Friday Final: Florida preparing for Maty Mauk, Alex McCalister stepping up for Gators

By Adam Silverstein
October 17, 2014

In this week’s edition of Florida Football Friday Final, OnlyGators.com takes a look at the Florida Gators (3-2, 2-2 SEC) as they prepare to host the Missouri Tigers (4-2, 1-1 SEC) on Saturday evening at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. and air live on ESPN2.

THIS WEEK ON ONLYGATORS.COM

Notebook: Missouri prep begins with Florida playing two quarterbacks
Notebook: Kurt Roper talks Gators’ offense and rushing attack
Story: Jeff Driskel will start as Florida readies Treon Harris
Notebook: Will Muschamp updates team injuries, quarterback situation

GATORS LOOK TO AVOID BEING MAUK-ED UP

One year ago, while making his first career start against a reeling Florida team, Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk looked like a seasoned veteran, throwing for 295 yards and a touchdown and hitting the ground for another score. Sixty-one of those 295 yards came on two passes within the first 22 seconds of the game, as Mauk completed a 41-yard toss and then a 20-yard touchdown throw on consecutive plays. Suffice to say, the Gators have no plans to underestimate him this time around.

“I think he’s a very good player. He’s a guy that can make all the throws. He’s got extreme arm talent. He’s got good touch; he can zip it when he needs to. He’s got great legs,” said Florida head coach Will Muschamp. “He’s a guy that throws it extremely well. He has great command of their offense and what they do and how they’re doing it. I think he needs to get a little more help around him.”

Mauk threw four interceptions this week, though like many committed by the Gators this season, his Tigers playmakers have been partly responsible for some of his miscues by either running wrong routes or tipping decently-to-well-thrown passes. Prior to that game, he had a 14-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

“He’s extremely dangerous back there,” explained defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. “Our guys understand that we got to do a great job of containing him, keeping him right in front of us when he’s scrambling and running. Obviously covering down the field, he can make all the throws, he’s got a strong arm. I know he struggled a bit last week [but] to me he’s a guy that doesn’t lack any sort of confidence. We know the type of player he is and what we’re going to see.”

Unlike the 2013 season, Mauk has not been proficient with his legs this year. He has only racked up 110 yards on 49 recorded attempts (2.2 yards per carry), a far cry from his 5.6 yards per rushing attempt a year ago. Nevertheless, Durkin says Florida’s defense will be ready no matter what Mauk wants to do Saturday.

“Once he gets out of the pocket, now your defense starts to break down and then he’s got a run-pass option and you’ve got to stay in coverage. Like I said, he is not just a scrambler. He can throw the ball, too, and he throws it on the run. When he scrambles, he’s still looking down the field to throw it. Yeah, we’ve got to contain him, keep him in the pocket and also stay in coverage down the field when he does scramble,” he noted.

A BRIGHT SPOT

While the Gators’ rush defense was busy giving up big chunks of yardage and Florida’s secondary proved late in the game to still be capable of being shredded, a bright spot emerged for the unit as redshirt sophomore defensive end Alex McCalister put together the best game of his young career. McCalister finished the LSU game with 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss while appearing to be quite a handful for the opposing offensive line throughout the contest.

McCalister is now second on the team this season with 2.5 sacks, just a half-sack behind classmate and position-mate Brian Cox Jr., who broke out one week earlier against Tennessee.

Durkin on Wednesday explained how McCalister has been able to begin emerging after being an afterthought for nearly a year-and-a-half.

“His body is maturing, number one. He’s growing into things, and I think he has a better understanding of what we’re doing defensively and also [has] more confidence in what he’s doing,” he explained. “His opportunities have continued to grow because he’s done well with them. He’s a tough matchup one-on-one to block, and he’s doing really well. So we’re expanding his role every week. He’s getting more and more snaps, and he’s getting more and more snaps and played well when he goes in there. He’s playing hard; he’s getting off blocks.”

McCalister was seen as a project by the Gators’ coaching staff, a player who had all the physical tools to succeed but lacked experience and polish on the gridiron. A basketball player who chose to continue his career in football as it gave him the best chance of becoming a professional, McCalister has steadily grown – both physically and mentally – while becoming more and more comfortable both on the field and in the Florida football program.

“Just getting those reps and getting those snaps in the game and just getting more confidence, I’m starting to feel like me again back on the field,” McCalister said Tuesday. “On the confidence, just working my moves is natural now, not thinking too hard. It just feels good.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Redshirt senior center Max Garcia on how Muschamp helped motivate the team on Monday: “He told us we have four games to get us to the SEC Championship, four very winnable games if we go out there and do what we’re supposed to do and what we’re capable of doing. He just put that in perspective for us. We have what we want right in front of us. If we go out there and approach it the right way, one game at a time, we’ll be right where we want to be.”

» Redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor on the offense’s deficiencies this season: “We have a good offense. Just like any team, they go through their struggles. But we have a good offense. We have plenty of weapons at every position. I know people like to say a lot of bad stuff about the quarterback position, but [Jeff Driskel is] a weapon as well, as well as Treon [Harris]. We have plenty of weapons on that side of the ball where we can put up points. We didn’t do a good enough job on defense holding up our end. Giving up 30 points when the offense puts up 27? That’s not something we can accept.”

» Durkin on how well junior LB Antonio Morrison has been playing over the last two weeks: “I think Antonio is playing great; he is playing his best football since he’s been here. He’s got to continue to do that. We’re counting on him to do that. He’s a guy that takes his job and what we do very seriously. He puts a lot of time into it, and I think it shows how he plays. He spends time on football a bunch outside of when he has to be here in meetings and practice. I think it’s showing. He’s making his reads really fast. His eyes are in the right place. He’s playing with good technique. He’s tackling well. And he’s always been a very physical and competitive guy. You put all that together, you’ve got a pretty good player.”

» Durkin on the status of sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (undisclosed): “He’s good. He’s practicing. He’ll be fine.”

» Durkin on freshman CB Jalen Tabor continuing to improve: “Jalen’s gained confidence as he goes on, which is natural. Playing more and more, he doesn’t look like a freshman anymore. He’s competing well for the ball, and he’s done a really good job. We’ve put him in one-on-one situations. He’s done good. We’ve blitzed him several times. He’s done good and executed. He’s tackling better. There’s a couple tackles in the last game that we need to make and clean up, but overall as a whole, he’s really improved. And I think that’s indicative of a young guy that’s still green in his career. You get better and learn as you go, and he’s gaining that confidence.”

2 Comments

  1. Nick Norris says:

    I know the coaches have to be super positive with the players and praise the players who deserve it. But, the more praise I hear, the more I worry.

  2. Wildcat says:

    Matty Mauk has struggled all year. No reason we shouldn’t win this game tomorrow.

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