Florida vs. Cincinnati

SB Nation

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 27) – Florida vs. North Carolina

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November 26, 2014

Hargreaves won't shadow Greene; Juniors mull NFL

GAINESVILLE -- All-American defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III is among the nation’s top cornerbacks, but Florida’s secondary star won’t exclusively shadow No. 1 Florida State’s elite wideout Rashad Greene 

Greene -- the Seminoles’ all-time leading receiver -- is quarterback Jameis Winston’s go-to target, registering 83 catches for 1,148 yards and five touchdowns on the season.  The senior has seven 100+ yard performances and ranks 10th nationally in yards per game.

Still, Florida refuses to change its fluid defensive philosophy -- this despite possessing an obvious man-to-man coverage candidate.

“Based on coverage and call and situation, it will be different. They are going to be matched up on each other at times,” UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin explained.

“But there will be times where they won’t be. It won’t be one of those deals where Vernon’s with him the whole game.”

The Gators utilized a similar gameplan against Alabama’s dynamic wideout Amari Cooper, and the results were disastrous.

Cooper torched UF’s bracket zones, and later, won multiple one-on-one matchups against Hargreaves. The receiver finished the blowout with 10 catches for 201 yards and three scores.

“There are other things we want to do [defensively], and we don’t want to sacrifice that,” Durkin said, explaining potential problems elsewhere with Hargreaves solely shadowing Greene.

“Sometimes you do that and all of a sudden you’re putting other guys in spots they haven’t been in before and uncomfortable. I think the main thing is being able to execute. Obviously, he’s a great receiver and he’s the guy they go to. We feel good about Vernon as a cover guy, but we don’t want to sacrifice the whole integrity of what we do defensively to say, ‘That’s the matchup.’”

BULLARD, HUMPHRIES MULL NFL OPTIONS

Florida juniors D.J. Humphries, the team’s starting left tackle, and Jon Bullard, a powerful playmaker at defensive tackle, plan to seek feedback from the NFL Draft advisory board at the end of the year. 

Humphries, a former five-star recruit, has started 17 games in three injury-plagued seasons.

“I’m just trying to finish out the season strong and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.

“[I’ll get NFL advice] because of the situation and what’s been going on here. But I just got to stay focused and then try and figure out what’s going to go down.”

Bullard, a former five-star defensive end prospect, has thrived in a transition to tackle in 2014, recording 40 tackles, 11 hurries and 5.5 stops for loss.

Meanwhile, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and offensive guard Tyler Moore have already announced their intentions to declare for the upcoming draft. 

QUOTABLE

"Wow. Ok. I didn't know that. Learn new things every day. That's awesome."

-- sophomore safety Keanu Neal, upon learning that D.J. Durkin will serve as the team's interim head coach. 

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November 25, 2014

Carter, Finney-Smith travel to Bahamas, questionable for tourney opener against Georgetown

GAINESVILLE -- Depth remains an issue for No. 18 Florida, but the shorthanded Gators could return to a pair of starters sometime over the weekend.

Maybe. 

Senior guard Eli Carter and versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith made the trip to the Bahamas for this week’s Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, and both starters are questionable for Wednesday’s opener against Georgetown (9:30 p.m., AXS TV).

Carter -- diagnosed with a mid-foot sprain -- has not practiced since sustaining the injury late in a workout last Thursday, but coach Billy Donovan hoped to have a better idea of the swingman’s status sometime Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Finney-Smith -- who sustained multiple hairline fractures in his left hand in Florida’s regular-season opener against William & Mary -- has been cleared for non-contact drills but remains plagued by persistent pain. The redshirt junior, who posted15 points and five rebounds in his lone apperance this season, has missed UF's last two games. 

“Neither of them has practiced,” Donovan said.

“They’re doing some stuff individually. I think Dorian’s hand does feel better. He still has pain. A lot of it’s going to come down to what he can actually tolerate.

“[Dorian's] got two broken bones in his hand, so it’s not a situation where you’re looking at it and saying ‘geez this guy just needs to play through some pain.’ I think it’s very, very difficult right now for him to catch, to dribble. And I think when the ball does come to him, I think that’s a problem. I think going up to rebound is a problem. So where does he get to a point where he feels like the pain is manageable? Because he’s going to be playing with pain for some significant time, that’s definitely going to happen. Now how long it takes for him to be totally pain-free I don’t know.

"But he’s going to have a brace on his hand definitely for a few weeks. I don’t know what or how much we can get out of him. I know right now he’s not really cleared for practice, well he is cleared for practice, but I think the feeling by the trainer and the doctor is if his pain is pretty significant, what ends of happening is the constant hitting of it, catching, rebounding, banging it all that does is create more swelling, creates a longer healing process, and that’s something we’re trying to avoid right now.”

Carter, averaging 14.5 points in two games, is only doing conditioning drills.

With both starters sidelined, the shorthanded Gators, with just six scholarship players available, struggled to topple Louisiana-Monroe 61-56 in overtime Friday night. Florida (2-1) practiced three times last Saturday in an effort to build some cohesiveness with its depleted depth. 

Thus far, Florida’s most reliable contributor to start the season has been walk-on forward Jacob Kurtz, who’s averaging 6.0 points, 9.3 rebounds 2.3 assists in three games.   

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November 24, 2014

Going bowling: Birmingham or Shreveport?

GAINESVILLE -- Florida secured bowl eligibility with Saturday’s 52-3 blowout win over Eastern Kentucky.

Now’s the guessing-game. Where will the Gators go bowling?

With 11 SEC teams bowl eligible -- and Tennessee a win away from becoming No. 12 -- Florida (with an interim staff) is likely to be slotted as one of the conference's final picks. An upset win over No. 1 Florida State could change that. 

Here are Monday’s latest projections, per the "experts."

CBS Sports

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 27) – Florida vs. Miami

ESPN

Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham, Al., Jan. 3) – Florida vs. Memphis; Florida vs. East Carolina

Phil Steele

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 27) – Florida vs. Virginia Tech

Sporting News

Birmingham Bowl (Birmingham, Al., Jan. 3) – Florida vs. Cincinnati

SB Nation

Independence Bowl (Shreveport, La., Dec. 27) – Florida vs. NC State

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November 23, 2014

Gator Grades: Send-off

GAINESVILLE -- On a gloomy, rainy Saturday in The Swamp, Florida sent the seniors and dismissed coach Will Muschamp out in style with a 52-3 rout over Eastern Kentucky.

It was a bittersweet finale, but the Gators managed to have some fun following an emotionally trying week.

OFFENSE – B

Florida’s usual grit-and-grind offense was nowhere to be found. Instead, the Gators turned to an Air Raid attac, passing their way past the Colonels.

UF’s offense was sluggish and slow early, unable to run the football despite a massive size disparity up front. But the Gators hit a couple big throws late in the second quarter, turning a barnburner into a blowout.

Treon Harris was sporadically spectacular (4-of-12 for 162 yards and two touchdowns) before exiting with a leg injury, while much-maligned backup Jeff Driskel was nearly flawless (9-of-11 for 164 yards and four scores) in relief.

Little-used tailback Adam Lane, a fourth-stringer, led the Gators in rushing (60 yards), while UF posted a pair of 100+ yard receivers for the first time in the Muschamp era.   

DEFENSE – A

EKU was limited to just 142 total yards, as UF stifling defense strangled the Colonel’s prolific rushing attack. EKU couldn’t pass either (63 yards), resorting to gimmicks for potential game-changing plays.  

Florida forced a slew of fumbles, recovering only one.

The Gators played a bunch of backups in the second half, but regular rotational guys like Alex McCalister (2 sacks) and linebacker Michael Taylor (team-high 9 tackles) delivered solid performances.

SPECIAL TEAMS – A

A week after collapsing against South Carolina, UF’s third unit was primed for EKU’s bag of tricks.

The Gators stopped a fake punt, fake field and onside kick. Meanwhile, Andre Debose had a 39-yard punt return, while Kyle Christy averaged 49 yards on four punts.

Austin Hardin supplanted Frankie Velez as the team’s first-string kicker, drilling a 48-yard field goal on his lone attempt.

OVERALL – B+

The Gators overcame a slow start to rout an FCS school.

Considering the circumstances and the way UF played against an FCS foe last season (Georgia Southern, anyone?), it was a fitting, feel-good win for a team desperate for some fun.

Florida is now bowl eligible and Muschamp will roam the sidelines one final time Saturday at No. 1 Florida State. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 16, 2014

The Hot List: Where do Gators go next?

GAINEVILLE -- Will Muschamp -- Florida’s supposed prodigal son -- was fired resigned Sunday, effective at the end of the regular season.

Esteemed athletics director Jeremy Foley will open a search immediately, tacitly pursuing candidates under radio silence.

Florida is a Top 5 job -- rich athletic department, fertile recruiting base, solid roster foundation -- but the program’s systemic issues -- average facilities, substandard support staff, fickle fan base -- are real.

Unless Bob Stoops up and leaves Oklahoma, Foley isn’t hiring a defensive coach.

The Gators will target an experienced, offensive-minded coach, one that hopefully has Southeast ties and a solid recruiting background.

But the search to fill Muschamp’s vacancy won’t be easy. A potential list of who’s who candidates can be crossed off from the start.

Steve Spurrier, Dan Quinn, Charlie Strong, Art Briles, James Franklin, Gus Malzahn, Kevin Sumlin and Chad Morris will not be Florida’s next head coach.

Pipe-dream hires such as Chip Kelly or Jim Harbaugh are also unlikely, and thus, Foley’s job is extremely difficult.

Intriguing options remain, but few offer a perfect fit for UF.

Florida is sure to gauge the interest of Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Arizona State’s Todd Graham, UCLA’s Jim Mora and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy.

Notably absent: Dan Mullen. Mississippi State’s coach is probably the hottest candidate on the market, but the former UF offensive coordinator reportedly has a sour relationship with Foley and may not even receive as much as a phone call.

Long-shots options include Colorado State’s Jim McElwain, Mike Shanahan or TCU’s Gary Patterson.

In the end, plenty of coaches will receive raises thanks to Florida’s interest, but make no mistake, Foley is under immense pressure to hit a home run.

The real question: Is there one out there?

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Dismissed: Muschamp out as Florida's football coach

GAINESVILLE -- The homecoming is over. 

Will Muschamp resigned as Florida’s football coach Sunday, effective at the end of the regular season.

The 43-year-old Gainesville native, who grew up rooting for his childhood team, was just 27-20 in four seasons with the Gators.  

Saturday’s stunning, epic meltdown in the final minutes of a 23-20 overtime loss to South Carolina was the final straw.

“Upon evaluation of our football program, we are not where the program needs to be and should be," UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a statement.

"I've always said that our goal at the University of Florida is to compete for championships on a regular basis. Coach Muschamp was dedicated to developing young men both on and off the field. Our student athletes showed tremendous growth socially and academically under his leadership. His players were involved in campus activities, engaged with the local community and represented the University of Florida with pride.

"I will be forever grateful to Will and his staff for their unwavering commitment to the University of Florida and the mission of our athletic program. He will be missed by everyone in our athletic department - from the people that worked in his office to the people that painted the fields. Will knew everyone and they knew him and everyone in the building loved working with him. Will is as fine a man as you will ever meet, and I will always cherish our relationship with him and his family."

Muschamp complied a 17-15 record in SEC play, with Florida losing six of its last eight games in The Swamp. Muschamp never won a division title, was just 5-13 against ranked foes and dropped eight games at home in four seasons.

Gator legends Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer lost 10 home games combined.

“I appreciate the opportunity that has been offered to me and my family by Dr. Machen, Jeremy Foley and the University of Florida,” Muschamp said.

“I was given every opportunity to get it done here and I simply didn’t win enough games -- that is the bottom line. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get it done and it is my responsibility to get it done.”

Muschamp’s comeuppance appeared inevitable following an embarrassing 42-13 shellacking at home by Missouri. But Foley, the embattled coach’s staunchest supporter, said Muschamp would be evaluated as “the season plays out.”

Florida benched beleaguered quarterback Jeff Driskel for freshman Treon Harris, rallying to knock off Georgia and Vanderbilt.

Still, Saturday’s stunner burned a hot-seat already ablaze to ashes.

Players could barely muster words postgame, with senior safety Jabari Gorman meekly pleading, “If you’re a Gator fan, stay a Gator fan. Don’t give up on nobody. We don’t give up on each other. Our fans shouldn’t give up on us.”

Muschamp’s misadventures include a tenure defined by toothless offenses, staffing woes, continuity issues, recruiting failures and inexplicable losses.

Following an 11-2 season in 2012, the Gators stumbled to 4-8 last year -- snapping a 22-game bowl streak and finishing with a losing record for the first time since Jimmy Carter was president.

But Muschamp survived a loss to FCS-school Georgia Southern and a tidal wave of criticism, blaming an injury-riddled roster and continued offensive ineptitude.

He fired former offensive coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis, and brashly promised to return Florida to dominance.

Instead, the Gators have crawled to a 5-4 record, barely beating conference cellar-dwellers Tennessee and Kentucky.

“I have no bitter feelings, but this is a business and I wish we would have produced better results on the field,” Muschamp said.

“We have a great group of players and a staff that is committed to this University and this football program. They have handled themselves with class and I expect them to continue to do so. As I’ve said many times, life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond.”

Foley hired Muschamp in 2010, hand-picking the former defensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting at Texas.

He is owed nearly $6 million, with three seasons remaining on a contract that ran until 2017.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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