Thursday November 6, 2014 Back to basics: Morrison's renewed focus and good health has led to a productive season
Updated: 5:16pm, November 6
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Updated: 5:16pm, November 6
Antonio Morrison had a career-high 15 tackles against Georgia. (Photo: Jay Metz)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison remembers more than he would like about last year’s Vanderbilt game.
First, he remembers the Gators lost, snapping a 22-game win streak over the Commodores. As if that wasn’t painful enough, Morrison remembers it was the final game of his sophomore season.
“I got injured this game. I tore my meniscus and played the whole game,’’ Morrison said. “I’m ready to play these guys.”
Morrison was Florida’s leading tackler at the time of a knee injury that cost him the season’s final three games. He finished with 56 tackles but lacked the impact he made as a true freshman in 2012 when his hit on Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel and fumble recovery turned the momentum in the Gators’ 37-26 win in Tallahassee.
In Florida’s biggest win since that game – Saturday’s 38-20 victory over ninth-ranked Georgia – Morrison racked up a career-high 15 tackles. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Morrison ranks third in the SEC in tackles per game (9.6) and has 67 overall with at least four games remaining in the season.
Morrison’s blue-collar play of late has not gone unnoticed. Neither has his strong rebound from the injury and unspectacular sophomore season.
“His endurance is much better,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s able to sustain and play longer periods of time at a high level, and I think a lot of that goes back to his conditioning.
“He’s a very instinctive, tough player. One of his better games was against LSU, a traditional two-back team. You saw him playing off blocks and making  tackles, which is hard to do. I think he’s had a good year for us.”
His teammates agree.
“He’s grown up so much,” sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said. “He’s matured. He fell into his leader role and he takes it very serious. He’s playing well and I’m happy for him.”
Morrison played behind Jon Bostic as a freshman and then endured some off-the-field issues the summer after the season. Once he suffered the season-ending injury last season, Morrison refocused his commitment to the game and it’s now showing up on Saturdays.
Morrison has recorded 10 or more tackles in five games this season and has 27 more tackles than any other player on the roster – defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. is second with 40.
“I think he's playing his best football here this year since he's been here,’’ defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “He's really stepped up as a leader. He's not just out there making plays. He's been real effective in many ways for us.”
Morrison said there’s no secret to his success. He’s healthy. He’s committed. He’s playing hard every play.
“I just matured,’’ he said. “I go as hard as I can. I became a lot more mature for my age. I just worked all offseason. I didn’t want to have the same results personally and as a team.”
Updated: 10:08am, November 1
James Bates was inducted into the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame on Friday. (Photo: Tim Casey)
JACKSONVILLE -- Former Gators linebacker James Bates told the story with his trademark sense of humor.
It was 1992 and Bates and teammate Anthony Ingrassia were both new to UF. Bates was a true freshman from Sevierville, Tenn. Ingrassia was a transfer from Boston University.
Both were being redshirted and didn't travel with the Gators to the annual Florida-Georgia game at the old Gator Bowl.
Instead, they were back in Gainesville watching the game on TV at Yon Hall. Once they saw the atmosphere and fanfare on the television, they knew they had to get to Jacksonville ASAP.
"How do we get there,'' Ingrassia asked.
"I don't know,'' replied Bates. "I know we go out toward the airport."
And then Bates dropped his punch line.
"So I pulled out my phone and said, Siri! Siri! How do we get to Jacksonville?"
"I made that part up,'' Bates confessed to the crowd at Friday's Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "We found our way to Jacksonville."
Georgia Bates as her dad shared a story about origin of her name on Friday. (Photo: Tim Casey)
They did, reveling in the game's unique place in college football.
Over the next four seasons Bates played in the game and never lost to Georgia.
He won't be at today's annual showdown due to his job as a college football analyst for FOX Sports, but his family -- and aptly named daughter Georgia -- will be.
"Georgia is taking my place,'' Bates said. "I don't think we would have named her Georgia if we had gone 0-4. It would have been Lucy or something else."
Bates joined former UF standout Louis Oliver, former Georgia linebacker Ben Zambiasi and Pat Dye, who played at Georgia and was head coach at Auburn, in the 2014 Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame class.
Oliver was unable to attend due to a last-minute conflict but Bates represented the Gators well like he did as a player.
He never imagined getting inducted into a Hall of Fame for his time as a player.
"I get goose bumps right now just thinking about it,'' Bates said. "My Gators right now aren't where they want to be, but it doesn't matter. It's Florida-Georgia. It is truly a thing of beauty and I cannot believe that I got to go and be a part of that and I can't believe I'm remembered to be a part of this Hall of Fame."
Dye and Bates took turns poking fun at their rival in the series. After Bates reminded everyone of Florida's success against Georgia during his playing days, Dye pointed out to everyone the tide has turned.
Georgia has won three in a row in the series and with a victory today can post their first four-game win streak over the Gators since a six-game streak from 1978-83.
"Nobody hates the Gators more than I do,'' Dye said. "But, I tell you it's not good for the conference when Florida is struggling. James, they might could use your ass out there."
Bates and Dye share a moment following Friday's induction ceremony. (Photo: Tim Casey)
Updated: 5:41pm, October 29
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators offensive lineman D.J. Humphries was a month from his fourth birthday when former UF offensive lineman Mo Collins played his final game at Florida Field in November 1997.
However, as Humphries grew into one of the nation’s top offensive line prospects at Mallard Creek High in Charlotte, N.C., Collins was nearby supporting his alma mater, West Charlotte High.
Collins was retired from the NFL and helping young players chase their dreams the way he dreamed two decades earlier. He purchased equipment for a new weight room at his old high school, where he became head coach earlier this year.
He also worked with Humphries (photo, left), who reflected on their relationship Wednesday. Collins died Sunday at 38.
“He pretty much taught me the craft, you know what I mean?" Humphries said. "He took me from being a left tackle with a right-handed stance and showed me all the stuff to become an All-American in high school. That was pretty tough when I found I lost him this week. That was a big deal.”
Humphries and others have shared their fondness for Collins, who stood 6-foot-5 and weighed 337 pounds as an NFL rookie in 1998.
Former UF coach Steve Spurrier called Collins “one of my favorite players” on Tuesday night while talking to South Carolina beat reporters.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley scored two touchdowns last year against Florida (Photo: AJC)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators got a pregame victory Wednesday morning against Georgia if there is such a thing.
Suspended Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley will not play against Florida on Saturday according to a ruling issued by the NCAA.
While Gurley has missed the last two games for accepting more than $3,000 in cash for autographed memorabilia over the past two years, Gators coach Will Muschamp said Monday that he “absolutely” expected Gurley back on Saturday.
However, the onetime Heisman hopeful must sit out a total of four games – 30 percent of the season – based on the NCAA’s ruling. Georgia plans to appeal the decision.
The case came to light three weeks ago and Georgia suspended Gurley as it launched an internal investigation into claims from an autograph broker.
In addition to missing four games, Gurley must repay a portion of the money received to a charity of his choice and complete 40 hours of community service.
Despite missing the last two games, Gurley still ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing yards (773) and leads the conference in yards per game (154.6). In Georgia’s 23-20 victory over the Gators last year in Jacksonville, Gurley rushed for a game-high 100 yards on 17 carries and led the Bulldogs with 87 yards receiving, including a 73-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter that put Georgia ahead 14-0.
With Gurley unavailable, the Bulldogs have turned to freshman Nick Chubb, who is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has 569 yards rushing on the season.
Updated: 7:01pm, October 28
Dante Fowler Jr., left, Leon Orr, center, and Neiron Ball against Georgia in 2013. (File photo)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The annual Florida-Georgia clash is four days away. Personally, this game has always been my favorite on the schedule.
The atmosphere in Jacksonville is unique with the stadium split down the middle – one side Orange and Blue, the other Red and Black.
This year’s game has a little twist we haven’t seen since 1970 – both teams will wear their home jerseys. Florida is technically the visitor this season and will be stationed on the East sideline across the field from the press box.
The SEC approved the home-jersey request during its annual spring meetings.
Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley told GatorZone.com in March the backstory of how the decision came to fruition.
“It's just something a little different. To be honest, a fan suggested it. He sent me a picture of what they used to do when Coach Spurrier was playing,’’ Foley said. “He had a blue jersey on and whoever was tackling him had a red jersey on. It's a unique rivalry and just a little different something to do. There is no particular reason. Georgia agreed and we agreed. At the end of the day, you've still got to win the ballgame no matter what color jersey you have on. I think it's just a little something that makes the game even more unique.”
The Gators (3-3, 2-3 in SEC) enter this year’s game a heavy underdog against the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1). While few seem to think the Gators have a chance, they are not looking at it that way as fans and media speculate about the future of head coach Will Muschamp.
Muschamp is 0-3 against Georgia, his alma mater.
“This game is huge,’’ Gators safety Keanu Neal said Tuesday. “We’ve got to bring Florida back.”
“It’s bigger than playing for the coaches,’’ linebacker Neiron Ball said. “We’re playing for the program. Our program is better than we’ve shown.”
The main storylines on the Florida side involve Muschamp and freshman quarterback Treon Harris, who will make his first career start Saturday. On the Georgia side, will Todd Gurley play or won’t he?
Gurley has missed the past two games while school officials investigate whether he broke NCAA rules by signing memorabilia for profit. The NCAA is expected to make a ruling on Georgia’s application for his reinstatement any day now.
The Gators have an idea of what the ruling will be.
“Absolutely. I would expect him to play,’’ Muschamp said Monday. “He’s an extremely talented running back. Todd Gurley’s one of the best players in college football.”
For more flavor early in the week leading up to Saturday’s game, here are some fresh links for your perusal:
--Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper told reporters Tuesday that less turnovers will equal more offense writes Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times.
--Florida defensive end Dante Fowler has no plans to quit on the season and look toward the NFL writes David Jones of Florida Today.
--UF players confident ahead of Georgia game is lead topic in a notebook by Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
--As a former Georgia captain, Muschamp’s future is of interest in Georgia as Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Steve Hummer chimes in with his thoughts.
--Georgia a heavy favorite, but wary of hungry Gators writes Marc Weiszer of The Athens Banner-Herald.
Updated: 9:41pm, October 22
For more photos from Monday's practice, click here for a gallery from UAA photographer Tim Casey.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida head coach Billy Donovan traveled to Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday with Michael Frazier II and Dorian Finney-Smith for SEC Tipoff '15.
The event is the men's basketball version of media days.
Here are some links and tweets from the event:
--Two-team conference? SEC coaches say league is deeper than Florida and Kentucky writes Martin Rickman of SI.com.
--A notebook from Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun leads with Frazier's spot on preseason team.
--A Q&A with Donovan on resiliency and reloading for 2014-15 via Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com.
--Gators picked to finish second, Frazier a preseason All-SEC first-team selection via FoxSportsFlorida.com.
--Calipari's Cats first unanimous pick since Pitino's 'Untouchables' writes Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
--Don't bet against Donovan, Florida writes Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com ($).
--Five Kentucky players on All-SEC team writes Myron Medcalf of ESPN.com.
--Back in SEC, Bruce Pearl faces rebuilding job at Auburn writes Brockway.
--Alabama head coach and former Donovan assistant Anthony Grant says his team faces extremely challenging nonconference schedule writes Wesley Sinor of AL.com.
--Donovan is better at spinning a basketball on his finger than you are writes Andre Holleran of CollegeSpun.com.
Updated: 9:18pm, October 17
Sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor has received limited carries of late. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Why isn't sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor getting more carries?
That's one of the most-asked questions I've gotten from Florida fans the past couple of weeks.
Taylor has seen limited action recently, including only two rushes in Saturday's loss to LSU. Taylor started in place of injured running back Matt Jones but gave way early to true freshman Brandon Powell.
Taylor missed a blocking assignment on a third-and-4 on Florida's first drive. As he tried to recover and pick up a blitzing linebacker, Taylor ran into quarterback Jeff Driskel, causing Driskel to throw a wobbly pass to the ground toward an open Latroy Pittman.
Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was asked this week about Taylor's lack of use and the third-down play.
“Kelvin has do a better job of recognizing the Sam [linebacker] is coming and get over there faster and manage that,” Roper said. “We feel like we had a chance to convert a third down right there.”
While a talented runner -- Taylor had rushed for 508 yards as a true freshman, including 12 carries for 74 yards against Missouri, which visits The Swamp on Saturday -- he has struggled as an all-around back.
As the son of former Gators/NFL star Fred Taylor and the state of Florida's all-time leading prep rusher, Taylor joined the Gators as one of those celebrated recruits fans expect to become an instant star.
It rarely works out that way. While Taylor is clearly talented, he is a much different type of running back than his father, who checked in at 6-foot-1 and around 225 pounds. Kelvin is listed at 5-10, 209 pounds.
Fred Taylor rushed for nearly 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior in 1997 and then went on to become the Jacksonville Jaguars' all-time leading rusher. Kelvin Taylor is a college sophomore 17 games into his career.
Roper is confident Taylor can be a factor as the season progresses.
"He is really good with the ball in his hands," Roper said. "There's no doubt about that. He's a guy that when you hand it to him, does a good job. But you've got to be able to manage the rest of the package."
As for perhaps the most-asked question about Taylor this week -- why didn't he get the carry instead of the 5-9, 177-pound Powell on first-and-goal from LSU's 2 late in the game? -- Roper answered that, too.
"Brandon Powell is a little lighter, physical guy. Tough guy," Roper said. "Felt really good with the ball in his hands. Had been playing a lot of football and been in that series and made some plays. That was the decision that we made at that point to put it in his hands. We felt pretty confident we knew what we were going to get schematically, and it was what we felt our best thought was at that point.
"Then the next down, we did, we obviously put a lead blocker in there and tried to run the quarterback to get our numbers right and put a heavier guy in there on second down and do that. But what we had felt like is we could number up, is the best way I can say it, on the scheme right there."
Updated: 6:21pm, October 15
Billy Donovan is impressed by job Will Muschamp has done since taking over Gators. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – One is coming off a four-win season. The other off a trip to the Final Four.
So no surprise to anyone, Gators football coach Will Muschamp is not as popular as UF basketball coach Billy Donovan these days.
Donovan is in the prime of his career, set to enter his 19th season at UF fresh off a 36-win season, a fourth trip to the Final Four and a season that featured a school-record 30-game win streak.
Meanwhile, Muschamp is preparing the 3-2 Gators for Saturday’s Homecoming game against Missouri and in need of a win for the Gators to stay in the thick of the SEC East race.
Donovan gave a thoughtful answer when a reporter asked him what it’s like for his program to have more success than the football program in recent years.
“I don't really look at it that way,’’ Donovan said. “I think the one thing that Jeremy [Foley] has done here is that we're all in this together. It's not about [who has the most success]. I've got an enormous amount of respect for Will.
“Obviously for him, I look at things a little bit differently. Certainly he took over a situation that was really, really challenging, in my opinion. I thought he imposed his style of play on his team. The year before, I saw an unbelievable change inside of his team from a physical standpoint from year one to year two.
“The way they had to handle all the injuries last year was something, to me, that was just totally insurmountable to ever overcome. You can’t lose the level of players – and I respected the way Will handled it because he never used that as an excuse – but the truth is you can’t lose that many good players and be good. You just can’t. You just don’t plug guys in and guys step up.”
Donovan invited Muschamp to speak to his team over the summer about that same topic. In the case of his team, Donovan is searching for ways to replace seniors Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather.
“There were times last year where I watched and you saw them kind of – I think Will talked about this, ‘Woe is me,’ all that stuff – their team [this year] is not that way at all," Donovan said. "I think the guy has done an incredible job of changing the culture in terms of his team from one year to the next in a very positive way.
“From a coaching standpoint, where his team is at emotionally now, it's really impressive. I look at things a little bit differently. I know a lot of times people look just at results, but if you look at the transformation inside their team, to me watching them play this year compared to last year, it's night and day. I don't know anything about football, strategies and schemes. I'm just talking about how they play the game.”
Updated: 4:19pm, October 14
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive will retire in July after 13 years. (Photo: CBSSports.com file)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jeremy Foley had already been in charge of Florida’s athletic department for a decade by the time Mike Slive took over as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference in 2002.
A lot has happened for the Gators – and the SEC – since then.
While the Gators’ football program won two of the unprecedented seven consecutive national championships SEC schools won from 2006-12, the SEC grew into such a force in college athletics under Slive’s direction that it now has its own TV network, which launched in August.
The SEC announced Tuesday that Slive will retire in July.
As the conference’s longest-tenured AD, Foley is well aware of the impact Slive made when he took the job after serving as the first commissioner of Conference USA from 1995-2002.
“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,’’ Foley said. “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 SEC’s announcement, Slive will serve in the role of consultant to the conference for four years following his retirement.
Updated: 1:31pm, October 14
Gators coach Will Muschamp checks on receiver Latroy Pittman on Saturday. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At first I wondered if I had missed something. And then I replayed the scenario through my head, watched a replay and concluded, ‘wow, what’s all the fuss about?’
The moment happened Monday afternoon early in Gators coach Will Muschamp’s press conference when a reporter asked about Florida fans (or maybe "fan") being upset that Muschamp and the Gators weren’t on their knees as teammate Latroy Pittman lay motionless on the ground.
In a scary moment near the end of Florida’s 30-27 loss to LSU on Saturday night, Pittman collided with an LSU defender on a pass from quarterback Jeff Driskel that ricocheted into the air and was intercepted with 24 seconds left. The turnover set up LSU’s game-winning field goal.
The scene was one that you never want to see at a football game as a team of medical personnel attended to Pittman and a cart was brought out. While Pittman was stretched out on the ground closer to LSU’s side of the field, an LSU player was on the ground near UF’s sideline.
LSU defensive end Jermauria Rasco also went down on the play and several LSU medical personnel ran across the field to tend to Rasco for a few minutes after the play ended. Fortunately, Rasco was eventually able to get up on his own and walk off with the help of trainers.
As the sequence unfolded, Muschamp and Florida’s defense huddled down the sideline away from where Rasco was being treated and across the field from where Pittman lay. Meanwhile, several LSU players knelt on the field looking on with concern as their teammate received treatment.
Once Rasco was able to get up and walk their way, many of those LSU players converged closer to where Pittman was. When Pittman was lifted onto the cart to be taken off the field and to the hospital – thankfully he was released later that night after a series of precautionary tests checked out OK – several of the LSU players came over and offered well-wishes.
It was definitely a sign of good sportsmanship on LSU’s part.
Around that time Muschamp had broken from the defensive huddle and walked out to where Pittman was being treated, checked in on the situation, and asked a trainer to keep him informed.
Shortly thereafter, several Florida players walked out to offer their support to Pittman right before the cart pulled away.
However, according to Nola.com, Florida fan Kyle Morgan wrote a scathing editorial on Facebook about how “one of our players was gravely injured” late in the game.
Well, that’s where I kind of stopped reading. If you are “gravely injured,” you’re not giving a thumbs up as you leave the field as Pittman did. Heck, you’re probably not even breathing. That’s because you’re pretty much dead.
Here is Muschamp’s reply to the question Monday:
"Well, the information is relayed to me immediately that he had movement, and that they felt like he was -- precautionary reasons -- that he was going to be fine," Muschamp said. "We took that time -- and we’ve not instructed our players to take a knee in those situations -- any time someone gets hurt, we don't always know the severity of the injury or the situation. That’s not something that we’ve done, anywhere that I've ever been.
"We were trying to review the next set of downs for our defense we were also trying to get our situation ready for a field-goal block. After I had received the information that Latroy was fine, I went over to make sure he was fine. I looked at Latroy, Latroy said he was fine. I talked to our training staff, they said he was fine, they thought everything was going to be fine. That’s the situation."
So, that’s that.
Basically, much ado about nothing in my opinion. These types of topics sometimes become stories, usually after a difficult loss.
If Muschamp and the Gators had rushed out to Pittman and knelt in prayer for 15 minutes, and then when play resumed LSU scored an easy touchdown, the Gators would have been ripped for caring too much about their teammate and not enough about the next play.
That's sports fans on the Internet.
Anyway, since I received a couple of questions about this on Facebook and via email, I figured others might have questions as well, so felt like it might be worthwhile to post a blog.
Updated: 11:59am, October 12
Florida receiver Latroy Pittman flashes a thumbs up to the crowd on Saturday night. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Near the end of Florida's 30-27 loss to LSU on Saturday night the game was delayed for several minutes as UF receiver Latroy Pittman lay motionless on the ground.
Pittman collided with an LSU defender while trying to make a catch on a quick slant. The pass was intercepted and led to LSU's game-winning field goal. However silence engulfed The Swamp as a team of medical personnel attended to Pittman.
The good news: Florida announced this morning that Pittman was released from the hospital overnight after a series of precautionary tests checked out.
A junior from Citra in Marion County, PIttman has seven catches for 35 yards through five games.
Updated: 9:55am, October 8
Florida head coach Will Muschamp checks out a replay at Neyland Stadium. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators coach Will Muschamp is scheduled to address the media later this morning, first during his weekly appearance on the SEC coaches' media teleconference, and then a press conference with local UF beat reporters.
The Gators host LSU on Saturday night at The Swamp and in the wake of the Treon Harris news on Monday, Muschamp's regularly scheduled press conference was postponed until today.
Until we hear from Muschamp, here are some fresh links from around the Internet covering stories of interest to Florida fans:
--Quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg and defensive lineman Gerald Willis scuffled over a misunderstanding about cleats Monday night after practice. The Orlando Sentinel's Edgar Thompson has more details in his story.
--LSU playing in classic 1990s style writes Glenn Guilbeau of TheTownTalk.com.
--The Gators check in at No. 8 in Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley's latest SEC power rankings.
--Ex-Gator Bradley Beal is out to prove he and John Wall are NBA's best backcourt writes Don Coble of The Florida Times-Union. Beal is in Jacksonville tonight with the Wizards along with former UF standouts Patric Young and Vernon Macklin, who are with the New Orleans Pelicans, for an exhibition game.
--A good read on how the Mavericks stole former Gators standout Chandler Parsons from the Rockets to intensify the NBA rivalry from Marc Stein of ESPN.com.
--Former Gators forward Erik Murphy back to where his roots are as member of Boston Celtics writes Scott Souza of MetroWest Daily News.
--Florida Gym to celebrate its 65th anniversary writes Damaris Lopez of the Independent Florida Alligator.
--Gators men's tennis coach Bryan Shelton wants his team to turn up the attitude writes Mary Francis for the Alligator.
Updated: 12:20pm, October 1
Gators defensive lineman Leon Orr (No. 8) will miss Saturday's game. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators coach Will Muschamp made his regular appearance on the SEC Coaches Media Teleconference this morning.
Here are some quick-hit items from the call:
--Muschamp said freshman running back Brandon Powell will miss Saturday’s game at Tennessee with a hamstring injury that has limited him. Muschamp also reiterated defensive tackle Leon Orr (knee) won’t play Saturday.
--Senior linebacker Michael Taylor practiced Tuesday and remains questionable for Saturday due to a knee injury. “We’ll see how he progresses throughout the rest of the week.”
--Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries (ankle) “looked great” at practice on Tuesday and will play. Humphries has missed the last two games after suffering a high-ankle sprain in the season opener.
--Muschamp said a combination of bad throws and drops has prevented quarterback Jeff Driskel from thriving in the shotgun the way the Gators expected in their new offense. “We’ve had over 10 drops at the receiver position. We’ve had a couple of drops at the tight end position. Our protection has been good,” Muschamp said. “We’ve had our opportunities and it’s not all on Jeff. We’ve got to do a better job as an entire offense executing. Certainly Jeff is part of that. I think as we continue to work through the season we’ll continue to see good numbers.”
--“I would say really at the skill positions offensively,’’ Muschamp when asked where he sees the most improvement in this Tennessee team. “There is no question the third-down defense has been outstanding. Execution of what they do has been the key for them defensively.”
--Muschamp was asked about the Florida-Tennessee rivalry in the 1990s when the winner often won the SEC East. “It was good for college football and good for both universities.”
--Muschamp said the secondary is to blame for most of Florida’s defensive struggles. “We haven’t played very well. We’ve given up too many big plays. We’ve played well enough up front. We need to get more pressure with four guys rushing. Our linebackers have fit the runs well and done some nice things in coverage and pressures. But we have not played well enough in the secondary. We’re looking for different combinations of guys and we’re going to continue to do that. Guys are going to go out and communicate and do things the right way.”
--Coming off loss to Alabama, Muschamp was asked about team’s confident level heading to Tennessee. “I think we’re confident. We’ve had good prep in the open week and I think we’ve had good preparation through this week, and through your preparation builds confidence in what you do. What I’ve tried to do is look at from fall camp to this point – of the positive things we’ve done [amidst] obviously a lot of the negativity that surrounds us here. I think our guys have seen that and understand the type of football team we can have when we put it together and that’s what we are looking forward to.”
--Muschamp on college football being on pace for record number of 500-yard passing games, 700-yard total offense games this season: “As much as anything, total yardage now because of the number of snaps that you are taking defensively is not as important a stat as maybe some people think. I think it’s more about yards per play. That’s a little more reflective on how you are playing defense.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is set to meet with the media here shortly.
Check out GatorZone.com for an update later.
For now, here are some daily links for your perusal leading up to Saturday’s SEC East showdown at Neyland Stadium between the Gators and Vols:
--Florida must start finding some answers writes Jeff Barlis of ESPN.com.
--Gators coach Will Muschamp still backing Jeff Driskel at quarterback writes Gary Smits of The Florida Times-Union.
--Muschamp: no plan to play two quarterbacks writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
--Florida’s secondary still a work in progress writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.
--Driskel ignoring the criticism writes Cody Jones of Scout.com.
--Tennessee coach Butch Jones asks Vols fans to Checker Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
Updated: 11:37am, September 26
Gators coach Will Muschamp seeks improvement heading into Tennessee game. (Photo: Tim Casey).
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators have a bye week, and according to head coach Will Muschamp, they need it.
Florida travels to Neyland Stadium next Saturday for an SEC East showdown against Tennessee. The Vols have lost nine consecutive games to the Gators and appear to be improving under second-year head coach Butch Jones.
Improvement was the focus this week for the Gators, who will have the weekend off after a Friday weight-training session. Florida is searching for improvement offensively and defensively after its 42-21 loss at No. 3-ranked Alabama.
With that backdrop in place, here are some fresh links from around the Internet covering the Gators football team and other sports:
--Florida's four-man pass rush not getting it done writes Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com.
--Muschamp is not pleased at way defense is playing writes Jeff Barlis of ESPN.com.
--How can Florida save its season? Florida Today beat writer David Jones offers his take.
--Gators AD Jeremy Foley isn't ready to push the panic button writes Mike Bianchi of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley takes a look at greatest Gators to never play in NFL.
--Muschamp backs quarterback Jeff Driskel, expresses frustration over missed big plays writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Gators' veterans work to keep team's attitude upbeat writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.
--Former Gators coach Urban Meyer was featured on HBO this week, and Palm Beach Post columnist Dave George writes only time will tell if Meyer is a changed man.
--Former UF standout and longtime NBA player Matt Bonner honored to be inducted into UF's HOF writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.
--The UF volleyball team opens SEC play with a clean slate writes Eden Otero of the Independent Florida Alligator.
--The Gators women's swim team hosts Arkansas on Saturday in search of youth to replace departed seniors writes Aaron Friedland of the Alligator.
--Florida's soccer team is finally back home writes Jim Harvin of The Gainesville Sun.
Updated: 5:28pm, September 17
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Gators have two more practices before they head to Tuscaloosa on Friday afternoon for Saturday's big showdown with No. 3-ranked Alabama on Saturday.
This one has that big-game feel to it, which always makes the week more fun. There's plenty being said and written about this one.
Here is a look at some of the latest headlines:
--Gators say their 3OT win over Kentucky was a good prep for Alabama game writes Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.
--Junior running back Matt Jones carried load in second half vs. Kentucky writes Morgan Moriarty of the Independent Florida Alligator.
--UF pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. can't do it alone writes Edgar Thompson of The Orlando Sentinel.
--Alabama determined to end turnover shortage on Saturday writes Andrew Gribble of AL.com.
--Alabama coach Nick Saban's thoughts on UF's offense, Will Muschamp, several more topics via Andrew Gribble of Al.com.
--Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky writes that it's not too early to consider Alabama receiver Amari Cooper for the Heisman Trophy.
--ESPN.com blogger David Ching offers a first look at this week's SEC games, highlighted by Florida-Alabama.
--Gators QB Jeff Driskel a dual-threat vs. Bama and other notes from Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
--Florida freshman DT Gerald Willis and Alabama DB Landon Collins are brothers writes Chase Goodbread of NFL.com.
--Converting third downs might be key for Gators in game at Alabama writes Richard Johnson of The Florida Times-Union.
Vernon Hargreaves is excited about matchup with Tide receiver Amari Cooper. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – They have totally opposite missions on Saturday.
Gators cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III will try to prevent catches. Alabama receiver Amari Cooper will try to haul in as many passes as he can.
The Hargreaves-Cooper battle is perhaps the most intriguing subplot to Saturday’s Florida-Alabama showdown at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The winner of their matchup figures to have better odds of being on the winning team.
“He’s excited, I’m excited, we both know the magnitude of the game, and it’s going to be a great matchup,’’ Hargreaves said.
A freshman All-American last season, Hargreaves' sophomore season is off to a good start in the first two games. He broke up a career-high four passes in Florida’s triple-overtime win against Kentucky.
Hargreaves is the glue of a Gators secondary that was hot and cold against Kentucky. The Gators picked off three passes but allowed 173 yards on six explosive plays that drew the ire of head coach Will Muschamp.
To beat Alabama the Gators must tighten up their communication issues in the secondary. And at least contain Cooper to some degree, which no one has been able to do thus far.
Cooper (photo, left) leads the country with 33 receptions and ranks third with 464 yards receiving in three games. To put Cooper’s production in perspective, he has accounted for more than 50 percent of Alabama’s receiving yards under first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Cooper’s explosive start has some hyping him as the early Heisman favorite despite the fact a receiver hasn’t won the award since Desmond Howard in 1991.
Cooper’s on pace to shatter Julio Jones’ school-record for receptions (78) and yards (1,133) in a season, set in 2010.
"They do a nice job in the run game of getting the ball to him in a lot of what I call quick situation, of seeing a bad box, getting it out to him on the perimeter, creating some one-on-ones,’’ Muschamp said. “[They] move him around a little bit and we've got to make sure we identify him and know where he is. He's been targeted a bunch in their first three games, so there's no question he's a playmaker.”
Cooper is dangerous after the catch, picking up at least 13 yards-after-catch six times according to TideSports.com.
“Everybody knows what’s coming,” Hargreaves said. “Obviously I’m going to be covering him but you know I’m excited for it.”
While Hargreaves and Cooper will be matched up often, Cooper also lines up in the slot, presenting a challenge for Florida’s linebackers and safeties in coverage.
Cooper told reporters Monday he respects Hargreaves and the two follow each other on Twitter and have messaged one another in the past.
“He’s fast, quick,’’ Cooper said. “He plays smart.”
If Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. wasn’t playing Saturday, he would probably turn on the TV and watch Hargreaves and Cooper.
The matchup has that type of potential.
“I knew Amari Cooper in the Under Armour Game and I saw him in practice and he’s a great receiver,’’ Fowler said Tuesday. “And being able to see Vernon, see how good he is, that’s going to be a good matchup. I can’t wait to see that.”
Updated: 11:17pm, September 11
Gators coach Will Muschamp took on another name when he called into the Gator Hotline Thursday.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators coach Will Muschamp is known for a good one-liner from time to time.
He showed off his sense of humor in a different way on Thursday night.
Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley filled in for Muschamp on the Gator Hotline radio call-in show.
About midway into the show, host Mick Hubert took a call from "Bill" from Gainesville.
First, I've got a confession to make: I was driving home from work and had the show on my radio when Bill called in. I didn't pick up the fact Bill sounded an awful lot like the Gators head coach.
I do remember Foley's response about falling asleep during Muschamp's appearances on the show and chuckling.
Anyway, thanks to this thing called the Internet, someone captured the exchange and posted on the Web.
Here is "Bill"...or maybe "Will" from Gainesville:
Updated: 6:25pm, September 10
Former Gator Trey Burton during last year's game against Georgia. (Photo: Jay Metz)
He is listed on the depth chart as the fourth tight end, but ask former Gator Trey Burton his role, and his answer sounds familiar.
Burton said he lines up some at tight end during practice, some at receiver, and some at running back. Basically, wherever the Philadelphia Eagles need him. He also plays special teams and made his NFL debut there Sunday in the Eagles’ 34-17 win over Jacksonville.
“Every team is looking for a guy who can play on all special teams and be a backup on offense and eventually they will groom him into being the guy in the future,’’ Burton said Tuesday. “I’m extremely excited for the opportunity. I was just trying to make the best out of it. My dream was definitely to make the 53-man roster, but my dream was also to play, and I was able to do that this week. It’s just been kind of like a fairy tale.”
An undrafted free agent, Burton defied the odds when he made Philadelphia’s 53-man roster. He was the only undrafted rookie signed by the Eagles in May who made the roster.
However, Eagles coach Chip Kelly and general manger Howie Roseman, a former UF student, had their eyes on Burton on draft day.
"Late in the draft, we ended up taking a couple of defensive guys,’’ Kelly told reporters last week. “After we drafted Beau [Allen] in the seventh round, you look at the barrel and say, 'Who do you want?’ He was a guy that was a priority guy for us.”
No surprise, Burton’s versatility -- he played quarterback, fullback, tailback, tight end and receiver at Florida the past four seasons -- played a role.
Kelly’s fast-paced offense uses skill players in creative ways and when you can play as many positions as Burton, you have a player who provides a lot of options.
Burton said the biggest adjustment to the NFL has been Kelly’s offense, one he utilized at Oregon before taking over the Eagles last season.
“It’s extremely different,’’ Burton said. “Nothing like I’ve ever seen or heard of before. You hear about it being fast-placed -- it’s extremely fast. The technique and the hand signals, there is so much you have to learn. It’s definitley been one of the hardest offenses I’ve had to learn.
“I struggled with it a little bit, especially not coming from a no-huddle background. Coming from that to here, it’s a whole new world for me. It’s been fun.”
Burton’s adjustment to the City of Brotherly Love has been smoother. He spent his off day Tuesday looking for a place to live and a car.
He got a taste of Philly fans’ love-hate relationships with their professional sports teams Sunday.
“I really love it up here. I like the city and just the whole environment,” Burton said. “They were booing us after the second drive on Sunday.”
Burton is teammates with former Gators Jaylen Watkins and Riley Cooper, which has helped in the transition.
So have the three tight ends ahead of him on the roster: veterans Brent Celek and James Casey, and second-year pro Zach Ertz out of Stanford.
They have welcomed him with open arms.
“I’ve been blessed with an unbelievable tight end group that has really helped me out,’’ Burton said. “They’re just a bunch of good guys. They are really good on the field, but off the field they are even better. They have been awesome to me.”
Burton maintains daily contact with his younger brother, Clay, a senior tight end for the Gators, and several of his former teammates.
He is ready for another new experience this week: Monday Night Football. The Eagles play at Indianapolis on national television.
“It’s prime time,’’ he said. “I’m excited to see what this is about compared to a Florida-Georgia or Florida-Alabama game.”
Updated: 2:33pm, September 10
Freshman CB J.C. Jackson will undergo shoulder surgery next week. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- True freshman cornerback J.C. Jackson will miss the rest of the season.
Florida coach Will Muschamp announced Wednesday that Jackson will undergo shoulder surgery next week to repair a labrum injury that limited him in contact drills during fall camp.
Jackson played in the season opener but did not record a tackle.
"A labrum issue he had in high school that was repaired and continued to slip out,” Muschamp said. "He possibly could continue to push through the season, but we felt with his young age, go ahead and try and get it fixed and move on."
A 5-foot-10, 196-pound product of Immokalee High, Jackson arrived as part of a deep and talented freshman class of defensive backs. Jackson, Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Duke Dawson all played in Florida's 65-0 win over Eastern Michigan.
The Gators were impressed by Jackson's physical presence at corner and expected him to contribute.
“A guy who certainly was going to help on special teams and at corner,'' Muschamp said. "He's going to be an outstanding player. Disappointed for him, but we've got to move forward."
While Jackson's loss is disappointing for the Gators, they have good depth in the secondary and expect to have safety Marcus Maye (hamstring) back against Kentucky on Saturday.