With the Florida Gators preparing for their second-straight road test in the middle of the 2011 season, four prominent players were made available to the media early in the week to discuss how the team is progressing heading into their showdown with the No. 24 Auburn Tigers on Oct. 15 at 7:00 p.m. in Auburn, AL.
GILLISLEE HAS EARNED HIS SHOT
For a team that had so much success running the football over its first four games of the season, it is a bit of a surprise that Florida will have to rely on a third running back to give the offense a bit of a spark going forward. Nevertheless, Gators junior RB Mike Gillislee – who has been stuck in a reserve role for the last three years – is expected to see an increased role on Saturday. “I feel like I earned it. I’ve been waiting of this time in my life to stand up and to be productive and for this offense to do what I can,” Gillislee said on Tuesday. “Every time I run the ball, I never know when I’m going to get it again, so I try to run it as hard as I can while I got it.”
He said he understands why he has not had the chance to get a large number of carries before (“I got two great running backs in front of me.”) and that has never been a concern for him. “I’m pretty much a team player. I put the team first,” Gillislee said. He also believes that, at 205 lbs. (up 30 lbs. from his freshman year), he gives the team a little extra power when running up the middle.
Even though he’s a bit stronger than senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey, Gillislee says he also has some speed and can hit the holes well. “I got pretty good vision,” he said. “When I see something, I try to hit it as quick as I can.” Rainey agrees. “He brings a lot to the table. I love when he runs the ball. I guess he’s probably going to be playing a lot more now, so I can’t wait to see that,” he said Monday.
Redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison said he has always known Gillislee could contribute. “He’s a hard runner, hard worker. He’s bringing this extra little “umph” we need in the backfield,” Harrison explained. “He’s getting more reps at practice and everything, and he’s going to see a little more playing time, coach was saying.”
FINDING SOME LEADERS
One thing head coach Will Muschamp has been adamant about is that he needs players of any age to step up and prove they can lead game-in and game-out. With consecutive losses serving as extra weight on their shoulders and another road game ahead, Rainey said it is time to put up or shut up. “This is a time when leaders step up, talk to the team, tell people it’s all right that we still control our destiny and stuff,” he said. “I just try to do everything right, stay positive.”
Redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said that three sophomores – DT Dominique Easley, defensive end Sharrif Floyd and Buck linebacker Ronald Powell – have stepped up on his side of the ball. With redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley injured, it will be curious to find out who joins Rainey as an offensive leader.
SATURDAY’S STARTING QB STILL TO BE DETERMINED
As of practice on Tuesday, freshmen quarterbacks Jeff Driskel
and Jacoby Brissett
were both playing and splitting reps 50/50. Harrison confirmed this fact Tuesday but said he did not know who would wind up winning the job and the start on Saturday.
However, both Rainey and Harrison spoke about Brissett’s performance as of late, offering a bit of praise for how he handled himself. “During the week he was taking more snaps than everyone else, so that’s when I figured out he was playing,” Rainey said about last week’s practice. “I trust him at practice. It all starts at practice. It looked like he was more ready. He was ready to step up.” Harrison said Brissett had a good demeanor and was poised with an up-tempo attitude on Saturday. “He actually, his first game and everything, he performed well. He was confident in the huddle and he can only build off that last game and get better throughout the season.”
That is, if Brissett wins the starting job over a healthy Driskel.
FIXING DISCIPLINE ISSUES
Unlike in years past, the discipline issues facing Florida in 2011 are not off-the-field but rather on-the-field. The Gators have been committing nearly double-digit penalties in every game on average, and it is costing them in numerous ways. Rainey said Monday that the miscues are simply unacceptable. “We did get a lot of penalties – people doing dumb mistakes or people ain’t focused or stuff like that,” he said. “It’s called ‘selfish’ when people do dumb mistakes like that.”
Harrison said the offensive line in particular is doing what it can to correct them. “[They are] unnecessary penalties and mental [mistakes on] assignments,” he explained. “[It’s] maybe a little bit more discipline, practice a little harder, practice with some more game-like situations.” Redshirt sophomore tackle Kyle Koehne said the unit needs to “stay more focused and keep our minds right” in order to avoid making those mistakes. “The undisciplined penalties are just false starts are lining up wrong,” he said. “They’re unacceptable right now how many we’re getting per game. They’re not being tolerated.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Rainey on the team losing back-to-back games: “We just don’t need to lose at all. We lost two so we don’t need to lose no more because we control our destiny.”
» Rainey on Alabama and LSU: “They’re two pretty good teams, but I felt that we was better than them. They just out-physicaled us, they was out-tough than us at the time. We just got to get together and regroup this week.”
» Rainey on redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose becoming a playmaker: “I’ve been waiting for him to step up for a while. He’s doing what I’ve been seeing since high school, so it’s nice to have him up there.”
» Harrison on if changes are needed: “Maybe just work harder throughout the week, which we’re doing. We’re just going to change up our schedule, work a little bit harder to make sure we are successful.”
» Harrison on why Alabama and LSU’s defenses had so much success: “Alabama planned to stop the outside run, which was our strength. That was their advantage. LSU just certain plays we weren’t completely meshed as an offense.”
» Koehne on if he had jitters during the Alabama game: “It was our first big game and we all – on the offensive line – were pretty young. Personally, I had some jitters. I can’t speak for everybody. Personally it was my first big game and I was a little nervous. Everybody gets nervous. You kind of get hype dup with the whole mood of the night and you’re playing Alabama in a Florida-Alabama game. I grew up watching this game. You just want to come out and perform your best. You feel a lot of pressure and you want to perform at your best.”
» Koehne on if junior left tackle Xavier Nixon didn’t play due to a performance issue: “Yes, I believe so.”
» Koehne on if this is a defining week in the season: “This is a huge week. Every week is a huge week. One game at a time. We really have to come together as a team. Defense and offense have to come together and play as a group. We’re really being put to the test this week.”
» Koehne on why Alabama and LSU outperformed them: “Alabama and LSU recruits the top athletes in the nation, too. They’re coached well and they play well and they stepped up for the occasion.”
» Hunter on the team moving on from consecutive losses: “Right now the team has moved on pretty quickly from the last two weeks. All of our focus is on Auburn right now. Everybody has a clear head right now and everybody is just focusing on Auburn.”
» Hunter on getting up for Auburn: “We treat every game the same. This is as big as it was last week and the week before. Auburn is a great team. We’re really looking forward to going and playing them at their stadium. It’s a wild stadium and we’re going to enjoy the moment.“
» Hunter on what the defensive line can do to improve: “We can hold double teams a little bit better. I know I can hold a double team a little bit better. We’re doing a pretty good job at contact, but just letting the guard or center or whoever it is run off to the second level, we have to do a better job at that.”
» Hunter on an statement he heard a teammate make: “Lerentee MccCray said something good the other day. We’re five or six games into the season. No one is a freshman anymore. We’ve all played six games; everyone should be ready to play right now.”