October 28, 2014

Driskel's future role remains unspecified

GAINESVILLE -- Jeff Driskel will have a role against No. 9 Georgia this Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS), but it may be simply supporting starting quarterback Treon Harris from the sidelines.

The junior signal-caller, benched in UF’s 42-13 loss to Missouri, lost his starting job after turning the ball over 12 times in the last four games.

Expectations were high for Driskel entering his third year as a starter, but offensive coordinator Kurt Roper couldn’t “put his finger” on why Driskel has struggled so much in 2014.

“There’s been ups and downs,” Roper said.

“The LSU game there were a lot of good things. Kentucky game there were a lot of good things, Eastern Michigan, too. Tennessee was a challenge for us. The last game … the thing is he works hard, he’s prepared. He cares, it means a lot to him. He made some mistake in that last game that weren’t typical mistakes that weren’t necessarily mistakes he’d been making earlier in the year. It just is what it is.”

Driskel was hampered by an injured back against the Tigers. Still, his mistakes proved too costly to overcome, and a change was necessary.  

Driskel is the team's definitive No. 2 quarterback, and Florida isn’t heading to Jacksonville with a two-quarterback system.

“Treon’s going to go play well, we’re counting on Treon to play well,” Roper said.

“If something happens. Treon gets hurt, then we’ve got to be ready for Jeff to step in.”

Driskel could see a role as a designated runner, but that remains unknown. Regardless, Harris won’t be looking over his shoulder Saturday.

“You’ve got to be ready to go play the game, got to be ready to play situationally. If we feel like we need to put [Driskel] in and use his size [we will],” Roper said. “But I hope Treon plays well.”

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October 26, 2014

Tebow: "Stop booing"

 

GAINESVILLE -- Former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, now a SEC Network analyst, implored Florida fans to “rise above the booing,” and support embattled coach Will Muschamp.

Tebow, who just last week questioned his beloved Gators’ leadership, heart and offensive identity, said Florida should “be better than these other universities that boo their student-athletes.”

The SEC Nation crew -- Tebow, alongside Paul Finebaum, Marcus Spears -- discussed Florida’s woes this season. Their comments are presented below (courtesy ESPN).

The Gators (3-3, 2-3 SEC) take on No. 8 Georgia (6-1, 4-1 SEC) on Saturday in Jacksonville.

Tim Tebow -- "I think the University of Florida team has a lot of talent.  I think they have a lot of good coaches.  I don’t think they’ve played up to their potential.  I think this team has a chance to be pretty good.  Right now, they have the number three defense in the SEC.  But, offensively, I don’t think they have an identity.  I don’t think they have a leader that is taking people together saying let’s do our job, focus on doing your job, getting better and making everyone around them better. But, I also know Will Muschamp, when he was at Auburn, he had one of the best game plans I’ve ever played against in college.  This guy knows how to coach.  A few years ago, they went to the Sugar Bowl; they were 12-1.  He knows how to lead a team.  He knows how to be successful.  But, to do that, they have to find a way to score points, and they have to have better leadership offensively."

Marcus Spears -- "Players get coaches fired, and that’s what is happening at Florida right now.  These guys just have to play better.  The talent is there; the playmakers are there.  I would take this defense up against any team in the country.  When you have 10 interceptions in six games, when guys are dropping passes in the end zone, when those plays are not being made, giving up special teams touchdowns, letting turnovers go back to the house for touchdowns, that is a formula for losing football games; that has nothing to do with Will Muschamp. It’s easy to fire a coach, but let’s look at these guys." 

Paul Finebaum -- "Next week, the narrative is going to be “Do or Die.”  If he loses to Georgia, that’s four straight.  Losing four straight to Georgia will get you fired."

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October 23, 2014

UFPD report details Harris' alleged sexual assault

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GAINESVILLE -- On the same day Treon Harris was named the University of Florida’s starting quarterback, the school released the police report regarding the freshman’s connection to the Oct. 5 alleged sexual assault on campus.

Florida suspended Harris on Oct. 6 after the 19-year-old Miami native was accused of sexually assaulting a female student at the Springs Residential Complex, an on-campus dorm, around 3 a.m. the night before.

According to the 58-page report released Wednesday, the UF student accused Florida’s quarterback of rape in Harris’ dorm room, saying she voluntarily decided to sleep over but persistently rejected Harris’ sexual advances.

However, Harris told multiple investigators the encounter was consensual. 

Harris was never charged, and the woman withdrew her complaint four days later.

The former Booker T. Washington star, whose brother Tim ‘Ice’ Harris Jr. coaches the Tornadoes, was reinstated Oct. 10, but days earlier his attorney, Huntley Johnson, adamantly defended the freshman quarterback.

“Mr. Harris is not guilt of a crime and did not mistreat this young lady in any way that night,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the accuser had sexual relations with another man an hour before the alleged incident with Harris, and that she had text messaged Florida’s freshman quarterback immediately after he’d rallied the Gators to a 10-9 win over Tennessee in Knoxville.

The UFPD’s incident report corroborates Johnson’s claim, with a heavily redacted section detailing the alleged victim’s sexual encounter with another football player.

The report outlines Harris’ interactions with the accuser, including hanging out with the woman immediately upon returning from Knoxville.

According to the report, on Oct. 5, Harris and the accuser watched the Auburn-LSU game before parting ways.

Later that night, Harris, along with several of his teammates, met up with the accuser at ‘Rain,’ a Gainesville nightclub, partying until 2 a.m.

The group convened in the parking lot afterward, where they drove in multiple vehicles to a local Waffle House, which was closed. The group then drove to a Kangaroo gas station nearby, where surveillance cameras show Harris and the accuser walking arm-and-arm into the store.

There, Harris and the woman got into a separate vehicle and drove back to the Springs Complex, where the alleged sexual assault occurred.

The 175-page report covers multiple supplemental narratives, as well as Harris’ 63-page interview. 

During the interviews, Harris repeatedly denied he raped the accuser and expressed his disbelief in the situation. The freshman quarterback asked an officer for the opportunity to speak with the alleged victim, and struggled to grasp the gravity of the allegation, asking several times, “Is this going to be on ESPN and stuff?”

Later, Harris brought up Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s name, saying. “You think I’m going to do the same as that?” 

Text messages made up a comprehensive portion of the report, but ultimately, they shed little light on exactly what happened that evening.

Following the sexual encounter, Harris and the accuser had a notable back-and-forth, with Harris texting the alleged victim, “Don’t tell nobody bout nothing,” to which she replied, “Don’t try me ever again” and “I wouldn’t even come near me If I were yu.”

As part of the investigation, detectives interviewed 11 Florida football players: Harris, safety Jabari Gorman, wideout Demarcus Robinson, tailback Matt Jones, cornerback Marcus Maye, cornerback Quincy Wilson, receiver C.J. Worten, safety Keanu Neal, cornerback Brian Poole, tailback Kelvin Taylor and wideout Latroy Pittman. 

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October 19, 2014

Gator Grades: Kaboom

GAINESVILLE -- It’s not even the beginning of the end anymore for Will Muschamp.

That was Georgia Southern. 

Saturday night was worse

The Gators were humiliated -- in primetime -- on homecoming for the second straight season, embarrassingly falling to Missouri 42-13. It was a nightmare, dumpster-fire performance.

The Tigers were fresh of a shutout shellacking at home to No. 10 Georgia. Maty Mauk was terrible again. They didn’t eclipse 120 yards on offense … yet they still won by four touchdowns. 

#ItsgrimUF was the theme a year ago. Now, it’s eulogizing time.  

OFFENSE - F

There’s little left to say about a dreadful attack that continues to invent new ways to lose. 

The two-quarterback system was a bust, as both Jeff Driskel and Treon Harris struggled protecting the football. 

The Gators coughed up the ball six times and had just 66 yards by halftime. A rapture couldn’t have saved this offense.

Every drive was Gun. Meet Foot. 

Driskel, hampered by an ankle injury, was woeful once again. Muschamp all-but feed his third-year starter to the wolves in the third quarter before mercifully pulling the junior. Harris, with a limited playbook, wasn’t much better until it was too late. The freshman was indecisive and had as many errant throws early as Driskel. 

Florida’s revamped offensive line crumbled against Mizzou’s fearsome front-four, surrendering six sacks. 

DEFENSE - B+

Missouri had just 20 yards after halftime … and still outscored UF 22-13 in the second half. The Gators’ defense did its damnedest to put out all the self-inflicted fires, but the ugliness by the offense (and special teams) was too much to overcome. 

The Tigers had success running the ball in the first half, and once they jumped out to an insurmountable lead (for Florida’s offense) they simply stopped trying to score. 

Florida yielded just 2.4 yards per play, but a lack of sacks (just one) and forced turnovers (Marcus Maye’s interception was the lone takeaway) allowed Mizzou to just slowly grind the game away.    

SPECIAL TEAMS - F

A week after a dominating special teams effort, Florida had a putrid performance Saturday evening.

Marcus Murphy ran roughshod on returns (96-yard kickoff touchdown, 82-yard punt touchdown), and the Tigers also comically blocked an extra point late in the fourth quarter. 

Andre Debose did nothing (four punt returns for six yards), while Gators punter Kyle Christy averaged just 38 yards on five punts. 

OVERALL - F

In this section last week: "The ship may not be sunk, yet, but I’m not sure how much more water it can hold." It’s officially overflowing. 

For a team that’s lost 10 of 13, Saturday night’s ugliness was still unimaginable. In a mind-blowing stat (courtesy of ESPN), Muschamp's Gators are the only team in the last decade to lose a game -- TWICE -- when allowing fewer than a 120 yards.

All other teams are 94-0. Chew on that. 

Athletic director Jeremy Foley once famously stated, “What should be done eventually, must be done immediately.” We’ll know soon enough if that statement still holds true.  

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October 14, 2014

SEC announces 2015 schedule, UF to host Ole Miss

GAINESVILLE -- The Southeastern Conference announced the 2015 football schedule Tuesday night, with Florida’s slate officially set. 

While the Gators’ opponents were previously announced, the release confirmed the dates with Mississippi, New Mexico State (UF's opener), East Carolina and Florida Atlantic. 

UF will host Ole Miss, a playoff contender this year, on Oct. 3, kickstarting a brutal stretch during the heart of the season. 

Following the showdown with the Rebels, the Gators will play four of five games away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium -- with trips to Missouri, LSU, Jacksonville (Georgia) and South Carolina. 

The 2015 FLORIDA GATORS SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 - New Mexico State

Sept. 12 - ECU

Sept. 19 - at Kentucky 

Sept. 26 - Tennessee

Oct. 3 - Ole Miss

Oct. 10 - at Missouri 

Oct. 17 - at LSU

OPEN

Oct. 31 - Georgia (Jacksonville)

Nov. 7 - Vanderbilt 

Nov. 14 - at South Carolina 

Nov. 21 - FAU

Nov. 28 - Florida State  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

SEC commissioner Mike Slive to retire July 2015

GAINESVILLE -- Due to a recurrence of prostate cancer, Mike Slive will retire as SEC Commissioner on July, 31, 2015, the conference announced Tuesday.

Slive -- the league’s commissioner since 2002 -- leaves a historic legacy as the architect of the nation's most dominant conference. 

During 74-year-old’s 13-year tenure -- the SEC’s “golden age” -- the conference won seven straight BCS national times, 60 additional national championships, expanded into Texas and Missouri, launched an unprecedented TV network and increased revenues by record numbers.

“Mike possesses all of the qualities of a great leader – visionary, consensus builder, integrity, intuition and commitment, but more than anything he is a great friend to so many of us in this league,’’ said UF athletic director Jeremy Foley to Gatorzone.com.

“He’s led this conference to historical milestones during his tenure and the impact he’s had on collegiate athletics management and structure will be felt for many years. I look forward to working with him during his final year and in his future role as a consultant to the league.”

According to the release, Slive’s medical prognosis is “good,” and he will serve as a consultant for four years following his retirement. 

"I have been blessed in more ways than I can count and I will have as much passion for this job on my last day as I did on my first," Slive said.

"I consider my health situation a temporary detour in a remarkable road that has allowed me to meet amazing people, experience incredible events and celebrate historic victories. I will relish my final year in this position and look forward to being the biggest fan of the SEC for many years to come."

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October 13, 2014

QBs Driskel, Harris both to play against Missouri

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will play two quarterbacks in a pivotal must-win against Missouri on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2), coach Will Muschamp announced Monday.

Embattled starter Jeff Driskel will continue to work with the first-team offense, but dynamic true freshman Treon Harris will see extended snaps, too.

“We’ll work through the week and we’ll see how things go,” Muschamp said. “Right now, Jeff will probably start, but they’re both going to play.”

Driskel turned the ball over three more times in UF’s 30-27 gut-punching loss to LSU. The junior leads the conference in interceptions (8) and has eight total turnovers the last three weeks. 

Harris, a former star at Miami Booker T. Washington, was scheduled to see snaps against the Tigers before he was investigated for an alleged sexual assault last Monday. The freshman was suspended for a week, before the university reinstated him late Friday afternoon after the accuser withdrew her complaint.

Harris -- who watched the LSU loss from the press box -- missed a week of practice and film-study, a concern for Muschamp.

“He’s a freshman. It means more than a third or fourth year player, certainly,” Muschamp said. “We’ll see today.”

Meanwhile, Driskel lamented Florida’s missed opportunities against LSU -- some his own fault, others not -- and said the offense “is close” to eliminating the costly mistakes. 

Driskel has never played in a two-quarterback system before, but said he’s open to whatever is best for the team to succeed. 

“Believe it or not, I’m not worried about me, I’m worried about the team,” he said. “I want the team to play well. If it’s going to help the team, I’m all for it. We’re confident in Treon. I think the guys are confident in me as well. It’s not going to be something that’s going to divide the team or anything like that.”

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October 12, 2014

Late Driskel pick sends Gators to gut-wrenching loss

LSU Florida Football (12)Jeff Driskel | John Raoux/AP

GAINESVILLE -- Murphy’s Law strikes again.

Beleaguered quarterback Jeff Driskel appeared poised to rally Florida (3-2, 2-2 SEC) to a nail-biting win over LSU, only to see a potential game-winning touchdown dropped, and then later, a ball tipped for an interception to setup the Tigers’ winning score.

Colby Delahoussaye nailed a 50-yard field goal with just three seconds left in the fourth quarter, sending LSU (5-2, 1-2 SEC) to a controversial but dramatic 30-27 win over UF and increasing the temperature on Florida coach Will Muschamp’s already scorching hot seat.

“It’s a really tough loss,” Driskel said. “Hat’s off to LSU.”

With 26 seconds remaining, Driskel forced a throw over the middle to Latroy Pittman, who tipped the ball to LSU defensive back Ricky Jefferson. 

Pittman was scarily injured on the play and was carted off the field. Although the wideout was completely immobilized by medical personnel, he gave the crowd a thumbs up with his right arm as he left the field.

“We think Pittman will be fine,” Muschamp said.

Still, it was surreal scene that marred an ugly but entertaining game.

And ultimately a gut-wrenching loss for the Gators.

LSU ran the ball on first down, but a scrum at the end of the play forced the officials to put seven seconds back on the clock -- even though LSU had no timeouts remaining.

With new life, Delahoussaye drilled the long kick.

Muschamp said he’s never seen officals put time back on the clock in that situation and would have a discussion with Steve Shaw, the conference’s head of officals, Sunday.

The Gators held the game’s momentum late in the quarter, pinning LSU deep in its own territory and forcing a 3rd-and-25.

But Florida (defensive backs Brian Poole and Keanu Neal) badly blew a coverage, and Anthony Jennings found Travin Duval for 41 yards up the sideline.

“Just poor communication,” Muschamp said. “10 guys got it [the defensive call] and one didn’t. … You cut a guy lose on a play like that and you don’t deserve to win.”

Jennings (10-for-21, 110 yards) wasn’t any better than Driskel (14-of-25, 183 yards), as LSU leaned on explosive freshman tailback Leonard Fournette.

The 6-1, 230-pound back ran wild, displaying his special blend of size, speed and video-game moves. He powered for a career-high 140 yards and two scores.

Fournette ran over, past and through UF’s defense, injuring All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III on a thunderous run in the second quarter. Florida’s top defensive player did not return.

The Gators’ offense was largely stagnant without workhorse tailback Matt Jones, who barely played with a bum ankle.

Florida tried to run the offense with Driskel as the power runner -- without a ton of success. Florida’s 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback bruised his way for 71 yards on 21 carries. 

He rumbled for a first down early in the game and delivered a fiery, emotional reaction historically reserved for Tim Tebow. Otherwise, it was another forgettable night for the third-year starter.

Driskel turned the ball over three times, negating many of his finer moments -- a beautiful 11-yard touchdown to Demarcus Robinson -- during Florida’s comeback.

LSU went up 27-24 on a splendid 11-yard, one-handed touchdown reception by Duval.

The Tigers then dared Driskel to beat them deep. And he did.

Finally. 

But Florida wasted the perfect 73-yard pass to Robinson, stalling on the 3-yard-line and settling for the tying field goal.

Tight end Tevin Westbrook dropped an easy go-ahead score with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter.

Although the offense struggled (306 total yards), Andre Debuse flashed his best Percy Harvin impression, sparking three Florida touchdowns.

The sixth-year senior jumpstarted a frenzied crowd, igniting The Swamp with a 62-yard punt return touchdown early in the first quarter. It was Debose’s fifth touchdown return of his career, setting a school record. Later, he added a 53-yard return to setup a score late in the fourth quarter. He also rushed for 35 yards on a jet sweep.

Despite the team’s usual shakiness, Florida didn’t play like a group distracted by the turmoil from the Treon Harris fallout.

On Friday, Harris’ accuser withdrew her sexual assault complaint, and the university and the UAA quickly reinstated Florida’s freshman quarterback.

Harris wasn’t on the sideline Saturday night, with The Associated Press reporting Florida didn’t want the freshman to be the game’s storyline and the constant focus of TV cameras.

“It was a very taxing week for him. I’m very proud of the way he’s handled the situation,” Muschamp said.  “Everybody is a victim in this situation. No one wins in this situation.” 

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October 08, 2014

Muschamp addresses Harris' suspension

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp said the sexual assault allegation against freshman quarterback Treon Harris is “a serious charge,” adding he agrees with the school’s stance to suspend the former Miami Booker T. Washington standout. 

“I think our statement Monday was self-explanatory,” Muschamp said Wednesday. “This was a serious charge and there’s been no change in Treon’s status.”

Muschamp addressed the media for the first time since Harris was suspended indefinitely Monday morning, saying, "It is what it is. You handle situations in this role and you move forward. You manage your football team and that's what we've done.”

Muschamp issued multiple “no comments” on the pending investigation, refusing to answer any inquires on Harris’ future, distractions or how he addressed the situation to his team.

“I feel very comfortable in how we’ve handled this situation,” he said.  

Harris is under investigation for an alleged sexual assault of a female student early Sunday morning. Hours earlier, the freshman quarterback sparked UF’s 10-9 comeback win over Tennessee with two fourth-quarter scoring drives.

The University Police Department is leading the investigation and said the police report won’t be released Wednesday. According to The Gainesville Sun, authorities want to interview Harris again. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 01, 2014

Gators not lacking for confidence

 

GAINESVILLE -- Florida was steel-clubbed at No. 2 Alabama less than two weeks ago, but one surely wouldn't know it the way UF's players are talking in advance of this Saturday's division matchup at Tennessee (noon, SEC Network). 

Florida yielded 42 points and a school-record 645 yards to the Crimson Tide, losing for the eighth time in its last 10 games dating back to last season. 

That's all in the rear-view mirror. 

On Tuesday, senior safety Jabari Gorman called UF's defense "great" several times during a short interview with reporters. 

When prodded for clarity on exactly Florida's "greatness" on a unit ranked No. 113 in the country, Gorman said, "When we go over film you can see the potential. You can see the little things, and all it is about is the little things. If we can take care of the little things we can be a great defense.” 

Later, junior tailback Matt Jones emphatically stated Florida "should have beaten [the Tide]"

"I mean, we had 'em," Jones said.  "We should have executed better. And like I said, on third down we didn't convert as we should. They were a very beatable team, and they just pulled away from us.”

Then, on Wednesday, sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis fired a shot a UT tailback Jalen Hurd. 

The Vols' five-star freshman totaled 216 rushing yards against No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 13 Georgia, but Davis said Florida's defense is ready to truly introduce Hurd to the Southeastern Conference.

"I don't think he can hang with us. He's a good athlete but we've got a whole defense coming for him," Davis said. 

"Georgia was a big test for him, that's a physical team, but I feel like we have more to offer for him. We're going to come down and we're going to talk to him a little bit with the pads. We're not going to talk with our mouth, we're just going to hit him and get back lined up. ...  We have to let him know what it is and we have to welcome him to the SEC."

Trash-talk -- even the most innocent natured -- is always fun. On the surface, the Gators are a confident team. Whether they're simply breathing hot air doesn't really matter, they know Saturday is a must-win anyways.

"Every game is a must-win," sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said. 

Added coach Will Muschamp: "They're all must-wins. Whe has it ever changed? I mean really."

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September 30, 2014

The Decider

GAINESVILLE -- Will Muschamp has long maintained he has never called an offensive play as Florida’s head coach.

However, influencing (or making) other offensive decisions remain the head coach’s call, according to coordinator Kurt Roper.

Roper said he and Muschamp have “always been on the same page” early in their first year together. But Florida's offensive coordinator also acknowledged Muschamp ultimately holds the decision-making power on personnel changes and in-game strategy.

As criticism swirls around quarterback Jeff Driskel’s job security, Roper said the staff has “100 percent confidence in Jeff” and that freshman Treon Harris simply isn’t ready to compete for the No. 1 spot.

But, it’s not even his call.

“Will is the one that will have that conversation,” said Roper on benching Driskel. “It's plain and simple his decision. But again, we have 100 percent confidence in Jeff right now and he's the guy we feel like we're going to win football games with."

Specifically asked about the play-calling late in the first half at Alabama (UF trailed 21-14 with 1:44 remaining and simply ran out the clock), Roper again stated he and Muschamp “work great together."

“And I was in 100 percent agreement with [Muschamp’s call to run-out the clock]. In a 100,000 seat stadium and it wasn’t like we were being productive on offense at that point that you got a chance to go in one score down to tie the game. And so, you know, I’m one of those guys that’s maybe a little bit more old school that way offensively, cut my teeth a little bit in the era where, ‘Hey, that’s just smart football.’ You know what I mean? Now if you’re being productive and you’ve got 30 points at halftime and those things, maybe you’re more aggressive. But based on what was happening offensively, that was just a smart decision that I agree with 100 percent and always will."

Will Muschamp. The decider. 

THIS & THAT

Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC) opened as a one-point favorite over Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC) before the line quickly shifted in UT’s favor. UF is now a one-point underdog. ... Florida 2-2 following an idle date under Muschamp, including a 31-17 victory over Tennessee last season. … CBS announced it will utilize its six-day option for its double-header (noon and 3:30 p.m.) slate on Oct. 11. The network will chose two games on a blockbuster weekend that includes No. 15 LSU at Florida.

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September 27, 2014

Boom goes the dynamite? Not so fast

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp isn’t going anywhere.

Yet.

Despite a venomous and vociferous mob calling for Muschamp’s firing, the embattled head coach will survive the rest of the year and be evaluated at season’s end, according to UF athletic director Jeremy Foley.

Foley told Mike Bianchi at The Orlando Sentinel that Muschamp -- in his fourth season with the Gators -- will have the rest of the regular season to prove his mettle and turnaround a dwindling program.

"You never judge or evaluate a program based on one game or one season," Foley told the Sentinel.

"That's just not how we do things here. We're going to evaluate where we're headed – where the players are, how is recruiting going, what type of staff we have — are we a better (program)? That's going to be plain for all of us to see, but it's also going to be played out over the course of 11 games and we'll see where we are when we get to the end of the season."

Foley fired Ron Zook -- just 23-14 at Florida – mid-season in 2004, but Muschamp won’t endure a similar fate.

The Gators are fresh off a record-setting, three touchdown loss to No. 3 Alabama, leaving Muschamp with a career 24-17 mark as the head coach at UF.

While Muschamp’s entire body of work will be evaluated at end of the year, he won’t see a fifth autumn in Gainesville unless the Gators start winning some conference games.

Florida is just 1-6 in its last seven SEC contests, with marquee showdowns with Tennessee (Oct. 4), No. 17 LSU (Oct. 11), Missouri (Oct. 18), No. 12 Georgia (Nov. 1) and No. 13 South Carolina (Nov. 15) all remaining on its slate.

“The meat of our schedule is coming up,” Muschamp said. “We need to stay the course right now. Everything is still out there in front of us.” 

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September 21, 2014

Gator Grades: Welp...

Florida Alabama FootballJeff Driskel - Bryan Anderson/AP

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- So needing triple-overtime to beat Kentucky in The Swamp was a bad omen after all. 

No. 3 Alabama steam-rolled Florida, self-destructing just enough to keep the game from being a total laugher on the scoreboard. 

The Gators were outgained by 445 yards. That is not a typo. Florida was straight worked on Saturday afternoon. 

UF yielded the most yards in school-history (645), the most points in the Will Muschamp Era (42), the second-most passing yards in school history (449) and a 200-yard wideout. 

Are grades really necessary? 

OFFENSE - F

Florida couldn’t run. Florida couldn’t pass, but oddly Florida actually blocked ok. 

In all though, the offense looked a lot like last year’s toothless attack. The Gators gained just 200 yards, as quarterback Jeff Driskel was dreadful. Possibly an understatement. 

Florida’s veteran quarterback was 9-of-28 for 93 yards with three turnovers (2 picks) and two scores (1 rushing). Florida was terrible on third down (just 2-of-13) and ran just six plays in the third quarter. 

There was no Treon Harris or Brandon Powell sightings. Not exactly sure why not. 

DEFENSE - F

Many Florida historians thought UF’s shellacking in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl (Nebraska gained 629 yards in a 62-24 win) was an unbreakable record. 

Guess not. 

Lane Kiffin out-coached Muschamp’s prized possession, dialing up explosive play after explosive play. Senior quarterback Blake Sims was excellent, slicing up Florida’s woeful secondary (also: Amari Cooper really helps). Alabama’s rushing attack went off after halftime as UF’s defense got gassed. 

The Gators missed at least two dozen tackles, practically negating four forced turnovers.  

SPECIAL TEAMS - B+

Punter Kyle Christy was Florida’s best player on the field Saturday, averaging 52.7 yards on seven punts. 

He pinned the Tide inside the 20-yard line three times. He was excellent. 

Florida’s coverage units were solid, but Andre Debose was unable to do anything on returns. 

OVERALL - F

Alabama miscues (four turnovers, 11 penalties and poor special teams play) allowed Florida to hang around long after the Gators shouldve been buried ... and it still didn’t matter. UF was fortunate to not lose by six touchdowns. With plenty of issues to sort out, Florida's first idle date falls at the perfect time. 

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September 18, 2014

Q&A: Chaz Green

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since he was a redshirt freshman, Chaz Green -- a three-year starter at right tackle -- played on the left side in Florida’s triple-overtime win over Kentucky.

Replacing injured starter D.J. Humphries, Green flipped positions and manned Driskel’s blindside, squaring off against UK's talented bookends Alvin Dupree and Za'Darius Smith.

But Green's challenge gets even harder this Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS). 

Alabama’s perilous defensive line awaits (the Tide rotate as many as 10 linemen up front), and Green discussed the upcoming matchup, the Gators' underdog role, Roderick Johnson’s debut as a starter and much more.

On Alabama’s defensive front…

“Yeah, they’re deep across the board. They have good talent and they’re also coached well, they bring a lot of different fronts. It’s something we definitely have to pay attention to this week with film and at practice. … No. 47 [Senior Xzavier Dickson] stands out. I was watching some film last night. I’ll be going against him. He’s very, very talented. I’ll have to have good technique against him.”

On playing the role of underdog… 

“I don’t [see it that way]. As a team, I think we take them one game at a time. We don’t pay attention to the rankings and all that. We’ve just got to take it one week at a time and show who we are. … I personally like [being the underdog] that way instead of being a frontrunner. Like I said, we’re out here to show what we can do.”  

On playing left tackle for the first time in years… 

“I thought I did pretty well. The first half I had some issues cutting off the back-side. We knew that was going to be an issue last week with the scheme that they ran with those ends. As the game went on, I think we showed that we can get that taken care of.”

On Roderick Johnson’s first start at right tackle...

“I thought he played well. As a young guy, I’ve been in that position before, so I thought he played very well. He’s got a big challenge this week, too.”

On learning about UF's potential after a trip to 'Bama…

“Given the bunch that Alabama has I would say that it’s a good measuring stick if that’s what you mean.”

On if beating the No. 3 Tide could put Florida back on the map… 

“I don’t know what the map means. Like I said, we don’t pay attention to none of that. I know it may sound arrogant or something, but we’re just focused on getting better each and every week, going out there putting on the best show we can and just playing with each other. Personally, I don’t get involved in all the outside stuff. I’m not a big guy on Twitter. It’s just something that we just try to go out there and just improve week in and week out.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 16, 2014

Jones the "best back" in the SEC?

GAINESVILLE -- Gators center Max Garcia turned heads Tuesday, calling teammate Matt Jones “the best back” in the Southeastern Conference. 

The senior offensive lineman meant no disrespect to Heisman frontrunner Todd Gurley, South Carolina’s Mike Davis or the two-headed attack Florida will face this weekend -- Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry -- but Garcia backed Jones after the tailback’s monster performance against Kentucky. 

“Not a lot of people are talking about him in the SEC, but we feel like he’s the best back,” Garcia said. “Just to see him work hard like that and be our workhorse on offense, just to see him break tackles -- I think he broke like 16 tackles or something -- that just motivates the offensive line to block just a little bit more, take another bite.”

Jones, a junior, rushed for 156 yards on 29 carries in UF’s 36-30 triple-overtime thriller against UK. He scored the winning touchdown, a 1-yard plunge, after four straight carries in the final period. It was the tailback’s second-career game over the century mark, tallying 176 yards against the Wildcats in 2013. 

“In that last overtime, we just sat there and said, ‘Let’s give it to him and see what happens,'" coordinator Kurt Roper said.

“If it wouldn’t have worked, if we would’ve stalled out at the 10 [yard line] or whatever, we would’ve stalled out. But he was getting the football at that point.”

***** CLICK LINK FOR VIDEO, TIRED OF AUTO-PLAY *****

Jones is most definitely not the top tailback in the SEC. 

In fact, he’s hard-pressed to find himself in the top 10 -- Gurley, Yeldon, Davis, Henry, Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams of Arkansas, Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne all rank ahead of Jones -- but the junior could emerge as a true bellcow this fall.  

What do y’all think? 

How would you rank the running backs in the SEC? 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 15, 2014

Nothing to see here

 

GAINESVILLE -- The best -- but most controversial -- play of quarterback Jeff Driskel’s career almost didn’t happen.

Facing 4th-and-7, down a score in overtime, Florida’s frenzied game-tying touchdown -- a beautiful fade to wideout Demarcus Robinson -- immediately infuriated Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, as the Gators appeared to catch a lucky break.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 7.38.50 PM

The 40-second play clock expired -- at best -- as the ball was snapped, but officials didn’t throw a delay of game penalty so Driskel's clutch play sent the game to a second overtime.

Correct call -- according to the Southeastern Conference league office.

Kentucky appealed the ruling, but the league (essentially) supported the officials’ judgment. 

"At the request of the University of Kentucky, consistent with SEC protocol, the conference office reviewed the fourth down play in the first overtime of the Kentucky-Florida game and has determined the officials applied the proper mechanics and guidelines that are in place to determine when a flag should be thrown for delay of game. The back judge is responsible for delay of game calls. The procedure for the back judge is for his eyes to stay on the clock when it nears zero. When the clock hits zero, he immediately looks from the clock to the ball. If the ball is moving, there is no delay of game. If the ball is stationary, a delay of game penalty is called.''

The Gators were without a timeout, using their lone stoppage earlier in the drive, and coach Will Muschamp said he had one thing on his mind amid all the confusion.

“Hurry up."

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September 14, 2014

Gator Grades: Utter relief

GAINESVILLE -- About that cynicism?

Well … Florida won, but it needed three overtimes to beat Kentucky in a thriller that spanned two days. … Kentucky.

JoJo Kemp’s upset proclamation nearly proved prophetic.

It took a record night from Demarcus Robinson, the best pass of Jeff Driskel’s career and a gutsy effort from guys like Matt Jones (159 yards, game-winning score), Brian Poole (1 INT, game-saving pass breakup) and Antonio Morrison (team-leading 10 tackles), but a win is still a win.

Florida is 2-0 headed to doomsday Tuscaloosa. 

OFFENSE – B-

The Gators gained plenty of yards (532) but quarterback Jeff Driskel was dreadful in the first half (just 7-of-20) and electric wideout Demarcus Robinson was Florida’s passing game. The sophomore delivered a sensational performance, finishing with over 1/3 of Florida’s total offense (216 yards receiving) -- the majority coming after the catch. Driskel rebounded with a solid second half, saving Florida’s season (and potentially Will Muschamp’s job) with a great pitch and catch on 4th-and-7 in overtime. The offensive line couldn’t pass protect a lick, but the interior run blocking was strong throughout. Also where was Brandon Powell? Treon Harris?

DEFENSE - C

The Wildcats averaged 5.77 yards per play Saturday night. They averaged 4.80 yards per play against Ohio. The Gators stuffed UK’s run game, forcing six first-half punts, but Florida’s secondary was spotty all evening. The Gators were burned by busted coverages (see: Garrett Johnson running wide open for a 30-yard touchdown) and bad communication. UF picked off three passes (two via deflections) but Patrick Towles’ unheralded wideouts won plenty of one-on-one matchups. Poole’s play in overtime was huge, as was Keanu Neal’s interception late in regulation. 

SPECIAL TEAMS – B+

Frankie Velez was 2-of-3, missing a crucial kick early in the fourth quarter. Austin Hardin shanked his 52-yarder as time expired, but was solid on kickoffs. Kyle Christy boomed all six punts (48.7 y/p), allowing Florida to dominate field position. Andre Debose electrified the crowd with a pair of nice returns.

OVERALL – C+

We'll see soon enough if Saturday's performance was real or a mirage. The cynicism can wait a week. The Gators are 1-0 in the SEC. They didn’t fold. They found a way to win, even if it took a fortuitous bounce or a no-call. Florida loses that game in 2013. It remains to be seen how the Gators respond moving forward.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 09, 2014

Q&A: Clay Burton

GAINESVILLE -- With Jake McGee’s season-ending injury, Clay Burton is no longer Florida’s starting tight end in name only.

Burton is now the de facto starter. For good. 

The former defensive end turned tight end reeled in seven passes for 42 yards in UF's opener against Eastern Michigan -- more than doubling his career totals (3 receptions for 24 yards) in one game.

It was a breakout performance for the beleaguered senior, plagued by drops since his transition to offense.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end spoke about his offseason development, his productive performance and the urgency of stepping up in McGee’s absence.   

On his evolution as a player…

“It’s just a lot of hard work that’s kind of finally coming to the surface. I’m thankful for the opportunity to compete and play and earn the job. I’m just ready to have a great senior season and help the team win.” 

On specific work towards improvement…

“We have a JUGS machine, I did that. And just doing a little extra with Jeff [Driskel] and stuff like that, just trying to get out there every time. Whenever Jeff would go out and throw extra, I would try to get with him and stuff like that. Just extra stuff. … You could say there was more urgency because it was my last year.”

On UF's revamped offense optimizing tight ends…

“It felt great. Just really doing anything I could to help the team win. Felt great. The fact I was catching a lot of balls, something I haven’t done in the past, I really enjoyed it.”

On transforming his body… 

“This offseason I've lost like 15 pounds, so that's kind of like goes into what I did in the offseason to try to help myself get lighter and be able to run a little better and stuff like that, better conditioning."

On replacing McGee...

"Whatever his production was going to be as a starter I've just got to keep on doing what I've been doing. I kind of felt like it was always on me, you know, but just keep playing well."

*************** BONUS QUOTES ***************

Coach Will Muschamp on Burton’s transformation… 

“He’s changed his body a little bit. He’s slimmed down. He’s quicker than he’s been, he’s faster than he’s been. He worked extremely hard on the JUGS machine all summer. He hasn’t had many drops at all through fall game and working into game week. All those things, he’s a player who has done everything we’ve asked him to do to put himself in a position to be successful, and he certainly was Saturday.”

Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper on Burton’s breakout performance…

“I can't say that I was surprised. We've been out there quite a bit in practice. I think he’s a guy that has been steady for us the whole time. I think he understands. He's got a lot of experience to grow back on. He just gets the game now because he's older. He plays with a great base and he understands how to be in good positions, so that just carried over to the passing game. Same thing. He gets big picture, so he knows where he fits into schemes and gets in the right spots and makes those plays.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 08, 2014

Humphries sidelined, Gators forced to shuffle OL

1bVu7w.St.56D.J. Humphries (70)

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s offensive line depth -- its principal concern entering 2014 -- will be tested one week into the season.

Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries (high ankle sprain/bone chip) will be sidelined at least two weeks, forcing the Gators (1-0) to reshuffle a unit thin on experience.

Senior starting right tackle Chaz Green will shift to left tackle, while redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson slides into the lineup at right tackle. True freshman David Sharpe is now the backup at both tackle spots.

“Rod is certainly capable of playing very well, and I think he will,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said.

“David [Sharpe] is a young guy who is a very good big athlete. He’s 6-6 330 pounds. He moves his feet extremely well. Trenton [Brown] has got enough reps at the right tackle position for us to feel very confident in all four players playing well.”

Both freshmen tackles performed admirably in extensive playing time against Eastern Michigan, but the challenge increases immediately with Kentucky (2-0) and No. 2 Alabama the next two weeks.

Humphries’ injury will not require surgery, and Muschamp said,  “I hope to get him back after the open week (Sep. 27).”

QUOTABLE

"It's a 2014 Florida team vs. a 2014 Kentucky team. That's all it is to me."

-- Muschamp, on the insignificane of Florida's 27-game winning streak against the Wildcats.  

THIS & THAT
After missing UF’s opener, starting sophomore nickel back Marcus Maye (strained hamstring) is probable for Saturday’s game against the Wildcats. Freshman cornerback J.C. Jackson (Immokalee) reinjured his shoulder and his status is uncertain moving forward. … Florida’s heavyweight bout against Alabama on Sep. 20 will be televised by CBS at 3:30 p.m. ET, the league announced Monday. The Gators travel to Tuscaloosa for the first time since 2010, a 31-6 loss in Urban Meyer’s last season at Florida.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

Numbers never lie?

 

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators lead the nation in six significant statistical categories: scoring offense (65.0 ppg), total defense (125.0 ypg), scoring defense (0.0 ppg), passing defense (45.0 ypg), turnover margin (+5) and red zone defense (.000). 

Excuse me? Oh, they played Eastern Michigan? 

Nevermind. Carry on. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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