Welcome to Carter's Corner!
Gators coach Will Muschamp has a press conference at noon to wrap up the 2012 season and begin looking ahead to 2013.
On Thursday Muschamp promoted linebackers/special teams coach D.J. Durkin to defensive coordinator after Dan Quinn, Florida's defensive coordinator the past two seasons, accepted an offer to return to Seattle to become the Seahawks' defensive coordinator.
Here are some fresh links from around the Internet covering Gator-related topics:
--Quinn's return to Seattle to become an NFL defensive coordinator for the first time has him 'beyond excited' writes Seahawks.com's Clare Farnsworth.
--More on Quinn's move from ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco.
--A big win for Billy Donovan's team last night at Texas A&M silenced the crowd writes Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun.
--ESPN.com's latest SEC Power Rankings have the Gators as the "top dog" according to Myron Medcalf's blog.
--The Gators spoiled a festive night at Texas A&M on Thursday that featured Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. The scene from The Bryan (Texas) Eagle newspaper.
--A good read from Mike Jensen of the Philadelphia Enquirer on former Gators tennis standout Lisa Raymond, the doubles standard.
--The Mariners' trade of veteran catcher John Jaso has Seattle fans wondering what that means for former Gators catcher Mike Zunino, who could be on even a faster track to the big leagues.
--Gators runner Eddie Lovett had a record-setting day Thursday during the Gator Invitational indoor track meet at the O'Dome writes Jim Harvin of the Gainesville Sun.
--Florida's swimming and diving teams return to the pool on Saturday against Florida Atlantic. For more click here to read GatorZone.com's preview.
--You remember former Gators basketball players Kyle McClanahan and Adam Allen? They are now at Rollins College and playing well for the 12-2 Tars. A link to the Rollins hoops page if you want to find out more about the team.
--Former Gators quarterback Jacoby Brissett's transfer to N.C. State is official. The press release from GoWolfpack.com.
--Why former Gators center Joakim Noah wasn't named an NBA All-Star starter in fan voting despite his best season from NBCChicago.com.
As you probably know by now Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn accepted an offer from Seattle to be the Seahawks' new defensive coordinator.
Quinn joined Gators head coach Will Muschamp's inaugural staff two years ago and helped build the Gators' defense into one of the best the past two seasons.
Quinn is also a stand-up guy, one of my favorite coaches at UF to deal with in any sport.
Hope to catch up with him before he heads back to Seattle, where he was defensive line coach for two seasons prior to joining the Gators.
For now, here is a quote from Quinn on his time at UF courtesy of Florida football SID Dan Apple:
"My wife Stacey and I loved our time in Gainesville,'' Quinn said. "The last two years have been an awesome experience, working for Will and Mr. Foley and with a bunch of talented, great players and coaches. Even though we'll be in Seattle, we look forward to keeping track of the Gators in the future."
Gators linebackers/special-teams coordinator D.J. Durkin will replace Quinn as defensive coordinator.
Wednesday January 16, 2013Floyd's going-away letter, potential players for Gators, Lochte's roses, plus more tidbits
Updated: 2:38pm, January 16
The Gators men’s basketball team leaves later today for Thursday’s game at Texas A&M, which is coming off an impressive win over Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
Here are some fresh links from around the Internet discussing the game and more Gator-related sports news:
--The Gators are doing well on the boards this season despite the loss of leading rebounder Bradley Beal from last year’s team writes Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun.
--The Gators will face a “White Out” in College Station as Texas A&M Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and the football team will be honored at halftime. The buzz could help A&M basketball win fans writes The Bryan (Texas) Eagle.
--Departing Gators junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd took an ad out in the Independent Florida Alligator to thank Gator fans for their support during his three seasons at UF. A classy move by Floyd, likely a first-round pick in April’s NFL Draft.
--Speaking of Floyd, he is one of five Gators in the NFL Draft (Matt Elam, Jon Bostic, Jordan Reed and Caleb Sturgis are the others) that ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has rated in his top five at their positions. NOTE: (ESPN Insider account needed for link).
--The latest on Tim Tebow’s prospects for next season in an AP story via Jacksonville.com.
--Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com continues his position-by-position review of the Gators, taking a look at potential playmakers for next year’s team.
--It’s not very often our links take us to Glamour.com, but this one involves Ryan Lochte, a prom invitation and a dozen roses.
--A good story by Chris Tomasson of FoxSportsFlorida on former Gators forward David Lee, who continues to put together an impressive NBA career with the Golden State Warriors.
--A look at the 32 underclassmen the SEC is losing to the NFL Draft from ESPN.com blogger Chris Low.
--Five of the top eight teams in CBSSports.com college football writer Dennis Dodd’s 2013 preseason Top 25 are from the SEC. The Gators check in at … No. 8.
--The Independent Florida Alligator’s Chuck Kingsbury writes that the Gators gymnastics team is aggressively correcting mistakes after loss to LSU.
--I missed this one over the holidays, but Florida Today columnist John Torres catches up with former Gators pitcher Brian Johnson as he prepares for his first full season in the Red Sox organization and his rehab from several fractured facial bones from a line drive to the face.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Over the next three months you will see more NFL mock drafts than TMZ photos of Lindsay Lohan barhopping in Manhattan.
OK, at least somewhere in the neighborhood.
The draft isn’t until April 25-27 but the mock draft season is already robust with projections, predictions and prolific prognostication.
Here at GatorZone.com we like to use moderation when discussing the draft. So, we’ll start out by taking an early look at Florida’s four underclassmen who declared for the draft.
Junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, safety Matt Elam, tight end Jordan Reed and linebacker Jelani Jenkins all declared for the draft in the wake of the Gators’ loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.
Depending on which mock draft you look at, Floyd and Elam are projected as first- or second-rounders on most lists. Reed is expected to be taken in the middle rounds. Jenkins appears the wild card of the group since he missed the Sugar Bowl with a broken foot.
A pretty good website for all-things-NFL-Draft is NFLDraftScout.com, which is part of the CBSSports.com network.
Of course, there are countless other mainstream sites such as ESPN.com and SI.com to get draft information, and hundreds, if not thousands of sports blogs offer their takes on the draft.
Some of the info is more reliable than others, but at this stage of the process, it’s all heavy on speculation until the NFL Draft Combine provides teams a better set of criteria.
Having said all that, here is what NFLDraftScout.com says about Florida’s four underclassmen:
Prospect ranking: 32 overall
Like many Florida players, Elam signed with the Gators as a very highly regarded prep prospect.
He was primarily a reserve defensive back in his first season with the team, though he did start on special teams (kickoff coverage, return) and finished his true freshman campaign with 22 tackles, including two for loss.
Elam emerged as a standout once given the opportunity to start last season. He finished the year second on the team in total tackles (78) and led the club in tackles for loss (11), pass breakups (seven) and forced fumbles (two). He also intercepted two passes last year, including one against Tennessee's Tyler Bray.
Athletic, instinctive and quite physical, Elam demonstrated the ability to walk up into the box and be a force near the line of scrimmage while also dropping back into coverage as a single-high safety when coaches called for it -- showing off the type of versatility NFL teams are demanding fromtoday's hybrid safeties. Elam shows good vision and anticipation when fighting through blocks near the line of scrimmage and is a reliable, physical tackler.
Prospect ranking: 39 overall
Floyd signed with Florida as the highest regarded prep defensive tackle prospect in the country, according to some recruiting experts.
He immediately proved up to the hype, earning a spot on the 2010 All-SECFreshman team (as voted by the coaches) with 23 tackles, including 6.5 for loss.
Floyd showed off the versatility that could result in his earning a high round selection into the NFL one day by playing every position along the defensive line for Florida as a true sophomore.
Though built more like a traditional defensive tackle, Floyd started all 11 games he played last season at defensive end, posting 46 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks and blocked a field goal in a 26-21 victory over Vanderbilt.
He was asked to make the move to defensive end due to the Gators' lack of depth at the position and need to put as many of their most talented defensive linemen on the field at the same time.
While not sleek or fast enough to beatSECoffensive tackles for sacks, Floyd's burst off the snap, hand use and power will translate into more big plays in 2012 as he'll be heading back inside.
Prospect ranking: 81 overall
Reed was a versatile threat at New London High School in Connecticut, where he threw for 1,707 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior while also rushing for 370 yards and eight touchdowns. He led New London to an undefeated season in 2007, was a finalist for the Joe Montana High School quarterback of the year in 2008 and chose Florida over Connecticut, Oregon, Boston College and Maryland.
Reed redshirted in 2009 before starting four of 12 games the following season. He finished 2010 with six catches for 79 yards (13.2 average) and one touchdown and gained 335 rushing yards on 77 attempts (4.4-yard average) and five touchdowns.
He started 10 of 11 games as a sophomore, again showing impressive versatility. Reed finished the season with 28 catches for 307 yards, leading the team in receptions four times.
Reed emerged as a first-team All-SECpick in 2012, leading the Gators with 45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns. He joined a host of Florida teammates to declare a year early for the NFL Draft.
"I've enjoyed four good years at Florida, but I feel that now is the right time to pursue my dream of playing in the NFL," Reed said. "I appreciate the support from all the coaches and staff here, and I'll always be a Gator."
Lacking the bulk and blocking skills of most traditional tight ends, Reed isn't a fit for every NFL offense. His fluidity and soft hands, however, are reminiscent of former Florida star Aaron Hernandez who has out-played his fourth-round draft selection for the New England Patriots, establishing himself as one of the league's most difficult matchups
STRENGTHS: Reed is a fluid and flexible athlete with smooth body control and controlled balance. He flashes WR moves after the catch with quick, elusive feet and deceiving speed to run away from defenders.
Reed shows smooth athleticism in his routes, creating separation with sharp footwork and quick body movements. He has reliable hands and does a nice job holding onto the ball after a big hit, proving his ability and toughness over the middle of the field.
Reed shows a very good feel for his surroundings with a savvy ability to find open spots in coverage. He flashes some power with the ability to lower his pads through contact and pick up yards after contact.
He also has versatile experience as a former QB with 14 total touchdowns (6 receiving, 5 rushing and 3 passing) the past three seasons. He blossomed as a junior in 2012, leading allSECTEs in catches (45).
WEAKNESSES: Lacks an ideal frame with only average height and build for the position and needs to continue to add bulk to his body. He has room to improve his route-running and needs to continue to develop his receiving skills at the position.
He needs to be more consistent as a blocker and is too much of a grabber in the run game, attracting holding calls.
Reed needs to stay focused with too many false-start penalties on his resume. He has progressed immensely as a pass catcher, but will have a few drops here and there. Reed had a costly fumble near the end zone against Georgia that cost Florida the game and he needs to consistently hold the ball tighter.
He has battled numerous injuries over his career and there are some questions about how his body will hold up in the NFL.
COMPARES TO: Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots - Yes, both grew up and prepped in Connecticut before arriving in Gainesville, but the similarities don't end there. Reed shows the unique ability to create receiving mismatches as a "joker" TE against linebackers and defensive backs, similar to what Hernandez has done in New England.
Prospect ranking: 107 overall
Jenkins may lack the prototypical size scouts prefer at outside linebacker, but as evidenced by the fact that three "undersized" linebackers last year were among the first 100 players selected, NFL teams may be acknowledging that quickness and coverage ability can supersede size and strength for linebackers intoday's high-octane passing league.
It would be premature to compare Jenkins to the Philadelphia Eagles' Mychal Kendricks (5-11, 239), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Lavonte David (6-1, 233) or the Pittsburgh Steelers' Sean Spence (5-11, 231) at this time but the same kind of playmaking ability that led to these linebackers earning the No. 46, 58 and 86 overall picks, respectively is evident in Jenkins' game.
Jenkins appeared in two games for the Gators as a true freshman but was given a redshirt. Since, he's started 23 of a possible 26 contests and has racked up 153 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, four sacks, two interceptions and has both forced and recovered a fumble.
As one would expect for a linebacker of his size, Jenkins can get swallowed up, at times, when attacking the line of scrimmage. However, attacking is precisely the way to describe Jenkins' style of play as he reads the action quickly and is extremely aggressive, often beating the behemoth offensive linemen he's competing against to the action.
He's earned his starts at both middle and weakside linebacker, finishing third on the team a season ago with 75 tackles while starting 11 games at the WILL position. Due to his size restraints, the weakside position in the 4-3 likely will be Jenkins' best chance at success in the NFL.
Omar Hunter is on the Stars roster for Saturday's Raycom College All-Star Classic in Montgomery, Ala.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The college football all-star season officially kicked off on Saturday in Tucson, Ariz.
Two former Gators were on hand for the Casino Del Sol College All-Star Game: receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. and running back/receiver Omarius Hines.
There wasn't much media coverage of the game, but according to the official stat package posted on the game's Facebook page, Hammond had one reception for six yards and one rush for six yards.
Hines did not record a statistic for the East team, which lost 40-7.
Hammond and Hines were the first of nine former UF players scheduled to play in postseason all-star games over the next few weeks.
Next up is defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who is on the Stars roster for Saturday's inaugural Raycom College All-Star Classic in Montgomery, Ala. Hunter's team is being coached by Jim Bates, a longtime NFL assistant and Florida's defensive coordinator in Steve Spurrier's first season in 1990.
The Stars roster features some familiar names other than Hunter, including South Carolina's Shaq Wilson, Notre Dame's Mike Golic Jr. and LSU's Russell Shepard.
The Raycom Classic will air at 4 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Network.
Meanwhile, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is also on Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. No former Gators are in the game, which will be shown live on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. ET.
However, on Saturday in St. Petersburg Gators kicker Caleb Sturgis, linebacker Lerentee McCray and safety Josh Evans will play in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field. You can watch the East-West Shrine Game on the NFL Network starting at 4 p.m.
The following weekend is the Senior Bowl, the most prestigious of the college postseason all-star games. Florida running back Mike Gillislee, linebacker Jon Bostic and offensive lineman Xavier Nixon are scheduled to participate in the game, which will air at 4 p.m. ET on the NFL Network.
The final postseason showcase is the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game on Feb. 2 in Allen, Texas, near Dallas.
The game pits Division I, II and III college players from Texas schools against a roster made up of players from around the country. The rosters are not finalized so it's unclear if any Gators will play in the game.
The UF women's basketball team put up a good fight in an overtime loss to the No. 9 Vols on Sunday.
This is a big week for the Gators men’s basketball team.
Florida travels Thursday to Texas A&M – coming off a road win at Kentucky behind Elston Turner’s 40 points Saturday – and then returns home Saturday to face Missouri.
It will be the Gators’ first games against the two newest members of the SEC since they joined the league.
The Gators rolled to a win at LSU on Saturday despite being down to six players in the rotation due to injuries. Florida’s injury concerns are expected to carry into this week, too. GatorZone.com’s Chris Harry will have up an update this afternoon when he returns from head coach Billy Donovan’s Monday press conference.
Meanwhile, to help you catch up – and me, too, after a few days away – here are some fresh links from around the Internet covering topics of interest to Florida fans:
--In case you missed it, here is Chris Harry’s story from Baton Rouge after Florida’s 74-52 win over the Tigers.
--With the Aggies up next for Florida, a look back at Texas A&M’s big road win at Kentucky via ESPN.com.
--As for football, ESPN.com’s Michael DiRocco raises some questions for the Gators when they head into spring practice in a few weeks.
--The Gators women’s basketball team pushed Tennessee to the brink on Sunday before falling writes Dan Fleser of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
--For more on Tennessee’s 78-75 win over the Florida women, click here for a story by Jim Harvin in the Gainesville Sun.
--ESPN.com bloggers Andrea Adelson and Ed Aschoff debate which school had a better year: Florida or Florida State. You can read and vote at this link.
--Florida’s track and field teams opened the season strong at the Crimson Tide Indoor Opener over the weekend writes GatorZone.com.
--Former Gators LB Brandon Spikes getting some pub over his fumble dance in yesterday’s win over the Texans in the NFL Playoffs.
--The UF gymnastics team was upset at home by LSU on Friday, a lesson that should motivate the team according to head coach Rhonda Faehn. Here is more from the Independent Florida Alligator.
--Speaking of gymnastics, Florida freshman and former World Champion Bridget Sloan featured by NCAA.com.
Tuesday January 1, 2013Wuerffel returns to New Orleans for Sugar Bowl, a new Desire Street Ministries project
Updated: 7:39pm, January 1
Danny Wuerffel speaking at a Beef O'Brady's Bowl Luncheon last month (Tampa Tribune).
NEW ORLEANS -- He's back. Back in a place he never really leaves.
Former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel will be here Wednesday night to represent the Gators, along with Emmitt Smith, during the coin toss prior to the 79th edition of the Sugar Bowl.
In the final game of Wuerffel's UF career, he passed for 306 yards and three touchdowns in the Superdome to lead the Gators to a 52-20 win over Florida State, clinching Florida's first national title.
A few months later Wuerffel was selected by the New Orleans Saints and played three seasons here before moving on to other NFL stops. But he made a much more lasting contribution to the city than anything he did for the Saints.
Wuerffel helped build the non-profit Desire Street Ministries, a faith-based organization that works to help revitalize inner-city neighborhoods and spread the gospel.
And then disaster struck.
Hurricane Katrina washed away Desire Street's headquarters in the Ninth Ward in 2005, and Wuerffel's home was also destroyed by the storm. Wuerffel basically had to start over.
He has relocated to the Atlanta area and now lives near Desire Street's new headquarters with his wife and three children.
Back in New Orleans this week Wuerffel held a brunch to raise awareness and interest in a new multi-purpose facility that Desire Street is building on the same site in the Ninth Ward where its headquarters were before Katrina visited.
"I'm excited that Desire Street -- while we are moving our focus to a more regional and national level -- we're still very much committed to New Orleans,'' Wuerffel said.
Wuerffel said New Orleans will always feel like home even though he hasn't live here for several years.
"[Desire Street] started before I got there and I just got involved when I was playing for the Saints,'' Wuerffel said. "New Orleans is a unique city in so many ways for me, so many unique connections with it from the Sugar Bowl and the national championship, playing there with the Saints and getting involved in Desire Street and going through Hurricane Katrina.
"All those things are significant points of memory in my life. It's a great place and will always be special for me."
Wuerffel is feeling like himself again after being diagnosed more than a year and half ago with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis.
Wuerffel's nervous system was under attack and there are still days he fatigues easily. But there have been much better days of late.
"I'm definitely past the biggest hurdles,'' he said of the disorder. "I'm mostly doing well and thankful for it."
While Wuerffel's life work is far from the football field, he still follows the Gators and remains one of the program's most prominent ambassadors.
When he walks onto the field prior to Wednesday's game, Wuerffel expects the memories to rush back.
"I'm still just a great big fan and part of everything,'' Wuerffel said. "I'm really excited for Coach Muschamp and the team and happy for [quarterback Jeff] Driskel. To be part of the game and involved in the coin toss, that's a thrill, especially since it's the Sugar Bowl where I have a lot of memories."
He'll have another one come Wednesday night.
NEW ORLEANS -- One of the most popular storylines leading up to Wednesday's Sugar Bowl between Florida and Louisville is Cardinals coach Charlie Strong and his deep connections to the Gators.
Strong is one of the most prominent assistant coaches in UF history. He worked under Florida head coaches Charley Pell, Galen Hall, Gary Darnell, Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook and Urban Meyer.
He started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Florida in 1983. He returned to UF in 1991 as defensive ends coach, became assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach in 1994, and after time at Notre Dame and South Carolina, Strong came back to join Zook's staff as defensive coordinator in 2003.
When Zook was fired after the 2004 season, Strong served as the Gators' head coach in the 2004 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl against Miami.
He remained on staff when Urban Meyer took over the program in 2005 and was Florida's defensive coordinator in the 2010 Sugar Bowl victory here over Cincinnati.
He left to become Louisville's head coach after the game and recently turned down an offer from Tennessee to remain in Louisville.
Strong remains a popular figure with Florida's administration.
"My success started at Florida,'' Strong said. "I was part of two national championship teams and worked for so many outstanding coaches. One after the next, those coaches gave me opportunities and built tremendous programs with tradition.
It took Strong longer than expected to take over his own program, but in three seasons at Louisville, he is 24-14 including a 10-2 record this season.
The wait was worth it for Strong.
"When trying to become a head coach, it's all about waiting and being patient and finding the right job,'' he said. "I didn't get a head job right away, but I am so thankful that it happened for me here at Louisville. I'm at the right place right now."
FLOYD'S WIN-WIN SITUATION
Among the Gators' underclassmen that are considering the NFL Draft, junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is projected by most analysts to get drafted the highest.
Floyd is a first-round pick on many draft boards and likely to go no lower than the second round should he leave school early.
Floyd appeared relaxed when talking about the upcoming decision over the weekend.
"I've been just getting ready for this,'' Floyd said. "On Jan. 3 we can talk about it. I get questions but at the end of the day, I'm honestly just focusing on the team and I'm not locked in to anything else yet.
"There's no decision right now."
A prototypical defensive end, Floyd had 41 tackles in the regular season and led the Gators with 11 tackles-for-loss. He moved back to the interior line this season after spending much of his sophomore season at defensive end due to a lack of depth.
Regardless of what the future holds, Floyd looks at like a win-win situation.
"At the end of the day, it's not a bad situation,'' Floyd said. "I'm leaving or I'm staying. If I stay, I'm still going to be with my boys. If I leave, I'm still going to be in contact with them. At the end of the day it's about what is best for the team and what the coaches feel is the best."
Gators junior safety Matt Elam earned first-team All-American honors and is projected to be an early-round draft pick should he leave school after the Sugar Bowl and enter the NFL draft.
Elam declined to discuss his draft status in New Orleans, saying, "I'm not answering questions about that right now."
While he'll make that decision public later, he matured into one of Florida's best players in front of everyone the past three years.
Elam was inconsistent early in his career but as a junior blossomed into the kind of player most expected when he came out of Dwyer High in Palm Beach.
"It was all progress,'' he said. "I didn’t start off too well, but I stayed focused on consistency. I experienced a lot, and it helped me grow as a man.
"I feel like the smarter I got, the easier it became. There’s a lot of great players in the SEC, so it was a challenge, and that’s a part of the learning process.”
STAYING IN TOUCH
Louisville's Gerald Christian and Robert Clark were teammates of Elam's in high school and at UF for two seasons. The two transferred to Louisville after the 2011 season and sat out this season per NCAA rules.
Elam remains close with his longtime teammates.
"I communicate with them every day,'' Elam said. "It was tough coming in [together] and seeing them leave."
Elam visited Christian and Clark over the summer in Louisville and has hung out with them in New Orleans.
QUOTE OF NOTE I
"What Coach Muschamp has started is really hard to do. To get this program back on top, it feels great to be a part of it, especially having gone through the highs and the lows." -- Offensive lineman James Wilson on Florida's turnaround
QUOTE OF NOTE II
"We try not to listen to that. People like to take the underdog role on. It is what it is. On film you can see that they're a very talented team.'' -- Louisville center Mario Benavides on the Cardinals being more than a two-touchdown underdog
QUOTE OF NOTE III
"We said that as soon as it happened, 'that probably could be play of the year right there.' We still say it. That really could have been the turning point of our season." -- Gators LB Jon Bostic on Elam's game-changing strip in a 14-6 win over LSU
Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater both attended the Elite 11 Camp in California in high school. "We kind of go back a little ways,'' Driskel said. "I know him a little bit." ... The official Sugar Bowl pep rally for the Gators is at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. For more information, click this link from the Sugar Bowl's official website ... Gators receiver Frankie Hammond Jr., who also performed in the high jump for Florida's track team, said he is done with track and has no plans to pursue a track career after football.
Sunday December 30, 2012Gillislee has tunnel vision and Louisville's attention heading into Sugar Bowl
NEW ORLEANS -- A year ago in the MAACO Bowl, it took Boise State running back Doug Martin 14 seconds to make an impact. That's how much time ran off the clock on Martin's 100-yard kickoff return to open Boise State's 56-24 win over Arizona State.
Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease was in the same role at Boise State in the game and relied heavily on Martin that night in Las Vegas. Martin was named the MAACO Bowl MVP for his 301 all-purpose yards.
Martin's name popped up Sunday when Pease was asked if he still felt comfortable in comparing Gators senior running back Mike Gillislee to Martin, who capped his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday by rushing for 142 yards in a 22-17 win over Atlanta.
Martin finished his rookie season with 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 90.8 yards a game. Meanwhile, Gillislee rushed for 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season, averaging 92 yards per game.
As for Pease's answer Sunday, he simply said, "I do."
"I think Mike's really focused,'' Pease continued. "He's a kid that's studied a lot of football while we've been here. Now that he's got some time off, he's fresh. And he understands what we're doing, where we're going to fit [him in] in the game plan. He's dialed in."
Gillislee has been dialed in all season, starting in the season opener when he rushed for 148 yards against Bowling Green. He stalled some in midseason when teams began to stack the box to stop him, but Gillislee kept churning and capped the regular season with a 140-yard game in a 37-26 win at Florida State, becoming the Gators' first running back to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season since Ciatrick Fason in 2004.
He arrived in New Orleans with the same approach he has carried throughout his Gators career. Don't expect to find the low-key Gillislee roaming up and down Bourbon Street.
"I've been here before so this trip is more about being with the team and having the family getting together at the hotel,'' Gillislee said. "We've spent most of our time in the hotel room, so we haven't really gone downtown other than to eat. We've spent a lot of time together playing cards and video games."
One of Gillislee's goals at the beginning of the season was to rush for 1,000 yards, which means a framed photo on the wall in the running backs' meeting room at The Swamp.
"It's a great feeling. It's something I always wanted to do,'' Gillislee said. "I always wanted to be remembered. I think getting 1,000 yards I will be remembered."
Gillislee said his body "feels great" after the extended layoff after the regular season. After the Sugar Bowl he will turn his attention to the NFL Draft and preparing to play in the Senior Bowl.
While Gillislee had to wait his turn to be Florida's featured back, he has fond memories of the Sugar Bowl. As a freshman Gillislee entered the game late and rushed for a team-high 78 yards in Florida's win over Cincinnati three years ago.
He should have a much more significant role in Wednesday's game against Louisville.
Gillislee has the Cardinals' attention.
"If we want to stop Florida's offense we will have to stop him,'' Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith said Sunday. "I think he's the best player on Florida's offense."
Smith has a lot of company in that assessment.
Friday December 28, 2012Gators Notebook: Easley's tough decision, Superdome vibe, Lewis at home, plus more
Updated: 9:27pm, December 28
Gators junior defensive lineman Dominique Easley at Thursday's practice.
NEW ORLEANS -- Gators junior defensive lineman Dominique Easley is one of Florida's underclassmen considering bypassing his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.
Easley arrived as UF as one of the nation's top prep defensive prospects out of Staten Island, N.Y. While he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in the regular-season finale against Florida State last year, Easley returned and has started 10 games this season.
The 6-foot-2, 280-pound Easley offers NFL scouts an intriguing combination of size and speed. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn calls Easley one of the toughest players he has coached and Easley can play the interior line or defensive end.
Still, there are those who believe Easley could use another year of experience to improve his draft stock in 2014.
Easley's 21 tackles rank 14th on the team though he did miss two games due to nagging injuries. Easley's five tackles-for-loss include a team-high four sacks.
Easley said Tuesday that he plans to address his status at a later date but that the decision has not been an easy one.
"It's my future, so it's a difficult process,'' Easley said.
A SUPERDOME VIBE
In 37 days the Superdome will be the center of the sports world when Super Bowl XLVII kicks off on Feb. 3.
It was hard to imagine the scene Thursday morning as the Gators held their second practice here for the Sugar Bowl. Other than for the players and coaches on the field, the stadium was empty.
Still, the Gators are well aware of the dome's rich history in American culture. The Superdome has hosted numerous Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls and famous rock concerts since it opened in August 1971.
It was also the place where thousands of New Orleans residents lived in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"We had some guys in awe a little bit when they walked in there [Monday] knowing some of the great games, the great Sugar Bowls and Super Bowls that have been played here,'' Gators coach Will Muschamp said.
Gators senior Xavier Nixon started in the 2010 Sugar Bowl as a true freshman. He understands the dome's history and what it means to play his final college game there.
"It's always great playing in an elite arena,'' Nixon said. "We should appreciate the opportunity we have to practice here because not too long ago people in here were just trying to survive, to make it and see the next day.
"The most important thing is just to stay focused and not be overwhelmed."
Gators tight ends coach Derek Lewis is a New Orleans native and was a popular figure with the media on Thursday. Check out GatorZone.com this weekend for a feature on Lewis and his days driving a city bus in New Orleans before returning to school and starting his coaching career.
Meanwhile, Lewis shared the story of why he had a cast on his right hand during the LSU game. You could say he gets fired up before games to fire up the players.
"A little impromptu [session]. No coaches in there. I just try to frame the game for them,'' Lewis said of his pregame routine. "I got a little worked up. I kind of got overzealous and I punched through [a white chalk board] and I ended up slicing five of my tendons. We're this close from hitting the main artery.
"I do take it to heart. I love the game. The game has done a lot for me and my family and I try to give it back."
Defensive end Lerentee McCray laughed at the memory.
"I was definitely right there," McCray said. "That man is crazy. He drew the first blood."
The Gators won 14-6 to officially announce their return to the upper echelon of the SEC.
While he won't coach in the Sugar Bowl, new Florida receivers coach Joker Phillips is here working with receivers at practice. He was recently hired to replace interim receivers coach Bush Hamdan, a graduate assistant who coached receivers during the regular season.
Muschamp said adding a veteran coach like Phillips, who spent the last three years as head coach at Kentucky, is invaluable for a team in need of improvement at that position.
"Joker's experience is really the reason why he is here,'' Muschamp said. "He really brings a lot of experience to the position, something that I felt was very important for us to have as we more forward."
Senior receiver Omarius Hines has already learned some new techniques in his short time around Phillips.
"I wish I had another year so he could coach me. He knows what he's talking about. He knows the little things. He has helped me a lot,'' Hines said.
Gators fifth-year senior offensive lineman Sam Robey is from Louisville and has several of his former teammates at Trinity High as the opponent in the Sugar Bowl.
Louisville offensive lineman Alex Kupper and quarterback Will Stein are former teammates of Robey's and Cardinals fullback Nick Heuser is a good friend who played at rival St. Xavier High.
"It's fun to see them and to play my last game against them,'' Robey said. "They are guys I have known for a long time."
QUOTE OF NOTE I
"We've got some very strong personalities on this team, and I mean that in a very positive light. But they also know when to work and know when to shut it down and when to have fun. That's what has been fun about this bunch." -- Muschamp on any concerns about Gators not being focused in New Orleans
QUOTE OF NOTE II
"Hopefully I will play against him one day.'' -- Hines on his cousin, New Orleans Saints linebacker David Hawthorne, who met up with Hines on Monday night
QUOTE OF NOTE III
"I just got goose bumps when you started talking about them. I'm real proud of the kind of people they are and the kind of players they are. They are good kids. You can beat them on a rep and tell them what they did wrong and they can take the constructive criticism and move on to the next rep." -- Nixon on freshmen defensive linemen Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard
Punter Kyle Christy and offensive lineman Kyle Koehne were the last players to arrive in New Orleans following the Christmas break. Both practiced Tuesday after missing Monday's workout when their scheduled flight from Indianapolis was delayed due to inclement weather. Christy is from Brownsville, Ind., and Koehne is from Indianapolis. "Everybody is here and accounted for,'' Muschamp said. ... Hines and some of his teammates bumped into a familiar face downtown on Monday night: Louisville senior cornerback Adrian Bushell, who played for the Gators in their last trip to the Sugar Bowl before transferring ... The Gators have taken over portions of the team hotel here in New Orleans, setting up a football office and multiple meeting rooms. There is also an entertainment room for the players to hang out and play video games and other activities ... The team spent part of Thursday night at Rock 'N' Bowl on an official team outing.
Gators coach Will Muschamp at Thursday's Sugar Bowl press conference.
NEW ORLEANS -- Shortly after arriving here Thursday afternoon to open preparation for the Sugar Bowl, Gators coach Will Muschamp announced that redshirt junior offensive lineman Matt Patchan and sophomore defensive back De'Ante "Pop" Saunders are leaving the program.
"I just think they needed a fresh start,'' Muschamp said.
While Patchan did not play this season, Saunders started seven of the eight games he played and appeared in 12 games as a true freshman in 2011, starting nine.
Saunders was a member of Muschamp's first UF recruiting class and made 44 tackles and had three interceptions in 20 career games, primarily as a nickel back in the secondary. Saunders told the Gainesville Sun that he is considering a transfer to Louisville, Florida's opponent in the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl.
Meanwhile, the often-injured Patchan's career at Florida ends quietly. Patchan earned his undergraduate degree earlier this month and is expected to rejoin former Gators offensive line coach Steve Addazio, who recently was named head coach at Boston College.
Patchan did not play this season due to a strained pectoral muscle. He played in 27 games over his UF career, starting eight.
Patchan missed two entire seasons during his UF career -- 2010 and 2012 -- and played in only four games in 2009. If granted a sixth year of eligibility, Patchan can play one more season wherever he transfers.
Patchan played in 11 games as a defensive tackle in 2008 and then started seven games at right tackle last season.
Check GatorZone.com later for more coverage of the Gators' arrival in New Orleans.
Thursday December 20, 2012As Tebow Time in NY appears near an end, Tebow's hometown fans crank up voices
According to reports out of the Big Apple, former Gators quarterback and Heisman winner Tim Tebow’s days in a Jets uniform are numbered.
That should surprise no one considering the way Tebow’s stint in New York has gone. He barely played, creating the question of why the Jets traded for him in the first place.
The question now is where Tebow will end up next.Whatever the plan, it fizzled. Tebow served as good back-page fodder for the New York tabloids and ESPN’s “First Take” show, but otherwise, his time in New York seems a waste.
You’ve heard how if it was up to many of his fans – at least those in Tebow’s hometown of Jacksonville – Tebow would end up with the Jaguars.
Jacksonville is struggling to win games and fill seats. When the Jets came to town earlier this month and Tebow stood on the sideline for 60 minutes, the announced attendance at EverBank Field was a season-high 67,027.
Tebow remains a draw despite taking his last meaningful snap in a playoff loss to New England last season when he was with Denver.
There will be approximately 1.2 million columns and blogs written over the next few days about where Tebow should end up, or what he should do next, or if Jets coach Rex Ryan knew Tebow was a quarterback.
When I logged onto my GatorZone.com Facebook page earlier, I noticed someone had already posted a Tebow link.
The Sign Tim Tebow Facebook page remains an infant, but there is no mistaking which team the page’s creator wants Tebow to play for next.
It will be interesting to see if anyone in Jacksonville that matters – Jaguars owner Shahid Khan tops that list – will pay any attention to the latest Tebow-to-Jacksonville chatter. Chatter coming from fans and a portion of the media.
While Tebow’s teams have changed continuously the past three years, one thing has remained constant: his presence in the mainstream and social media blogosphere.
Thursday December 20, 2012Gators coaching staff a valuable resource for underclassmen considering jump to NFL
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is considered Florida's top underclassmen by most NFL Draft analysts.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Southeastern Conference is loaded with potential underclassmen declaring for the NFL Draft.
Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2011 at The Swamp but returned to full speed this season, announced on Twitter Monday that he was leaving school early.
More are certain to follow. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Jarvis Jones, Alabama offensive lineman D.J. Fluker and LSU safety Eric Reid are considered some of the league's top junior prospects.
The Gators have several players on that list, including defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, safety Matt Elam, injured linebacker Jelani Jenkins, tight end Jordan Reed and defensive tackle Dominique Easley.
Florida coach Will Muschamp has talked to the players about their prospects and doesn't plan to address the issue again until after the Gators face Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
Having spent a season in the NFL as an assistant, Muschamp maintains regular contact with NFL player personnel directors and makes sure to provide accurate information to each player considering a potential jump.
"If a guy is going to be a first-round pick, I'm probably going to tell him to go to the NFL,'' Muschamp said recently. "That's just my policy. If he's not and he can improve himself, then I suggest he comes back.”
Once the players submit their paperwork to the draft advisory board, Muschamp provides as much information as he can to the players.
"I sit down with them and give them input I've gotten from NFL people,” Muschamp said. “But some agent isn't going to give you the right information, I can assure you of that. We have a good process here just being really honest and open with our players."
Florida's underclassmen have a fountain of knowledge about the NFL at their disposal -- the Gators' coaching staff.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn served as an NFL assistant for 10 seasons and defensive tackles coach Bryant Young spent 14 seasons in the league. Assistants Derek Lewis and Travaris Robinson also spent time playing professionally as did offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
Quinn said Wednesday that he hasn't spoken much to the players about the draft at this point and will certainly offer his thoughts if asked.
(Photo: Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn)
"I’ve kind of stayed back a little bit and waited for them to come and use me as a resource,'' Quinn said. "If they want my opinion on it, I would certainly give it. It hasn’t really come up as much as maybe even I thought that it would. I think it’s more of a personal decision I guess for them.
"Ultimately, that’s one that they have to make. It’s a good problem for them to have and think about.”
Coincidentally, most of Florida's top underclassmen prospects are on defense. Floyd is considered the top NFL prospect. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay projects Floyd going to the 49ers with the 29th overall pick.
Elam, a first-team AP All-American, has also garnered a lot of attention. Reed is considered a prototypical prospect at tight end because of his combination of speed and size.
Jenkins and Easley also have NFL potential but might be better served returning to school based on a sampling of the countless NFL draft boards available for perusal on the Internet.
Senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said Wednesday that there has been very little chatter among the players about the draft, a change from the past.
"When I was a younger guy, I used to hear it all the time. ‘Oh man, I’m leaving. I don’t want to be here anymore. I’m going to get money.’ This year, not one bit,” he said. "Talk to Dan Quinn and Bryant Young, that’s the best advice I can give.
"Those guys know it. They wouldn’t lie to you. They love us, they really do. I know they really care about us and they won’t let us make a bad decision. Ultimately the decision is ours, but those guys will give us the best advice they can.”
Quinn was asked Wednesday about the four underclassmen on defense who appear the most suited to have NFL careers one day.
Here is his breakdown on each player:
“Inside he’s got real quickness for a big guy. For a 305 pounder, he kind of moves like a 275 pounder. He’s got power in his lower body that he can sustain and anchor on blocks. He can push the pocket as a rusher. I think he’s got value that he can play all downs. Sometimes a defensive tackle might only be a first or second down player, but he’s really an all-downs player.”
“He can be [a good NFL player] because of his explosive power. The guy is a big-time hitter. He’s got very good football instincts. That’s why we’ve been able to play him at a number of different spots this year ... I think just his physical nature and he way that he plays. He’s aggressive. He’s a very good special-teams player. He’s a good tackler. He’s a good blitzer. Those are some of the things that make him unique. He plays safety and nickel. I don’t know if there’s many guys in the NFL right now who play both.”
JENKINS (will not play in Sugar Bowl due to a broken foot)
"He’s got terrific speed to play linebacker. To me, that’s one of the critical elements to playing linebacker in the NFL. You’ve got to have speed and he has that. He’s got a very high football IQ. He understands schemes and concepts extremely well. He can matchup on tight ends and backs from a coverage standpoint.”
“Dominique is another guy that’s got terrific position flexibility. He has rare quickness. As a nickel rusher, he’s a hard matchup for a guard. He’s got enough strength to play over the tight end. He’s very heavy-handed. The physical intensity he brings will allow him to have a terrific career. He is one of the toughest players and loves playing and loves the intensity of the sport.”
Florida also has several seniors with a chance to be drafted or invited to summer camp as free agents after the draft, including Hunter, running back Mike Gillislee, running back/receiver Omarius Hines, defensive end/linebacker Lerentee McCray, kicker Caleb Sturgis, safety Josh Evans, offensive lineman Xavier Nixon, receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. and linebacker Jon Bostic.
Wednesday December 19, 2012After a quiet season, Pease pleased at way Debose is practicing heading into Sugar Bowl
Updated: 11:37am, December 19
Gators receiver Andre Debose has had a quiet season but could be factor in Sugar Bowl.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- You can still watch the moment Andre Debose pulled on the Florida cap nearly four years ago on YouTube.
There is a young-looking Debose in the stands at the Citrus Bowl, surrounded by family and friends as he verbally committed to the Gators on national TV.
“You’re looking at the next Percy Harvin” is the first post beneath the video by someone named UFfan85.
Few Gators since that day have been analyzed and scrutinized as much as Debose, who is about to close out his redshirt junior season at UF.
Debose is electrifying when he gets the ball in open space. He has the speed of an Olympic track athlete. However, concerns about his route running and practice habits and injuries have plagued Debose under former coach Urban Meyer and current coach Will Muschamp.
Debose was Gator Bowl MVP against Ohio State, setting the stage for what many expected to be a breakout season in 2012.
Instead, Debose has been a non-factor on offense.
Debose remains a dangerous kickoff returner – his 60-yard return at Vanderbilt was a huge momentum shifter for the Gators – but in the first year under offensive coordinator Brent Pease, Debose has been quiet. Very quiet.
His season totals: two catches for 11 yards, two rushes for one yard.
Debose has looked good in bowl practices according to Pease and quarterback Jeff Driskel.
If Debose keeps it up, he could easily surpass his season totals in the Sugar Bowl. Who knows? Maybe challenge for bowl MVP.
“He’s had really good practices. I think he’s healthy. I think he’s working hard. I think his attitude is right. He’s done some good things,’’ Pease said. “We’ll try to get him involved in some things. He’s kind of refocused and hopefully he’s a guy who continues doing what he’s doing and you see him out there doing some things.
“He understands that if the play’s not for him, I’m going to work hard at blocking. If it’s for me, this is how I’m going to get it to get it executed. Because it’s not [only] about him; it’s about him and the 10 other guys out there.”
Tuesday December 18, 2012Gators receivers in spotlight, Lochte gives away gold, Noah tones down, plus more
Gators receiver Quinton Dunbar after a catch this season against LSU.
Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease and selected players are scheduled to meet with the local media later this afternoon.
Check out GatorZone.com later for coverage. For now, let’s take a look at some fresh links from around the Internet covering topics of interest to Gator Nation:
--UF aims to fix receiver issues is headline on this story from Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.
--Preparations have shifted into high gear for Sugar Bowl writes Matt Watts of the Miami Herald.
--Tim Tebow finally played an entire series in New York’s loss to Tennesseeon Monday Night Football writes the New York Daily News.
--Former Gators swimmer Ryan Lochte gave away some gold medals he won at the World Championships to Turkish children writes USA Today.
--Gators 4x400 relay team of Dedric Dukes, Hugh Graham Jr., Leonardo Seymore and Tony McQuay being honored in Orlando today at USTFCCCA Convention in Orlando.
--Former Gator Joakim Noah holsters gun celebration is headline in this blog from NBCChicago.com.
--Papa John’s makes special delivery for Louisville fans interested in going to the Sugar Bowl writes CBSSports.com.
--Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley chimes in on the Sugar Bowl and other topics in his Back Nine column.
--Gators coach Will Muschamp doesn’t foresee losing any assistants writes David Jones of Florida Today.
--ICYMI, Grantland did a Q&A recently with former Gators hoopster Al Horford, now in the NBA with the Hawks.
Sunday December 16, 2012Late-night loss in desert, Wambach strikes twice, Tebow update, plus more tidbits
No, it wasn't a bad dream. The Gators did lose last night in the final seconds at Arizona in a game they led nearly the entire game.
Turnovers tripped up Florida in the final minutes as the Wildcats scored the final seven points of the game for a 65-64 win.
Let's take a look at some links covering the game and other items of interest to Gator Nation:
--Gators stunned by Arizona's last-minute blitz writes Chris Harry of GatorZone.com.
--No. 5 Gators drop first game of season in desert writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.
--From the Arizona perspective, Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com writes about Wildcats point guard Mark Lyons, he of the game-winning shot.
--Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun takes a look at his top 10 UF football teams that did not win a championship.
--Former UF soccer star Abby Wambach scores twice as U.S. Women's National Team defeats China in an exhibition in Boca Raton writes the Palm Beach Post.
--There are good tickets available to the Sugar Bowl as the Orlando Sentinel reports on lagging sales for bowl games.
--Former Gator Udonis Haslem had a good shooting night in the Miami Heat's win over Washington on Saturday writes the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
--Gators sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy a dual-role threat writes Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union.
--Tim Tebow reportedly ready for Jets today if they need him writes FoxSports.com.
--The Redskins will be aware of former Gators CB Joe Haden today when the teams play writes the Washington Post.
One of Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s strengths is organization.
Long before he was hired at UF, Muschamp developed an organizational plan for when he became a head coach. He quickly put it to use when he took over the Gators.
Photo: Gators assistant D.J. Durkin is considered one of the top assistants in the SEC.
Building a strong and cohesive coaching staff is part of that plan and based on the results in Year 2, Florida’s staff has earned recognition as one of the best in the country.
Two Gators assistants – defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and special teams/linebackers coach D.J. Durkin – are on ESPN.com writer Chris Low’s ‘Dandy Dozen’ of Southeastern Conference assistants.
Meanwhile, Durkin was recently named Special Teams Coach of the Year by FootballScoop.com.
“Coach Durkin is the best in the country at what he does and our special-teams unit played a critical role in our success this year,’’ Muschamp said. “We can point to a play or plays in every game where they affected the outcome. From long field goals to blocking a kick, flipping the field, stopping returns or breaking a big return for us – they made all the plays this year.”
In addition to Durkin’s award, Quinn was one of five finalists for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco was the winner.
Still, in his two seasons at Florida after 10 years as an NFL assistant, Quinn has quickly earned respect around the country and his name has surfaced recently as a future head coach.
As the coaching carousel spins fast this offseason, Muschamp has added another well-respected assistant in former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips, who takes over as receivers coach/recruiting coordinator. Unlike last offseason when Muschamp had a pair of openings at offensive coordinator and offensive line – hiring Brent Pease and Tim Davis – he quickly hired Phillips and as of now looks to have his staff return intact.
However, Muschamp knows how the business works and part of that organization includes a notebook filled with potential candidates should one of his assistants leave for another job.
“I always tell our staff this: 'If you have an opportunity for a promotion, if you're a position coach and you can go be a coordinator, if you're a coordinator and you can go be a head coach, I'll support you 1,000 percent,' " Muschamp said. "That says what kind of job we're doing here at Florida."
For a look at this year’s coaching carousel, click here for a complete list and analysis from CBSSports.com.
As for the Gators, Muschamp is confident that when there are changes on his staff, he can move quickly to hire a qualified coach like he did with Phillips.
“This is a great place to work and we’ve got a good, young football team and we’re going to be good for a long time,’’ Muschamp said recently. “We’ll go find a good coach. There’s a bunch of people that want to coach here. There’s a long list at my desk.”
Photo: Gators freshman running back Matt Jones rushed for 146 yards in the last two games.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators running back Matt Jones was noticeably quiet for much of his freshman season.
The reason can be attributed to a pair of primary factors: 1. Senior Mike Gillislee carried most of the workload, becoming the first UF back to rush for 1,000 yards since 2004; 2. Florida coach Will Muschamp has a policy that does not allow freshmen to talk to reporters.
Still, we began to hear more of Jones late in the season – at least his footsteps. In the final two games Jones rushed 16 times for 146 yards. In the previous 10 games Jones had just 113 yards on 33 rushes.
Jones was at his best in the regular-season finale at Florida State, carrying eight times for a career-high 81 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown run that put the Gators up 37-20 late in the fourth quarter.
A workhorse at Armwood High near Tampa, the 6-2, 220-pound Jones showed flashes that he can become the type of downhill runner that can keep the chains moving in offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s pro-style offense.
“He’s a physical kid,” Pease said. “I think he demands respect when he carries the ball.”
“I wouldn’t want to have to tackle him 20 times a game,’’ cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy said late in the season.
With Gillislee’s last game coming up in the Sugar Bowl against Louisville, Jones and Mack Brown are the most experienced tailbacks on the roster. Brown had 103 yards on 25 carries during the regular season and was third on the depth chart.
While the competition for carries is expected to be open in fall camp, Jones has shown he is capable of being a workhouse back like Gillislee, who averaged 19.6 carries and 92 yards per game.
“I think given the opportunities he had, he’s done an outstanding job,” Muschamp said. “He’s practiced better. That’s hard sometimes for young players. They’ve been this big fish in the little pond and they always haven’t had to work as hard or do the things you’ve got to do at this level.
“That’s something he has continued to work on. He’s done a better job of preparing himself throughout the week and understands what it took to be successful.”
While Jones didn’t rack up the numbers that the three top freshmen running backs in the SEC did during the regular season – Georgia’s Todd Gurley (1,138 yards), Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon (847 yards) and LSU’s Jeremy Hill (631 yards) – he showed signs at the end of being in the same company.
Tuesday December 11, 2012Gators score big in TV ratings, continue to have 'enormous' national appeal
Photo: The Florida-LSU game in October drew big ratings on CBS and catapulted the Gators up the polls.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For a lot of fans and media, the Gators’ win over LSU in early October signaled Florida’s return to national prominence.
The game not only impacted the perception of the Gators, it drew mammoth TV ratings.
Week 6 of the college football season featured some marquee matches, including Miami-Notre Dame, Nebraska-Ohio State and Georgia-South Carolina. However, none matched the 4.6 television rating (7.5 million households) of the Florida-LSU game (3:30 p.m., CBS).
The Nebraska-Ohio State matchup came closest, earning a 3.1 rating (5.2 million households).
In a week-by-week list of television ratings for most regular-season games on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, ESPN and ESPN2 -- posted here on SportsMediaWatch.com -- the Gators scored big with TV audiences during their 11-1 season.
Florida’s season opener Sept. 1 against Bowling Green drew a 1.8 rating (2.8 million households). While that was Florida’s second lowest-rated game of the season on a national network, it still beat games such as Hawaii-USC, Kentucky-Louisville, Arkansas State-Oregon and the Tennessee-N.C. State Friday night game.
In Week 2 the Gators traveled to Texas A&M to face the Aggies in their first SEC game. Viewers tuned in – well before Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel was known outside College Station – and earned a 2.9 rating (4.5 million).
That was more than a prime-time game on FOX between Nebraska and UCLA or the Washington-LSU matchup on ESPN at 7 p.m.
The Florida-Tennessee game in Week 3 earned a 3.1 rating (5.1 million), second only to the 3.2 ratings earned by Alabama-Arkansas and Notre Dame-Michigan State that week.
In Week 8 the Gators hosted South Carolina in a key SEC East game. Viewers tuned in for the 3:30 p.m. game on CBS. The game earned a 3.1 rating (4.9 million) that tied the ABC 8 p.m. timeslot that featured FSU-Miami and Baylor-Texas.
In Week 9 only the Notre Dame-Oklahoma game topped the Florida-Georgia game in television interest. Notre Dame-Oklahoma drew a 5.2 rating while Florida-Georgia earned a 4.2.
The Gators earned their highest TV rating of the season in their final game, a 37-26 win over Florida State in Tallahassee. The game scored a 5.1 rating in the 3:30 slot on ABC. The only games to score higher was a 9.4 rating for the Notre Dame-USC game – 16.1 million households – and a 5.8 (9.5 million) for the Michigan-Ohio State that started at noon on ABC.
The highest-rated game of the season was the SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Georgia that scored a 9.8 rating, or 16.2 million households. The Nov. 24 Notre Dame-USC game was the second-highest rated game of the season.
Those two games rank as the fifth- and sixth-most viewed regular season games of the past 20 years according to SportsMediaWatch.com.
CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus told the Birmingham News this week that the Gators are one of four SEC teams that have “enormous” national appeal, joined by Alabama, Georgia and LSU.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – My guess is that if you are reading this you know the Gators are facing Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in New Orleans.
Most Florida fans probably know that former Gators assistant Charlie Strong is Louisville’s head coach. Strong turned down an offer last week from Tennessee to stay at Louisville, where he took over in 2010.
"It became clear to me that it was best to stay in Louisville," Strong said at a news conference Thursday. “We haven't finished the job yet.”
You may know that former Florida assistants Kenny Carter (running backs/special teams) and Vance Bedford (defensive coordinator) left the Gators to join Strong’s staff after the 2009 season. So did defensive backs coach Tommy Restivo, a graduate assistant at UF in 2008 and 2009.
Finally, you likely know that Louisville’s roster features three former Gators – cornerback Adrian Bushell and two transfers who had to sit out this season: tight end Gerald Christian and Robert Clark.
Another former UF player, Pat Moorer, is the Cardinals’ strength-and-conditioning coordinator.
If you knew all the above, you might be a closet Cardinals fan.
Regardless, here is a closer look at Louisville and hopefully a few tidbits you don’t know:
-- The Gators are 2-0 all-time against Louisville, winning both matchups in Gainesville. The first came on Homecoming in 1980 when the Gators won 13-0. That was a tough season for the then-independent Cardinals, who faced Miami, Florida State and Florida that year. Louisville lost all three games. Meanwhile, the second meeting between the schools came in 1992, again on Homecoming. In Steve Spurrier’s third season at Florida, he guided the Gators to a 31-17 win over Howard Schnellenberger’s Cardinals.
-- Speaking of Schnellenberger, who coached his final game at The Swamp in Will Muschamp’s first game in the 2011 season opener – Florida defeated Schnellenberger’s Florida Atlantic team 41-3 – he is credited with turning Louisville’s program from a Homecoming patsy into one with national credibility. Schnellenberger narrowly had a losing record (54-56-2) in 10 seasons (1985-94) at Louisville, but in 1990 he led the Cardinals to a 10-1-1 record and 34-7 Fiesta Bowl win over Alabama.
-- Did you know that when founded in 1798, Louisville was the first city-owned university in the U.S.? More than 20,000 students attend the school nowadays. “ABC World News”anchor Diane Sawyer is from Kentucky and her late father was a prominent politician in Louisville. She attended a semester of law school at the city's university before turning to journalism.
-- There are 19 players who have had their jerseys honored at Louisville, including former Broncos linebacker and longtime ESPN analyst Tom Jackson, former Bears linebacker Otis Wilson and former Redskins offensive lineman Joe Jacoby. However, only one player has had his jersey retired, and you probably have heard his name: Johnny Unitas. Before becoming a legend with the Baltimore Colts and an NFL Hall of Famer, Unitas starred at Louisville as No. 16.
-- While Unitas, a ninth-round pick by the Steelers in 1955, is far and away the most famous Cardinals QB to be drafted by the NFL, there are others: Browning Nagle (1991, second round), Brian Brohm (2008, second round), Chris Redman (2000, third round), Dave Ragone (2003, second round), Stefan LeFors (2005, fourth round), Dean May (1984, fifth round), Wally Oyler (1969, sixth round) and John Madeya (1973, 14th round).
-- In regard to Louisville quarterbacks, the Cardinals have a pretty good one currently in sophomore Teddy Bridgewater, who was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year. Bridgewater was one of the most recruited quarterbacks in the nation coming out of Miami Northwestern High and he became the first Cardinals true freshman to start at quarterback since Stu Stram in 1976. In case you are wondering, yes, Stu Stram is the son of late NFL coach Hank Stram.
-- Louisville enters the Sugar Bowl ranked No. 21. The highest finish ever for the Cardinals is a No. 6 ranking in the final AP Top 25 poll in 2006.
-- The most successful coach in Louisville history was back in the news Monday when he was hired as head coach at Western Kentucky. In his four seasons at Louisville, Bobby Petrino went 41-9, his .820 winning percentage the best in school history.
-- This is Louisville’s third consecutive bowl trip since Strong took over the program. Prior to his arrival, the Cardinals had not played in a bowl game since the 2006 season. The Cardinals are 8-8 all-time in bowl games and 1-1 under Strong. Louisville beat Southern Mississippi 31-28 in the 2010 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl that pitted Strong against another former UF assistant, former Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora. In Strong’s second season, the Cardinals lost to N.C. State in the 2011 Belk Bowl.
-- Gators coach Will Muschamp isn't the only coach in the Sugar Bowl who knows how to crowd surf. You may remember that after Florida's 14-6 win over LSU this season, Muschamp jumped off a stand onto the top of players to celebrate. Strong did the same after a late-season win at West Virginia in 2011. Here is a link to the video.