OnlyGators.com tackles three hot topics coming out of Saturday’s 31-17 victory by the No. 18/19 Florida Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) over the Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 SEC) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
The Gators have seen wide receivers step up, must deal with a change in running philosophy and have questions to answer about the team’s future at quarterback.
WIDEOUTS BEGINNING TO EMERGE
Heading into the 2013 season, it appeared that Florida’s best chance to significantly improve its passing game would come on the back of two players – just not the two players that have stood out through the first three games. With redshirt senior Andre Debose (torn ACL) out for the season and supposed freshman sensation Demarcus Robinson held catchless in his first two games (he was suspended against Tennessee for a violation of team rules), two veterans have stepped up in a major way.
Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar has amassed 162 yards on 11 catches over the last two contests. He had a career-high 98 yards against Miami on Sept. 7 and added 63 yards – his third-highest collegiate total – on Saturday.
Perhaps even more impressive, senior Solomon Patton has totaled 192 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games. In his previous 32 appearances, Patton only combined for 100 receiving yards and never found the end zone once.
“We challenged him. ‘Do you want to just continue to be a jet sweep guy or do you want to be a major contributor to our football team?’” explained head coach Will Muschamp after Saturday’s game.
“So he worked on route running. He worked on letting us have the confidence to tailor some things after him. … He mastered those throughout spring and then he had a great summer. He came in and had a really good camp. That, to me, as much as anything, he saw an opportunity his senior year in his last go-around at the University of Florida and ‘I’m going to take advantage of my opportunities.’ And he certainly did.”
Patton concurred with Muschamp’s assessment. “I just worked my butt off and gained some weight. Then when I met with Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy in the offseason, running routes. I just worked on it a lot and tried to get better. And it’s showing.”
The emergence of Dunbar and Phillips are a big reason why Muschamp is so pleased with new wide receivers coach Joker Phillips.
“Joker’s done a really nice job with those guys, coaching those guys up, being demanding on those guys,” he said. “They understand what they got to do to be successful. That’s part of it. I’ve been very pleased with their play.”
RUNNING BACK BY COMMITTEE
The Gators thrived with a primary rusher in 2012 as Mike Gillislee became the first Florida running back to amass more than 1,000 yards in a single season since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. UF was hoping to continue that trend in 2013 with sophomore Matt Jones, though that concept was dealt a major blow during fall camp when Jones was diagnosed with a serious viral infection.
Held out for the first game of the season, Jones watched redshirt junior Mack Brown tally 112 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Jones returned to his starting role against Miami and got a team-high 18 touches but picked up just 2.6 yards per carry and fumbled the ball on the first series of the game. On Saturday, Jones fumbled for the second time in as many games.
Though Florida did not take Jones out of the game against Tennessee – he scored a touchdown in the second half and averaged 4.1 yards on 12 carries – Muschamp did turn back to Brown to take the majority of the touches. Brown picked up 86 yards on 24 carries and found the end zone. Through three games, he has team-highs of 227 yards and three touchdowns.
“I never felt like [it was Jones’s job]. It might’ve seemed like that, but since I’ve been here I’m going to compete. I’m going to compete until I leave. That’s how I am,” Brown said after the game. “During the week of practice, we compete every day. Coach always tell us to be ready. When you’re on the sideline, you just got to keep stretching and warming up because you never know when your turn is going to be called.”
Muschamp admitted that the Gators will likely begin running the ball by committee with the majority of carries going to whoever is rushing the best in any particular game. “Whoever’s got the hot hand and whoever’s running well,” he said. “Whoever has the hot hand we’re going to go with.”
That means more touches could come for freshman Kelvin Taylor, who saw action Saturday but needs to play a bigger role, Muschamp said. It is also an indication that Jones needs to take care of the ball better and not make mistakes like changing hands in traffic, which caused his fumble on Saturday.
IS A MEDICAL REDSHIRT POSSIBLE?
The simple answer: yes.
Gators junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, who broke his right fibula early in the first quarter against the Vols and will have season-ending surgery on Sunday, will likely be eligible for a medical redshirt as long as he takes the right steps.
According to John Infante, author of the NCAA’s Bylaw Blog, a student-athlete will be eligible for a medical hardship waiver if he/she meets the following criteria:
- The student-athlete must suffer the injury during one of their four seasons of college competition or during the senior year of high school.
- The injury must be incapacitating. That means it must be a season-ending injury.
- The injury must occur prior to the start of the second half of the season.
- The student-athlete must not have competed in more than 30% of the season or three contests, whichever is greater.
Driskel meets each of the aforementioned criterion. He is a junior in college, has been knocked out for the season and was injured before the conclusion of Florida’s sixth game. Though he did play in the Gators’ third game of the season, he did not play a full game’s worth of minutes.
Should Driskel apply for and be granted a medical hardship waiver, assuming he and the school fill out the necessary forms and compile the appropriate medical documentation, he would be a redshirt junior at the start of the 2014 season with two years of eligibility remaining.
Redshirt junior Tyler Murphy, Florida’s new starting quarterback, will be in his final year of eligibility, and four-star signal caller Will Grier (Davidson, NC) is set to join the team in the spring as an early enrollee.
Initial expectations were that Grier would take over once Driskel graduated in 2014. An additional year of eligibility for Driskel, coupled with the unknown of how Murphy will play for the remainder of the 2013 season, puts a lot of questions up in the air.