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13 posts from February 2016

February 29, 2016

Gators on the verge of playing themselves out of the tournament

GAINESVILLE -- Has Florida’s bubble burst?


After three straight losses, the Gators are no longer a consensus NCAA Tournament team, per the omnipotent Bracket Matrix

Saturday’s 96-91 loss at LSU was yet another blow to UF’s postseason hopes, capping a month of missed opportunities. The Gators, who’s RPI dropped 13 spots to No. 45, have lost five of seven and won just three games in February. 

ESPN now lists Florida among its “Last Four In,” while CBS groups the Gators in the “First Four Out” category. 

Florida hosts No. 22 Kentucky on Tuesday night in desperate need of a victory. The showdown against the Wildcats also marks the final game in the O’Connell Center before the facility’s $65 million renovation gets underway. 

“We’ve squandered some opportunities and this is one of the last few we’ll have,” first-year coach Mike White said. 

“Obviously, this is a big, big opportunity for our guys to overcome some mistakes and failures. It will be a very, very difficult game to win, but if we play well -- we’re at home -- we should have our chances.”

Florida’s tailspin actually started in Lexington during a 80-61 loss to Kentucky on Feb. 6. The Gators were lit up for 35 points by ‘Cats freshman Jamal Murray, and their once-stingy defense hasn’t been the same since. 

After ranking among the Top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency for the first three months of the season, Florida has been torched in the last month, allowing 70-plus points six times -- including four games over 80 points. 

“Our emphasis probably moved toward offense too much [lately],” White said, adding that UF held a defense-only practice Monday. 

“We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time shooting free throws, running dry offense by shooting a ton of jump shots, individual skill development. … It’s always a balancing act, and we’ve got to be back to defending at a high level to give ourselves a chance.”

Especially against Kentucky. 

As it stands, Florida (17-11, 8-8) is grouped in a five-way tie for sixth place in the SEC. To make the NCAA Tournament, the Gators likely need to beat Kentucky and Missouri in the regular-season finale. Otherwise, UF may have to make a deep run -- or perhaps win -- the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tennessee to even reach the NCAA’s. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 27, 2016

Roundup: NFL Combine updates, UF announces staff addition

GAINESVILLE -- While Florida’s basketball team aims to right the ship tonight at LSU (8:30 p.m., SEC Network), eight former Gator football players are participating in the 2016 NFL Combine in Indianapolis. 

After becoming just the second 1,000-yard rusher at UF in the last decade, tailback Kelvin Taylor was the first to work out in front of league executives, scouts and coaches. 

It didn’t go particularly well, though. 

Taylor, who weighted in at 209 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds -- the sixth-slowest among all running backs. 

He also struggled in the agility drills (vertical leap, broad jump) and didn’t even participate in the three-cone drill or shuttle run. Taylor bench-pressed 225-pound 15 times -- fourth-fewest among all tailbacks. 

It was a disappointing showing for the junior, who immediately took to Twitter in now deleted tweets and told his fans and critics to just wait. 

"LOL sit back in keep watching," he wrote. Adding, "Film don't lie! Im a baller see you guys at pro day."

Florida's Pro Day is set for March 22. 


Demarcus Robinson will workout Saturday, but UF’s former enigmatic wideout held court with the media on Thursday and opened up about his issues at Florida. 

According to SEC Country, the talented receiver called himself “selfish,” saying he wanted to “tell the truth and get it out all in the open now.”

Robinson added, “I’m not the same person I was three years ago.”

Robinson was suspended four times in three seasons at UF, but 6-1, 203-pounder said he didn’t fail a drug test after his freshman season. He admitted to spending 45 days at Florida Recovery Center to address his addiction issues in 2013. 

After a breakout sophomore season (810 yards, seven touchdowns), Robinson caught just 48 passes for 522 yards and two touchdowns in 2015. He was suspended for Florida’s regular-season finale against Florida State, too, telling Jacksonville radio station 1010XL-AM that he met with a marketing representative who “was offering me something that I’d never been offered before.”

Robinson was reinstated for the SEC Championship Game and finished his UF career with just one catch for 17 yards in the Citrus Bowl against Michigan. 


Florida added a veteran assistant to its support staff Friday, announcing the hiring of longtime NFL coach Bret Ingalls. 

Ingalls, who spent the past seven seasons with the New Orleans Saints, will serve as a quality control staffer on offense. The 27-year coaching vet is a Washington native and served as an offensive coordinator four times (at San Diego State, Louisville, Northern Iowa and Idaho) in college football. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 25, 2016

Q&A: Torrian Gray talks decision to leave Virginia Tech for Florida

GAINESVILLE -- Torrian Gray spent a decade coaching at his alma mater, but Florida’s new defensive backs assistant left Virginia Tech to come home. 

Gray, 41, is a native of Lakeland and talked Thursday about the opportunity to return to the state where his mother and six siblings still reside. 

“To have a chance to come here, I was ecstatic about that,” said Gray, who played for the Hokies in the mid ‘90s and coached 10 NFL draft picks at the school in the last decade.

“To come home was just exciting to have that opportunity.”

Florida hired Gray on Feb. 4, and on Thursday he addressed a number of topics including DBU, recruiting with the Gator crest, learning a new scheme and evaluating Florida’s secondary talent.

What are your early impressions of Florida’s secondary?

“I’m very impressed with the top-end talent we have. We have to develop some depth there, but it’s pretty impressive the guys we do have coming back. I’m excited to start working with those guys. After those guys, we’ve got to build a lot of depth.”

So who is really the Defensive Back University?

“I think you got three or four schools that call themselves DBU, maybe more. Virginia Tech was one of the schools that called themselves DBU. Florida calls themselves DBU, LSU too. I hear Texas. I guess it’s whatever you think. We think we’re DBU here at the University of Florida, and we’re going to roll with that.” 

What is your philosophy on recruiting?

“It’s about building relationships, finding out who are the people that you really need to get close with and who’s important to the student-athlete that you’re recruiting. You always want to try to get in and build a great relationship with the student-athlete and who’s going to be important to that student-athlete’s decision.”

Did you have any prior relationships with Geoff Collins or Randy Shannon? How different is the scheme at Florida versus what you implemented at Va. Tech?

“I hadn’t had a lot of relationship with Coach Collins, or Coach Rumph or Coach Shannon for the most part. Getting to know those guys the past couple weeks has been pretty neat. The scheme that we do here is almost a lot different from what we do at Virginia Tech. It’s exciting for me.

I get to grow as a coach and get to learn Coach Collins’ scheme and what those guys are doing. … At Virginia Tech, we kind of got into playing a lot of man coverage. Almost every play. Our zones were matchup-zones. But you can only do so much in college football. You're either playing man or playing zone, but it's just kind of from the concept and the way we did things is a little bit different than here. At the end of the day you can only do certain things, but it's still a lot different.”

After 10 years in the ACC, how different is it recruiting at an SEC school now?

“Being in the ACC, and you come down to Georgia and it seems there was an awe or something about the SEC, an aura that you went up against sometimes. Some kids it didn’t matter, but for a lot of kids it did. If I’m spot recruiting Florida, sometimes it does matter. For some kids it didn’t, but there seems to be an aura for a lot of student-athletes about the SEC. It’ll be fun to see if that works in our favor now.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 23, 2016

UF suffers deflating home loss vs. Vandy, tourney hopes take a hit

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s tournament hopes took a significant blow Tuesday night. 

The Gators (17-11) suffered a crushing defeat to the Vanderbilt Commodores, surrendering their most points allowed in five years in a 87-74 loss in the O'Connell Center.  

In front of a number of NBA scouts, Vandy center Damian Jones carved up Florida, scoring a career-high 27 points on 12-of-13 shooting. UF’s defense was a sieve all evening, allowing 10 threes and a season-high 57.7 shooting from the field. 

“They were unbelievable,” Florida coach Mike White said of Vandy. 

“It needed to be one of our best defensive efforts. When the opposing center goes 12 of 13 from the field it usually doesn’t mean good things for you.” 

The Commodores shredded the Gators with their patience, passing and movement. Jones led the way, but Matthew Fisher-Davis (12), Wade Baldwin (13) and Jeff Roberson (18) all chipped in with big performances, too.  

Vandy also stunned the Gators with a pair of circus shots, drilling an 80-foot heave to end the first half and another buzzer-beating 3 after halftime.  

“My goodness, that’s eight points right there because the play before the 80 footer was a layup,” White said.

“Just huge plays.” 

And yet, after trailing by as many as 11 points in the second half, Florida slowly cut its deficit to two and appeared to almost wipe away all its brutal luck. 

Instead, the Gators missed six straight shots with a chance to take the lead and eventually saw Vandy's lead balloon back to double-digits. Florida's freshman guard KeVaughn Allen had a really rough night (0 of 7 from the field), as did senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith (1 of 7 shooting). Reserve forward Justin Leon scored a team-high 15 points, while center John Edgbunu (14 points) and forward Devin Robinson (11 points) finished with double-figures. 

Now, Florida’s NCAA Tournament prospects are suddenly on shaky ground. With three losses in their last four games, the Gators are inching towards the wrong side of the bubble, and Saturday’s showdown at LSU could be fight for the same spot in the tournament.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 22, 2016

Bracketology: Florida on the right side of the bubble ... for now

GAINESVILLE -- Florida snapped a six-game road losing streak last week at Georgia, but the Gators still aren’t squarely off the bubble after blowing a late-lead on the road against South Carolina on Saturday. 

UF is now 17-10, 8-6 in the SEC, with the nation’s No. 11 strength of schedule and No. 32 RPI. While the Gators, who rank No. 36 in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced ratings, have just one “bad loss” at Tennessee, their 2-7 record against the RPI Top 50 hurts their résumé.

With four games remaining on the regular season slate, Florida needs to beat Vanderbilt and Missouri to solidify their standing on the right side of the bubble heading into the conference tournament. Win at LSU or upset Kentucky at home and suddenly Florida would be in really good shape to make the NCAA Tournament in Mike White’s first season. 

The latest brackets…

ESPN projection: No. 8 seed (East, Brooklyn) 

CBS projection: No. 10 seed (West, Spokane)

USA Today projection: No. 9 seed (South, Raleigh)

Big Lead projection: No. 9 seed (no specifics)

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 17, 2016

Florida Gators to kickoff spring practice on March 9

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will return to the gridiron on March 9, the school announced Wednesday. 

The reigning SEC East champs will kickoff the first of 15 spring practices, with the quarterback competition between walk-on Luke Del Rio and Purdue transfer Austin Appleby expected to be the storyline of camp. 

A dozen early enrollees will also debut for UF, including quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask and kicker Eddy Pineiro. 

The Gators will conclude spring practice with the annual Orange and Blue Debut on April 8 -- hosting the event on a Friday night for the first time in school history. 

UF will also hold its Pro Day on March 22. 

Florida’s tentative practice schedule:

March 9

March 11

March 14

March 16

March 18

March 21

March 23

March 24

March 28

March 30

April 1

April 4

April 5

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 15, 2016

Bracketology: Florida inching toward bubble after loss to Alabama

GAINESVILLE -- Florida isn’t on the bubble yet, but the Gators are inching dangerously close according to multiple bracketologists.

ESPN, USA Today, The Big Lead and CBSSports all released their updated projections Monday, and Florida was a 9-seed in three brackets and an 11th-seed in CBS expert Jerry Palm's latest bracket.  

UF lost at home to Alabama on Saturday, falling to 16-9 and dropping 10 spots in RPI (now 31). The Gators rank No. 34 in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, but they face an uphill battle ahead, with four of their final six games on the road. Florida is just 1-6 in true road games this season -- with six-straight losses away from Gainesville. 

The Gators play at Georgia, a team just outside the bubble, on Tuesday before a weekend date at South Carolina. 

“It’s a huge week,” point guard Chris Chiozza said. 

“We’ve been struggling on the road this year, so it’s the last stretch of the year. It’s going to be huge for us. We’ve got a lot of away games and they’re against pretty great teams -- especially when they’re at home. So it’s going to be a huge week. We’ve just got to come out and focus, prepare and just ready to go to war every night.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 13, 2016

Ice cold: UF suffers bad home loss with woeful shooting effort

GAINESVILLE -- Florida dropped a conference game at home for the first time all season, losing 61-55 to Alabama in its worst offensive performance on the season. 

The Gators shot a season-low 28.6 percent from the field, hitting just two field goals in the final six minutes of the game. 

Alabama (15-9, 6-6 SEC) ended an 11-game losing streak in Gainesville despite both its starting guards fouling out inside the final six minutes of the game. Senior guard Retin Obasohan, averaging 16.7 points a game, led all scorers with 15 points before picking up his fifth foul with 5:35 remaining. 

It was an ugly and dispiriting loss for UF’s tournament hopes, as the Gators (15-9, 6-6 SEC) play three of their next four games on the road. 

Three thoughts on Florida’s first loss at home to Alabama since 1995:


The Gators were brutal offensively, going 3-for-21 from downtown and just 16-for-27 from the charity stripe. They missed (what seemed) like a million layups and bunnies, too. 

“We missed a lot of chippies. Chippies that usually go in,” senior Dorian Finney-Smith said. 

“It just wasn’t our night offensively.”

UF opened the game just 1 of 7 and never discovered any flow or rhythm. The Gators had 12 turnovers -- five by point guard Chris Chiozza -- and scored just 11 second chance points despite grabbing 23 offensive rebounds. 

“I’m not sure I’ve seen a box score like that,” UF coach Mike White said. 

Finney-Smith and freshman guard KeVaughn Allen both scored 12 points to lead the way but it wasn’t nearly enough. 

The Gators never really established Finney-Smith offensively, as Alabama's aggressive defense neutralized the senior the first 30 minutes of action (just five shots)


Florida tried to dominate the paint early, repeatedly feeding center John Ebgunu to no avail.  

The sophomore had a miserable night, going just 2-for-9 from the floor and a paltry 6-for-14 from the free throw line. Egbunu started the game 0 of 4 and struggled with pressure in the post (3 turnovers) and against the long arms of Alabama center Jimmy Taylor.  

He grabbed 10 rebounds, five on the offensive glass, but was posterized twice by Taylor, who controlled the paint all evening (11 points, 5 blocks). 

“I thought Jimmy Taylor dominated the game defensively,” White said. 

“They did a great job on John in the post.” 


UF entered the day a 7th-seed in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s latest projections, but its path to the NCAA Tournament took a legitimate hit Saturday. The Gators don’t have a sexy résumé -- just two Top 50 wins -- and now a team that struggles on the road must play three of their next four games away from Gainesville. 

“It’s a very tough loss for us,” White said. 

“As I told our guys, the next two will be a lot harder than this one. You’ve got to take care of your home floor. It only gets tougher from here.”

The Gators, who have the nation’s No. 24 RPI, play at Georgia on Tuesday and at South Carolina next weekend and now find themselves in the middle of a muddled race in the conference standings. 

"We need every win," Finney-Smith said. 

"That would have been a great win for us, but now we got a tough week ahead."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 11, 2016

Bullard, Hargreaves among eight Gators invited to combine

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will have plenty of familiar faces at the 2016 NFL Combine, as eight former players were officially invited Thursday to participate in the event at the end of the month. 

UF’s cadre includes all five juniors who turned pro early, and only Alabama (9), Notre Dame (10), Ohio State (14) and UCLA (9) had more players invited than the Gators.

* DL Jon Bullard (17.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

* CB Vernon Hargreaves III (4 INTs, 4 PBUs, 23 tackles)

* LB Antonio Morrison (103 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks)

* FS Keanu Neal (96 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 INT)

* DE Alex McCalister (9.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

* TE Jake McGee (41 receptions for 381 yards, 4 TDs)

* WR Demarcus Robinson (48 receptions for 522 yards, 2 TDs)

* RB Kelvin Taylor (1,035 yards, 13 TDs) 

Senior cornerback Brian Poole was notably not invited to participate. Poole did suffer an injury in the East-West Shrine Game in January. 

Hargreaves and Bullard are regarded as potential first-round picks, while Neal is reportedly climbing draft boards already. 

The NFL Combine runs from Feb. 26-29 in Indianapolis.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 10, 2016

Florida holds off Ole Miss, sweep the Rebels on the season

GAINESVILLE -- On ’90s night, Florida needed an old-school effort to continue its march toward the NCAA Tournament. 

The Gators (16-8) equaled last season’s win total with a nail-bitting 77-72 win over the Ole Miss Rebels on Tuesday, overcoming a sloppy offensive performance with a gritty defensive effort and some timely shots late. 

With 1:19 remaining and the shot-clock winding down, enigmatic guard Kasey Hill hit a circus shot off the glass to give UF a three-point lead. After another key defensive stop, freshman guard KeVaughn Allen delivered the dagger with a deep 3 on the very next possession. 

“What a big play that was,” Florida coach Mike White said, who moved to 2-0 against his alma mater this season. 

“What a huge play. We were stifled. Searching. Kasey came up with big play.”

The Gators had five players score in double figures, with senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith carrying load (16 points, 6 rebounds) once again. Allen finished with 15 points and Hill had 10, while UF center John Egbunu chipped in a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds).

Hill had another poor shooting night (just 2 of 7), but the junior tallied a team-high six assists and locked down the SEC’s leading scorer, holding Stefan Moody to 19 points on 11 shots. Hill harassed Moody all game, recording three steals and forcing Ole Miss’ senior guard into eight turnovers. 

Moody, who had scored at least 21 points in every conference game entering the night, never found his rhythm and was plagued by foul trouble throughout. He eventually fouled out on a charge with 1.09 remaining. 

Meanwhile, Florida struggled mightily against Ole Miss' zone, getting outscored 28-14 off turnovers and consistently settling for poor shots. However, the Gators played with a persistent energy and tenacity on the defensive end, oftentimes spirited by an unlikely contributor.    

Sophomore forward Devin Robinson, not known for his defense, delivered a fantastic effort, drawing the offensive foul on Moody to seal the victory. 

Robinson had 15 points on 5 of 7 shooting, adding a career-high three charges. The 6-7 forward drilled a pair of 3s in the second half and spurred Florida’s 7-0 to end the first half with a pair of hustle plays (shot-block leading to a transition 3, drawing a charge). 

“I thought this was the best game of his career,” White said. 

“It’s the best day that Devin’s had since I’ve coached him.”

With the win, the Gators moved to 13-1 at home and host Arkansas on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 04, 2016

Florida announces hiring of new defensive backs assistant

GAINESVILLE -- Florida officially tabbed its replacement for Kirk Callahan, announcing the hiring of Virginia Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray to the same position Thursday evening.

Gray -- a Lakeland native who was an all-conference safety for the Hokies in the mid ‘90s -- had been on staff at Virginia Tech for 10 seasons, coaching a number of All-Americans and future pros including Kyle Fuller, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Flowers.

He had the option of staying on new coach Justin Fuentes’ staff, but said Thursday that the chance for a homecoming was too good to pass up.

“This wasn’t about dollars and cents or anything,” Gray said in a statement.  

“Virginia Tech made me a very generous offer to stay, but this was simply a career opportunity and chance to return home to my Florida foots that my family couldn’t pass up.”

The 41-year-old assistant has experience coaching in the NFL and is also considered a strong recruiter. With his ties to the Tampa area, Gray should immediately boost Florida’s in-state efforts -- something the program desperately needs.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 03, 2016

Report: UF hires Virginia Tech's Torrian Gray as next DB coach

GAINESVILLE -- During his National Signing Day press conference, Florida coach Jim McElwain hinted he was close to tabbing a new defensive backs assistant.

McElwain said he would wait until after National Signing Day to announce the hire, though. 

Too late. 

Gray replaces Kirk Callahan, who was fired two weeks ago. 

The longtime Hokies assistant is regarded as a strong recruiter and solid position coach. Gray logged 10 years at Virginia Tech -- his alma mater -- developing NFL standouts Kam Chancellor, Kyle Fuller and Brandon Flowers.

He is also a Lakeland native and will likely recruit the Tampa area -- a region Callahan struggled pulling prospects. 

Two hours before the news leaked, McElwain told reporters, “We’re down the road on that. Obviously, it goes back to something I believe in. I’m not going to run anybody’s [day]. This is something we’re ready to do. It will happen. You guys will probably know it via Twitter or whatever before I do, but yea, it’s ready to go.” 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

What compliment? McElwain fires back at Bielema's quip

GAINESVILLE -- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema mades waves Wednesday when he called Florida “the new Ole Miss,” adding, “They’re doing some things in recruiting that kind of shocks you a little bit.”

Shots fired? 

Not so, according to Bielema, who quickly backpedaled and explained that he was actually complimenting Ole Miss, currently under an NCAA investigation for recruiting violations, and Florida. 

Gators coach Jim McElwain wasn’t buying it, though. 

“You got to get a kick out of it a little bit because obviously this guy doesn't know who the heck I am,” McElwain said.

“I sure as heck don't know who he is. I'm not sure we really ran into him on the recruiting trail, but you know I know what I'm all about. I know what the University of Florida is all about and I think if you were to poll anybody in college football I think that they'd know that Mac does it right. I have no idea what this guy was talking about to be honest.”

During Wednesday’s National Signing Day, JUCO three-star cornerback Joseph Putu flipped from Arkansas to UF, while the Gators also beat out the Razorbacks (among others) for talented four-star receiver Tyrie Cleveland. 

Bielema told reporters he called McElwain to apologize, and it was “received well.”

“I said something earlier that came across in the wrong way, I guess. I was paying a compliment to Florida. We’ve seen them kind of pop up everywhere. Before my last couple years here, really had only competed against Florida in Georgia and Florida itself a lot, because I love to recruit Florida. Well, this last week we were competing against them on a wide receiver in Texas, a running back, a player in Louisiana and a player in North Dakota. And I’ve never seen that before; that’s all I was making reference to.

“It’s kind of like last week, we stumbled across an offensive lineman in Illinois and I really liked him and started to proceed with him and found out he _ before I got anything going _ had had committed to Ole Miss. And I told my staff, ‘Ole Miss, they’re everywhere.’ That’s kind of the comment we make. It wasn’t in reference to anything other than that. I mean that wholeheartedly and honestly, and when I said that earlier, I was paying a compliment to Florida.”

Interestingly enough, Florida travels to Arkansas for the first time since 2003 on Nov. 5.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton



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