Muschamp, Quinn talk Gators team, defense

With the Florida Gators set to begin 2012 spring practice on Wednesday, head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn met with the media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team’s defense.

RELATED: Muschamp, Pease talk Florida Gators offense | Spring depth chart

PRIORITIES FOR 2012

Just as offensive coordinator Brent Pease listed his five offensive philosophies heading into the season, Muschamp took time before answering questions on Wednesday to discuss – in detail – his three priorities for the Gators on both sides of the ball this year.

(1) As we hit spring, the emphasis to me as a team [is on] turnover margin. We’re minus 12 last year. We’re 113th in the country. It’s really a minor miracle we won seven games. You can’t win games turning it over and not getting turnovers. When I was at Texas my second-to-last year, I think we led the country in turnovers. We emphasize it. It’s not like we’re all of a sudden going to start emphasizing it. Dan talks about it with our defense every single day. We’ve got to find different ways to emphasize it. I don’t know what if you do the same things you’re going to get the same results. We had 15 dropped interceptions, so we had 15 times where we have both hands on the ball. And we’ve got to finish plays. We’re going to do more ball drills. We’re going to do some things that we’ve got to do to get the ball in position for our offense and let Brent and the guys have a chance. That’s a huge point of emphasis.

(2) We need to make a lot more explosive plays, but we need to limit them on defense, but turnover margin is really the emphasis we’re looking at. Ball possession, security of the ball offensively, big emphasis.

(3) Mental and physical toughness. We had some discipline issues and that falls on my shoulders – 41 what I would call ‘discipline penalties,’ jumping offsides, false starts, 23 false starts, 18 offside penalties defensively, so that’s almost half of our penalties. Those are things we will not tolerate. We’ve got more depth on our football team now. There were some opportunities last year where a guy would jump offsides and we didn’t have anybody else to go to. That guy won’t play anymore, so we’ll get him out of the game and put somebody else in there. […] The physical toughness of stopping the run and being able to run the ball when you need to, and again, not being hardheaded, we’re trying to run the ball. When they load the box, you’ve got to be able to create some match ups outside and win, but to do the things you’ve got to do to win games, and we’ll talk a little bit about that further.

» Quinn on improving turnover margin: “There’s really two kinds of turnovers. There’s one that I’ll call a conscious effort: You strip the quarterback, you’ve got a big hit on the running back. Then there’s some that are just an unconscious effort: There was an overthrown ball, you picked it [up]. We’ve got to do a much better job of the conscious effort, making a big emphasis on taking the ball away. As coach had talked about, it’s something that we address a lot. So what did I do this offseason that was an important part for me, to call some other clubs and say what are some of the things you’re doing that you guys played so well to get the ball away. I talked to the guys at San Francisco; they had a terrific turnover margin this year so important for me to reach out. Are you doing anything different? […] It’s awareness for the players, and I emphasized it, and as Will said, if you can do the same thing you’ll get the same results. We’re going to challenge, do some different drills for it, and we’re going to improve in that area.”

» Quinn on mental and physical toughness: “The off season program was the first step in that, and that’s what you’re trying to do. Let’s face it, everybody in the country is talking about being a tough, physical team. Who wouldn’t want to be on a tough, physical team? We all would be. How do you put that into action? And I think it starts in the weight room. […] There’s something that you get accomplished when you go through a physical offseason program that you come out the other end and you feel a little stronger, and you feel a little more ready to take on a different role on the field. And then when you get out on the grass it’s the competition, and I think that’s one of the really exciting things about coaching at a place like here that there’s some really good competition on the other side of the ball. I think you gain something from that as a player when you have to go against a certain player, whether it’s covering him or taking him on at the line of scrimmage or in that physical element. So that’s one of the things that I’m looking forward to is competition going forward into spring practice.”

Read more about the defense’s players and the coaches’ philosophies…
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Will Muschamp on Florida’s 2012 recruiting class

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp held a press conference after his coaching staff received 23 National Letters of Intent on National Signing Day.

Opening statement:

“I’m real pleased with how recruiting went. Any time you get to this day, it’s a combination of a lot of hard work and effort by our staff. I think our staff did an outstanding job. You got to improve your program where you know you need to improve your program. Of the 23 players that joined our program today, 14 are line of scrimmage players – mid-skill and big-skill guys. We saw very easily in our season this year we struggled on both lines of scrimmage consistently being able to run the ball and stop the run. I certainly feel like we’ve addressed our most pressing need on both lines of scrimmage. We’ll develop playmakers and depth on both lines of scrimmage.

“I’m really excited about the guys we’ve got in that group and also eight skill guys, which includes a quarterback. We’d like to sign a quarterback every year. I think that’s important. A kicker, Austin Hardin, a guy that came in and did an outstanding job for us. We’re real pleased about him.

“We’ll know about this class in two or three years. I’ll tell you the same thing I did last year: Football is a developmental game, and you got to develop he players. I’m really excited about Jeff Dillman and Jesse Ackerman and our strength staff, our coaching staff – the job that they do in getting our players in here and doing a nice job with them. We’ll know a lot more about this class in two or three years. At the end of the day, this is a developmental game. We’ll be able to address that. It’s not about winning in February. It’s about winning in the fall and developing your football team and addressing your needs, and I think we’ve done that.”

» On Florida recruiting so well in the state of North Carolina:D.J. Durkin, first of all, is our area recruiter for that area. He does a really nice job of recruiting, period. It was a full team effort. […] We honed in on the guys we want and the guys we feel like can come and make a difference in our program, and we go after those guys.”

» On three/four-star defensive end Alex McCalister: “Alex McCalister is a guy that came to our camp, he broad jumped over 10 feet, close to a 40” vertical leap. A guy that is 6’6” and 220 lbs., his best football is ahead of him. That’s a very, very explosive athlete and a guy that hasn’t played a whole lot of football.”

» On flipping five-star DE Dante Fowler: “You recruit through this process and sometimes when you get there on signing day, you’re leaving it up to the young man and his family to make a decision. I think Dante had a good fit here at Florida as far as his position was concerned, his opportunity was concerned. We’re excited to add another good pass rusher to our program.”

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Four Gators coaches strap on the pads in practice

Call it a fun exercise to get the players hyped for the game or a moment to try to rekindle some glory from their playing careers but there were smiles all around during practice for the 2012 Gator Bowl when four Florida Gators coaches threw on pads and jerseys and went head-to-head on the field.

In the video below from the University of Florida’s GatorVision, wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill takes on defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson and defensive line coach Bryant Young competes with tight ends coach Derek Lewis.

“[Lewis] threw on 82 and I threw on 97 and we had helmets and shoulder pads on,” Young told the school’s website. “Both of us realized, ‘What are we doing?’ Thank God nobody got hurt. We had some pretty tough physical practices and it was kind of way to get juiced up before we got started and even got the coaches going a little bit.”

(Interim offensive coordinator Brian White gets left hanging for a high-five for nearly six seconds starting at 1:52.)

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Florida’s The Hawk belt motivates defenders

Motivation is a key for any football team. With the Florida Gators this year, some of that has come in the form of individual awards presented after each game.

Most popular amongst the team is The Hawk, a championship belt presented to the player that head coach Will Muschamp decides best represented a ball hawk with his performance during the game.

“We got to get the ball and create turnovers. Whoever is doing the most – we have some big point system of getting the ball back, how you create turnovers and knocks backs – there are a lot of different things that go into it,” junior linebacker Jon Bostic explained.

The belt (see below) is handed out each week by defensive line coach Bryant Young and signed by the player who earns the recognition.

Sophomore cornerback Jaylen Watkins was the recipient this week for his two pass breakups against Vanderbilt on Saturday.

“He played a great game, and he deserved it,” said redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who jokingly said that he has been left out of all the fun. “They’re cheating me, but I’m going to keep working hard and hopefully I’ll get it one week.”

Hunter said the players treat the belt as the representation of a “championship performance.” So much so, in fact, that they will even joke about it on the sidelines during games, proclaiming that they are going to get a sack on the next play or make a big pass defense in the secondary so they can own the belt for the week.

“Whoever plays the best, guys take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “Guys play hard for those kinds of things. We look forward to seeing who is going to win it every week.”

With at least three games to go in the 2011 season, Hunter’s motivation is unchanged as far as the belt is concerned.

“I want it. I want it. I want it,” he said with a smile.

Photo Credit: Jason Lieser/Palm Beach Post

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For Will Muschamp, honesty is the best policy

Whether you want to call it tough love or the mark of a players’ coach, head coach Will Muschamp believes in one quality above all else: honesty.

So when he was asked Wednesday if he felt any pressure to make his players like him upon taking over the team, he dismissed the idea and instead explained how his policy of truthfulness is mutually beneficial in the long run.

“I am who I am. I don’t really change for anybody,” he said. “My whole deal in coaching is, if [the players] respect you and they trust you, eventually they’ll like you because they’ll understand what you stand for.”

Whether Muschamp is delivering good news or bad news, he does so in the same manner and expects his players to respond and act accordingly.

“I’m about being honest with the players and sometimes they won’t like what I tell them, but I’m going to be honest with them and tell them the way it is,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t like the way I tell them either. I’m going to be honest with you, I’m going to tell you the way it is. When you do it right, I’m going to tell you. When you do it wrong, I’m going to tell you.

“We’re going to do things a certain way. I think they respect that, and I think they understand that when I tell them something, they can trust me.”

Muschamp’s philosophy and methodology extends to every coach on the staff – whether veteran offensive coordinator Charlie Weis or rookie defensive line coach Bryant Young. The way each interacts with players should foster a mutual understanding.

“I think over a period of time, when [the players] see respect and they see trust and they see a staff that has a track record of being successful where they’ve been in what they’ve done and winning and all of those things, I think that builds a little credibility,” Muschamp explains.

“At the end of the day, coaching is a peoples game. You’ve got to relate to people. They’re all different, and they’re all motivated different ways. I think it’s our job as coaches to find what keys they have individually. It’s not the old saying of treating everybody the same way. You really don’t to be honest. We’ve got to figure out what makes them tick – each individual.”

With that in mind, Muschamp made a point to get input and feedback from his players when he met with them one-on-one in the spring. After discussing their respective strength training, academic standing and place on the team, he asked each player about his opinions on the program and how things could be adjusted to suit him better.

“The guys you can listen to, they’re going to be honest with you and generally tell you this will be nice for this, this will be nice for that,” he said. “It goes back to one of the base things I talked about in this program – communication. Communication takes two. Respect and trust takes two. You got to be able to do that with people.

“I tell them all the time, ‘I love suggestions. We may not do them all, but certainly I want your input because this is your program.’ I always tell the staff, ‘We’re here to serve the players. We got to hold them accountable, make them responsible and dependable in what they’re supposed to do.’”

While he may not necessarily believe in one old saying, Muschamp certainly holds another in high esteem.

Honesty is the best policy.

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8/9: Howard, Hunter, Evans, Shaw, Watkins

With the Florida Gators having completed their second full contact practice of the 2011 season, defensive tackles redshirt senior Jaye Howard and redshirt junior Omar Hunter as well as safeties junior Josh Evans, redshirt freshman Joshua Shaw and sophomore Jaylen Watkins met with the media to discuss how the team is progressing.

FOUR COMPETING AT SAFETY

Considering three safeties spoke on Tuesday, a much clearer picture emerged on how Florida will fill at least half of its secondary in 2011. According to Evans and Shaw, the coaching staff is not currently using “strong” and “free” to denote safety positions but rather “left” and “right.” At this point, Evans has been starting on the left side, while sophomore Matt Elam has been starting on the right. Backing them up at their respective position are Shaw and Watkins.

Evans also paid a compliment to Elam for accepting a leadership role and playing well. “He’s taking it on pretty good,” he said. “He actually reminds me a lot of Ahmad Black – they kind of fit the same personality a little bit, the same shape and everything. He’s doing pretty good as far as reading his gaps and everything.”

Paying Evans the same compliment was Watkins, who thinks the young unit is progressing nicely. “Matt Elam and Josh Evans [are standing out as leaders],” he said. “They both pretty much know everything on defense so far, so they’re helping up all the young kids, me, Shaw and the corners.”

LINEMATES IMPRESSED WITH COACHING STAFF

Howard and Hunter gushed about how nice it is to have both defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and defensive line coach Bryant Young on staff this year. The former started off by explaining how much they have impacted his game. “I’ve never been around such professionals like those guys,” Howard said. “They’re really into it technique-wise. If you don’t get it, they’re going to stay until you get it. I’ve never had that since I’ve been here.”

He also said that, even though he is in his fifth year, he continues to pick up new things from Quinn and Young. “I learn something [new] everyday. Just sitting in the meetings I’ll learn something – small things,” he said. “They taught us how to get off of blockers – shed blockers. In the past years we weren’t able to make as much plays as we could as a unit, so now they’re putting an emphasis on shedding blocks.”

For Hunter, who grew up a San Francisco fan because his first cousin is Garrison Hearst, being coached by one of his favorite players is a dream come true. “I used to always go to the games to watch [my cousin],” he said. “To have Bryant Young here coaching me is just awesome.”

BECOMING VERSATILE; OVERCOMING INJURIES

Though there are plenty of bodies to play on the defensive line this fall, head coach Will Muschamp wants his players to be “multiple” and has a goal of putting the 11 most talented players on the field at any given time regardless of age or position. For that reason, Howard has been playing all three positions on the line, a role he is sharing with Hunter and sophomore Sharrif Floyd.

Finally healthy after overcoming a spring ankle injury, Howard is concentrating on his technique and hopes to be a big-time contributor this season even though the thought of getting injured again lingers in the back of his mind. Sharing a similar concern is Shaw, who is back healthy after suffering a knee injury but would not say otherwise anyway. “I’m doing perfectly fine right now, but I know Coach Muschamp talks about all the injuries.”

REPLACING JANORIS JENKINS

For really the first time this season, one of former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins’s teammates in the secondary opened up about not having him on the squad in 2011. Evans knows that replacing Jenkins will be an issue but is confident that the younger players tasked with the endeavor will succeed.

“It’s pretty tough because you’re expecting a lot out of them because that’s a big load on that side,” he said. “We ain’t putting too much pressure on them, don’t want to make it seem like it’s the end of the world. Just want them to get in the playbook, learn the plays and cover real well.”

He also said the defense is prepared for opposing offenses to go after Jenkins’s replacement. “[Losing him] hurt us because I know teams are going to try to attack us that way and try to think that we’re kind of low on that side, but we got confidence in the guys that’s here and we’re going to go with them,” Evans said.

NOTES AND QUOTES

Howard on how the defensive line is doing: “We really have to work on our technique and clean up things, but the depth is there.”

Howard on the line being the strength of the defense: “It starts up front with us. Every day we have to come out and get better as a unit. The linebackers are depending on us to keep guys off of them in the 3-4 scheme, so we’ll have to do that.”

Howard on fighting for the starting job: “It’s the University of Florida – everyone is trying to battle for a spot. This year is nothing different.”

Hunter on how practice is going: “Everyone is just getting used to having the pads back on and is getting familiar with these coaches once again. Everybody’s doing pretty good right now.”

Hunter on Young’s impact as a coach: “A huge impact as far as [teaching] different techniques.”

Hunter on what is being emphasized: “Playing last year, I think we always got to the ball pretty good. This coaching staff put a huge emphasis on that also. We’re definitely getting to the ball.”

Evans on freshman CB Marcus Roberson: “He’s got great hips for a corner. That’s one thing you look for in them guys – their hip movement and how they get their hands up on the jam and everything. You can just tell from how he’s covering he’s going to be a great player for some time to come.”

Evans on the secondary as a whole: “We’re young, but I feel like we’re very athletic and physical. One thing about these guys – they’re going to work. Nobody big-headed, nobody feeling himself too much.”

Shaw on practice: “Camp has actually been going pretty well this year. I have high expectations for the team, first of all, and then for myself [too].”

Shaw on switching to safety: “I love it. Actually in last year’s defense, playing safety was a lot easier. Now it’s a lot different. Coach Muschamp always tells us if we can play in this secondary and get the concepts of everything than we’ll do fine in the league. Because everybody has aspirations of going to the NFL.”

Watkins on Muschamp’s involvement: “He’s pretty much hands-on with the safeties – everyday, individual.”

Watkins on Muschamp’s advice: “[He tells me] just to be a football player. Everything is not going to be what it is on paper – just be an athlete out there.”

Watkins on the whole secondary: “We’re all pretty young, but that just helps us know that we got to become closer. In our defense, we have to communicate a lot, so that’s what we’ve been working on this spring and in camp.”

Watkins on who is surprising him: “The freshmen are doing pretty good. With this type of defense, you have to make a lot of calls and the freshmen are trying to learn and do whatever they can to help the team.”

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LB Morrison makes his call for the Gators

The good news continues to roll in for the Florida Gators on the recruiting front as head coach Will Muschamp gained his 16th commitment for the 2012 class Tuesday with four-star linebacker Antonio Morrison (Bolingbrook, IL) pledging to continue his football career in Gainesville, FL next year.

The No. 8-ranked inside linebacker according to Rivals, Morrison is also considered the seventh-best recruit coming out of Illinois in 2012.

“Coach Muschamp tells me every time I talk to him that I’m his number one guy at middle linebacker and that he needs me in this class,” he told Rivals back in June. “He tells me that I have the talent to come in and contribute early to the team. That means a lot to hear someone like him tell me that.”

Morrison chose Florida over Illinois but but was also pursued heavily by Alabama, Oregon and Tennessee.

Though he did not attend Friday Night Lights, Morrison visited the University of Florida campus this past weekend; his family came away impressed.

“I will commit as soon as I get the feeling that the school is the right fit,” he said in the same June interview. “I want to see the campus and facilities and see how the college life is at each school.”

Morrison, who was recruited primarily by Muschamp, also decided the Gators were the right team for him because of extra effort put in by defensive line coach Bryant Young. A native of Chicago Heights, IL, Young grew up 45 minutes away from where Morrison currently lives (both towns are suburbs of Chicago).

Though the player actually made his decision on Tuesday (it was posted on InsidetheGators.com‘s message board), he specifically requested those who were alerted of his choice to not report on it until he made an official announcement. That happened Wednesday evening on the Facebook page of the Bolingbrook Raiders.

Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune

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The Countdown: Florida Gators roster (79-70)

With the 2010-11 athletic season now in the books and the 2011-12 season about to begin, the focus has shifted from some of the school’s smaller sports to, of course, Florida Gators football. In this new series, OGGOA will take a look at every player of substance on the roster, counting down by jersey number, until the season begins.

Before going over numbers 79-70, OGGOA must take a step back and cover two freshman given higher numbers when the roster was released on Thursday.

97 – Tevin Westbrook (Coconut Creek, FL)
Freshman defensive end
6’5” 268 lbs.

Quick Bio: A three-star recruit coming out of high school, Westbrook was one of the last Gators to commit and signed with Florida over schools like Connecticut, North Carolina, Purdue and South Florida.

2011 Outlook: Westbrook, a raw player who hopes to develop under defensive line coach Bryant Young, is a candidate for a redshirt and likely will not see the field in 2011.

80 – Ja’Juan Story (Brooksville, FL)
Freshman wide receiver
6’3” 196 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star recruit coming out of high school, Story was a member of the ESPN 150 who also played quarterback. He scored 17 total touchdowns (12 rushing) as a senior and picked UF over Ohio State.

2011 Outlook: With the Gators’ lacking depth at wide receiver, Story has the opportunity to see the field early if he can shine during fall practice.

78 – David Young (Edwardsville, IL)
Redshirt junior guard
6’4” 304 lbs.

Quick Bio: A recreation and event management major, Young played the season opener as a freshman in 2008 and eventually took a redshirt. He saw the field as a part of the offensive line and special teams during every game in 2009 except the Sugar Bowl.

2010 Season: Played early in the year but missed the final 10 games of the season after suffering a knee injury.

2011 Outlook: Limited during the spring, Young was not listed on the initial depth chart but is expected to wind up on the second unit behind either redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio or whomever earns the left guard job.

77 – Ian Silberman (Orange Park, FL)
Sophomore guard
6’5” 285 lbs.

Quick Bio: Silberman enrolled early in January 2010 coming out of high school as a four-star recruit. He majors in social & behavioral sciences and was the No. 8 player at his position nationally according to Rivals.

2010 Season: Though he dressed for all 13 games, Silberman only played in the season opener against Miami (OH).

2011 Outlook: He has bulked up significantly since last season and was in line to be the back up for junior Xavier Nixon at right tackle. However, head coach Will Muschamp announced in April that he had permanently switched from tackle to guard.

75 – Chaz Green (Tampa, FL)
Redshirt freshman tackle
6’5” 289 lbs.

Quick Bio: Ranked by Rivlas as the No. 6 offensive lineman in the country coming out of high school, Green is a social & behavioral sciences major who hopes to see the field for the first time in 2011.

2010 Season: Dressed for 12 of the team’s 13 games but did not play and wound up taking a redshirt to preserve four years of eligibility.

2011 Outlook: Muschamp was pleased with Green’s versatility during the spring, noting that he can play on both the left and right side of the offensive line. He was listed as the starting left tackle on the spring depth chart but is expected to be a back up this season. “Chaz Green is a great player,” sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said in April. “Definitely going to be an outstanding tackle for the Gators.”

73 – Xavier Nixon (Fayetteville, NC)
Junior tackle
6’6” 290 lbs.

Quick Bio: A 13-game starter who has seen action in 22 contests while wearing the Orange & Blue, Nixon is a sociology major who won the high school version of the Maxwell Award and was named the Gatorade Football Player of the Year for the state of North Carolina. Both of his parents are members of the United States Military.

2010 Season: After starting a handful of games in 2009, Nixon started eight more in 2010 primarily at right tackle.

2011 Outlook: Slated to start at right tackle, Nixon will have to fend off some hungry youngsters who hope to unseat him. He struggled at times in 2010 after being a nice surprise as a freshman just one year earlier but impressed Muschamp and offensive line coach Frank Verducci during spring practice.

72 – Jonotthan Harrison (Groveland, FL)
Redshirt sophomore center
6’3” 300 lbs.

Quick Bio: A psychology major who was previously specializing in social & behavioral sciences, Harrison redshirted in 2009 after dressing nine of the team’s 14 games.

2010 Season: Though he played in all 13 games, Harrison did not get the chance to start until the Outback Bowl against Penn State. He saw plenty of time on special teams and found a role at left guard as the season came to a close.

2011 Outlook: Slotted at a left guard on the initial spring depth chart, Harrison was moved over to center in late March and worked hard to get a handle on the position throughout the rest of the spring. Muschamp said Harrison “brings an element of toughness to our football team” while also noting that he has a lot of work ahead of him. “There’s an awful lot on the center as far as snapping and blocking,” he said. “If you’ve never done it before, there’s an awful lot to it. I’ve been pleased with his progress.”

71 – Matt Patchan (Tampa, FL)
Redshirt junior tackle
6’6” 292 lbs.

Quick Bio: The son of a Miami Hurricanes star offensive lineman Matt Patchan, junior has been unable to stay healthy since arriving at Florida. A USA Today first-team All-American out of high school, the five-star recruit started a game at defensive tackle as a freshman in 2008 but injured his leg and missed the final three games of the season. He returned to the offensive side in the ball in 2009 and played the first four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury that lingered for quite some time.

2010 Season: Though Patchan dressed for four games, he wound up sitting out all of 2010 and has still only played in 15 games over three seasons. He had recovered from his knee injury but hurt his wrist and was forced to have multiple surgeries that were not able to correct it enough so he could play.

2011 Outlook: Patchan, who likely would have started at left tackle in 2010, will get the opportunity to do so in 2011. He sat out spring practice while still rehabbing his wrist but was cleared to lift in April and should be good to go this year.

THE COUNTDOWN: 99-90 | 89-80 | 79-70 | 69-60 | 59-50 | 49-40 |
39-30 | 29-20 | 19-10 | 9-1

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