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Gators receiver Trey Burton has emerged as a more prominent figure in the passing game this season.

Sunday September 29, 2013Gators Notebook: Playing for Easley, Burton a threat in passing game, Murphy's tackle, more tidbits

Gators receiver Trey Burton has emerged as a more prominent figure in the passing game this season.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The Gators will face more difficult challenges later in the season, but Florida's defensive line answered the call in its first game without defensive tackle Dominique Easley.

Easley suffered a season-ending knee injury at practice on Tuesday, leaving a huge hole to fill.

The Gators started Ronald Powell and Dante Fowler on the outside Saturday against Kentucky, and moved sophomore Jonathan Bullard inside next to defensive tackle Damien Jacobs.

The Gators limited Kentucky to 173 total yards and 48 yards rushing.

Dante Fowler Jr.

"We just wanted to go out there and play for him basically,'' said Fowler, who finished with five tackles and two sacks. "We just wanted to play hard because we know he would play hard for us. That's what he did throughout his career here. We just took every piece of him with us. We wanted to play mad, play how he plays."

Fowler carried Easley's Chucky Doll with him as he left the locker room and headed toward the team bus. It was in tribute to Easley, who was an All-American candidate and vocal leader of the defense.

"He gave it to me. I'm just going to go out there and play for him,'' Fowler said.

Florida coach Will Muschamp was pleased with the way others stepped up on the defensive line. Bullard had three tackles and 1 1/2 sacks and sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. had the first sack of his career.

"They need to play that way,'' Muschamp said. "Dominique is not a guy you're going to replace. His production will be missed as we rotate through the year, but collectively as a unit those guys are capable of playing very well -- and that's what we expect. We’re not going to have a drop-off."

BURTON BREAKS OUT

Senior receiver Trey Burton's signature game came as a freshman when he scored six touchdowns in a home win over the Wildcats.

He added another touchdown against Kentucky on Saturday with a leaping 9-yard reception in back of the end zone to put Florida ahead 14-7.

 Burton finished with a team-high six receptions for 66 yards.

Burton said he and new Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy have always had a good connection at practice. He credits Murphy's poise and timing in getting the ball to him in the right spots.

"Murph did a good job of running the ship,'' Burton said. "You just see him grow up right in front of your eyes. I'm just really proud of him and excited about the future."

Muschamp said Burton's improvement has something to do with his emergence in the passing game, too.

Burton spent the offseason working mostly at becoming a better receiver and getting in peak condition for his final season.

"I think the best explanation for me would be last year we used him in so many roles, and we still do. But he was more of a running back as opposed to being a slot receiver because of how we used Jordan Reed,'' Muschamp said. "He realized he needed to become a leaner athlete at the position in what we were asking him to do, which has obviously helped him. He has refined his route running.

"He is getting coached very well in my opinion and a guy who has been very receptive in what we're trying to do."

TYLER THE TACKLER

The Gators faced a third-and-3 at Kentucky's 23 late in the third quarter when Murphy dropped back to pass.

Murphy was 13-for-13 when he released the pass. He completed it but to Kentucky linebacker Josh Forrest, who returned the interception 39 yards to UF's 37-yard line.

Tyler Murphy

Forrest had a clear path to the end zone in front of him in what would have been a huge momentum shifter had he scored -- Florida led 21-7 at the time and appeared ready to deliver the knockout punch with another touchdown.

However, Murphy showed off his speed and athleticism by chasing down Forrest for the tackle.

"We had a rub route set up,'' Muschamp said. "We missed the rub. Not going to put that on Tyler. We got a [man-to-man] situation and we were supposed to rub the defender there legally. We didn't get the rub."

The touchdown-saving tackle turned into one of Florida's biggest plays. The Wildcats drove to the Gators' 22 but a trick play resulted in an 11-yard loss and on the next play, Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith was intercepted by freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

Murphy said he tried to force the throw. Instead of hanging his head over the interception, he turned into a sprinter.

"It was a big tackle for me,'' he said. "It prevented them from scoring. We have a great defense and they stopped them."

Fowler was impressed and said Murphy would fit right in with Florida's SEC-leading defense.

"That was a nice little athletic play, even though we don't like to see our quarterbacks tackling people,'' Fowler said. "It was nice. I saw he went for the legs and stuff. He would be a nice little cornerback."

VH3 A HIT SO FAR

Hargreaves III's interception showed off how skilled he is in coverage and as a playmaker.

Vernon Hargreaves III

Hargreaves turned and snatched Smith's pass intended for Javess Blue out of the air in one swift move in the corner of the end zone.

A true freshman from Tampa's Wharton High, Hargreaves has three picks in his first four college games.

"I like his game. I like what he is doing,'' Fowler said. "It's kind of big for him to just come out here and jump in and lead the team in picks."

Hargreaves' interception prompted former UF cornerback Joe Haden, considered one of the best cover corners in school history, to fire off an approving tweet during the game.

"He’s a really good football player who’s around the ball,'' Muschamp said. "He gets the ball off people, has a knack for going to get it. He has tremendous leaping ability and probably has a 37- or 38-inch vertical jump."

INJURY REPORT

Cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) missed his second consecutive game; Roberson was in uniform during warm-ups but is still not 100 percent ... Right tackle Tyler Moore (ankle) returned to the lineup after missing the Tennessee game ... Defensive tackle Leon Orr (shoulder) played sparingly and did not record a tackle ... Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy (thigh contusion) played, finishing with two tackles ... Running back Valdez Showers (ankle) and tight end Colin Thompson (foot) missed the game.

CRUNCHING NUMBERS

176 -- Rushing yards for Gators running back Matt Jones

173 -- Total yards for Kentucky

71.9 -- Murphy's completion percentage (23 of 32) in his two games at quarterback

25 -- Team-high rushing yards for Kentucky kicker Joe Mansour, who scored on a fake field goal

47 -- Plays run by Kentucky, well below the goal of at least 75 per game by Wildcats offensive coordinator Neal Brown

12 -- Consecutive completions to open the game by former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, which Murphy bettered by one on Saturday

7 -- Since Murphy took over at quarterback, the Gators are 7-for-7 in red-zone scoring opportunities (six touchdowns, one field goal)

0 -- Number of punts for Florida on Saturday night

HE WROTE IT

"Why Dick Vitale tweeted it could happen. And Kirk Herbstreit said it could happen. And suddenly, the Bluegrass state was hooked on the feeling the team from the Sunshine State was ripe for the picking. And then the football was placed on the tee and reality visited Commonwealth Stadium." -- Lexington Herald-Leader columnist John Clay

QUOTE OF NOTE I

"We never got in a rhythm. What did we run, 40 plays or 40-some plays? I've never had that few plays in my life I don't think." -- Kentucky offensive coordinator Brown on his Air Raid offense staying grounded

QUOTE OF NOTE II

"For real. Oh, that's good. I did see the long run. I'm surprised that Dunbar would tackle him, though." -- Fowler on hearing Jones finished with a career-high 176 yards, including a 67-yarder on which Florida receiver Quinton Dunbar knocked him down as he tried to make a block

QUOTE OF NOTE III

"Those guys are unbelievable. I can't give them enough credit and I don't really have a word to say how good they are.'' -- Burton on Florida's defense

NOTES AND NUGGETS

Muschamp said junior Kyle Christy kicked well in practice last week and would have punted Saturday if the Gators had needed him. Christy competed with freshman Johnny Townsend in an open competition following a disappointing first three games ... Kentucky finished 1-for-8 on third-down conversions; Florida has limited opponents to eight conversions in 42 attempts on third down ... Former Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith was honored at halftime for his induction into the UK Athletics Hall of Fame; Florida knocked Smith's Minnesota team from the NCAA Tournament last season ... Muschamp is 21-9 in his first 30 games as Florida's head coach ... Florida has forced a turnover in 15 consecutive games.

 

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