GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Sharrif Floyd had a smile on his face as he stepped to the podium Saturday night at Florida’s postgame press conference.
The smile wasn’t as much for Floyd’s play in Florida’s 33-23 victory over Tennessee – he had three tackles and two quarterback hurries – as it was for the fact he played.
Floyd was forced to sit out the first two games of the season due to an NCAA ruling on his eligibility. One of the most popular and respected players in the Gators’ locker room, Floyd’s return provided an emotional boost for the Gators in their SEC opener.
Floyd thanked Gators coach Will Muschamp and Florida’s administration for being so supportive after the NCAA suspended him for two games for receiving impermissible benefits from a non-profit organization that helps underprivileged student-athletes. Floyd self-reported the violations and the school had been in contact with the NCAA on the matter since February.
“I love Coach Muschamp and the whole staff,’’ Floyd said. “When that happened, our bond just got closer. He understands my situation. He understands what type of person I am.’’
With so much negative publicity around college sports recently, Floyd was asked if he expects to be lumped with other coaches and players who have broken NCAA rules recently.
“I don’t feel as though I’m grouped in with all those other players,’’ he said. “I’m not a bad guy. I stay positive. I’m always doing the right thing. I go to class. I have a 3.0 GPA. There’s nothing wrong in my profile.
“I don’t think I should be grouped in with those types of athletes because that’s not the type of athlete I am.’’
Muschamp reiterated his strong support of Floyd on Saturday.
“He’s a leader. He’s an outstanding young man, one of the best we have,’’ Muschamp said. “We he walks onto that field and says something, he commands a lot of respect.’’
A sophomore, Floyd played defensive tackle a year ago. On Saturday he made his debut at defensive end, a position he moved to in fall camp.
The smile on his face showed how glad he was to be back on the field.
“It was the hardest thing I had to do in my life, to sit there and watch my team go out to war,” he said. “I had to watch and cheer. I hope I never have to do that again.”
STURGIS STAYS PERFECT
Gators kicker Caleb Sturgis booted a career-high four field goals on Saturday, three coming in the first half to help the Gators take a 16-0 lead.
Sturgis kicked field goals of 28, 30, 46 and 42 yards and is now 9-for-9 on the season. Sturgis also added two more touchbacks, giving him six this season. Sturgis had only four all last season and missed the final nine games due to a back injury.
When the offense has stalled in the red zone, Sturgis has come through every time, which makes Muschamp’s job a little easier.
“Just to know you feel good and comfortable when he walks on the field,’’ Muschamp said. “When the ball’s on the 35-yard line, you’re talking about a 52-yard field goal and you feel very comfortable that he’s going to make the field goal.’’
PENALTIES, PENALTIES, PENALTIES
If it seemed like a lot of penalties were called Saturday, there were. The teams combined for 26 penalties for 244 yards, including 16 for 150 yards for the Gators, the second-most in school history in each category for the Gators.
The Gators were flagged six times for pass interference. Muschamp said the Gators have some things to clean up, but he offered this perspective on the large number of penalties:
“I look at penalties a couple different ways. Are they discipline penalties? You know, when you jump off-sides when we’re down in the red zone at the 13-yard line? That’s an issue. When you have to call a timeout because we don’t get the right personnel in the game? That’s an issue. Those are what I call procedural issues and those are discipline penalties. Those are things you have to get corrected. Are they being addressed? Yes. Are they being addressed the right way? Obviously not because they’re still happening.
“But then there’s penalties that are aggressive penalties that are judgment calls, and those happen in football, especially the way we play. We play a lot of bump-and-run, man-to-man and deny-the-ball defense. Those things happen sometimes. I’m not saying they’re OK and I’m not saying that I tolerate them. We try to coach the player better, to play the receiver differently, and that’s obviously what we need to do.”
After the first two games came up short of selling out, the SEC opener was a hit at the box office.
The announced crowd of 90,744 is the fourth-largest crowd in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium history and broke the previous record for a Tennessee game. The previous record was 90,716 for the 2005 game against the Vols – Urban Meyer’s first SEC game as a head coach.
QUOTES OF NOTE
“This atmosphere in this stadium, it’s incomparable. Our guys understand what’s at stake playing in the SEC, and playing well in the SEC. It’s certainly a different buzz around here.’’ – Muschamp
“We wanted to come out hot. We wanted to come out and score. Coach Weis told us to execute and drive, and that’s what we did.’’ – Gators quarterback John Brantley on early lead
“I feel like I play a lot better when he’s in front of me. He was a great addition to the team and I’m glad we got him back.” – Gators linebacker Jelani Jenkins on Floyd’s return
“I was most concerned coming into this game about our ability to keep our composure. We hit a buzzsaw and made a ton of mistakes early that put us in a hole.’’ – Tennessee coach Derek Dooley
“We lost. You can’t really say that. There are always what-ifs. What if I don’t throw two picks? What if I throw five touchdowns?’’ – Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray on whether Vols would have won if receiver Justin Hunter had not gotten injured
Florida held Tennessee to minus-9 yards rushing, UF’s seventh-best performance in an SEC game and fewest allowed since the 2006 win over Tennessee (minus-11) … The Gators reeled off four plays of 20 or more yards on Saturday: a 28-yard run and 28-yard reception by Jeff Demps, and an 83-yard touchdown reception and 24-yard run by Chris Rainey … Rainey and Demps combined for 297 of Florida’s 347 yards of total offense (85.6 percent) … Rainey’s blocked punt in the second quarter was the Gators’ 17th blocked kick since 2008 … Josh Evans’ interception on Tennessee’s first drive of the second half was his first career pick … Florida has now outscored its opponents 113-26 after three games.