2014 SEC Media Days – Will Muschamp pleased Florida’s roster, progress made in spring

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III represented the team on Monday by participating in the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.

Below are highlights primarily from Muschamp’s sessions with the media.

BETTER THAN EXPECTED

If anyone is to believe in the possibility of Florida turning things around in 2014, rebounding from its worst season since 1979, it is going to start on the offensive side of the ball. Muschamp knew this and brought in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to employ a spread offense and make the Gators a more dynamic playmaking team.

Not only will Roper’s offense put redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel back in the shotgun, where he is more comfortable and capable, it should give Florida more space to make plays. Muschamp is already extremely impressed with how much UF has been able to get accomplished in such a short period of time.

“I went back and looked at our numbers from 2012 when we were in the shotgun as opposed to being under center. When Jeff was in the shotgun, our yards were better, our explosive plays were better in both the run and pass game. He was recruited to Florida to be a gun quarterback,” he explained.

“In making that change, I felt like Kurt Roper was a great hire for us from a standpoint of a guy that philosophically is on the same page with me as what we want to be, that’s a balanced offense. …

“In our 15 days of springs, we got a lot more done than I thought we would. He’s an outstanding fundamental football coach, very positive. It was good to see our offensive kids having fun again on the field. Really excited about that. Probably what excites me the most is this is probably the most talent we’ve had on offense in my four years at Florida.”

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Defensive line shake-up working well for Gators

It was no surprise when the Florida Gators defensive line struggled last season after defensive tackle Dominique Easley, the star of the unit and a leader on the team, went down with a torn ACL during a late September practice.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp tried to fill in the gaps the best he could, but the Gators had issues stopping the run, getting to the quarterback or doing much of anything at times with their defensive front seven.

So while the offense is in the middle of an overhaul under new coordinator Kurt Roper, Muschamp and defensive line coach Brad Lawing are tweaking a unit that must make significant improvements if Florida is going to have substantial success in 2014.

Before the Gators could begin improving came the realization that they would have to do so without redshirt senior Leon Orr, who is not expected to be cleared until May 1 as he recovers from a fractured wrist he suffered last season.

Filling in for him on the interior is junior Jonathan Bullard, a defensive end who played some tackle in 2013 despite not actually having the desire to switch positions. Bullard admitted Tuesday that he was frustrated when Muschamp asked him to move inside because he had never played the position before and felt like his production would significantly decrease (which it ultimately did).

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Gators 2014 Spring Football Preview: Defense

Spring practice for the Florida Gators football program begins on Wednesday, March 19 and lasts for 15 practices concluding with the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut spring game on Saturday, April 12. Below is the first of OnlyGators.com‘s two-part series that takes a look at the team on a position-by-position basis.

PART ONE: Offense

Due to extensive team injuries, more players started for Florida at times in 2013 than normal. In this case, the term “starter” is being used as applicable per position.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt senior Leon Orr
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshmen Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick, sophomore Joey Ivie

Losing Dominique Easley so early in the season gave senior Darious “Bear” Cummings more field time than he likely would’ve had during his first year with the program as a transfer from East Mississippi. So while Florida will only be entering 2014 with one returning starter in Orr, who should be primed to finally put everything together at nose in his final season with the team, Cummings may also be poised to have a breakout year if everything lines up correctly. Ivie was on his way to a redshirt before having it pulled due to depth concerns; he saw action in three of the final games. Brantley and Bostwick, on the other hand, were able to go the distance without seeing the field in 2013. Both are expected to be major contributors this year with head coach Will Muschamp mentioning more than once last season that he was on the verge of pulling Bostwick’s redshirt and getting him some playing time.

DEFENSIVE ENDS
Returning starters (2/2): Juniors Dante Fowler, Jr. and Jonathan Bullard
Fresh faces: Redshirt sophomore Alex McCalister, redshirt freshman Jordan Sherit

Fowler returns as Florida’s starter at the hybrid Buck linebacker/defensive end spot after leading the Gators with 10.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in 2013. He also checked in second on the team with 3.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries, amassing 50 total tackles in the process. Bullard was unable to find much of a groove at end – he rotated in at tackle on occasion – but still managed to be productive; he should be even more so this year as a matured junior. Neither McCalister, who entered the season with high praise from the coaching staff, nor classmate Brian Cox, Jr. saw much action last season, and Sherit (torn meniscus) wound up not stepping foot on the field in 2014. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing will have his work cut out for him not only helping his starters improve but coming up with a solid second-string to spell them at times.

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Muschamp updates Gators injuries, filling voids

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Wednesday primarily to discuss the new recruiting class on National Signing Day, but he also touched on a number of issues concerning the team with six weeks to go until the start of spring practice on March 19 ahead of the 2014 season.

INJURED STARTERS STILL ON THE MEND

The Gators’ rash of season-ending injuries last season was highlighted by two big losses on the offensive side of the ball – redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (fibula) and junior Matt Jones (knee).

While Driskel is slowly but surely working his way back – Muschamp noted that he has resumed jogging and is expected to be cleared for the start of spring practice – Jones on Wednesday went under the knife for the second of potentially three surgeries to repair a complete radial tear of his meniscus.

Doctors have told Muschamp that Jones’s meniscus was already “90 percent healed,” which puts him “further along” than the initial projection for his return, but he will not be able to suit up in March and remains on target to get back to work in the summer.

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Breaking down Florida’s blunders vs. Georgia

Outcomes of football games often swing based on a player’s action, coaching decision or officiating call, but the Florida Gators on Saturday seemed to waste more than the normal amount of opportunities before eventually falling 23-20 to the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL.

FIRST QUARTER

Opportunity: Establish momentum at the start of the game with a scoring drive.
Result: Georgia leads 7-0 after a seven-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 2:45

Breakdown: Florida won the coin toss, and head coach Will Muschamp deferred possession until the second half for the third-straight game. For the second consecutive game, UF’s opponent took that opportunity to march right down the field and score a touchdown. Though the Gators’ defense has played its worst at the start of games all season – and the team is just 8-7 under Muschamp when an opponent scores first – Florida still gave its opponent the chance to establish momentum rather than keeping that team’s strength off the field to start the game.

Opportunity: Negate UGA’s touchdown by answering immediately after reaching the red zone following an 83-yard completion from redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy to redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar – UF’s longest offensive play since 2011.
Result: Florida does not score

Breakdown: Down at the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line, the Gators ran the ball, threw incomplete on a short pass and ran the option on 3rd-and-Goal from the 10 instead of at least trying to throw into the end zone. At the end of the failed option run, which only gained two yards, redshirt senior WR Solomon Patton picked up a personal foul that pushed Florida back to the Georgia 23. A more manageable 25-yard field goal became a 40-yard try that redshirt junior walk-on kicker Frankie Velez shanked right.

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Tigers outwork Gators 17-6 in Baton Rouge

The No. 17/17 Florida Gators (4-2, 3-1 SEC) got a taste of their own medicine at the hands of the No. 10/10 LSU Tigers (6-1, 3-1 SEC), which dominated both lines of scrimmage and thoroughly outworked the visitors on the way to a 17-6 victory at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA, on Saturday.

LSU outgained Florida 327-239 on offense, racking up more yards on the Gators in a single game than any other team this season. The Tigers also converted 5-of-9 third down attempts and held UF to a paltry 109 rushing yards on 40 carries.

While Florida redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy was pressured all day long and even sacked four times, LSU signal caller Zach Mettenberger was not taken down once on the afternoon. He gained chunk yardage on UF’s cornerbacks by completing a number of nice passes and racked up more yards on nine completions (152) than Murphy registered on 15 connections (116).

Florida deferred the opening kickoff but still struck first, putting three points on the board at the conclusion of a 14-play, 60-yard drive that started at UF’s 13-yard line, ended at LSU’s 27 and lasted 7:27. Redshirt junior walk-on kicker Frankie Velez connected on a 44-yard field goal, the first of his career and longest for the Gators this season.

LSU did not take long to answer back as Mettenberger completed passes of 17 and 26 yards – and benefited from a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on UF junior defensive tackle Darious Cummings – to move the ball to the visitors’ 12-yard line.

A pass interference call on redshirt junior safety Cody Riggs gave the Tigers a second chance to punch it in the end zone, and they responded with a short touchdown to go up 7-3 just four ticks into the second quarter.

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Gators DT Cummings replacing the irreplaceable

A junior college transfer, defensive tackle Darious Cummings was always confident in his ability and chose the Florida Gators as his new team because there was an opportunity presented to see the field immediately if he proved himself in practice.

He just didn’t think he’d be playing this much.

With senior DT Dominique Easley sidelined for the remainder of the 2013 season after tearing his ACL in practice on Sept. 24, Cummings was penciled into his spot on the first-string defensive line and has stepped up in a major way.

Though he was noticeably absent from making notable plays against Kentucky two weeks ago, Cummings made some notable plays and finished Florida’s 30-10 win over Arkansas with a forced fumble, tackle for loss and quarterback hit.

He may not be an exact replacement for Ealsey, who was projected as a potential first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft before going down with his injury, but Cummings is doing what he can to help lessen the impact of his teammate’s absence.

“Coach [Will] Muschamp actually kind of challenged us after Easley went down. He said somebody needs to step up and somebody needs to fill that void. I kind of felt like I took it upon myself because that’s why I was brought here, to replace people and step up,” Cummings said. “So I just took it upon myself to get better week in and week out.”

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10/7: Muschamp recaps Arkansas, previews LSU

No. 17/17 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss Saturday’s 30-10 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks and his team’s upcoming road contest against the No. 11/10 LSU Tigers on Saturday, Oct. 12. The contest will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and air live on CBS.

WEEKLY AWARDS

Offensive Players of the Game: Senior wide receiver Solomon Patton
“He’s playing at a high level, creating plays after the catch. … Really proud of Solomon and how he’s playing. He’s a great young man, works extremely hard, has really dedicated himself to developing himself as a receiver and certainly is getting great results.”

Scrap Iron: Redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia
“Max is a smart guy. … Max is pretty solid all over. He was a guy that did a lot of things well for us. He can play left tackle, he can play multiple positions. He’s been a really good fit for us.”

Big Plays (Offense): Patton, senior WR Trey Burton, redshirt junior WR Quinton Dunbar, sophomore running back Matt Jones, redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy

Defensive Players of the Week: Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy
Purifoy was also named SEC Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.

Ball Hawks: Purifoy, junior defensive tackle Darious Cummings, sophomore Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., redshirt junior LB Michael Taylor

Hard Hat: Freshman LB Jarrad Davis

Special Teams Player of the Week: Senior safety Jaylen Watkins

COULD MUSCHAMP HANDLE THE DEFENSE ALLOWING 50 POINTS?

LSU’s suddenly impressive offense has registered some huge outputs in its first six games of 2013 (including three SEC contests).

The Tigers scored 35 and 59 points in respective victories over Auburn and Mississippi State and also posted 41 points in a loss to Georgia.

Asked Monday if he would be able to handle his defense coughing up that many points, Muschamp explained that it would have been a concern for him in the past but now all he cares about is leaving each game victorious.

“As long as we win, I don’t care what happens. I’ll be honest with you. I got real caught up with all of that stuff when I was a coordinator. But I’m a head coach. I want to win. If it takes 51-50, let’s go,” he said. Watch the film on Sunday and we’ll figure out what we need to do to get better.

“But I can tell you right now, I used to grab the stat sheets when I was a coordinator. Not anymore. There’s one stat that matters and that’s winning. Do what you got to do to win games. It’s hard enough on Saturday afternoon to worry about all that other stuff. Just do what you got to do to win.”

Fowler concurred that winning is most important to Muschamp but was honestly concerned with the possibilities of what could potentially happen if the Gators gave up that many points in a single game.

“He’ll be happy that we won, but 50 points? Nah, he wouldn’t be happy with that,” he said. “Oh, no, not 50 points. Even if we win, I’ll have a nightmare. Scared. Jesus. No. … I don’t even know how he would physically handle that. I honestly don’t know what would happen. I wouldn’t want to know. That would be crazy.”

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