Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to open up game week ahead of his team’s new home opener against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 4 p.m.
He and athletic director Jeremy Foley spoke at length about Florida’s false-start against the Idaho Vandals, which was delayed and then suspended due to lightning, and the Gators’ focus with another week to go before stepping on the field.”
THE SUSPENDED PLAYERS: REINSTATED
Sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (university sanction) and defensive tackles senior Darious Cummings and redshirt freshman Jay-nard Bostwick (violations of team rules) have all be reinstated. Muschamp said Monday that all three players will be back in action for Florida next Saturday against Eastern Michigan.
“They will be back this week with us,” said Muschamp of his Cummings and Bostwick. “They have, not just as far as the suspension for a game, they’ve handled a lot of other things for me.”
In regards to Robinson, Muschamp said his university sanction has been “resolved” and his punishment was not a continuation of the suspension that cost him the final two games of 2013. “This was a totally separate issue,” he noted.
THE (ONLY) PLAY
The 64-yard kickoff return by redshirt junior wide receiver Valdez Showers may not ultimately count this season, but Muschamp was nevertheless impressed with how well Florida handled that play. In fact, he handed sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis the team’s weekly Hard Hat award for a big-time block on the return.
“He made a great block on the kickoff return. It was [also] an outstanding job by Marcell Harris sealing the edge, Valdez bouncing it. Andre [Debose] put a devastating block on their kicker, and we were able to get the ball down the sideline. Very well-executed,” he explained.
Muschamp also noted that he was not surprised at all to see Idaho kick away from Debose, so UF was prepared when Showers got the ball in his hands.
“With Andre back, you got to be ready for all alternative kicks,” he said. “I tell Coleman [Hutzler] all the time, ‘I wouldn’t kick to him. I’d kick away from the guy, make somebody else beat you.’”
When the Gators lined up for offense but were unable to execute a play before a second weather delay, the most notable takeaway was that junior Matt Jones – not sophomore Kelvin Taylor – was on the field as the starting running back. Muschamp on Monday dismissed the importance of that decision.
“Those guys are both going to play. They’ve both done a nice job. At the end of the day, they’re going to get a bunch of carries. I have great confidence in both players,” he said. “It will be a week-to-week deal. It’s really who practices the right way, which they both do, so it will be a hard decision every week.”
But was Jones even set to touch the ball on that play?
“We were going to run the one-back power to the tight end side. We had a quick game off of it if they loaded the box,” Muschamp noted.
The bright spot on Saturday was undoubtedly Florida’s fans, which were not only boisterous two-and-a-half hours before kickoff during the Gator Walk but also stuck around and remained high-energy through a three-hour weather delay.
“We’re extremely disappointed we didn’t get to play as a team. As a fan base, there’s no question we were all frustrated with that. The anticipation of the game was huge from the standpoint of you go through Gator Walk and the fever pitch was high,” Muschamp said.
“The fans that were there, as loud as it was, excited our guys. We can’t thank our fans enough. It was absolutely amazing the people that were there. There were still bunch there and it was loud and it was electric and it was fun.”
He added: “It was unbelievable. It was great. That was awesome. Absolutely. They looked like they were having fun and we needed to put a good product on the field for them. That’s what we need to do, and I told our football team that [Monday] morning.”
The Gators noticed, too.
“To me, that was really the highlight of the night. When we came out of the tunnel again, I saw all of the fans there and it really shocked me,” said Showers. “I know I can speak for the team on that. That surprised us a lot, and we were definitely thankful that they were out there supporting us.”
Added Muschamp: “Our fans have always been great, though. We got to give them something to be great about. That’s on us. And I think this team will.”
According to Muschamp, there were 1,100 strikes of lightning (within a six-to-eight mile radius of the stadium) and 2.5 inches of rain that fell from 5-11 p.m. on Saturday night. Additionally, the last lightning strike occurred at 12:38 a.m.
“It was an issue of not just the playing condition of the field, which was awful, but we had lightning all over the place. It was going to be very difficult to get the game in,” he explained.
“Once the game starts, it goes to the referee’s decision, and the right decision was made. At the end of the day, it comes down to the welfare of the student-athlete. The playing condition was not what it needs to be and lightning was everywhere.”
Even after his slick kick return, Showers remained ready to roll.
“To be honest with you, it was pretty slippery. But I’m from up north, so I’ve played in all types of weather, a lot of snow, so I was ready to play the game regardless,” he said.
THE GAME’S FUTURE
No additional information was provided on Monday about the future of the Florida-Idaho game, though Foley said he believed there would be a resolution hammered out by Tuesday or Wednesday.
“We don’t have those answers yet. When we have the answers, we’ll give them to you. There are a lot of different moving parts right there,” he said.
“There’s a lot of things that go into football scheduling. You take what’s in the best interest of your football team, obviously your fans, the entire program. I like to get a lot of input from a lot of different people and make a decision. That’s the process we’re going through right now.”
The Gators and Vandals both share an open date on Oct. 25. Unfortunately for Florida, that falls one week before its annual neutral-site rivalry game with Georgia. UF giving up its bye week for a relatively unimportant opponent would put it at a disadvantage against UGA, which is also off the week before the showdown.
Cancelling the game is not that simple, however, because Florida and Idaho have a contract with the Vandals set to be paid $975,000 to play the Gators this season. That payment is not due until Feb. 1, 2015, Foley said.
Odds are that Florida and Idaho will work out a of settlement with travel expenses and a portion of the fee going to the Vandals, possibly with an agreement between the teams that they will try to schedule a game years in the future.
While the situation appears to be somewhat cut-and-dry now, there was plenty of confusion surrounding it on Saturday night. For example, the game was first listed as “terminated” before the status was later changed to “suspended,” which Foley explained was a matter of rule.
“I’ll be honest with you. Saturday night, we didn’t really understand all that ourselves. We were dealing with something that had never happened before. There were a lot of people involved in the conversation,” he admitted.
Muschamp, for his part, stayed out of the conversation.
“They had a book – that thick – they were reading through,” he said. “I was just watching the radar.”
THE (PREVIOUSLY) UNKNOWN STARTER
With no starting punter or kicker named before kickoff, Muschamp revealed Monday that senior Kyle Christy would have been the one taking the field when the Gators needed a punter on Saturday.
Christy beat out sophomore Johnny Townsend for the job. If he is able to hold down the role all season, Townsend will be able to take a redshirt like UF initially planned in 2013 before he was forced to fill-in for Christy.
“We feel like Kyle is a little more consistent, but certainly Johnny is more than capable,” Muschamp said.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Florida practiced Monday morning because the team had not worked at all since Thursday. But first, UF watched film from Saturday’s non-game. “We started as a team and watched all the plays from Saturday night,” Muschamp joked.
» Redshirt sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye returned to practice on Monday and was listed as 80-85 percent healthy as he is still recovering from his hamstring strain. He was “questionable” for the Idaho game but not expected to play.
» Muschamp on whether it was unfortunate for his offense not to get live snaps on Saturday: “You’d like to be getting live bullets, there’s no question that’s important. Young players, how they’re going to respond. We’re going to have some young players on that side of the ball. How is our secondary going to respond? There’s going to be some angst and moments with some young players in some tough situations. You don’t really ever answer some of those questions until you get in front of 90,000 people, until you get in front of all those things that create anxiety. You don’t know how those young players are going to respond.”