Muschamp and Saban push relationships aside, put Saturday’s focus on Florida vs. Alabama

It would be nice to forget the Star Wars references and the other minutiae surrounding Saturday evening’s showdown between the No. 12 Florida Gators and No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide in Gainesville, FL, but the truth is that it is just the second of three games during the 2011 season in which Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s relationship with his former co-workers becomes a hot topic of conversation.

At least this story does not involve a beach house.

A linebackers coach and eventual defensive coordinator under now-Alabama head coach Nick Saban for four years at LSU and one with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, Muschamp undoubtedly learned quite a bit from the two-time national champion who is considered to be one of the nation’s top college football minds.

Muschamp recounted Monday that, more than anything else, the mutual respect Saban shared with his staff is why people are so loyal to him to this day.

“Nick never asked me to do anything as an assistant coach he didn’t do as a head coach from a work standpoint as far as film preparation, from a recruiting standpoint as far as evaluation and going out and recruiting,” he said. “He’s a guy who works extremely hard. He’s got a great work ethic in what he does.”

Even though he is compared to his former boss on what seems like a daily basis, Muschamp explained that they are not and should not be considered the same coach.

Some of their philosophies, however, are indeed parallel.

“I wouldn’t just say you could point one thing and say it’s this [is what I learned from Saban]. I think there’s a lot of things,” he said. “Program management. Philosophically knowing who you want to be. Offense, defense, special teams. Identifying in the recruiting process what kind of player you’re recruiting from a critical factor standpoint – not just from what the speed and the height and the weight. All the intangible qualities. From a total program management [standpoint], [I’ve learned] a lot.“

It all started back in December 2000 when Muschamp visited good friend Jimbo Fisher, a quarterbacks coach and eventual offensive coordinator under Saban at LSU, as his team was preparing for the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, GA. Muschamp and Saban hit it off and parted ways 20 minutes later. Little did the young coach know he would receive a phone call that offseason from Saban to come in for an interview.

That meeting that led to a job offer and a five-year working relationship.

“I wouldn’t be probably standing here today if it wasn’t for the opportunity he gave me at LSU to be a position coach and then naming me the coordinator,” Muschamp said.

Saban looked back Monday on the characteristics that made Muschamp stand out then and continue to make him a successful coach to this day.

“Will is a good coach because he’s a great teacher,” Saban said. “He is a really hard worker. He’s got about as much passion and enthusiasm as anyone that you’re ever going to be around, and he relates well with the players. The players sort of feed off his passion and enthusiasm, in terms of the way he coaches and what he does. He believes in the fundamental of discipline and hard work, commitment, those types of things that are sort of fundamental to being successful. He’s always done a great job.”

Though the two have “a really good relationship,” according to Saban, they have not spoken this season as each is too busy for pleasantries. That will change on Saturday when the former co-workers see each other before and after the game.

Saban did not go into too much detail about his thoughts on Florida’s team during his press conference on Monday, mostly commenting about the speed of running backs redshirt senior Chris Rainey and senior Jeff Demps as well as the improvement of redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley.

Muschamp, on the other hand, was thorough in his depiction of Alabama.

“When you turn the film on, you see a physically tough football team that plays with fundamentals. That’s what [Saban] is and that’s what he preaches everyday and it certainly carries over on film as far as who they are and what they are,” he said.

“Offensively, Jim McElwain – their coordinator – is a guy I have a lot of respect for. He’s not a guy that’s concerned about stats. He’s concerned about winning football games. They do a good job of running the football and the play actions off of that. Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy are two outstanding backs. A.J. McCarron is very efficient with only two interceptions so far this season – managed their football team well in what they’ve asked him to do. Marquis Maze is a young man who you’ve got to always account for him. He’s played there a long time. He’s been a four-year starter for them and in the return game has done a nice job for them. And their offensive line does a really good job in the run game, getting a hat on a hat.

“Defensively, Kirby Smart’s a guy that I think does a great job and they’ve got a bunch of guys that have played a lot of football. You look at [Mark] Barron and [Dont’a] Hightower, [Dre] Kirkpatrick, [Courtney] Upshaw, all those guys played two years ago there in Pasadena. They were starters then. They do a nice job defensively. Playing on the line of scrimmage they’re very well tied together as far as their unit is concerned.”

Luckily for both coaches, their relationship will not factor into the result of the game. That will be decided on Florida Field when the Gators and Crimson Tide meet at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The game will air live on CBS.

“I know there will be a lot of [wondering] if there is an advantage. There is no advantage. He knows me as well as I know him. There is no advantage in this game,” Muschamp said matter-of-factly. “Thank goodness for the 90,000 people in The Swamp and for the millions watching. He or I will not take a snap Saturday night, so that’s the very positive thing.”

Photo Credit: Icon SMI

9/26: Will Muschamp’s Monday press conference

Head coach Will Muschamp and a few players meet with the media each Monday to wrap-up the previous Saturday’s game and look ahead to the Florida Gators next opponent. Below are some of the most important notes and quotes from the availability.

OPENING STATEMENT AND PLAYER AWARDS

Muschamp began his portion of the press conference by commending Florida for a terrific team effort against Kentucky and recapping Saturday’s game.

“[It was the] first road win for us. A SEC victory is always important,” he said. “I felt like offensively when you rush the ball for 400 plus yards that’s always exciting. Two guys went over 100 yards in Jeff [Demps] and Chris [Rainey] but really blocked well up front, played very physical on the line of scrimmage. [We] had a 99-yard drive to be able to flip the field, come off the goal line, obviously the 84-yard run was huge by Jeff. It was well blocked. Our downfield blocking was outstanding in finishing some runs. That’s really what creates explosive runs for you. Defensively we affected the quarterback. We stopped the run. We were 82 percent on third down which is critical on getting off the field. We created four turnovers and had three fourth down stops, which we count as a turnover situation.”

He also handed out his weekly awards, which can be found below along with honors that one Florida player received from the Southeastern Conference:

Offensive Player of the Game: Senior running back Jeff Demps
Scrap Iron Award (best OL): Redshirt sophomore tackle Kyle Koehne
Big Play Award: Redshirt freshman tight end Gerald Christian (45-yard touchdown)
Extra Effort Award: Redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey (blocking)
Defensive Player of the Game: Junior linebacker Jon Bostic
Hard Hat Award: Junior safety Josh Evans
Ball Hawk Award: Sophomore S Matt Elam, redshirt freshman LB Michael Taylor, redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard, redshirt junior DT Omar Hunter, redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins
Special Teams Players of the Week: Freshman LB Chris Johnson (coverage)
Scout Team Players of the Week: James Wilson, Mike McNeely, Scott Peek

Howard was also named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.

WEEKLY INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee), who has yet to play in 2011, will be the only player out of action for Saturday’s game against Alabama. Redshirt sophomores TE Jordan Reed and wide receiver Andre Debose – both of whom traveled to Kentucky but did not suit up for the game – are healthy and able to return to the field.

Apparently injured on Saturday, redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio is “good” and feeling better, according to Muschamp. Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley also appeared to get dinged up but he said all he felt Monday was some soreness. “I feel good. I took a couple shots bu that happens in football,” he said.

ADVICE FOR ALABAMA DEFENDING DEMPS AND RAINEY

Between Demps and Rainey alone, the Gators rushed for nearly 300 yards on Saturday. Asked how he would negate the speedsters if he was the opposition’s defensive coordinator, Muschamp offered his honest thoughts on the subject.

“I don’t have to, so that’s a good thing,” he joked. “I don’t think there’s one answer for that. That’s something that could take a long time to really talk about. Obviously you’ve got to gain the edges, but we do run the inside zone and some different things that are off-tackle and inside plays. It’s not like it’s only a perimeter run game. You got to get speed on the field.

“Do you match up in nickel or do you match up big people? It’s a little bit of a ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ so to speak as far as what you want to do defensively and what you want to try to take away. I don’t know all the answers to that. That’s not something I spend a lot of time worrying about as far as our preparation is concerned. You got to look at those two guys and understand they’re doing a lot of things well as far as running, blocking and catching the ball. When you’re talking in terms of defending them, something that has got to hang in your mind is that one missed tackle is pretty costly.”

DOWNFIELD BLOCKING CREATES EXPLOSIVE PLAYS

Rainey’s reverse-field 27-yard run that brought the ball down to Kentucky’s goal line was one of the highlights of the evening. Watching the tape on Sunday, Muschamp said he was glad Rainey’s a Gator and explained that his “great vision” is what “keeps plays alive.” That and the downfield blocking by the receivers and offensive linemen.

“We always talk in terms of our extra effort award on offense is generally some type of downfield blocking. It’s been going to a wideout or an offensive linemen and this week Chris. That’s something that we really talk about because generally explosive runs are created by some sort of downfield blocking on a secondary defender or a linebacker trying to finish a play,” he explained.

“Our players understand the importance of that and they understand the importance of explosive plays. How do those happen? Generally in the run game they happen because of some downfield blocking. They all complement each other very well as far as players are concerned in blocking for each other. It’s part of what we’re preaching as a football team. Be unselfish – don’t be a selfish player. In doing so, that shows a lot of unselfishness as far as our players are concerned.”

One player had a slightly different take on Rainey’s play. “It’s magic. That’s all you can say. I’ve seen him do crazier things than that [in practice],” Jenkins said.

MUSCHAMP’s ENERGY “GETS THE PEOPLE GOING”

Anyone who has watched Muschamp on the sideline this year (or in the past) has obviously noticed how emotional he can be at any given time. Discussing whether or not his players feed off that emotion, Muschamp was unsure but said it did not matter much. “I’m going to be who I am. If it’s working and it’s good than I think it’s good,” he said. “If it’s not then we’ll change and do something different. It’s about being who you are. The worst thing you can do in a leadership position is try to be somebody you’re not.”

Sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd somewhat agreed with Muschamp’s explanation, noting that every player is different. “A good group of us feed off of Coach Muschamp’s emotion. We love it. It gets us going. It wakes us up. It’s amazing to me, actually, watching him pour his emotions out on game day and throughout the week,” he said.

Agreeing with Floyd’s assessment is Jenkins, who believes Muschamp “has the ability to get his team really fired up about going out there and playing,” something that makes him “really enjoy going out there and playing full speed for him.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Muschamp was asked if his relationship with Saban is like a “master vs. padawan” thing, a reference about Star Wars. Confused by the reference, Muschamp quipped: “What’s a ‘padawan?’ Huh? I watched Star Wars one and after that I watched Empire Strikes Back. I ain’t see nothing after that. I don’t know what a padawan is. You didn’t call me a bad name, did you? I don’t speak French either.”

» Muschamp on Florida’s three offensive turnovers: “I credit Kentucky there before the half with the nice play on their defensive back. Well-thrown ball by Jeff [Driskel] caught by Frankie [Hammond] – it’s a tough one to hold on to. That was a nice play by Kentucky. The other one we got to have better ball security in the pocket and protection with Jeff. And then Mike [Gillislee] there he’s got to keep that ball high and tight.”

» Muschamp on if his emotional nature ever clashed with Saban: “We’re both intense guys.”

» Muschamp on how the team’s depth at linebacker is doing: “I think Mike [Taylor]’s done some nice things for us in his opportunities. Obviously he was very productive the other night. We’ve got to continue to play better behind that. Dee Finley, Graham Stewart and Chris Johnson [and Darrin Kitchens] have all been guys who have got some opportunities. All of those guys need to continue to progress in order to give us some quality snaps.”

» Muschamp on the recruiting implications of Florida-Alabama: “To me a young man who makes a decision to go to college is not based on one game. It’s going to be based on a body of work – academically, athletically, socially, support system…”

» Muschamp on if the atmosphere will be intense on Saturday: “I hope – I’m sure it’s going to be loud. We got the best fans in the country, so I know they’re going to be excited.”

» Muschamp on how Christian has done in place of Reed: “Very well. Caught the vertical route there down the middle. Very pleased with that. Thought he blocked well. He did a really nice job in the pass game, had a critical third-down conversion coming off their goal line when we were backed up there. I’m very, very pleased with Gerald’s production.”

» Muschamp on Christian temporarily switching positions in the spring: “Gerald’s very intelligent. He can handle a lot. We would not have asked a player to do that who maybe couldn’t have handled it. The bottom line is, the best thing for our football team was for him to play tight end. He plays a little bit of what we play the F – a move position when we’re in 12 personnel – and the on-the-line tight end. He plays two positions offensively and there […] are different assignments on different plays based on what he’s doing. He handles all that very well.”

» Muschamp on how getting Reed back helps the team: “Vertical passing game, he’s a guy that can stretch the field. He’s a guy that blocks well at the point of attack. He’s also a guy that you’ve got to account for in the passing game. He’s an accomplished receiver.”

» Floyd on the importance of the defensive line’s play on Saturday: “I feel like every game we come across it’s going to be defined [by] how we play up front. A lot of teams want to run on us, a lot of teams want to run, so we got to defend the run before we can defend the pass.”

» Easley on being a unique character on- and off-the-field: “I just try to have fun. That’s how I get in my zone, just dancing, that’s how I just have my fun.”

» Easley on what he does that is “wacky” and if Muschamp’s intensity allows him to “get away with” his antics: “To me? Nothing. A lot of people say the Chucky doll is ‘wacky.’ [...] It’s not really me getting away with it. It’s just who I am. I’m just really different.”

Brantley on Muschamp putting less of an emphasis on rivalry games than Urban Meyer did: “There’s certain games that bring the intensity. They mean the same on the schedule – a win’s a win. Different games bring different intensities, but we try to be as intense from game one to game 10.”

Texas A&M Aggies become 13th SEC member

It’s official. After months of speculation and some recent litigation, the Texas A&M Aggies announced Sunday that they will be leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference effective July 1, 2012 for the 2012-13 athletic season.

The addition of Texas A&M marks the first expansion for the SEC since it added Arkansas and South Carolina and split into divisions in 1991.

“The Southeastern Conference Presidents and Chancellors are pleased to welcome Texas A&M University to the SEC family,” said Bernie Machen, chair of the SEC Presidents and Chancellors and president of the University of Florida. “The addition of Texas A&M University as the SEC’s 13th member gives our league a prestigious academic institution with a strong athletic tradition and a culture similar to our current institutions.”

“The Southeastern Conference provides Texas A&M the national visibility that our great university and our student-athletes deserve,” Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said. “We are excited to begin competition in the nation’s premier athletic conference. This is a 100-year decision that we have addressed carefully and methodically, and I believe the [SEC] gives the Aggies the best situation of any conference in the country.”

The two-step process, which included SEC presidents voting to extend an invitation and Texas A&M officials accepting the invitation, was officially completed Sunday because the threat of a lawsuit from some other Big 12 schools stalled the process.

“On behalf of our presidents, chancellors, athletics directors, students and fans, I welcome Texas A&M University to the SEC family,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. “Texas A&M is a nationally-prominent institution on and off the field and a great fit for the SEC tradition of excellence—athletically, academically and culturally.”

The Aggies will now become the SEC’s 13th member and will likely join the conference’s West division, leaving the league unbalanced at least in the short term.

Consequently the Big 12 is now left with only nine teams after Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) left the former 12-team conference over a year ago.

The Big 12 has made adding a 10th member a priority, while the SEC has said it will take time to decide on and invite a 14th team. Should the SEC add a team that would geographically fit in the West division, Auburn would likely switch to the East.

GETTING TO KNOW TEXAS A&M

UNIVERSITY
Established: 1871
Location: College Station, Texas
A&M? Agricultural and Mechanical
Enrollment: 46,522 (spring 2011)
Campus: 5,500 acres
Colors: Maroon and white
Official greetings: “Howdy!” “Gig ‘em
President: Dr. R. Bowen Loftin
Notes: Receives land, sea and space grants from the government; first public institution of higher education in the state; provides more commissioned officers to the U.S. Armed Forces than any other non-service academy college

ATHLETICS
Nickname: Aggies
Mascot: Reveille (collie)
Facilities: Kyle Field (football), Reed Arena (basketball), Olsen Field (baseball)
Men’s sports: Football, basketball, baseball, cross country, golf, swimming & diving, tennis, track & field
Women’s sports: Basketball, softball, cross country, equestrian, golf, soccer, swimming & diving, tennis, track & field, volleyball
National titles: 12 (not counting equestrian)
Conference titles: 139 (not counting fencing)
Highest Director’s Cup finish: No. 6 (2009-10)
Fanbase name: 12th Man
Band: Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band
Previous affiliations: Southwest, Big 12
Athletic director: Bill Byrne

FOOTBALL
First season: 1894
Stadium capacity: 83,002
All-time record (as of 2010): 674-443-48 (.599)
Traditions: Standing all game; Midnight Yell; Bonfire
National titles: 1 – 1939
SWC titles: 17 – 1917, 1919, 1921, 1925, 1927, 1939, 1940-41, 1956, 1967, 1975, 1985-87, 1991-93
Big 12 titles: 1 – 1998
Highest Top 25 finish (post-1990): AP – No. 7, Coaches – No. 6 (1992)
Record vs. Florida: 1-1 (L 6-42, Oct. 13, 1962; W 37-14 Jan. 2, 1977)
Heisman Trophy winners: 1 – John David Crow (1957)
College Football Hall of Fame: coaches – 5, players – 10
Pro Football Hall of Fame: 1 – Yale Lary

Gators up three more spots in Top 25 polls

The Oklahoma Sooners held on to their season-long No. 1 spot in the latest edition of the USA Today Coaches Poll but fell a spot in the Associated Press Top 25 released Sunday. The Florida Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC), fresh off a 48-10 rout of the Kentucky Wildcats on the road, continued to advance in both rankings, moving up three spots this week.

WeekResultBCSUSA TodayAssociated Press
Preseason--No. 10 (930)No. 10 (894)
2W 24-6 vs. Toledo-No. 9 (974)No. 12 (875)
3L 16-21 at Miami-No. 20 (410)No. 18 (405)
4Open-No. 18 (398)No. 19 (412)
5W 31-17 vs. Tennessee-No. 19 (449)No. 20 (414)
6W 24-7 at Kentucky-No. 19 (515)No. 18 (481)
7W 30-10 vs. Arkansas-No. 17 (574)No. 17 (536)
8L 6-17 at LSU-No. 22 (240)No. 22 (249)
9L 17-36 at Missouri-NR (4)NR (17)

USA TODAY COACHES POLL
This Week 1-5: Oklahoma (32), LSU (20)/Alabama (7), Stanford, Boise State
6-10: Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, South Carolina, Virginia Tech
11-15: Oregon, Florida, Texas A&M, South Florida, Clemson
16-20: Baylor, Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, TCU
21-25: Georgia Tech, Illinois, West Virginia, Florida State, Michigan State

Last Week 1-5: Oklahoma (50), Alabama (4), LSU (5), Boise State, Stanford
6-10: Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, Nebraska, South Carolina
11-15: Virginia Tech, Arkansas, Oregon, Florida State, Florida
16-20: West Virginia, South Florida, Texas, Baylor, TCU
21-25 Michigan, Clemson, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina

ASSOCIATED PRESS POLL
This Week 1-5: LSU (42), Oklahoma (12), Alabama (5), Boise State (1), Oklahoma State
6-10: Stanford, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina
11-15: Virginia Tech, Florida, Clemson, Texas A&M, Baylor,
16-20: South Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, TCU
21-25 Georgia Tech, West Virginia, Florida State, Illinois, Arizona State

Last Week 1-5: Oklahoma (37), LSU (14), Alabama (7), Boise State (2), Stanford
6-10: Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Oregon
11-15: Florida State, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Arkansas, Florida
16-20: West Virginia, Baylor, South Florida, Texas, TCU
21-25: Clemson, Michigan, USC, Illinois, Georgia Tech

*Numbers in parenthesis represent first-place votes.

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9/24: Florida at Kentucky post-game notes

The No. 15 Florida Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) won on the road in impressive fashion, routing the Kentucky Wildcats (2-2, 0-1 SEC) 48-10 on Saturday. OGGOA takes a look at some of the notable occurrences before, during and after Saturday’s game with notes and quotes from both head coach Will Muschamp and the players.

DOUBLE TROUBLE IN THE BACKFIELD

Impressive in Florida’s season opener, senior running back Jeff Demps became an afterthought the last two weeks as redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey ran away with all of the acclaim. Demps obviously wanted to make sure that would not be the case much longer as he exploded for a career-high 157 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns Saturday evening. Rainey did his fair share of running too, totaling 105 yards on 15 touches out of the backfield on Saturday.

Here’s what else the duo has done and what they can still accomplish this year:

» Demps/Rainey each ran for 100 yards on Saturday, the first time a pair of Florida players have done so since Tim Tebow/Percy Harvin in the 2009 BCS Championship.
» Demps has 320 rushing yards through four games in 2011 and is on pace to break his single-season mark by 220 yards.
» Rainey has 411 yards on the ground and 214 more through the air. His 625 total yards are more than he accounted for over eight games in 2010 and puts him well on pace to top his 2009 total of 736 yards.
» The 405 yards the Gators rushed for on Saturday is the sixth-most in school history and most as a team in a single game since 1989.
» Florida has had a player run for 100+ yards in four-straight games; the school record for 100-yard games is five consecutive contests.

GOING AFTER THE BALL ON DEFENSE

Muschamp has stressed over and over again that he wants Florida to be a “ball hawk defense,” and that is exactly what the Gators were Saturday. UF has doubled their forced turnovers over the last three games, stripping one against UAB, intercepting two balls in the Tennessee game and acquiring the ball four times against Kentucky.

Florida’s defensive tackles recovered a pair of fumbles – redshirt junior Omar Hunter fell on one and redshirt senior Jaye Howard caught another in the air, returning it two yards for a touchdown – and the Gators also nabbed two interceptions. Sophomore safety Matt Elam got his second in as many games (and third turnover in three weeks), and redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Taylor also saw a ball fall into his hands.

Junior LB Jon Bostic also deserves praise for an outstanding performance Saturday. He set career-highs in total tackles (10) and solo tackles (eight) and hit Kentucky QB Morgan Newton for a sack that caused the fumble caught by Howard. Bostic now has sacks in consecutive games for the first time in his career.

MUSCHAMP’s GAME RECAP

Early in his post-game media availability, Muschamp provides his own quick recap of the game as he sees it from offense, defense and special teams.

“[I’m] very pleased with how we responded in the game. The defense created four turnovers setting up 24 points, we rushed for 400 yards, had two backs each go over 100 yards [and took] what the defense gives you, which Charlie [Weis] has done an outstanding job of in our first four games. Very pleased with that in the run game especially. [...] [ I’m] pleased with the turnovers and being able to run the football. Understand this is a line of scrimmage league, and you’ve got to be able to do that. As we move forward here, we’re 4-0 and we still have a lot of things to improve on.”

TURNOVERS AND MISCUES

The Gators kept their penalties to a minimum on Saturday (just five for 45 yards after averaging 11.3 for 90 yards over the first three weeks), but Florida still coughed the ball up three times. Freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel – in for temporarily injured redshirt senior John Brantley fumbled the ball as he was being sacked and threw an interception to end the first half. Junior RB Mike Gillislee, carrying the ball a bit to low, fumbled it after bumping into a referee stationed in the middle of the field.

Lucky for the duo, they made up for their mistakes with an explosive play later in the game. Gillislee broke out for a 60-yard reverse-field touchdown run and aided by Driskel, who threw a great block, on his way down the field.

INJURIES AND ABSENCES

Three Gators starters got dinged up on Saturday in Lexington, but none of the three injuries appears to be too serious. Brantley was hit hard in the midsection and missed the final few minutes of the first half before returning after halftime. He said after the game that he just had the wind knocked out of him. Rainey appears to come up lame after his right leg got twisted during a tackle, but he returned to the field shortly after and played the remainder of the contest. The only player who did not come back from injury was redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio, who hurt his right leg and limped off the field.

There were also three notable players who did not see the field on Saturday. Redshirt sophomores tight end Jordan Reed (lower body) and wide receiver Andre Debose (ankle) traveled with the team but did not dress, while redshirt freshman defensive end Lynden Trail (performance) was left off the travel roster and remained in Gainesville, FL. “Both of those guys – we went through preparation – the decision really wasn’t made until Friday that they would not play,” Muschamp said. “We will be back to full board as far as our team is concerned on Monday.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Sophomore RB Trey Burton, who scored six touchdowns against the Wildcats in 2010, found the end zone for his seventh career score against Kentucky on Saturday.

» Florida allowed an opponent to score in the first quarter for the first time this season, giving up a field goal at the very end of the quarter.

» The Gators have scored nearly as many points in the first quarter through four games in 2011 (54) as they did in that same time period in the entire 2010 season (56).

» Muschamp said it was his call to bring Driskel in the game at the end of the first half and added that it would’ve been a great throw to the end zone if the receiver had held onto the ball better. “We’ve got to get Jeff ready to play in the game,” he said. In this league it’s tough to have one guy go through the whole season. I felt that we made the right decision though it was not the right result there before the half.”

» Muschamp on scoring 21 points very quickly: “Whenever you play on the road, they need to match your surge. When you play on the road, there’s a little momentum for the home team. You’ve got to bring a different surge to the game, a different momentum to the game. You got to create momentum for your football team and I think we did that for the most part.”

» Muschamp on Driskel’s two turnovers: “You learn and you grow through these situations and Jeff is going to be fine.”

» Elam on his interception:* “To win football games, you need to get turnovers. [The quarterback] is eventually going to throw me the ball if I just stay patient. Quarterbacks always make mistakes, overthrowing balls, tipped balls, things like that. I basically kept my eyes on the quarterback. It gives me a lot of confidence. When you make interceptions, those are big plays. It helps the offense, helps us get touchdowns.”

» Howard on his fumble recovery and touchdown:* “All I saw was Bostic hammer [Newton]. If we do that, it takes pressure off the offense. It just brings energy to everyone.”

» Hunter on wrestling with a teammate for the fumble recovery:* “We both had our hands on it. I just had to take it away from him,’’ Hunter said. “I didn’t know I was taking it away from him, but I wasn’t leaving without the ball.”

* Quotes courtesy of the University of Florida

Demps, Rainey run wild as Gators rout Cats

It took the No. 15 Florida Gators a few drives to get their offense rolling, but after they did it was off to the races at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY on Saturday evening as Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC) dismantled the Kentucky Wildcats (2-2, 0-1 SEC) 48-10.

The Gators extended their winning streak against the Wildcats to 25 games by attacking their opponent on the ground, rushing for the sixth-most yards in school history (405) and most as a team since 1989. Senior running back Jeff Demps set a career-high with 157 yards on 10 carries and also scored twice, while redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey carried it 15 times for 106 yards and had the evening’s most awe-inspiring play.

After consecutive three-and-outs to start the game, the Gators got on the board rather quickly. On the Wildcats’ second possession of the game, running back Josh Clemons fumbled the ball. It was recovered by redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter, and Florida took over at Kentucky’s 45-yard-line. On the very next play, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley threw a strike down the middle of the field to redshirt freshman tight end Gerald Christian for an early touchdown.

With the ball back in their hands, the Gators again took advantage of great field position. Brantley hit redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. for 20 yards, and Demps – thanks in part to a great block Rainey – took Florida the rest of the way with a 20-yard stretch run for a touchdown.

The Wildcats’ miscues continued as, on third-and-10 at their own 29, QB Morgan Newton was picked off by Gators sophomore safety Matt Elam, who returned it 18 yards to Kentucky’s 28-yard-line, setting up another short field.

One play later, Rainey took a handoff to the left, stopped, reversed field and ran it 27 yards to UK’s one after being spurred by blocks from redshirt junior right guard Jon Halapio, redshirt freshman WR Quinton Dunbar and redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson. Florida sophomore RB Trey Burton scored on a touchdown run from one yard out, his seventh against Kentucky in his two-year career.

Kentucky answered back with a 29-yard pass to tight end Nick Melilo on their next possession. Three more first-downs later, the Wildcats kicked a 24-yard field goal to reduce their deficit to 21-3. The three points were the first scored against the Gators’ defense during the first quarter this season.

Following a Florida punt, Kentucky took over at their own seven. On second down, a sack by junior linebacker Jon Bostic forced the ball to pop out of Newton’s hand and into those of redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard, who ran it two yards into the end zone for another Gators touchdown, their first defensive score of the season.

After another Wildcats punt, UF decided to keep the ball on the ground, running it on nine-of-11 plays on their next drive to set-up a 46-yard field goal attempt, which redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis converted after clanging the ball off the uprights. Brantley got injured on the last play of the drive and headed to the locker room, resulting in freshman QB Jeff Driskel taking over for Florida’s next possession.

Driskel was hit as he threw incomplete on first down before being sacked and fumbling the ball on second down. Kentucky took advantage of the short field, scoring two plays later when Newton threw it to WR La’Rod King for a 19-yard touchdown.

With the first half winding down, Driskel again returned to the huddle and again turned the ball over. After Rainey ran the ball three times for 34 yards, Driskel threw to Hammond, who caught it on the goal line; unfortunately, the ball popped out of Hammond’s hands and into those of LB Avery Williamson to end the half.

Forcing the Wildcats to punt on the opening possession of the second half, the Gators found themselves backed up at the one-yard-line. Three consecutive rushes resulted in a Florida first down, and two plays later Demps hit a big hole on the left side and exploded for an 84-yard touchdown run to put UF ahead 38-10.

The Gators gained possession again when redshirt freshman LB Michael Taylor Taylor intercepted Newton at Florida’s 25 and returned it 30 yards across midfield to Kentucky’s 45. After stalling in the red zone, Sturgis connected on a 27-yard field goal for UF, giving his team a 31-point lead with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter. He remains perfect on the season with 11 field goals and 18 extra points.

With 11:40 left in the game, Florida junior RB Mike Gillislee took consecutive carries, fumbling the second one after bumping into the referee. Kentucky was unable to capitalize, however, and Gillislee got redemption on the Gators’ next drive, replicating Rainey’s run from earlier by rushing to the right, changing direction and taking off on a career-long 60-yard run down the field for a touchdown.

Demps’s 84-yard run was the sixth-longest in school history and the longest since Emmitt Smith’s 96-yard score in 1988. Florida now has four-straight games with a 100-yard rusher, the most since they had five-in-a-row in 1999. Additionally, the Gators had two players (Demps, Rainey) each run for at least 100 yards in the same game for the first time since Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin did so in the 2009 BCS Championship.

Florida has now scored 40 or more points against Kentucky 15 times during their 25-game winning streak dating back to 1986.

Brantley, who was in-and-out of the game after being hurt, finished 8/15 for 114 yards and a touchdown, his lowest total output of the season. Christian and Hammond were the only Gators to catch more than one pass, totaling five receptions for 98 yards including Christian’s first-quarter score.

Florida returns to the friendly confines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium next Saturday for a showdown with No. 2 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC). The game will air live on CBS at 8 p.m. UF has not defeated UA since 2008, falling in consecutive contests – the 2009 SEC Championship and during the 2010 regular season.

Photo Credit: Ed Reinke/Associated Press

No. 15 Florida Gators vs. Kentucky Gameday

Location: Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, KY [Capacity: 67,942]
Weather Forecast: 67°F, partly cloudy, winds 5 mph
Time: 7:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN/ESPNHD
SiriusXM: 217/200
Online Video: ESPN3
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(15) FLORIDA GATORS KENTUCKY WILDCATS
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Joker Phillips
Record: 3-0 (1-0) Record: 2-1 (0-0)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -20; O/U 44

HOMEWORK

Need to catch up on the Gators before week four action? No problem. OGGOA has been here all week compiling a ton of information so you can do your homework on the team before its next exam Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m. on the road.

Muschamp’s presser | Weis comments on offense | Quinn comments on defense

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida leads the all-time series against Kentucky 44-17 and has won 24-straight contests including 11-in-a-row in games played in Lexington dating back to 1988. UF is also 30-1 against UK since 1980.
» The Gators achieved more turnovers (two interceptions) against Tennessee than they did in their first two games combined (one fumble).
» Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis (of Florida) and co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter (of Kentucky) served on the same staff when Weis was head coach of Notre Dame.
» The Gators’ have half as many upperclassmen (17 seniors, 17 juniors) as they do underclassmen (36 sophomores, 35 freshmen) on the roster heading into the season.
» Florida’s offense has been impressive early this season with only three three-and-outs in 35 total offensive drives and only six punts in three games.
» UF’s offensive line has only allowed one sack this year, making them the only SEC team and one of six nationally to accomplish that feat through two three.
» The Gators defense has forced the most turnovers in the SEC (307) since 2000. Florida also has the most interceptions in the nation (70) since 2008.
» Though Florida is 15-for-16 (93.8 percent) in red zone conversions, the Gators have only scored touchdowns on nine of those opportunities.
» Teams are averaging just 1.2 yards per carry against Florida’s defense this season. The Gators are first in the country, allowing just 30.7 rushing yards per game, and are one of six teams in the nation that have not allowed a rushing score in 2011.
» Florida is No. 6 nationally in scoring defense (8.67 points per game) and No. 7 in total defense (209.33 yards per game).
» The Gators’ defense has only allowed 7-of-25 (20 percent) third-down conversion attempts to be achieved against them over the first three games.
» UF has blocked a total of two punts in three games so far this season.
» Saturday’s game is Kentucky’s SEC opener for 2011.
» The Wildcats upset then-No. 10 South Carolina last season at home.
» Kentucky is 5-0 under Phillips in games that they win the turnover margin.
» The Wildcats are 11th nationally in net punting, allowing 42.1 net yards per punt.
» UK has forced six turnovers in their first three games – all interceptions.
» Though it is early in the season, Florida is head and shoulders above Kentucky in national averages heading into Saturday’s contest. The Gators top the Wildcats in passing average 232.0-155.3 (58th-108th), rushing average 210.3-119.3 (30th-91st), points scored 37.7-19.3 (27th-100th) and points against 8.7-13.3 (6th-18th). The teams have not played a common opponent this season.

LAST TIME OUT

Florida may have started the 2010 season slow, but they still took it to Kentucky with a dominant 48-14 victory at home in Gainesville, FL. Quarterback Trey Burton scored a school record six-touchdowns as Florida helped Urban Meyer become the sixth-fastest head coach in NCAA history to reach 100 career victories. The Gators also had a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jeremy Brown in the second quarter and saw starting QB John Brantley throw for a career-high 248 yards on 24-of-35 passing.

ESPN COLLEGE GAMEDAY

The Gators will not be featured on Saturday morning’s edition of ESPN‘s College GameDay, though former dazzler and current reporter Erin Andrews will host the 9 a.m. version and make an appearance on the primary program beginning at 10 a.m. Florida is one of two sites (the other being Madison, WI) expected to be in contention to host next week’s College GameDay. The Gators will take on Alabama on Oct. 1.

INJURIES / ABSENCES

» Active: Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley (suspension)
» Inactive: Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee), redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed (lower body), redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose (unknown), redshirt freshman defensive end Lynden Trail (performance)

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

FLORIDA
» Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (#12)…who has completed 65.3 percent of his passes (47-of-72) this season for 637 yards and three touchdowns but also threw two interceptions in the opener. Brantley had a career-high 248 yards last year vs. Kentucky.
» Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey (#1)…who has 520 yards of total offense this season with five touchdowns (including a punt block return). Rainey is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and 19.5 yards per reception and leads Florida in rushing and receiving this season. He became the first player in school history to have a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in the same game, achieved the school and SEC record for career punt blocks (five), and is the active leader in that category nationally.
» Senior RB Jeff Demps (#28)…who has averaged 6.8 yards per carry so far this year including 105 in the season opener. After sitting out most of the team’s second game, Demps returned Saturday against Tennessee and now has 163 yards and two touchdowns on the ground this season. He also has the second-most receptions (eight) and fourth-most receiving yards (68) on the team this year. Demps eclipsed the 2,000-yard career rushing mark against Florida Atlantic.
» Sophomore “RB” Trey Burton (#8)…who is the team’s most versatile player and proved that fact last year, scoring 12 touchdowns as a true freshman including 11 on the ground. Burton will line up all over the field for the Gators and could be found as a running back, fullback, H-back, tight end or wide receiver. He has already scored three touchdowns this season and has totaled 98 yards on 15 total touches.
» Sophomore safety Matt Elam (#22)…who is the most valuable member of Florida’s secondary and moved into a starting role. He has the second-most tackles on the team with 13 including a career-high seven and his first forced fumble against UAB.
» Defensive tackles sophomore Dominique Easley (#2) and redshirt senior Jaye Howard (#6)…who have solidified the interior of one of the Gators’ strongest units. Howard is the team’s most experienced player on defense (20 starts), while Easley may be its most dynamic off the snap, with a first-step raved about by teammates and coaches alike. Howard and Easley have combined for 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks (Howard) throught he first three games.
» Linebackers junior Jon Bostic (#52) and redshirt sophomore will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (#3)…who have combined for 29 tackles. Bostic, the leading tackler on the team, has already registered three for a loss, and Jenkins has accounted for four pass breakups already this season. Each player also has a sack.
» Sophomore Buck LB Ronald Powell (#7)…who is tied for a team-high with 1.5 sacks and forced two interceptions via quarterback pressures against Tennessee. Powell has seven tackles on the season including 1.5 for losses.
» Redshirt junior defensive end Lerentee McCray (#34)…who is starting for the first time in his career and is the team leader in tackles for loss with 3.5. He also has two pass breakups and seven total tackles.
» Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturigs (#19)…who returns for Florida after missing the final eight games of the 2010 season with an injured back. He is perfect this year on nine field goal attempts (long: 51) and 12 extra points, leading the nation in both categories while leading the Gators with 39 points scored this season.

KENTUCKY
» WR La’Rod King (#16)…who leads the team with 226 yards and three touchdowns and achieved the first 100-yard game of his career this year against Central Michigan.
» QB Morgan Newton (#12)…who set career-highs against Louisville by going 27-of-41 for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He has completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 466 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions over the first three games.
» S Winston Guy, Jr. (#21)…who is the second-leading tackler on the team with 30 (four for losses) but leads the Wildcats with two interceptions and a sack on the year.
» RB Josh Clemons (#20)…who is a freshman leading rusher with 193 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. He posted a career-high 128 yards against Central Michigan and combined for just 67 yards on 23 carries in the other two contests.

Track the Floida Gators en route to Lexington

The Florida Gators are on their way to Lexington, KY, to face the Kentucky Wildcats in their first road game of the 2011 regular season. An ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive EXCLUSIVE, the following is the flight information for the Gators, who are flying over on an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 twin-jet. You can also track the flight live in the air!

ORIGIN: Gainesville Regional Airport (KGNV)
DESTINATION: Blue Grass Airport (KLEX)

DURATION: 1 hour 9 minutes

DEPARTURE: 3:35 p.m. EDT [scheduled 3:30 p.m. EDT]
ARRIVAL: 4:44 p.m. EDT [scheduled 4:55 p.m. EDT]

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