FOUR BITS: Driskel, O’Day, Tebow, Final Four

1 » Florida Gators five-star quarterback commitment Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, FL) was named Sports Illustrated’s High School Player of the Week on Tuesday. Driskel, who compares his style of play to Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, said the opportunity to play for Florida was too much to turn down. “It’s a great academic school,” he said. “They have a great football program. They’re always gonna have the best athletes and they’re always gonna be competitors.” Driskel accounted for 346 total yards and four touchdowns on Friday to earn SI’s honor; on the season he’s posted 1,205 passing yards and 10 touchdowns along with 881 rushing yards and 13 scores.

2 » Former Florida pitcher Darren O’Day, who is currently working in relief for the Texas Rangers, will play a significant role with the team during its first World Series appearance in franchise history. “You’re always confident in your ability, but it’s hard to see the major leagues and World Series from a walk-on tryout in college,” O’Day told The Florida Times-Union. “You never know what you can do. You just got to keep trying.”

3 » With the Denver Broncos set to fly to London, England, later this week to participate in the NFL’s annual game overseas, rookie QB Tim Tebow (though not a starter) was the object of the British press’ affection during a teleconference on Tuesday. Tebow touched on a number of topics during the press call including what he would normally be doing for Halloween, how he feels about sitting behind starting QB Kyle Orton and how important it is for an athlete to send positive messages to the public.

4 » Answering a number of Southeastern Conference basketball questions on Tuesday, ESPN Insider’s LaRue Cook contends that the Gators are indeed a legitimate Final Four contender this season. Citing the fact that every returning starter scores in double digits and that sophomore forward Erik Murphy will emerge as “the surprise player of the season,” Cook thinks the biggest question surrounding Florida is its defense (which allowed 94.9 points per 100 possessions, 67th in the nation last year). Freshman power forward Patric Young should help the team defensively, while freshman F Casey Prather will be able to add some much-needed depth to the bench. Cook also notes that UF has a solid chance to reach No. 1 in the country early in the season if it can go at least 3-1 in its four tough nonconference games against Ohio State, Florida State, Kansas State and Xavier.

Photo Credit: ESPN

FOUR BITS: ESPN coverage of Florida basketball

1 » With Florida Gators basketball’s 2010-11 season set to begin Thursday in the form of an exhibition match against Florida Tech, ESPN heaped some praise on the program Tuesday. First up was Andy Katz, who sees a team that is ready to return to a championship level of play after a few years of mediocrity.

“It definitely feels like the last three years, that I’ve been another player, not been able to do anything great with my teammates for the fans and the University of Florida to remember me,” senior forward Alex Tyus told Katz during a recent interview. “If we have a great year this year, hopefully they’ll remember the guys who came in after Al and Jo and left with their piece of the pie.”

Fellow senior forward Chandler Parsons recounts what happened that first season after the Gators’ best six players left. “It was as tough a time as I’ve ever been through,” he said. “We got kicked out of here [the Florida practice facility] and practiced in high school gyms two or three times a day when we were getting ready for the NIT and then after the season was over. But that’s what coach [Billy] Donovan does — he pushes you and puts your back against the wall to get the most out of you.”

Katz touches on a number of other topics in his article including junior point guard Erving Walker noticing a lack of leadership upon arriving in Gainesville, FL, sophomore guard Kenny Boynton setting his sights on the Final Four and freshman power forward Patric Young never wavering on his commitment.

2 » Also spotlighting Florida on Tuesday is ESPN Insider’s Chad Ford, who has named Young as the No. 2 overall 2011 NBA Draft prospect in the Southeastern Conference. Ford believes Young “looks like a 27-year-old NBA player in his prime” and calls him “an absolute physical specimen that has drawn comparisons to a young Dwight Howard.” Saying Young is “already an elite defender and rebounder,” Ford spoke with a NBA general manager who said “He’s one kid who could step in right now and play for an NBA team because of his defensive ability. Where he goes offensively really determines his ceiling, but his floor is already very high.”

3 » To Young’s credit, he told The Florida Times-Union in April that he plans to play for the Gators for either three of four years while earning his degree. “I’ve always wanted to play in the NBA, but I have a backup plan and that’s to have an education,” he said. “That ranks second, right behind my faith, in terms of importance. I eventually want to do something else in basketball, whether it’s to be an announcer, work for a team or have a business involved in the sport.”

4 » Former Ohio State walk-on Mark Titus, now a writer for ESPN Insider, has tabbed UF to win the SEC this year. He also took a humorous look at how Florida and its Gator Chomp still haunts his dreams. “I had nightmares about the Gator Chomp for weeks after losing the 2007 National Championship to Florida. But even though I hate it so much, there really is nothing like it in college basketball. […] Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go battle the recurring night terrors of Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer opening and closing their arm-jaws amidst a wave of confetti. Thanks, Florida.”

Gators win big: RB Mike Blakely picks Florida

One way or another, four-star running back Mike Blakely (Bradenton, FL) decided he would be wearing orange and blue in college next year. He made it clear on Tuesday that he would be donning those colors for the Florida Gators rather than the darker shades for the Auburn Tigers by verbally committing to the University of Florida.

“I think it was the best decision for me and my family and friends, for everybody,” he said. “It’s an exciting day for me. In my heart I felt like I made the best decision.”

Blakely, who is listed as the 34th best player in the country (No. 7 running back) by Rivals and the 69th best player (No. 6 running back) by ESPNU, fills a position of need for the Gators who will go into next season with only RBs Jeff Demps, Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown on the roster. With almost 40 Division I college scholarship offers to his credit, he becomes Florida’s fourth-highest rated recruit of the cycle thus far.

ESPNU describes him as “an electric runner and one of the more elusive to come out of the Sunshine State in 2011″ who is “on the shorter side but very well-built with some compact muscle.” Blakely is also “the ultimate space player with his elusiveness and great hands out of the backfield” who “if used creatively in an open spread offense could emerge as a major weapon at the next level.”

Dealing with a nagging ankle injury, Blakely is averaging 7.44 yards per carry this season with 15 touchdowns on the ground. He has also completed all three of his pass attempts with two of them going for touchdowns. As a high school junior in 2009, he carried the ball for almost 1,400 yards and amassed a total of 23 touchdowns.

Photo Credit: Thomas Bender/Sarasota Herald-Tribune

10/25: Straight from the Gators’ mouths…

Redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley, senior safety Ahmad Black, senior center Mike Pouncey, sophomore linebacker Jon Bostic, redshirt senior tackle Marcus Gilbert and redshirt senior LB Brandon Hicks answered questions for the media on Monday about a variety of topics concerning the Florida Gators. OGGOA has compiled some of the most important notes and quotes from the event this week.

TEAMMATES RALLY BEHIND RAINEY

Though he was not supremely effective for the Gators early in the season, redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Rainey is an electric playmaker whose talent could have seriously helped Florida over their last three-game stretch. No one knows that more than his teammates, who all had good things to say both about Rainey’s talent and his improved attitude after missing a month due to suspension.

“He’s practicing and he’s practicing great,” Pouncey said. “He’s one of those guys that can take it to the house on any play. Like I’ve been saying the whole year, he’s our best player.” Brantley concurred with Pouncey’s sentiments. “He looked good. He looked really determined, fast,” he said. “He’s really changed as a person. He’s changed his attitude to football. He’s working really hard. He just wants to get out on that field and play, that’s all he wants to do.”

Gilbert noticed that Rainey’s mistake not only was a blow to the team but also seriously affected the person who committed it. “He’s very explosive, like a Percy [Harvin]-type. I think he’s going to bring a lot of explosiveness to the offense, big plays,” he said. “He’s so much more mature now in practice, he’s ready. I felt bad for him because, Chris, he loves this game. For him being suspended, that kind of hurt me to see him down, walking around campus with his hoodie on. He just wants to be out here and play. I think he’s going to take full advantage of this chance this coming Saturday.”

GAME WEEK-LIKE PRACTICE ON THE BYE

Bye weeks are usually a little more relaxed practice-wise, but head coach Urban Meyer remarked early Monday that Florida’s practices last week were very much what they would be like if there was a game to be played this past Saturday. His players universally agreed with that sentiment.

“Everyone was ready to play,” Brantley said. “We wanted to practice and we wanted to succeed. To see [everyone work so hard], after especially such a hard weekend, was a great thing.” Black shared Brantley’s thoughts exactly. “It was great,” he said of practice. “You would have thought we had a game. Everybody went hard, went tough. [I’m] just excited to be out there again this week.”

Pouncey, the leader of the offensive line, felt the same way. “I seen a bunch of guys that really want to win,” he said. “We came out and practiced hard on the bye week. Most teams don’t do that, we did. We practiced [like] we had a game that Saturday.” Gilbert believes that trend will continue during preparation for Georgia and does not expect UF to lose a step. “Last week I think we came out to practice and we had a tremendous practice,” he said. “We look forward to the same this week.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 10/25: Straight from the Gators’ mouths…

Venice pipeline flowing: DT Phillips commits

Just hours after three-star defensive end Clay Burton officially announced his commitment to the Florida Gators, 2012 defensive tackle recruit Omari Phillips (Venice, FL) followed suit. According to Rivals, Phillips has made his intention to play for the University of Florida known after heavy consideration and some influence from two very close friends.

“I made it official today and committed. I am a Gator,” Phillips told Rivals‘ Chris Nee. “They were my leader for a while, but the main reason I did it today is because when I moved to Venice me, Clay and Trey [Burton], I lived with them for a while during the summer time and me and Clay always talked about how if we got the same offer, that we wanted to go to the same school. He committed today and I committed today too. [...] They are like brothers to me. I can’t wait to keep playing alongside them.”

Recruited by both assistant head coach defense/defensive line Dan McCarney and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Steve Addazio, the high school junior sports a 6’6″, 270 lb. frame and can play on both sides of the ball (though he prefers defense).

Phillips, a member of the ESPNU 150 Watch List, has received offers from well over a dozen other schools including Alabama, Miami, Florida State and Tennessee.

OGGOA RELATED: UF doubles up, Clay Burton commits to Gators

UF doubles up, Clay Burton commits to Gators

Florida Gators quarterback Trey Burton has had a great freshman season so far in Gainesville, FL. It appears as if Burton’s success and happiness at the University of Florida has been noticed by at least one very important recruit – his brother.

Three-star defensive end/linebacker Clay Burton (Venice, FL) decommitted from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Monday in order to pledge his services to Florida, according to Scout.com.

“I’m a Gator,” Clay Burton told Scout‘s Jason Higdon. “It’s just an opportunity that I can’t pass up. I wasn’t ready a year ago, or even six months ago, but like my brother said, I’m ready now and I earned it. [...] Trey said we did it, and everything was right for me. This has to be the most selfless decision I’ll ever make.”

He originally committed to Notre Dame on June 18 and visited South Bend, IN, in late September with his mother and uncle – both of whom had approved of his choice. However, a phone call with Gators head coach Urban Meyer over the weekend quickly changed his mind.

“Meyer told me I earned [the opportunity],” Clay said. “He expects intensity and passion and that’s what I’m all about. I’ve grown as a leader and it speaks volume to the person that I am. That’s why I’m in the situation I’m in right now. I have belief in God and I trust in him and I prayed about the decision. I feel this decision is so right, and my brother is proof that if you put in the hard work you will be rewarded at Florida.”

Mother Burton is just as happy as her son.

“They offered and that was it. You want to have all of your options available to you before you make a decision, but we weren’t sure Florida was going to offer,” Cindy Burton MacFarlane told the Orlando Sentinel‘s Chris Hays. “Clay had to earn it and the only way he could do that was become a leader without Trey. At the University of Florida, those guys are hard to impress. That’s a top-notch football program and they only want the best of the best and Clay really had to earn it.”

Florida has very much become a family environment over the years with numerous siblings and relatives having donned the Orange & Blue. In addition to the duo of offensive linemen Maurkice and Mike Pouncey playing to the Gators, redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley‘s father and uncle both played in Gainesville and two of cornerback Joe Haden‘s brothers believed that UF was for them (safety Jordan Haden transferred to Maryland after enrolling this summer and running back Josh Haden joins the team via transfer from Boston College in Jan.).

OGGOA RELATED: Venice pipeline flowing: DT Phillips commits

10/25: Urban Meyer’s Monday press conference

Head coach Urban Meyer and a small group of players meet with the media each Monday before the Florida Gators compete in a game the following Saturday. OGGOA has compiled some of the most important notes and quotes from the event this week.

FOUR AREAS OF CONCERN BEING ADDRESSED

Like last week, Meyer made mention of four particular areas in which Florida is struggling and needs drastic improvement in order to turn around their season. Specifically, he said the Gators must hold onto the ball (high turnover rate), return to making big plays (only four from the running game this season), complete more passes and be more efficient in the red zone. These are all glaring issues he has seen while watching tape.

“In the last three games we’ve had five interceptions and three fumbles. The way I have always evaluated turnovers is I put it with carelessness and toughness.” Meyer said. “Fundamentals fall underneath carelessness. We’ve had more turnovers this year than we had all of ’08 already.” He continues, “Our running backs have accounted for four [big plays] for the year. Just to give in relative terms, we had five in one game last year against FSU. So that tells you a lack of production. None in the last five games from the running back position.”

HEALED INJURIES PROVIDE HOPE

Though Meyer said that redshirt freshman wide receiver Andre Debose is questionable for the Georgia game with an ankle injury, he is relatively confident that juniors running back Jeff Demps (foot) and kicker Caleb Sturgis (back) will be able to play. Demps, Meyer said, “ran on the treadmill, he’s going to practice 20-25 snaps today.” Sturgis missed three weeks with a severely injured back he had been struggling with early in the season. Senior punter Chas Henry has been filling in for him; he made two field goals against Alabama but has missed every other attempt since. “Good news on Sturgis,” Meyer said. “We’re going to try him this week, see what happens.”

RAINEY READY TO RETURN?

Redshirt junior WR Chris Rainey, who had been suspended from the team for a month, was reinstated last week by Meyer on a provisional basis. During the Southeastern Conference teleconference last Wednesday, Meyer said Rainey would be eligible for the Georgia game but would not play unless he met specific requirements laid out by the coaching staff and administration. He reiterated that fact Monday, noting that a decision on Rainey’s availability will be made on Thursday. He has been practicing with the team for two weeks and was on the sidelines in normal clothes for the Mississippi State game.

MEYER INVOLVED IN PLAYCALLING

Brushing off whether or not playcalling is an issue for the Gators, Meyer said he evaluates every play that is called each week. “We don’t have a bad play. I don’t allow that. That’s kind of my job,” he said. “There’s no such thing as saying, ‘Boy, that’s a bad play.’ It might look awful because someone doesn’t block the right guy or someone doesn’t execute. So I go back to efficiency. I evaluate every play called. I do that every week. Is there times where I would have liked to run this as opposed to this? Yeah. Is it a bad play? There’s not a bad play that goes into a game. It’s poorly executed because we didn’t efficiently practice it.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 10/25: Urban Meyer’s Monday press conference

Former Florida Gators in the NFL: Week 7 recap

With the 2010-11 NFL season now underway, a number of Florida Gators participated in Week 7 action, some 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 seventh week of the season.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
WR RILEY COOPER, Philadelphia Eagles: Three receptions for 51 yards, touchdown (targets: 6, long: 37)
WR PERCY HARVIN, Minnesota Vikings: Three rushes for 41 yards (long: 17), rushing touchdown, team-high five receptions for 65 yards (targets: 8, long: 37), three kickoff returns for 81 yards (long: 48)
DE RAY MCDONALD, San Francisco 49ers: Interception return for touchdown, tackle

Videos of Cooper and McDonald’s plays available by clicking here.

LB MIKE PETERSON, Atlanta Falcons: Two solo tackles
LB ANDRA DAVIS, Buffalo Bills: Six tackles (one solo)
WR DAVID NELSON, Buffalo Bills: Two receptions for 25 yards (targets: 4, long: 16)
WR ANDRE CALDWELL, Cincinnati Bengals: Reception for 10 yards
S REGGIE NELSON, Cincinnati Bengals: Three tackles (one solo)
DE CARLOS DUNLAP, Cincinnati Bengals: Solo tackle
CB JOE HADEN, Cleveland Browns: Six tackles (five solo)
WR JABAR GAFFNEY, Denver Broncos: Team-high four receptions for 54 yards (targets: 9, long: 22)
DT MARCUS THOMAS, Denver Broncos: Team-high 10 tackles (seven solo)
DT JEREMY MINCEY, Jacksonville Jaguars: Tackle
LB CHANNING CROWDER, Miami Dolphins: Three solo tackles
LB JERMAINE CUNNINGHAM, New England Patriots: Three solo tackles
TE AARON HERNANDEZ, New England Patriots: Team-high five receptions for 54 yards (targets: 8, long: 24)
LB BRANDON SPIKES, New England Patriots: Solo tackle
DT GERARD WARREN, New England Patriots: Tackle
DE ALEX BROWN, New Orleans Saints: Two quarterback hits
WR LOUIS MURPHY, Oakland Raiders: Two rec. for 29 yards (targets: 4, long: 20)
C MAURKICE POUNCEY, Pittsburgh Steelers: Fumble recovery
LB BRANDON SILER, San Diego Chargers: Solo tackle

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN — NO STATISTICS / DID NOT PLAY
LT Max Starks (Steelers); G Cooper Carlisle (Raiders) – DE Jarvis Moss (Broncos), QB Tim Tebow (Broncos), DE Derrick Harvey (Jaguars), FB Earnest Graham (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), QB Rex Grossman (Washington Redskins)

BYE WEEK
DT Joe Cohen (Detroit Lions)

INACTIVES
S Major Wright (Chicago Bears), CB Lito Sheppard (Vikings), RB Fred Taylor (Patriots)

NOTES
– Murphy re-injured his clavicle and left the game.
– Cooper recorded his first NFL touchdown. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy, telling Cooper that he should celebrate, did a Gator Chomp on his behalf on the sideline.
– McDonald recorded his first NFL interception.

OGGOA RELATED: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6

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