BATON ROUGE, La. -- Football will be played today.
After a chaotic week full of off-the-field storylines (Will Grier, Steve Spurrier, Deiondre Porter), the eighth-ranked Gators will traverse into the jungle and try to win under the lights in Death Valley.
Since Les Miles became LSU’s coach in 2005, the sixth-ranked Tigers have lost just four night games at home.
Florida is undefeated and the Jim McElwain era is off to a roaring start, but the season has also been a soap opera.
A quick rundown thus far:
Suspensions in the opener. The Kelvin Taylor throat slash incident. Suspensions against Tennessee. Roughly 21 players battling the flu before Ole Miss. Grier and Porter suspensions this week.
Again, a soap opera.
McElwain has proven a master motivator though, instilling Florida with an “us against the world” mentality all year. The Gators have thrived on the chaos, but how much is too much?
“And these guys have been pretty resilient so far and now we get an opportunity to see how much we've learned. … Let’s talk about chaos and distractions, playing in Tiger Stadium in a night game, there’s a lot of it going on. So, I think the important thing is eliminate the clutter, take care of yourself, do your job and let’s go focus and have a good time doing it.”
LSU will face a backup quarterback for the fourth-straight week (Syracuse, EMU, South Carolina), and while Treon Harris isn’t an ordinary backup, it is another quarterback issue for UF against LSU.
I’m taking a lot of road ‘dogs today. Just 3-2 last week and 19-10-1 ATS on the season.
Michigan State (+7.5) at Michigan
Alabama (-3.5) at Texas A&M
Louisville (+8) at Florida State
Penn State (+19) at Ohio State
And finally, Florida (+7) at LSU. This game could go sideways quickly, or the Gators could hang around and possibly spring the upset. The line has moved a ton this week. Going as high as +10 in some places. The Tigers’ll win, but the Gators will show up. This group is too prideful.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s special teams haven’t been all that special this season.
The Gators rank in the middle of the pack in punt and kickoff return and their kicking game has been even more suspect.
Placekickers Austin Hardin and Jorge Powell, a walk-on from Belen Jesuit Prep, are a combined 5-of-9 on field goals, but coach Jim McElwain said he still has confidence in UF’s kickers, specially Powell.
“Well you know in our program we don’t differentiate between walk-ons and scholarships. They’re Gators,” McElwain said.
“I’ve got full confidence in everything [Powell] does. He hit’em really good this week in practice. Couple live opportunities that we do, goods on goods, he was nails. Yea. I’ll send him out there and say, ‘Go kick it.’”
Florida can’t afford to leave many points on the board Saturday night in Death Valley (7 p.m., ESPN), as No. 6 LSU’s Trent Domingue is a perfect 7-of-7 kicking field goals on the season.
Powell missed a 36-yard field goal in the win over Missouri last weekend, but the redshirt freshman is 2-for-3 on the year.
He’s taken over the first-string dues, as Hardin, a redshirt junior on scholarship, remains sidelined with an injury. Hardin also seems to be in McElwain’s doghouse and has not played since the win over Kentucky.
When asked about Hardin’s status, McElwain said, “I don’t know. He’s got to work through that and see where it is.”
IVEY STILL REPPING AT GUARD
Five-star freshman Martez Ivey continues to see reps at left guard in practice.
The 6-foot-5, 302-pound offensive tackle has played both positions in games, but Florida is reshuffling its offensive line to add depth and put its best five players on the field.
Starting right guard Antonio Riles has struggled some in recent weeks, prompting the move.
Ivey first debuted at guard against Ole Miss, and saw reps inside against Missouri, too.
“We’ve talked about trying to get an eight or nine-man rotation,” McElwain said.
“Working ‘Tez in there a little bit to give [starting guard Antonio Riles] a break. Tyler Jordan will get in there as well, at center and guard as much as we can. Getting ‘Tez over there with [David] Sharpe on the left side gives us maybe a little pop over there. It also allows us to give [Riles] some rest instead of having to take 80 snaps.”
THIS & THAT
Senior defensive tackle Jon Bullard was added to the Chuck Bednarik Award watch list Thursday, honoring college football’s top defensive player of the year. Bullard leads the Gators with 9.5 tackles for loss and ranks fourth in the SEC in sacks with 4.5. … LSU has just one turnover all season (tied with FSU for fewest in the nation), while Florida leads conference in takeaways (13). … Florida last won in Death Valley in 2009.
GAINESVILLE -- Florida can add another distraction to the list before its pivotal matchup against No. 6 LSU this weekend.
Gators cornerback and special teams ace Deiondre Porter was suspended indefinitely following Wednesday’s arrest for allegedly firing a gun at his pregnant girlfriend of two years.
Porter, a 19-year-old redshirt freshman, is currently being held in Alachua County Jail on $160,000 bond and faces four felony charges, including aggravated battery and two charges for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill, and one second-degree misdemeanor, according to court records.
“He’s no longer with the football team,” UF coach Jim McElwain said.
“He is suspended indefinitely for a choice, his choice not to be with us.”
According to the Gainesville Police Department incident report, on Sept. 29 at around 2:15 a.m., Porter angrily confronted his girlfriend, who he knew was 10 weeks pregnant at the time, over a potential relationship with a teammate. Porter accused his girlfriend of cheating, followed her into a bedroom and pointed a gun at her head, “demanding she tell the truth.”
The vicim maintained her innocence and made numerous failed attempts to contact the alleged teammate to prove she had not been romantically involved with anyone else.
Per the report, Porter and his girlfriend eventually went to sleep in separate rooms, but the next morning, Porter continued yelling at the victim, growing further agitated. He then fired a handgun in the victim’s direction, with the bullet “striking the wall where she was leaning,” according to the GPD report.
Police later found a bullet hole in the wall and recovered a .45 caliber shell casing near where the victim alleged Porter shot the gun.
On Sept. 30, officers contacted Porter, who was a passenger in a vehicle with a driver found to be in possession of a .45 caliber handgun.
Porter was Florida’s starting gunner on special teams the first four weeks of the season and was awarded the honor of wearing the big sombrero before the Tennessee game -- a symbol for a player’s importance during a particular week.
However, since the alleged incident, Porter did not play a single snap against Ole Miss or Missouri.
GAINESVILLE -- Steve Spurrier resigned abruptly from South Carolina on Monday, sending shockwaves around college football.
Spurrier, 70, is the all-time winningest coach at Florida and South Carolina. The Head Ball Coach was an icon with his swagger, sharp tongue and sophisticated offensive mind, and on Tuesday, tons of former colleagues, coaches and players paid tribute to Spurrier on Twitter.
The Ol’ Ball Coach, 70, is a college football saint, winning the Heisman Trophy at UF in 1966 and revolutionizing offense in the SEC years later with the Fun 'N Gun attack.
In 1996, Spurrier delivered Florida’s first national title in school history with a 52-20 win over Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
In all, Spurrier was 122-27 in a dozen seasons at UF, winning six SEC Championships. He remains the school’s all-time winningest coach, losing just five games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and nicknaming the house of horrors “The Swamp.”
Thanks @SC_HBC Spurrier for all you've done for college football...and for me. Your impact on me changed the trajectory of my life.
After leaving UF following the 2001 season, the HBC had a brief and unsuccessful stop in the NFL, lasting just three seasons with the Washington Redskins.
In 2005, he became the head coach at South Carolina and eventually revived a dormant program, leading the Gamecocks to 10 straight bowl games. The Gamecocks won 11 games in three-straight seasons from 2011-2013 and Spurrier is the school’s all-time winningest coach.
“I’m getting a little old when you start feeling sorry for the other coach, “ Spurrier said afterwards.
“I hope they keep him.”
Had Spurrier chosen to finish out the 2015 season, his final SEC game would’ve come against his alma mater on Nov. 14 in Columbia, SC.
Spurrier remains an endeared figure, and his larger-than-life personality started at UF. His most famous gems include, "You can't spell Citrus without U-T" and "You know what FSU stands for don't you? Free Shoes University."
Another bad week (2-3) but that changes today. Still 16-8-1 ATS on the season.
Oklahoma (-16.5) vs. Texas
South Carolina at LSU (-18)
California at Utah (-7) -- really like the over here, too
Northwestern (+9) at Michigan
Finally, Florida (-5.5) at Missouri. The Tigers have throttled the Gators 78-30 over the last two seasons. That should be motivation enough to avoid a hangover after two straight thrilling wins. Florida will need to create its own juice (The Swamp’s energy has been a key factor the last two weeks), but Mizzou is so challenged offensively, backing a freshman quarterback against this UF defense is just silly. Expect a sloppy, low-scoring affair.
Geoff Collins’ defense ranks second nationally in tackles for loss (46) and first in the SEC in sacks (18), but one player who’s rarely shown up in the box score has actually been a key catalyst up front.
Gators defensive tackle Caleb Brantley has just one sack, 2.5 tackles for loss and (officially) zero quarterback hurries on the year, yet coach Jim McElwain called the 6-2, 315-pound redshirt sophomore one of Florida’s best overall players due to Brantley’s ability to draw double-teams and create rush lanes for teammates.
“He was one of the guys when we first got here that I probably noticed from an athletic standpoint that really jumped out,” McElwain said.
“To see his athletic ability, explosiveness and quick twitch and all the things that are really beneficial to play that position. As we did our ratings of our top 70 players … he was a guy that was in the top-10 of every coach. So I think that speaks for how much we think he’s a really good player, and he’s doing a great job.”
Brantley played in all 12 games in last season. He would flash in moments but consistency -- from effort to motivation to production -- was an issue.
But the light has turned on in 2015.
Defensive line coach Chris Rumph has been able to tap into Brantley’s raw talent, and Florida’s assistant coach credits Brantely’s elevated play to accepting coaching and improving his practice habits.
“He came up to me and he said, ‘Coach, for the first time I'm starting to understand football. It's starting to make sense to me, starting to slow down for me.' That's a credit to him putting in the extra work and working, listening to the things that we're telling him as a player,” Rumph explained.
“I think it's really helping him, and I think he's seeing some of the success when he does it the right way, and then also he's seeing what happens when he doesn't do it the right way.”
Meanwhile, McElwain praised Brantley’s unselfishness, as the defensive tackle has frequently sacrificed stats to free up teammates.
“I think they know the importance of doing their job to help us be successful,” McElwain said.
“And really what happens, too, usually when you’re doing your job and doing it at the technique that you’re taught sometimes you do spring in there for some sacks or whatever it is. But the amount of hurries, pressures, putting a quarterback where he’s not able to get his feet set, a lot of those are Caleb.”
"Although the deal has not yet been signed and a last-minute snag in negotiations is always a possibility, it certainly appears the Gators and Hurricanes will renew their once-annual rivalry for the first time since 2013.
Florida-Miami would also be another premier neutral site game for the Citrus Bowl, which will host Florida State-Ole Miss next season and Alabama-Louisville in 2018. Florida Citrus Sports is also apparently in negotiations to bring a marquee college football match-up to the Citrus Bowl in 2017.
“While we won’t comment on this report, we’re always exploring future scheduling options,” UF spokesperson Steve McClain told the Orlando Sentinel."
However, Hurricanes athletics director Blake James told the Miami Herald, “I wouldn’t say we’re close because I don’t even have a contract.
“Is there interest in playing Florida? There is. Is it something that I think is right for us from a fans’ standpoint, from a financial standpoint and right for our program? Those are all things I’m interested in evaluating. And do I think there’s a possibility we play them there? Yeah. But until we have a contract I wouldn’t say we’re close.”
Blake added, “I have an interest in seeing if we can have our football program play Florida. I think it’s good for college football and good for our fans. We’re interested in that. And if it works out that we can play them in Orlando in ’19, I think that’s great.’’
Florida and Miami played annually until 1987, when the rivalry was discontinued.
The two schools have met another six times since then, including a 21-16 win by the Hurricanes in 2013.
Gators athletics director Jeremy Foley has insisted over the years Florida is only interested in renewing the series if the games are hosted at a neutral site, with James telling the Miami Herald in May 2014 that Foley was “receptive” to the idea.
“I would have to think about Orlando,” James said.
“That’s not real neutral, but it’s an easy distance to our campus.”
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.”