Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and a couple of his players met with the media on Tuesday to provide some thoughts on the Gators and Florida’s new season-opener against the Eastern Michigan Eagles set for 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.
LEADERS BELIEVE IN DEMARCUS ROBINSON
When sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was announced as suspended on Saturday, many assumed it was the conclusion of his season-ending suspension from 2013. Head coach Will Muschamp pointed out on Monday that was not the case, noting that Robinson’s suspension was for a completely separate, albeit not announced, university sanction.
That means Robinson, a four-star prospect who was supposed to be a breakthrough player for Muschamp and the Gators’ offense, has been suspended on three separate occasions in one full season and one not-played game during his time at Florida.
While Robinson has seen plenty of the dog house, Roper stated on Tuesday that he’s had no issues whatsoever with Robinson since taking over as UF’s offensive coordinator.
“Demarcus has been great since I’ve been here. I think he’s a guy that is really working hard to improve himself, if that makes sense. That’s not always easy to go through some challenges that he’s been through,” Roper explained.
“I think he’s working trying to be a better personal the time. On the practice field, he gives a lot of effort. He works really hard. He leaves it out on the field. He empties the bucket when we go to the practice field. I appreciate the way he works. Obviously as a coaching staff, we’re here to help him grow.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, who was happy to sing Robinson’s praises in the offseason, had his back once again on Tuesday.
“I do honestly think Demarcus is a good guy. Sometimes he’s made poor decisions in the past, but I think he’s matured a lot,” he began.
“He did everything he could to help the team out this past week knowing that he wasn’t going to play. It takes a mature guy to do that and not hang your head. I think he’s going to help us out a lot this year and he’s a guy that we’re going to have to count on.”
Driskel admitted that he has seen a change in Robinson after his freshman campaign but made sure to note that the change has all been for the better thus far.
“It’s just another year of maturing. Coming out of high school, it’s tough. It’s the first time he was on his own. A lot of things thrown his way in a short period of the time. Since the past season, he’s matured a lot, and he’s going to keep continuing to do so.”
For a team that needs to test out a brand new offense and young, unproven secondary, the Gators had every reason to want to play the Idaho Vandals on Saturday.
As the old football saying goes, teams usually make the greatest strides between their first and second games. Roper reiterated just that on Tuesday and used it to explain how missing the contest could potentially cost Florida early in the season.
“Losing that game obviously affects you that way. It also slows you down on learning what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, who you are, who those players are that you can really hang your hat on and those types of things,” he explained.
For a Gators team under Muschamp that prides itself on not making excuses, UF will not be able to use this as one either. Roper believes the only thing Florida can do is look ahead and get ready for Eastern Michigan.
“It obviously really affects you, but you just go on to the next thing. We don’t have any control of it. You just go on and go to work,” he said.
“I think it affected my daughter more than anybody else. She was so upset. She told my wife – obviously it got pretty late and she is six – my wife said at some point she’s got to go home. So, my mother-in-law started to take her and my son home. My daughter said – she had her fingernails painted, toenails painted orange and blue, stickers everywhere – ‘I got all dressed up for this! I’m just so disappointed!'”
QUICK EVALUATION: EASTERN MICHIGAN
“I think they’re a good football team. I think they’re a physical football team. I think they’ve got a nose guard that makes a lot of plays in your backfield and is active. I think they all play hard and they’re active.
“I think their secondary is physical; their corners don’t mind the contact part of the game, their safeties are bigger guys that are physical. They’re a multiple team. They’re going to give us several different looks just like every week you see different looks.
“But they’re a team that, I think, likes the physical part of the game.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Roper on the game being canceled: “I’m 42 years old and I’ve been around college football my whole career … and that’s the first [game] that I’ve ever been around that wasn’t played.”
» Roper how the players responded in practice on Monday: “I think we had a good practice [Monday]. I think the guys handled it really well all [Saturday] night. … The biggest thing was refocusing them because we sat so long, bringing their mind back to the game. … When they said, ‘Hey, let’s go,’ there was a lot of energy. I think our guys handled it well.”
» Driskel on which receivers he expects to have big years: “I think that Ahmad Fulwood really knows what he’s doing out there. He’s made some big plays in camp and I can’t wait for him to do that in the season. He has a good understanding of the offense. I think Latroy Pittman is going to have a big year as well. Strong hands, good football player and that’s what you need at the receiver position.”
» Roper on whether redshirt senior WR Quinton Dunbar’s streak of 28 consecutive games with a catch would play into his game plan: “You’re obviously aware of those types of things and you want to be fair to a young man. It’d doesn’t affect game planning or it doesn’t affect thought process, our first goal is to go out there and win. But we would obviously like to help him keep that streak alive. … I think that is a cool thing. I think that’s something hard to do.”
» Roper on whether not playing Saturday was extra frustrating for Driskel: “He’s a real even-keel guy. He handles things really well, and that’s what I like about him he doesn’t ride the wave of emotions like I like to talk about quarterbacks doing. He’s pretty steady. … Jeff’s personality is pretty solid, I like to say.”
» Driskel on whether he was worried about the condition of the field: “It was real wet, that’s for sure. Everybody’s feet were soaked and stuff like that. I wasn’t worried about it. You can’t really think about it when you’re about to play. Looking back on it, it was the right decision, and we were fortunate that we have people that were willing to make that decision or us and look out for our well-being.”
» Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries on bringing back Florida’s “We all we got; we all we need” mantra: “Me and Andre [Debose] were just sitting at the house watching some old Gator highlight films. We just happened to hear it from one of the old Gator highlight films. We decided we’re going to have to steal that one.”