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.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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)

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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

Gator Grades: Apocalypse now

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s meltdown against a mediocre South Carolina team -- losing 23-20 in overtime -- signaled the (un)official end for beleaguered coach Will Muschamp. Eulogizing time is here. Following another inexplicable, excruciating defeat, Muschamp’s tenure as the Gators’ coach seems assuredly over.

OFFENSE – D+

Yes, the Gators’ grit-and-grind offense churned out 250 yards on the ground.

Yes, Treon Harris’ wheels (111 yards on 20 carries) frustrated the Gamecocks’ front.

Yes, a key penalty negated the touchdown that would’ve iced the game.

BUT one-dimensional is as one-dimensional does. With no threat of balance, USC eventually keyed on UF’s odious lack of creativity (3 of 14 on third down). Run, Run, Pass resulted in six failed conversions. The Gators couldn’t gain a single first down when necessary, and inexplicably played for a field goal in OT. It was ugly, unwatchable offense. And UF paid the piper at the end.

DEFENSE – B

Another slow start put Florida in a 10-0 hole, but once the defense realized kickoff wasn’t at 1 p.m., it dominated. The Gamecocks gained 151 yards on their first two possessions. They had 150 yards the rest of the afternoon.

Dante Fowler Jr. was a video game cheat code, as was Vernon Hargreaves III. But The Swamp was ablaze late, and UF’s defense couldn’t put of the fire.

An exhausted unit yielded two touchdowns in USC’s final two possessions.

SPECIAL TEAMS – F+

It’s difficult to describe just how atrocious Florida’s special teams collapse was.

The Gators’ third unit was marginal before its epic failures (Kyle Christy averaged just 36 yards per punt, Andre Debose was invisible in the return game), but then UF’s special teams went full Y2K meltdown late.

Only Saturday was real. Frankie Velez’s kick was low, while the blocked punt appeared to be a bad alignment coupled by a busted assignment by Alex McCalister.

OVERALL – F

Muschamp was four minutes, or 36 seconds or even a single stoke of luck [USC fumbled into the end zone to tie the game] from retaining his job next season.

But Muschamp & Florida can’t have nice things. Not to say 2015 would’ve been any nicer. With all hope extinguished, Foley has no choice now. The “when” not “if” was evident following the embarrassing home loss to Missouri. Now it’s real.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 14, 2014

A start: Florida rips past William & Mary 68-45

GAINESVILLE -- No. 7 Florida smothered William & Mary 68-45 Friday night, as the retooled Gators proved they could play a little defense without last season’s historic quartet of seniors.

Michael Frazier (14 points), Dorian Finney-Smith (15 points) and Jon Horford (11 points) all finished in double-figures. The Gators won their 33rd straight game at home and improved to 19-0 in openers under Billy Donovan.

“We’re a well-balanced team,” Frazier said.

“On any given night it could be anybody.”

UF held the Tribe to a ghastly 31 percent from the field, with sophomore guard Kasey Hill bottling up Marcus Thornton, last season’s CAA player of the year. William & Mary’s senior guard was held to just 11 points, including 0-5 from 3-point range.  

“I was really proud of Kasey Hill. I thought he was phenomenal,” Donovan said. 

“The fact that he had to guard Thornton every minute he was out there, he did a terrific job on him.”

UF dominated from the start, ripping off a 21-4 run to end the first half. The Gators led by as many as 24, but were actually outscored by a point (27-26) in a lackluster second half.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Frazier -- UF’s lone returning starter from last season -- keyed Florida’s hot start, scoring a team-high 14 points. The junior sharpshooter didn’t score in the second half, but he flashed his some off-the-dribble prowess, penetrating for several layups and hockey assists. He chipped in five rebounds, two assists and a steal, too.

STAT OF INTEREST

9.1 percent. The Tribe was dreadful from downtown, opening the game a paltry 1-for-19 from behind-the-arc. In all, William & Mary made just two 3-pointers on 22 attempts.

QUOTABLE

“You see 2-for-22 from the 3-point line and that number obviously is really, really loud. But I’m not so sure they didn’t get some pretty clean looks that didn’t go down. I’d like to see the percentage of those 22 shots where I sit there and say that we really defended this well. Or how many were wide open?”

-- Donovan

THIS & THAT

Finney-Smith sprained his left wrist in the first half, but the versatile forward led all scorers with 15 points, 11 after halftime. … The Gators shot 56 percent in the first period, compared to just 39 percent after halftime. … UF outrebounded William & Mary 39 to 31. … Freshman point guard Chris Chiozza dished nifty assists, finishing his collegiate debut with three dimes, four points and three steals. … Walk-on forward Jacob Kurtz had a productive night (6 points, 7 rebounds).

NEXT UP 

Florida hosts in-state rival Miami on Monday at 7 p.m. (ESPNU).

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Prove It: Donovan not sold on UF's No. 7 ranking

GAINESVILLE -- Florida men’s basketball team opens its regular season tonight against William & Mary (6 p.m., SEC Network) ranked as the nation’s No. 7 team.

Coach Billy Donovan isn’t impressed.

“I know what those kind of teams look like -- and we’re not one of those teams,” he said, deadpanned.

UF struggled against Barry University, a D-II school in Miami, in last week’s exhibition game, winning just 79-70 in a contest that highlighted UF’s defensive deficiencies and invisible leadership.

The retooled Gators, replacing a historic quartet of seniors, shouldn’t have an issue scoring the basketball, but Donovan is legitimately concerned with the team’s lack of rim protection and consistent defensive awareness.

“We’ve got a long, long, long way to go,” Donovan said. “Whether or not we can get there, time will tell. … This year’s team, there’s a lot of unknowns.”

Despite the team’s lofty rankings, Donovan isn’t particularly concerned with expectations or overconfidence. A year after finishing the season as the nation’s third-best defense (59 points per game), the Gators are allowing 82 points and opponents are shooting 48-percent from 3-point range in three scrimmages this preseason, per Donovan.

The Tribe, led by 6-4 guard Marcus Thornton, run a precision, Princeton-style offense, and could expose Florida’s flaws defensively.   

“You start giving up 82 points a game and our defensive efficiency right now is 1.15. Basically, in 120 minutes of play, we're giving up 1.15 points per possession,” Donovan explained.

“That's like 127th in the country right now. That's a long drop from top 10. That's just reality. That's where we're at. I think our guys, when you talk about the expectations and the rankings and stuff like that, there may have been some of that before we started practice. I think some of that stuff has kind of dissipated, to be honest with you."

DONOVAN PREVIEWS THE TRIBE

“Thornton is a great player. He’s really, really good. He’ll be as good as any guard that we’ll play against this year. He can really score the ball, he’s got really good size, he’s got deep range,  he can play in pick n roll, he can play in transition. He’s a special player. You’re going to be playing against a team that’s going to run the Princeton style. They are really good in terms of passing, cutting, moving. They utilize the 3-point line very well, they get you on back cuts for layups. They’re a  team that stays true to their system, their style of play and what they’re doing. And then on top of that, they’ve got a high major really, really good player inside their system as well.”

CONFERENCE HONORS

Junior sharpshooter Michael Frazier and versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith were named to the All-SEC coaches’ first-team Thursday. Frazier is Florida’s lone returning starter, while Finney-Smith was the league’s sixth man of the year in 2013-14.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 13, 2014

Muschamp's silly, swiveling interception dance

 

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp was featured on the SEC Network's Film Room series this week, and former Georgia quarterback David Greene surprised Muschamp, a former UGA safety, with a video from 1992. 

In the clip, Muschamp intercepts Georgia Tech quarterback Tom Luginbill, ESPN's director of recruiting, then celebrates with a hip-swivel dance Deion Sanders would be proud of. 

Muschamp has longed joked about both players' collegiate careers. On National Signing Day this February, he quipped, "Somebody said Tom Luginbill [ESPN’s National Director of Recruiting] was the No. 1 JUCO quarterback when he came out, but I intercepted Tom Luginbill so that will tell you how important those rankings are."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 02, 2014

Gator Grades: The Return of Murderball

940xMike McNeely | AP/Stephen B. Morton

JACKSONVILLE -- Two weeks ago, it was eulogizing time for embattled coach Will Muschamp.  

For a little while, anyways, the obits can wait

The Gators inexplicably stunned the No. 9 Bulldogs, steamrolling UGA 38-13 behind a smashmouth two-headed rushing attack. 

OFFENSE - A

The Gators promised to run the ball until “the wheels fall off,” but the tires held up just fine. 

Florida bullied UGA for 418 yards on the ground -- fifth-most all-time in school history. 

Freshman quarterback Treon Harris wasn’t asked to do anything (3-of-6 for 27 yards, just one attempt after halftime). Only he didn’t get in the way, either. 

The Gators’ offense stalled early, but the special teams touchdown seemed to spark the team and Florida never looked back. The Gators, thanks to a terrific effort by the offensive line, dominated the second and third quarters, as both Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones ran wild. 

The Gun, Meet Foot offense disappeared, for a day anyways.  

DEFENSE - B+

Georgia actually out-gained UF (460-445), but Florida’s defense had some monster stops (several three-and-outs, goal line stand) to halt UGA’s comeback attempt. 

Nick Chubb bulldozed the Gators in the first quarter (101 yards) but once the Gators got the lead, the impressive freshman tailback was mostly neutralized. 

Florida forced a key fumble in the second half, too. 

Dante Fowler Jr. was unblockable (2.5 TFLs), while linebacker Antonio Morrison was a tackling machine (15 stops). 

SPECIAL TEAMS - A

What a fake. Mike McNeely’s 21-yard dash to tie the score completely flipped the game’s momentum. It was a perfect, yet gusty call, and also perfectly executed. 

The winds play a key factor Saturday, as the kicking game was shaky for both teams. 

UF’s coverage teams were outstanding, and Andre Debose (who muffed a punt but recovered it) added a 38-yard return. 

OVERALL - A

Ultimately, Florida walked the walk this weekend. The Gators stunned the Bulldogs, but they weren’t surprised by their performance. Muschamp’s job is still on life alert, but the defibrillators can be shelved for the time being. 

Twenty years of frustration are finally over for Coach Boom.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 29, 2014

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party stirs hate

Florida_Georgia_Football_Rivalry_Logo_Official

GAINESVILLE -- Florida, on dizzying tailspin, looks to avoid a fourth straight loss to No. 9 Georgia for the first time since 1978-83.  

The border rivals have met annually in Jacksonville since 1933, with the lone exception a two-year stretch in 1994-95.

UF's embattled coach Will Muschamp -- winless in the series as a UGA safety and as Florida’s coach -- explained exactly what the Florida-Georgia rivalry is all about.

Several Gator players commented on the classic series history, too, many also admitting they don’t care what happens the rest of the season so long as they upset the Bulldogs on Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS).

***** WILL MUSCHAMP *****

“It’s one of the great rivalries in all of college football. There’s nothing like it coming over the bridge and getting ready for this game and the excitement that’ll be in the air certainly on game day but also in the buildup to it.

"We’ve had three games that have come down to the last time of the drive and we need to coach and play better in those situations. I told our team that Thursday. We’ve had our opportunities to get off the field defensively; we’ve had opportunities to go for a possible tie in another situation and we haven’t done it. Credit their team and what they’ve been able to do. We certainly had our opportunities.”

***** SENIOR CENTER MAX GARCIA *****

“I’m a Georgia boy. One of the first memories I have is watching this game. I just feel like this game has so much hype, so much tension about it. I don’t even know how to describe the atmosphere. It’s so much antsiness and anxiousness around the game. It’s a huge game."

***** SENIOR LINEBACKER MIKE TAYLOR *****

"It's a big rivalry game. It's probably one of the best college atmosphere you can play in knowing it's split down the middle. Georgia on one side, Florida on the other side. Coming out of the tunnel and on the field on a neutral site, it's something that you just pride yourself on playing in. You want to have a good game in this big game.

"You know being recruited by them and being recruited in the state of Georgia means a lot, because you chose to go away for college. So it is a big game, it impacts us, too, as it does Muschamp, too, because he went there so, it's a big game for all of us. It's a border rivalry. You want to play good in this game, and this game has decided who has come out the East the last couple of years except for last year.”

***** SENIOR RIGHT TACKLE CHAZ GREEN *****

“The rivalry speaks for itself. Like Muschamp said, the last few years its come down to the last drive. And you know they’ve got the upper hand the last few years and we want to be on the other side this year.

“You can see the tailgate, cause it’s crazy. You go over that bridge and then all of the sudden you see a bunch of Gator fans, a bunch of Georgia fans. It’s crazy because you don’t see it until you get all the way over the bridge. Your heart starts pumping. You finally know it’s about that time.” 

***** JUNIOR DEFENSIVE END DANTE FOWLER JR. *****

“It’s the Florida-Georgia game. I mean, everyone dreams of playing this game, seeing themselves in this game. A lot of people know each other. We have a lot of people on our team that’s from Georgia. They’ve got some players on their team that’s from Florida.

"It’s really crazy how it is. You go over the bridge. First of all it’s a nice bridge, just to see an NFL football stadium that you’re about to play in. That excites you ever more. And just seeing the cocktail party, tailgating, things going on. Seeing the Georgia fans and how they react. So I like things like that. That kind of gets me pumped up when I see our fans and you get to see their fans. It’s really emotional to see the blue and red split.”

***** SOPHOMORE LINEBACKER JARRAD DAVIS *****

“It’s always personal. … It just seems  like in this game everybody out there is just turned all the way up. No matter what is going on outside or what’s going on before the game or the week before or the week after. It’s just THIS game. When this game comes up, it’s all about THIS game from both sides, that’s what it seems like. 

“You can tell these guys they want it so bad. If we don’t get anything else, we want this one. I’m going to be honest with you, we want this one. That’s how we have to go out every week and that’s how we’re definitely going at it this week. We want this one. We want this one.”

***** JUNIOR LEFT TACKLE D.J. HUMPHRIES *****

“It’s Florida-Georgia, you know what I mean. It’s time to hit somebody in the mouth.

“It’s kind of one those things, I’m from North Carolina so I kind of just inherited this hate. I never really understood it. It’s kind of like Florida State. I never knew anything about Florida-Florida State, but as soon as I got there my freshman year, like I automatically hate them. It’s just like an aura when you get there. It’s like, ‘We don’t like you all all all. Period. It’s definitely personal, one of those physical, personal games.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

October 28, 2014

Be careful what you wish for...

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators want Todd Gurley.

Seriously.

Georgia’s star tailback remains sidelined as the No. 9 Bulldogs await the NCAA’s ruling regarding his reinstatement, but Florida hopes the conference’s leader in all-purpose yards per game (194.6) is back on the field Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS).

“I think he’s going to play,” junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “I really want him to play. He’s a great player and great players bring great competition out of you. I feel like he’ll be a good competition for our defense coming up and just for the team. He’s a good player and I look forward to playing him.”

Added sophomore safety Keanu Neal, “I hope he's playing. It's always good to go against good, so I'm looking forward to going against him. … He's a freakish athlete. Anyone can see it. I'm looking forward to it."

Gurley has missed Georgia’s last two games while under investigation for allegedly receiving money for signing autographs.

The All-American tailback has dominated in his only two meetings against Florida, but the Gators are adamant they hope the former Heisman Trophy frontrunner plays. 

A year ago, Gurley, hobbled after missing nearly four straight games, torched UF for 187 total yards and two touchdowns in a 23-20 win. 

In 2012, then a freshman, the running back rushed for 118 yards and a score, becoming the lone player to crack the century mark against the nation’s fifth-ranked defense.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


Categories


Archives


Powered by TypePad