9/27: Weis focuses on rushing, offensive line

As the No. 12 Florida Gators prepare for their biggest game of the 2011 season thus far on Oct. 1 the No. 2/3 Alabama Crimson Tide, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday to discuss Saturday’s victory and the upcoming contest.

GETTING DEMPS AND RAINEY TOUCHES IN THE OPEN

Ensuring that running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey not only touch the ball but have space to make plays after doing so has been relatively easy for Weis early in the season. The duo shredded three opponents and played quite well against Tennessee, too. With a stout Alabama defense coming to town featuring the best run defense in the Southeastern Conference, Weis knows he will have to get creative.

“You have to wait and see how they play the game. You have to have multiple ways of being able to do that. You can’t just do the same thing each week,” he said. “You have to have a plan where, if they stop this, you have another way of getting to the same means to an end. You just have to wait and see how it goes. You go into the game with a plan and then you have some tweaks in the plan ready to go depending what they end up doing.”

One thing that could work to Florida’s advantage is the number of eyes that will be on Rainey every time he touches the ball. Weis explained, “When we call plays, it’s not designed that we’re throwing the ball to [one player]. The first curl that they threw to Frankie [Hammond], [the defense] had Rainey fever, so Rainey’s running to the flat and so is everybody else runs to the flat. There’s a big hole, Frankie on the curl got us an extra 10 yards after the catch. That’s the type of thing we’re looking for.”

IT ALL STARTS UP FRONT FOR FLORIDA

Probably the biggest surprise this season for the Gators has been the success their young offensive line has had game-in and game-out. Weis believes the momentum comes from how tough and rugged the unit has been every time it takes the field.

“I like to think that we’re establishing somewhat of an identity of being fairly physical up front. You don’t run the ball that efficiently, you don’t protect the quarterback that well without being physical,” he said. “On top of everything else, I think our receivers have done a wonderful job being physical down the field, making some of those runs be longer runs. You’ve got to go toe-to-toe. They’re good but you got to be ready for a slugfest. You got to be ready to go toe-to-toe.”

One characteristic about the offensive line in particular has caught Weis’s eye, and it is something that has been discussed quite often already this season. “The reason why we have a chance every week is because those offensive linemen are very close knit. That’s not a façade. When you have cohesiveness on and off the field with your offensive linemen, you usually have a fighting chance,” he said.

“Psychologically, offensive linemen realize that the only time they ever get noticed is when something bad happens. When things are going good, no one ever talks about the offensive line. They understand that’s just the way football is. The only time they really get any notoriety is when bad things happen. Their quarterback’s getting under siege or else you can’t run the ball very well. They kind of bond together.

“The communication that takes place between five guys – it’s the only position there’s that many guys playing at one time. Communication is one of those critical factors to the offensive line. Usually the standard is the less they’re noticed, the better they’re playing. It’s sad but true, but that’s the way it is.”

PLAYER EVALUATIONS AND UPDATES

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (and his health after last game): “He was out there slinging it today, so that was encouraging. I told him to quit being so soft. [Smiling] Actually I think that we gave him most of the reps today. He got most of them. He’s glad that the game’s still a few days away, but I think that he’s moving along nicely. He’s really progressing nicely. He threw the ball well today.”

Redshirt freshman tight end Gerald Christian (and moving him back-and-forth from linebacker): “I knew Gerald from the first few days of training camp was a big, physical presence. We didn’t have a bunch of big, physical presence on the offensive skill position. […] We were quite banged up at the tight end position. For him to go back-and-forth from outside linebacker to tight end, I think one thing that shows is his big, physical presence. When you can go out there and make a couple big plays in the game. […] When you have a guy who can play offense and defense, what you have to do is figure out what gets him on the field the fastest. It really, really was a position of need. We needed him on offense; not that he wouldn’t play on defense, but we needed him more on offense than they needed him on defense. The kid’s unselfish. He didn’t care. Anywhere he had the best opportunity to help the team is where he wanted to go. I think it’s worked out.”

Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Chaz Green (and his progress): “Chaz is a tackle that’s also very athletic. He has really good feet. Not only has good size but Chaz has just gotten better as the year’s gone on. He’s just gotten better and better. Remember, he’s a young pup. Everyone thinks that he’s been there for five years already. The kid’s relatively inexperienced.”

Freshman QB Jeff Driskel (and if he’s coming along): “He better because he’s second. It would be nice if he got a little bit more help in that game the other day. He’s got to take care of the ball. He can’t let 22 come in there and take the ball out of his hands. He was so worried about the pressure coming from outside off the right edge there that he got a little careless with the ball. The interception, that’s a bang-bang play. You can’t throw the ball much better than he threw the ball. I just don’t like strip-sack fumbles that lead to the only touchdown that the other team scores because ultimately we feel like we are the ones that gave them their one touchdown in the game. He runs our team well. The team’s not afraid when he’s in there. He can make every throw. Just gaining experience, that’s what he’s doing. Every time he’s out there it’s a good thing regardless of what happens because he’s just gaining experience.”

Redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr.: “Frankie has been very consistent for us. He’s been very consistent for us the whole time. He also has versatility for us because he’s one of the few guys at the receiver position that can play every position. He can line up at what we call the X, the Z, the F – he can line up at all those positions. Any time you have a player that has some position flexibility, it really helps you in this offense.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On if he is “happier” about the offense than he was last week: “I’m glad that we got on the road, got that kind of out of the way. It’s really tough. You got to give a lot of credit to Coach [Will] Muschamp and then the players, too. They knew what was on the horizon. We could sit there and talk ‘till we’re blue in the face. They’re going on the road for the first SEC game with a bunch of young guys that had never done it before. Everyone wants to talk about Alabama, nobody wanted to talk about Kentucky. I’m talking about outside our locker room. Will did a great job and our team showed an unusual amount of maturity for a team to not look past the opponent that they played last Saturday. For that, kudos. We ran the ball for over 400 yards. That doesn’t happen too often now. I was genuinely pleased that they didn’t go in there and look past that opponent to the one we’re playing this week.”

» On how the offense responded after not starting well against Kentucky: “We made a mistake on the third play of the first drive. We got that ironed out. We figured that one out. The second drive – they did a couple things early in the game that were a little different than they [had] been doing. Sometimes that happens, but it didn’t take long. The sign of a fairly good team on offense is when things don’t go too well right in the beginning, you figure out what the problems are and go fix them. Too many times teams wait to make halftime adjustments. Well you still had a lot of time left after those first two drives. We had a bunch of points on the board by the time we went in to halftime.”

» On if the offense has seen enough adversity up to this point: “We coach them hard. We coach them hard. We coach them hard every day. You’d hope that by the time you get to the games that the games are actually easier than the practices. Even if the scores of the game weren’t that close, you can still create a lot of situations to get your team better. That’s all behind us now. This is going to be a tough challenge for us and we’re really excited and we’re really looking forward to it.”

» On if he sees any of Bill Belichick’s methods within Alabama’s defense: “One of the first things I did this week was [say to Muschamp], “Tell me about Nick [Saban], tell me about Kirby [Smart]’ because these are his boys. I know that Nick worked for Bill back in the Cleveland [Browns] days before he moved on to Michigan State. A lot of the terminology is the same. There are a lot of things that are consistent. They have a good, sound system that I have familiarity with, but they also got really good players. Sometimes you wish that weren’t the case, but that is the case. We have to be ready to make sure that we don’t create any mismatches in the opposite direction.”

9/27: Harrison, Hunter, McCray and Burton speak

With the No. 12 Florida Gators preparing for their biggest game of the 2011 season thus far, four prominent players were made available to the media on Tuesday to discuss how the team is progressing heading into their showdown with the No. 2/3 Alabama Crimson Tide on Oct. 1 at 8:00 p.m. in Gainesville, FL.

EACH OPPONENT IS “NAMELESS/FACELESS”

Unlike former head coach Urban Meyer, who made it a point to build up rivalries and big games in the locker room, head coach Will Muschamp prefers his players look at each opponent as one who is “nameless [and] faceless.”

His players follow that mantra every time they speak, and redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison explained Tuesday exactly why. “That’s just how we approach every game,” he said. “[Muschamp] says it to the whole team every meeting.”

Why exactly? “It just keeps us focused on the assignments and the football concepts in general,” he said. “Florida is focused on Florida. We’re about completing the season, winning the next game.”

Redshirt junior Sam linebacker Lerentee McCray said that the anonymous designation does not change how psyched up the players get for the more important games. “It doesn’t really take away from big games,” he said. “Coach stressed the fact from day one that we’re going to play the first opponent as if it was the SEC Championship game. ‘Play every game like the best game.’”

BOSTIC AND JENKINS ARE MATURING

If the Gators hope to beat the nameless/faceless opponent that we’ll refer to as the Crimson Tide for the sake of brevity, the defense will be counted on to stop one of the best running backs in the country in Trent Richardson. The onus of that task will start with the defensive line but be shared by junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins, a pair of linebackers who have stepped up big time so far this season.

Redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter believes the duo’s increased maturity is the main reason for their impressive starts. “They’ve grown up so much. They’re able to call up the huddle and lead guys where as it used to be a defensive lineman [doing so],” he said. “They’re two great athletes. They work hard every day in practice perfecting their craft and it’s really paying off for them right now.”

Bostic and Jenkins (who is tied with sophomore safety Matt Elam) currently lead Florida in tackles with 26 and 17, respectively. The duo has combined for three sacks and five tackles for loss, while Bostic has added a forced fumble and Jenkins has four pass breakups (all which could have been interceptions).

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Hunter on the defense coming together: “The offseason program that [Mickey Marotti] put us through made us come together so close, that’s paying off right now. You can see it as a defense. We’re all starting to come together a lot more now.”

» Hunter on playing on defense in The Swamp: “It’s so loud. Sometimes it’s so loud we can’t even hear each other out there so we can’t communicate. We love it though. It gets you fired up.”

» Hunter on redshirt senior Jaye Howard’s fumble catch and return for touchdown: “He has the worst hands on the team.” What about Jenkins? “[Laughing while revising his statement] Second worst hands on the team.”

» Sophomore running back Trey Burton on if he’s excited to play Alabama: “This is why you come to Florida. That’s why they go to Alabama. That’s why we come to Florida. To play in big games like this.”

» Burton on learning from offensive coordinator Charlie Weis: “It’s unbelievable. He’s unbelievably smart and a great coach. You see it every week.”

» Burton on how Weis is tough on the players during the week: “He’s all over us during practice and stuff. He just wants us to be perfect. He’ll yell at you but he won’t make it obvious he’s yelling at you. He’ll bring you aside and talk to you about it instead of screaming at you. He’s a really, really nice guy.”

FOUR BITS: Leak, Harvin, Starks, Gilbert

1 » Former Florida Gators quarterback Chris Leak has yet to find a permanent team to play with as a professional. After playing only one preseason game in the NFL, he has spent the last four years in the CFL with three different teams. His running around in the great white north has finally coming to an end if a report from the Florida Times-Union is to be believed. According to the paper, the Jacksonville Sharks of the AFL are planning to sign Leak to be the team’s new starting quarterback. The ArenaBowl XXIV Champions, Jacksonville will be losing its 41-year-old veteran quarterback Aaron Garcia to another team and is looking for someone to come in and take his place. Should Leak sign with the Sharks, he will be the third former Gators player on the team in as many years, following cornerback Dee Webb and wide receiver Dallas Baker.

2 » After missing one day of practice last week due to a stomach illness supposedly caused by the flu, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin ended up playing in his team’s game on Sunday but did not last the entire contest. After getting hit in the gut during the fourth quarter, Harvin sat out the final five minutes of regulation as well as the overtime period as he watched his team fall to Detroit. Before leaving, Harvin caught three passes for 47 yards, returned two kickoffs for 47 yards and ran the ball twice for 41 yards. He is expected to return to practice this week and should not suffer any further setbacks.

3 » Out of work all season after being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers just after the NFL lockout ended, former Florida offensive tackle Max Starks continues to look for a new team. According to 1500 ESPN Radio out of Minnesota, the Vikings met with Starks on Monday as they need to fill a reserve tackle position on their team. Starks, who recovered all offseason from a neck injury that he suffered in November, apparently had weight and conditioning issues when he reported to Steelers camp.

4 » Pittsburgh’s offensive line looked like a MASH unit Sunday evening after a bunch of starters and reserves were injured throughout the course of their game at Indianapolis. Rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who moved into a starting role with the team due to an injury to another player, hurt his shoulder during the game and was sent to the sideline. When the reserve left tackle was forced to leave the game, an injured Gilbert wound up reentering for the remainder of the contest. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Gilbert “looks like he’ll be OK” to play next week barring any setbacks. Even though the team is in need of another reserve tackle, NBC Sports reports that Starks has been ruled out as a possibility.

Time for Brantley step up like his supporting cast

Though he may not be setting the world on fire through the first four games of the 2011 season, Florida Gators redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley is performing quite admirably compared to what fans saw in April’s 2011 Orange & Blue Debut.

As head coach Will Muschamp contended in April and maintains now, Brantely’s performance in that scrimmage was attributed to the fact that the moving parts around him (offensive linemen and playmakers) were struggling and unable to help him out.

The big question heading into September was if Brantley’s supporting cast would be able to step up under the leadership of veteran football mind and new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Muschamp, as of Monday, was pleased to that end.

“We’ve blocked well up front in the run game and in the pass game. We’ve been very consistent. We’ve run the ball well and I think we’ve played well at time outside,” he said. “We got to finish some plays down the field obviously. You tie all those things together. This past ballgame we were able to give our offensive some short fields, which is something that always helps the quarterback obviously. I think it really starts up front. We’ve been able to run the football and we’ve protected the quarterback well.”

Compared to the first four games of 2010, Brantley has thrown for 52 more yards on 28 fewer pass attempts (an average of 2.6 additional yards per attempt) but is still completing 64 percent of his passes and has only four touchdowns this year.

Quarterbacks are supposed to want to throw the deep ball, but Brantley has been charged with being a game manager – taking what the defense gives the offense in order to move the ball down the field. He is perfectly happy with ensuring running backs redshirt senior Chris Rainey and senior Jeff Demps get the ball out of the backfield, especially if they continue to be as productive as they have been through the first four games.

“Giving the ball off to Chris and Jeff is the easiest part of the job,” he said Monday. “When they can take it to the house at any moment, [it] makes your job easier.”

With the No. 2/3 Alabama Crimson Tide set to face the No. 12 Gators on Saturday, Florida may not be able to rely on its running game as much as it has been. Throwing the ball downfield may become a priority, especially if UF gets behind early.

Muschamp is confident that the Gators will be able to do so when necessary.

“I think you got to be multiple when you play [Alabama]. You can’t be one-dimensional in what you do,” he said. “A lot of our offense has been attributed to the fact, in our first four games, three of them were in-hand by halftime. We ran the ball in order to end the game as opposed to what a lot of schools go out and throw the ball 30 times in the second half. They say, ‘Well they averaged 300 yards in the passing game.’ That’s great but that’s not really what you’re trying to do to win football games.

“John’s going to be able to throw the football. John’s outstanding. He’s played very well for us, and I’m very pleased with his progress and what he’s done and what we’ve done in the throwing game and what we’ve asked our football team to do on tape so far on Saturday. What I see in practice is a very productive passing attack.”

Brantley appears to share that mentality, but whether or not he will succeed in that mission is one of the biggest questions surrounding Florida heading into Saturday’s tilt.

“Any time we can throw the ball downfield, we will,” he said.

The Gators may be forced to do just that sooner than later.

Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Week 3

With the 2011 NFL season officially underway, a number of Florida Gators participated in Week 3 action, many of whom had an impact on their team’s performance. OGGOA has checked and re-checked the box scores to bring you a summary of what these Gators accomplished during the third week of the 2011 campaign.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK
DE JARVIS MOSS, Oakland Raiders: Four tackles (two solo, one for loss), two sacks, three QB hits, pass defense

THE REST

LB MIKE PETERSON, Atlanta Falcons: Five tackles (three solo)
LB ANDRA DAVIS, Buffalo Bills: Two tackles
WR DAVID NELSON, Buffalo Bills: Six receptions for 84 yards (targets: 8, long: 26)
WR ANDRE CALDWELL, Cincinnati Bengals: Six receptions for 53 yards [team-highs] (targets: 12, long: 14), solo tackle
DE CARLOS DUNLAP, Cincinnati Bengals: Tackle, QB hit
S REGGIE NELSON, Cincinnati Bengals: 10 tackles (seven solo) [team-highs]
CB JOE HADEN, Cleveland Browns: Four solo tackles (pass defense)
DE DERRICK HARVEY, Denver Broncos: Fumble recovery
QB TIM TEBOW, Denver Broncos: Reserve
DE JEREMY MINCEY, Jacksonville Jaguars: Four tackles (three solo)
C MIKE POUNCEY*, Miami Dolphins: Played as a starter
WR PERCY HARVIN, Minnesota Vikings Three receptions for 47 yards (targets: 5, long: 21), two rushes for 41 yards (long: 39), two kick returns for 47 yards (long: 25)
LB JERMAINE CUNNINGHAM, New England Patriots: Played as a starter
LB BRANDON SPIKES, New England Patriots: Five tackles (two solo)
G COOPER CARLISLE, Oakland Raiders: Played as a starter
WR RILEY COOPER, Philadelphia Eagles: Solo tackle
P CHAS HENRY*, Philadelphia Eagles: Two punts for 90 yards (long: 49)
C MAURKICE POUNCEY, Pittsburgh Steelers: Played as a starter
OT MARCUS GILBERT*, Pittsburgh Steelers: Played as a starter
DE RAY MCDONALD, San Francisco 49ers: Played as a starter
FB EARNEST GRAHAM, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Seven receptions for 37 yards (targets: 8, long: 11), two rushes for -1 yard
WR JABAR GAFFNEY, Washington Redskins: Five receptions [team-high] for 60 yards (targets: 6, long: 17)
QB REX GROSSMAN, Washington Redskins: 22/37 for 250 yards, touchdown, interception (QB Rating: 77.5), rush for six yards

NOTES
– Harvin did not return for the final five minutes of the second half or overtime after being hit in the gut and subsequently vomiting on the sideline.

INJURED / INACTIVE
FS MAJOR WRIGHT, Chicago Bears: Concussion
DT MARCUS THOMAS, Denver Broncos: Pectoral
LB BRANDON SILER, Kansas City Chiefs: Torn achilles (season)
TE AARON HERNANDEZ, New England Patriots: MCL
WR LOUIS MURPHY, Oakland Raiders: Sports hernia

PRACTICE SQUAD PLAYERS
TE Cornelius Ingram (Detroit), DE Justin Trattou* (New York Giants), SS Ahmad Black* (Tampa Bay), OG Maurice Hurt* (Washington)

NOTABLE FREE AGENTS
DE Alex Brown, DE Bobby McCray, CB Lito Sheppard, OT Max Starks, DT Gerard Warren

* Rookie

2011 WEEK: 1 | 2

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

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