Gators offense improving; various team notes

Covering both Florida Gators basketball and spring football this week naturally forced some news, notes and quotes to fall through the cracks. Saturday’s spring football practice update covers everything that was not touched on previously this week on OGGOA. Be sure to check out the posts linked below in case you missed anything.

3/19: Three Gators injured, others progressing | Story: Brown ready for last go-around | Story: Dunbar coming into own | 3/22: Practice notes, Morrison, kicking

TAKING THE NEXT STEP ON OFFENSE

Though most fans chose to blame junior quarterback Jeff Driskel for all of Florida’s passing game struggles in 2012, offensive coordinator Brent Pease looked at the entire situation another way. If Driskel has no one to throw the ball to, how can he be blamed for being protective of it and not forcing it into windows that were simply not there?

“Looking back and seeing what they faced on a week-to-week basis from defenses, knowing the picture that he had to see at times for throwing, it’s a struggle when there’s nobody there for you. Guys got to get open,” he said.

To that end, Pease expects the Gators offense to continue its evolution in 2013 and noted two specific reasons why he thinks Florida will be able to move the ball better.

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Muschamp, Pease discuss Florida Gators offense

With the Florida Gators set to begin 2013 spring practice on Wednesday, head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team’s offense.

RELATED: Spring depth chart released | Muschamp, Durkin on defense, team

IMPROVING PRODUCTION AT QUARTERBACK

Junior Jeff Driskel returns as the entrenched starter at quarterback and has the full backing of both Muschamp and Pease going forward. Both coaches reiterated that they expect him to take a big step forward in 2013 now that he has a year of action under his belt and can spend the entire offseason continuing to educate himself with the offense and opposing defenses in order to become a better overall player.

» Muschamp on what Driskel has been doing in the offseason: “I think Jeff has really attacked the offseason from a mental standpoint as far as film is concerned, really studying what he can do to be a better quarterback. That’s part of the maturation process in becoming a better player is understandings what you go to do to be successful. […] I think the game continues to slow down for you. First year as a full-time starter, first year in a scheme in a system with new terminology and now you’re not splitting reps 50-50. He’s going to get all the turns and all the reps with the same people, which I think obviously will help us with some throwing game issues.

» Muschamp on what Driskel can specifically improve on: “As a player and as a competitor, knowing Jeff and talking to Jeff, he wants to go back and improve everything. But I think you take things in segments. ‘I need to improve here; I need to improve there.’ Within saying that, year two in the system, the game slows down a little bit. A better understanding of protection, a better understanding of where the ball needs to go, where you’re protected and where you’re not protected. I think those are the things that, as much as anything, that are going to help him to understand that. The passing game concepts versus middle field versus split safety, where to take the ball. I think all of those things, again, that’s easy to talk about but when it’s happening in front of 90,000 people against some of the people we play against, it’s a fast, fast game. Those are things, to me, as far as just the mental intensity of where we need to go with the football in situations. That will slow down for him in his second year. And he’s also not splitting reps. And he’ll be working with the first-team receivers all the time. I think you couple that with a lot of things and I think Brent does a really great job developing the quarterback position and recognizing things he needs to improve on.”

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Florida Gators 2013 spring practice depth chart

Readers may be excited to take a first look at the Florida Gators 2013 spring practice depth chart (see below). Don’t be. As he explained in each of his first two springs with the program, head coach Will Muschamp repeated Wednesday that he does not put a lot of stock in the spring’s first depth chart. In fact, back in 2011, he said it is “not worth the paper it is printed on.” In other words, the depth chart below is just a starting-off point for 2013 and plenty can change between now and the start of the season. Nevertheless, below is the depth chart as it was presented on March 12.

“Obviously we gave you a depth chart. I know it’s just the most critical thing that’s going to happen in the next 12 months of your year,” Muschamp said Tuesday.

RELATED: Muschamp, Pease on offense | Muschamp, Durkin on defense, team

Florida omitted players who are injured and not participating at all in spring practice. A list of those players can be found at the end of this post.

OFFENSE

QB: 6 Jeff Driskel, 10 Tyler Murphy, 17 Skyler Mornhinweg
RB: 24 Matt Jones, 33 Mack Brown, 21 Kelvin Taylor
FB: 43 Hunter Joyer, 29 Rhaheim Ledbetter* OR 25 Gideon Ajagbe*
WR (X): 1 Quinton Dunbar, 4 Andre Debose, 11 Demarcus Robinson
WR (Z): 15 Loucheiz Purifoy*, 88 Solomon Patton^, Raphael Andrades
F Position: 8 Trey Burton, 13 Latroy Pittman, 30 Mike McNeely
TE: 88 Clay Burton, 87 Tevin Westbrook, 18 Kent Taylor, 84 Colin Thompson

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 63 Trip Thurman
LG: 76 Max Garcia, 64 Kyle Koehne
C: 72 Jonotthan Harrison, 64 Kyle Koehne
RG: 67 Jon Halapio^, 64 Kyle Koehne
RT: 73 Tyler Moore, 98 Quinteze Williams*

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Gators 2013 Spring Football Preview: Offense

Spring practice for the Florida Gators football program begins on Wednesday, March 13 and lasts for 15 practices concluding with the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut spring game on Saturday, April 6 at 1 p.m. Below is the first of OGGOA‘s new two-part series that takes a look at the team on a position-by-position basis.

PART TWO: Defense & Special Teams

OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt junior Chaz Green
Fresh faces: Redshirt sophomore Tyler Moore

Out goes Xavier Nixon, in comes sophomore D.J. Humphries. After starting three games as a true freshman, Humphries – a former five-star prospect – appears to be all but a shoe-in for the left tackle job. However, both he and Green (who started 10 games at right tackle) have plenty of competition ahead of them. Moore started as a true freshman at Nebraska, sat out the 2012 season while attending a community college and is therefore eligible to play right away. He will be pushing Humphries and Green all spring is certainly talented enough to win either or both starting jobs. Chances are he will wind up either winning the right tackle role while Green continues to recover from ankle surgery or play well enough where he spells both players throughout games.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt senior Jon Halapio
Fresh faces: Redshirt junior Max Garcia

With James Wilson finally graduating, the starting left guard job is wide open and offensive line coach Tim Davis has a number of ways in which he can fill the position. Redshirt junior Ian Silberman is the only player on the roster who actually started at guard in 2012 but versatile redshirt senior Kyle Koehne (three starts at right tackle) is also quite experienced in SEC play. Garcia, who started 12 games at tackle for Maryland, has been moved inside and was even listed as the first-string left guard on the initial spring practice depth chart. Redshirt freshman Jessamen Dunker (if reinstated to the team) is a possibility at left guard as well. Halapio (28-straight starts) has a stranglehold on the right guard job.

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12/18: Pease, Driskel, Hammond talk offense

With the team beginning preparations for the 2013 Sugar Bowl against the Louisville Cardinals in New Orleans, LA on Jan. 2, No. 3 Florida Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease – along with sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel and redshirt senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. – sat down with the media on Tuesday to discuss the team’s offense and how it is shaping up for the bowl game.

YOUNGSTERS SHOWING OUT IN BOWL PRACTICE

Head coach Will Muschamp has crowed all season long about the play of sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, often mentioning how he began breaking out for the team during practice leading up to the 2012 Gator Bowl.

Asked Tuesday which players are already standing out since the team has reconvened for the Sugar Bowl, Pease, Driskel and Hammond all mentioned that freshman WR Latroy Pittman is looking really good.

“Definitely Pittman,” said Driskel when he was asked to single out a player. “Pittman’s had great bowl practices. I expect him to make some plays in the bowl game.”

Despite drawing plenty of praise in the offseason, Pittman barely contributed during the 2012 campaign. He did play in 11 games but saw most of his time on special teams, hauling in just two balls and totaling six yards on the season.

Hammond called Pittman “an overall balanced receiver,” noting that he has a big body to go along with solid speed. “There’s a lot of things you can do with him when you’re dealing with a guy that size,” he said.

Other players mentioned by Pease as those that have stood out to him thus far include freshman running back Matt Jones, walk-on freshman RB Mark Herndon, freshman guard Jessamen Dunker, freshman tight end Colin Thompson, sophomore TE Tevin Westbrook, sophomore TE Clay Burton and freshman WR Raphael Andrades. Dunker (preparedness) and Thompson (foot) are both taking redshirt seasons and will not play in the bowl game.

Read the rest of this post…after the break!
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No. 4 Florida Gators chomp No. 10 Florida State as Mike Gillislee rumbles for two touchdowns

A 24-point fourth quarter for the No. 4 Florida Gators (11-1) turned around what looked to be an epic collapse and clinched a 37-26 win over the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles (10-2) at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL.

Florida senior running back Mike Gillislee led the way for the Gators offense, rumbling for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. That unit got plenty of support from the defense and special teams, which combined to recover five turnovers on the afternoon. Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis was also clutch for UF, making all three of his field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards.

Florida opened up the game throwing, completing two of its first three passes and tossing the ball eight times on a 14-play, 54-yard drive that lasted 5:47 and ended with a 39-yard field goal Sturgis. Florida State took the kickoff at the 35-yard line after Sturgis booted it out of bounds and got down to UF’s 27 in just two plays. However, a third-down interception thrown by FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel and caught by junior safety Matt Elam ended the possession without any points going on the board.

The Gators looked to be stalled at their own 34-yard line on their next drive, but a 31-yard scramble by sophomore QB Jeff Driskel extended the possession, which wound up going 62 total yards. Faced with 3rd-and-1 at the Seminoles’ 26, Driskel threw incomplete on a play action and junior running back Trey Burton missed brother and sophomore tight end Clay Burton on a muddle huddle play attempted on fourth down.

A few possessions later, Florida put together another long drive but stalled short of the end zone. The Gators converted two third-down tries but settled for a 45-yard field goal to take a 6-0 lead after gaining 54 yards in 10 plays.

Florida got another big play from its special teams on the ensuing kickoff as junior linebacker Darrin Kitchens forced a fumble that was recovered by sophomore defensive back Jabari Gorman at Florida State’s 21-yard line. Three plays later, Gillislee rumbled nine yards down the left sideline for a touchdown, giving UF a 13-0 lead with 5:26 left in the first half.

The Seminoles were able to hold on to the ball on the next kickoff, but Manuel threw his second interception of the game on the opening play from scrimmage, tossing a bullet right into the hands of redshirt junior Will LB Jelani Jenkins. The Gators would waste the possession by getting called for two penalties and suffering a big loss on third down.

Florida State finally made some offensive gains on its last possession of the first half as Manuel completed three passes and scrambled for 23 yards to put his team in field goal range. The Seminoles reduced its deficit to 13-3 at the half as K Dustin Hopkins knocked in a 50-yard field goal.

UF won the time of possession battle 21:58-8:02 in the first half and nearly doubled up FSU on offense but had a bigger advantage before the home team’s final possession as it sported a 192-53 advantage through the first 27:50 of the opening half.

Read the rest of the Florida-Florida State game story…after the break!
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No. 6 Gators eke out 27-20 win over Ragin’ Cajuns

The No. 6 Florida Gators came minutes away from arguably the worst loss in school history and seconds away from playing overtime at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on homecoming until a late offensive touchdown and punt block return for a touchdown with two seconds remaining clinched a 27-20 victory over the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns on Saturday in Gainesville, FL.

Leading 13-3 early in the third quarter, Florida stumbled defensively and allowed Louisiana-Lafayette to score 17 unanswered points including its own punt block returned for a touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett, in as an injury replacement, led the Gators to a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, tying the game at 20 with under two minutes to play.

On the ensuing possession, the Ragin’ Cajuns decided to run the clock and play for overtime, but UF head coach Will Muschamp called a timeout as ULL was getting ready to punt on fourth down. Sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy promptly snuck his way inside the protection on the punt and blocked the ball, which fell into the hands of redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who charged 36 yards into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

The Gators avoided what may very well have been the worst loss in program history. UF had won 49-straight games against non-automatic qualifiers and had not fallen to such a team since Memphis State in 1988.

Read the rest of the Florida vs. Louisiana-Lafayette game story…
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Florida Gators 2012 opening week depth chart

Though things could still change over the next five days, the Florida Gators on Monday morning released the team’s first official depth chart for the 2012 season. As was noted by head coach Will Muschamp last week, sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will both play against the Bowling Green Falcons though who will take the first snap has not yet been determined.

Florida omitted players who are not participating in the season opener, therefore the below depth chart is not the “best case scenario” version. A list of those players can be found at the end along with some additional explanations.

QB: Jeff Driskel OR Jacoby Brissett
RB: Mike Gillislee, Mack Brown
FB: Hunter Joyer, Trey Burton
WR (X): Frankie Hammond, Jr., Latroy Pittman/Andre Debose
WR (Z): Quinton Dunbar, Solomon Patton
F: Trey Burton, Omarius Hines
TE: Jordan Reed, Clay Burton

LT: Xavier Nixon, Kyle Koehne
LG: James Wilson, Ian Silberman
C: Jonotthan Harrison, Sam Robey
RG: Jon Halapio, Jessamen Dunker
RT: Chaz Green, Trip Thurman

DE: Dominique Easley, Earl Okine
DT: Sharrif Floyd, Damien Jacobs
NT: Omar Hunter, Leon Orr
Buck DE: Lerentee McCray, Dante Fowler, Jr.
Sam LB: Darrin Kitchens, Neiron Ball
Mike LB: Jon Bostic, Michael Taylor
Will LB: Jelani Jenkins, Antonio Morrison

CB: Jaylen Watkins OR Louchiez Purifoy
CB: Marcus Roberson OR Cody Riggs
S: Matt Elam, Valdez Showers
S: Josh Evans, Jabari Gorman
Nickel CB: Matt Elam, Jaylen Watkins
Dime CB: Matt Elam, Brian Poole

K: Caleb Sturgis, Brad Phillips
P: Kyle Christy, Todd Fennell
H: John Crofoot, Tyler Murphy
LS: Drew Ferris, Kyle Crofoot
KR: Andre Debose, Solomon Patton
PR: Marcus Roberson, Andre Debose

OUT SATURDAY: Redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan (pectoral), sophomore defensive back De’Ante Saunders (hamstring), junior Buck linebacker Ronald Powell (ACL), freshman tight end Colin Thompson (foot), senior defensive lineman Nick Alajajian (knee), redshirt junior DL Kedric Johnson (knee)

POSSIBLY OUT SATURDAY: Redshirt junior DB Jeremy Brown (wrist), freshman LT D.J. Humphries (MCL), freshman DB Marcus Maye (knee), redshirt freshman OL Tommy Jordan (shoulder)

NOTES
- Debose is not listed as a starting receiver.
- Koehne and Thurman are inserted as reserve tackles because Patchan is out.
- Silberman is listed as the second-string left guard because Koehne is filling in at tackle.
- Taylor is at Mike LB and Morrison at Will LB as reserves but both are interchangeable.
- All four cornerbacks are expected to see 75 percent of the snaps in a particular game.
- Phillips beat out freshman Austin Hardin for the No. 2 kicker job.
- Murphy is the back-up holder after working on that during the fall.

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