Florida baseball ends skid, routs FAMU, FAU

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Despite riding a wave of momentum (and an 11-2 record over the previous 13 games) into their latest weekend series, Florida Gators baseball (27-23, 12-12 SEC) failed its toughest test yet as it was swept on the road while taking on the No. 3 LSU Tigers (43-6, 19-5 SEC). Yet while Florida struggled away from home, the Gators got back into the swing of things as it closed its non-conference schedule this week with a pair of dominant wins over in-state opponents.

LSU snapped Florida’s streak of three-straight SEC series wins, taking all three games over the weekend in Baton Rogue, LA.

In the series opener, the Gators battled but came out on the short end of a 3-2 decision. Tigers ace Aaron Nola silenced his opponent’s bats and tossed his fourth-consecutive complete game in a 5-0 victory that clinched the series for the home team on Friday. Florida tried seven different pitchers in the series finale but none of them could contain LSU in what would eventually become a 18-6 blowout and series sweep.

The ESPNU Thursday Night Game of the Week creates a dilemma for SEC managers. Do you start your ace in game one or let him go Friday night (game two) to keep him in his regular routine? Tigers coach Paul Mainieri saved his top starter, Nola, for Friday, but Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan opted to go with his ace, junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford, in Thursday’s series opener. Crawford (5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) did enough to keep Florida in the game but struggled with his command, only throwing 56 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

Continue Reading » Florida baseball ends skid, routs FAMU, FAU

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FOUR BITS: baseball, McCray, violations, Macklin

1 » No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (11-1) continued their early season dominance, thrashing the visiting Florida Atlantic Owls (8-5) on Tuesday evening at McKethan Stadium. Florida topped FAU 16-1 in the contest, taking a 9-0 lead through two innings and cruising the rest of the way. Freshman left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner got the spot start and picked up the first victory of his young career, striking out three batters while allowing one run (unearned) on three hits in four innings. Junior catcher Mike Zunino (3/3, 5 RBI, 2 R) smacked two home runs in the game, hitting a two-run shot in the first and a three-run bomb in the second. Senior center fielder Tyler Thompson (2/4) added a homer of his own and matched Zunino with five RBIs and two runs. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker (2/4, 2 RBI, 3 R) and freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (2/3, RBI, R) were also efficient from the plate, adding to the Gators’ impressive total. Florida will step back on the diamond Wednesday night when they host Florida A&M at 7 p.m.; the game will air live on Sun Sports (check your local listings).

In other baseball news…freshman designated hitter Taylor Gushue was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday. Gushue hit .400 with two homers, four RBIs and three runs over the weekend in Coral Gables, FL.

2 » The New Orleans Saints are currently under investigation by the NFL league office for maintaining a bounty for hard hits and knockout plays maintained by former defensive coordinator Greg Williams. Williams, a member of the team’s coaching staff from 2009-11, was with the squad for their Super Bowl XLIV season. Also on the team that year was former Gators defensive end Bobby McCray, who had incredible postseason and wound up hitting a pair of veteran quarterbacks – Minnesota’s Brett Favre and Arizona’s Kurt Warner – exceptionally hard in their respective matchups during the playoffs. The NFL fined McCray $25,000 for some of his hits on Favre, including one which caused an eruption on the Saints’ sideline. According to Sports Illustrated, “an on-field microphone directed toward the sideline caught an unidentified defender saying, ‘Pay me my money!’” following the play.

3 » Florida has self-reported a total of 12 secondary violations to the Southeastern Conference since April 2011, the Orlando Sentinel reported on Tuesday. Spread amongst the football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball, volleyball and swimming programs, 10 of the 12 violations included some form of impermissible contact with four instances being incidental pocket dials. Most punishments, whether mandated by the school or convergence, included lengthened non-contact periods with the particular recruits. One notable exception was the women’s basketball team taking part in an “off-campus, team-building exercise” with each player forced to pay $12 for participating and coaches losing two hours of instruction per student.

4 » Power forward Vernon Macklin has not seen much court time this season with the Detroit Pistons as he stuck depth-wise behind four/five other players, but he told the Detroit Free Press this week that he has kept a positive disposition in spite of his not being able to play on a nightly basis. “It’s tough, but it’s not hard to stay focused because I got guys like Ben Wallace and Greg [Monroe] and those guys talking to me a lot and telling me to get my work in,” he told the paper. “It’s not really hard to stay focused. I just got to understand that I’m going through a bump in the road right now. But I’m going to get better and keep on learning, and one day I will be able to play.”

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Gator Bites for Thursday, September 8th

From time to time, OGGOA will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. In these instances, or when stories fall through the cracks, we try to catch them with Gator Bites. Enjoy.

» Remember back in April when Florida Gators forwards junior Erik Murphy and redshirt freshman Cody Larson were arrested for allegedly trying to break into a car? Since then the felony chargers were reduced to misdemeanors for both parties and Murphy accepted a plea deal that netted him fines, community service and a few other minor penalties. Larson’s situation, on the other hand, is not even close to resolved. The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway reports that he will have a Oct. 31 sentencing date to determine what legal action will be taken against him. He had previously entered a not guilty plea but could change it on the day of sentencing. As individual Florida basketball drills begin this week and practice starts on Oct. 15, according to Brockway, Larson’s status remains up in the air. The duo is currently indefinitely suspended from the team, though the expectation is that Murphy will be reinstated now that his legal situation is settled.

» Gators baseball received a commitment Wednesday evening as outfielder Max White chose to continue his career in Gainesville, FL. Also a left-handed pitcher, White is recovering from shoulder surgery and chose Florida over LSU, Central Florida, N.C. State, Maryland and North Florida, according to the Sun. “I have always wanted to play for Florida,” he told the paper. “To be in the situation where all of my hard work could possibly lead me to play for them — that is a great feeling. I just want to keep at it and I especially do not want them UF to see me slack off.”

» Florida head football coach Will Muschamp is known for his fiery demeanor on the sidelines. This fan video shot from the season opener against Florida Atlantic shows a mini-tantrum he threw during the game.

Read the rest of the Gator Bites (and watch four videos) after the break!
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9/3: Gators vs. Owls post-game news & notes

With the No. 22/23 Florida Gators‘ 2011 season opener against the Florida Atlantic Owls now in the books, OGGOA takes a look at some of the notable occurrences before, during and after Saturday’s 41-3 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

ABSENCES AND INJURIES

Perhaps the most important moment of the evening came before the game started when Florida announced that sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was ineligible and would not play. The Gators will not allow Floyd to rejoin the team until he is cleared by the NCAA, and the University of Florida would not immediately provide many specifics.

Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) and redshirt junior wide receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring) were questionable going into the game and wound up inactive. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely (shoulder) ended up playing after it was originally thought he would miss the contest. Sophomore WR Robert Clark (hamstring) did not dress either.

Florida did not escape the Florida Atlantic contest unscathed. Sophomore running back Trey Burton appeared to injure his hip in the first quarter and did not return, likely for precautionary reasons. Redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson, catching a ball low to the ground, suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit that popped his off and left him on the ground holding his head. Thompson rose and left the field under his own power but did not return.

THE DEMPS AND RAINEY SHOW

The Gators’ offense rolled on Saturday due in large part to dominant performances by running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey. The duo combined for 272 yards of offense and five total touchdowns with Rainey grabbing three on a rush, reception and special teams return on a punt block by sophomore WR Solomon Patton.

The pair ran up the middle and off-tackle, caught passes in the flats and were simply all over the field making both explosive cuts (Demps) and awe-inspiring spin moves (Rainey). Demps even ran the opening kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown until it was called back due to a holding penalty.

BRANTLEY’s STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Hoping to shake the rust off and rebound from a rough first season as a starter, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley played quite well on Saturday, completing 21-of-30 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown. However, Brantley also threw two interceptions in the contest. His first was tipped and eventually brought down, but his second was picked off in the end zone as he tried to fit the ball into traffic for a touchdown.

Florida’s offense, though dynamic, did not go deep into the playbook on Saturday and many of Brantley’s completions were on short passes. That being said, he also made some impressive throws and definitely showed an increased level of confidence, something he can improve on each week.

SECONDARY YOUNG BUT DEFENSE STOUT

Not only did the Gators hold the Owls to three points, they barely let them move the ball until the game was already over. Florida held FAU to just 30 rushing yards and 137 yards of total offense on Saturday. Though UF did not achieve any turnovers in the contest, they succeeded in turning a first-and-goal from the four into a 27-yard field goal and did not let Florida Atlantic capitalize on either of the other two interceptions they grabbed.

The young secondary – consisting of safeties sophomore Matt Elam and freshman De’Ante Saunders as well as cornerbacks sophomore Jaylen Watkins, sophomore Cody Riggs and freshman Marcus Roberson – played well but did make some mistakes.

Redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard and sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell each had a sack, while redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins led the Gators with five total tackles including a powerful hit felt by the entire stadium. Elam, Howard and redshirt junior LB Lerentee McCray each had four tackles.

OTHER NOTES

» Muschamp said after the game that Florida’s blue jerseys would be their standard going forward but that seniors on the team wanted to wear the orange on opening night. A Gainesville, FL native himself, Muschamp often used to see the Gators don orange jerseys at The Swamp.

» Redshirt senior transfer Dan Wenger started at left guard ahead of redshirt sophomore Kyle Koehne and redshirt freshman Chaz Green began the game at right tackle instead of redshirt junior Matt Patchan.

» Florida honored soccer stars Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts of the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team during a break in the first quarter. The crowd chanted “U-S-A” for the duo, which has been in Gainesville all weekend.

» Former safety Ahmad Black, who was waived by Tampa Bay on Saturday, was on the sideline for the game. Former defensive end Kevin Carter was an honorary captain.

» The Gators sold out 137 consecutive home games before Saturday’s contest, which was only filled with 88,708 fans, according to UF.

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Gators chomp Owls 41-3 in Muschamp’s debut

No one really doubted that the No. 22/23 Florida Gators would take down the Florida Atlantic Owls on Saturday evening at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL. The question was how Florida’s offense and entire team would look in its first game since former head coach Urban Meyer resigned.

Will Muschamp’s new squad got off to a quick start, overwhelming Florida Atlantic on both sides of the ball and eventually capturing a 41-3 victory.

The Gators started out with an explosive kickoff return for a touchdown by senior running back Jeff Demps; unfortunately it was called back due to a holding penalty and the team had to start from scratch. They subsequently drove the ball down the field, but a snap over the head of redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley eliminated some of their gains and forced redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis to kick a 51-yard field goal, which he made.

After forcing a three-and-out, Florida completed a 12-play, 67-yard drive that ended with Brantley tossing a 14-yard swing pass to redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey for his first of three touchdowns Saturday.

The Owls did not run more than three plays in a series in their first four possessions, allowing the Gators to get the ball back quickly and put more points on the board. A 35-yard run by Demps on the first play of the second quarter resulted in Florida’s second touchdown of the game, and a thrilling 14-yard touchdown run including a dynamic spin move by Rainey capped a nine-play, 91-yard drive.

UF’s victory was not without a few mistakes. Freshman QB Jeff Driskel, inserted late in the second quarter for Brantley, sailed a ball for an interception on his first career pass. FAU drove the ball inside the five but was pushed back and settled for a 27-yard field goal. On the Gators’ subsequent possession, Brantley had a pass tipped for a pick but Florida Atlantic missed a 34-yard attempt and the half ended with Florida leading 24-3.

Putting a drive together to start the third quarter, the Owls got four first downs but were forced to punt at midfield. Sophomore wide receiver Solomon Patton was able to block the attempt, and Rainey picked it up, returning it all the way for the touchdown. With the score, he became just the third player in the country since 1996 to notch a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in the same game.

Again threatening to score late in the third quarter, the Gators failed to do so after committing their third turnover of the evening. Brantley – via multiple completions to Demps and Rainey and a few stellar rushes by the same two players – drove Florida from their 14 to FAU’s six. However, on first and goal, he was picked off in the back of end zone trying to fit the ball into traffic.

Forcing a punt to start the fourth, the Gators began taking it to the Owls again. Brantley’s 17-yard pass on third-and-seven to redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson kept the drive alive, and Demps’s 20-yard rushing touchdown completed Florida’s 78-yard series.

Eleven total players caught passes from Brantley and Driskel, the latter of whom returned late in the fourth quarter and led the team on a 10-play, 52-yard drive capped by a 29-yard field goal by Sturgis.

Demps and Rainey were dominant all game, combining for 272 yards of offense and five total touchdowns. Brantley finished 21/30 for 229 yards and one touchdown, but his two interceptions – including one negating a scoring opportunity – will certainly be a concern for offensive coordinator Charlie Weis heading into preparations for next week.

The Gators posted 468 yards of offense Saturday compared to only 137 from the Owls. (UF outgained FAU 264-62 in the first half alone.)

The announced attendance of 88,708 broke the University of Florida’s 137-game sellout streak, but Florida did win their 22nd straight season opener.

Florida Atlantic head coach Howard Schnellenberger, who will retire at the end of this season after a storied career, lost his fifth-straight game in Gainesville and has not led his team to victory at Florida Field since 1983 (31 years).

The Gators will remain at home for their next contest, a 7 p.m. showdown with Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 10. The game will air live on FSN.

Check back with us later for news, notes and quotes following the game.

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No. 22 Florida Gators vs. FAU Owls Gameday

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather Forecast: 72°F, partly cloudy
Time: 7:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPNU/ESPNUHD
SiriusXM: 205
Online Audio: GatorVision.tv
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(22) FLORIDA GATORS FLORIDA ATLANTIC OWLS
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Howard Schnellenberger
Record: 0-0 Record: 0-0
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Sun Belt
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -34.5; O/U 50

HOMEWORK

Need to catch up on the Gators after a long offseason? No problem. OGGOA has been here the entire time. Check out the links below and do your homework on the team’s offseason before the final exam Saturday evening.

Latest depth chart | Weis comments on offense | Quinn comments on defense

ESPN COLLEGE GAMEDAY

As first reported by OGGOA last Friday, former Florida dazzler now ESPN reporter Erin Andrews was in Gainesville, FL on Monday to interview Muschamp. The segment will air live on College GameDay (which starts at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN) and will be followed by a discussion between Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso about Muschamp and what impact he will have on the team in 2011 and going forward.

A clip of Andrews’s interview with Muschamp is available below:

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is 1-0 in the all-time series against Florida Atlantic, defeating them 59-20 in 2007, the only time the teams squared off.
» The Gators have never lost a game against a current member of the Sun Belt and are 13-0 against such opponents.
» Florida is 77-27 all-time to start the season and 62-6 in the friendly confines of Florida Field. The Gators have won 21 consecutive season openers, the second-longest streak in the country (Nebraska, 25) and best in the SEC by 10 games.
» Muschamp will take the field with Florida as the team’s head coach for the first time on Saturday. He has never served as a head coach on the collegiate level before and, at 40-years-old, is the second-youngest to hold said position in the SEC (Dan Mullen, 39).
» On the other side, Schnellenberger will be beginning his 27th year at the helm of a college football program – his last as he will retire at the conclusion of the 2011 season. He is 157-140-3 all-time and 57-63 at FAU since taking over the team 11 years ago.
» After defeating the Gators the first three times he faced them with Miami (1979-81), Schnellenberger has failed to notch another win. All four of his losses (1982, 1983, 1992, 2007) were games played in Gainesville, where he has not won in 31 years.
» The Gators’ have half as many upperclassmen (17 seniors, 17 juniors) as they do underclassmen (36 sophomores, 35 freshmen) on the roster heading into the season.
» Florida has won 88 percent of its home games (117-16) since 1990, the best home winning percentage in the nation. In that period, the Gators are 55-4 against non-conference opponents and 92-4 against unranked teams.

LAST TIME OUT

Florida and Florida Atlantic have only met on one other occasion – Nov. 17, 2007 – when the Gators stomped the Owls 59-20. Quarterback Tim Tebow went 25/34 for 338 yards with three touchdowns and an interception through the air and also rushed 11 times for 31 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Andre Caldwell did most of the receiving with 13 catches for 164 yards, but tight end Cornelius Ingram corralled a pair of touchdowns and 60 receiving yards. After UF scored 21 unanswered points in the first quarter, FAU answered back with 13 points to start the second quarter. However, the Gators outscored the Owls 38-7 the rest of the way to hold on for the victory.

INJURIES

» Active: Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (back)
» Questionable: Redshirt junior cornberback Jeremy Brown (knee), redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley (shoulder), redshirt junior receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring)
» Inactive: Freshman tight end A.C. Leonard (torn meniscus)

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

FLORIDA
» Brantley…who completed only 60.8 percent of his passes (200-of-329) for 2,061 yards with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2010 butis said to have been revitalized by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’s pro-style system.
» Running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey…who are co-starters in the backfield and two of the most dynamic and explosive players in the SEC. Demps and Rainey, both of whom missed game time in 2010, combined for 917 rushing yards (6.4 yards per carry) and five touchdowns on the ground as well as 332 receiving yards and three scores through the air.
» Sophomore Trey Burton…who is the team’s most versatile player and proved that fact last year, scoring 12 touchdowns as a true freshman including 11 on the ground. Burton will line up all over the field for the Gators and could be found as a running back, fullback, H-back, tight end or wide receiver.
» Sophomore safety Matt Elam…who stood out all offseason as the most valuable member of Florida’s secondary. Elam played in all 13 games in 2010 and is looking to make a name for himself this year.
» Sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell…who steps into a brand new position somewhat unique to Muschamp’s defense. Powell only started one game as a true freshman but will be entrenched from the get-go in 2011 as a hybrid player.
» Sophomore defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd…who is a defensive tackle but moved to defensive end this year to help the team. Floyd also started one game as a true freshman but plenty of pressure on his massive shoulders as a full-time starter in 2011.
» Redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard…who is the man in the middle for the Gators and is the most experienced player (17 starts) on his side of the ball.
» Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturigs…who returns for Florida after missing the final eight games of the 2010 season with an injured back. His consistency on special teams should help the Gators be more confident overall.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC
» RB Alfred Morris…who was the team’s leading rusher in 2010 with 928 yards and seven TDs. A redshirt senior, Morris is being counted on as the Owls’ primary playmaker.
» QBs Graham Wilbert…who will make his first start for FAU. The signal caller battled for his job all spring and summer but is very inexperienced only having thrown five passes in his college career.

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8/31: Rainey, Elam, Harrison speak about Gators

With the Florida Gators beginning weekly preparations for their first game on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing.

RAINEY READY TO RUN

Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey has shown flashes of his immense talent throughout his career. After sitting out a few games last season, Rainey got the chance to rejoin he team and prove that he can be effective and dynamic. Starting the 2011 season with a more mature mindset, he is ready to contribute even more to the Gators offense. “I see everything like a man. I do everything [more] professional,” Rainey said when explaining how his mindset has changed. “[I] think first. I would do something before I [thought] about it [before].”

He is also excited about the team’s pro-style offense, which he said is similar to the one he ran in high school. “It’s been a long time since we were playing and we’re in an offense that I love and I can’t wait to perform,” he said, noting that he will spend “a lot” of time in the backfield with senior RB Jeff Demps. “Everybody going to get the ball in this offense.” Asked if he enjoys getting the ball deeper in the backfield, Rainey laughed. “I feel super-good, great,” he said. “You can see the whole field, so you know how the scheme works, where to cut and stuff like that.”

UNKNOWN STARTERS MAKE ELAM UNCOMFORTABLE

As the only sure-fire starter in the secondary at this point, sophomore safety Matt Elam has a lot of responsibilities going into the season. Not only is he being counted on to perform at a high level game-in and game-out, he is also looked to as a leader by all of the freshman playing beside him in the secondary. “I really don’t have a choice but to be comfortable with [being a leader] because we’re young in the secondary,” he said. “A lot of people look up to me, so I have to abide by the rules basically and do my job. [...] It was a very difficult role because I wasn’t used to that, but every day I try to get better. I’m getting better every day. I was always the quiet guy, but something had to grow out of me.”

One of two players who will start at safety in the season opener, Elam still does not know who is going to play next to him but would certainly like to sooner than later. “It’s hard not knowing who is going to play besides you, but I just continue to push the other players so they can get better. I want to feel comfortable,” he said. “It’s basically feeling comfortable. Knowing the person next to you, knowing what kind of plays he’s used to doing and what he’s great at and things like that. [...] It could be a problem because you’re not used to playing with each other. You always have to have set starters so you can be comfortable. It can also help with energy; you get more energy and more enthusiasm with more people rotating in, fresh legs and stuff like that.”

HARRISON ACCEPTS THE PRESSURE

Moved over to a new position in the spring, redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison knows he will have to succeed as the man in the middle in order for Florida’s offense to work this year. The first player to start at center without the last name Pouncey in quite some time, Harrison accepts the pressure that comes with snapping the ball each play and is ready to take it head-on. “There should always be some kind of pressure to be a starter on a team, especially a team like the Florida Gators,” he said. “There is some pressure, but you just have to live up to the high expectations. To start on a team, especially in the SEC, there will always be pressure to be a starter.”

Discussing snapping the ball in particular, Harrison said that there obviously was an adjustment period for him but all of that has been worked out with time and practice and he can do it now without any miscues. “When I initially moved to center, I was having a little transition with the snaps and everything,” he explained. “Now I’m fine. We’ve got a lot of extra practice in and a lot of extra snaps after practice.”

Should he not perform, Harrison is aware that his job could be snatched up quickly. “Positions change day-by-day,” he said. “Whoever performs the best – the best five will play. Every day is a chance to get better, every day you got to perform at your best.” That mindset comes from offensive line coach Frank Verducci, who is forcing the players to play up to the level he wants on a practice-by-practice basis. “He has high expectations for all of his offensive linemen. If we meet or beat his expectations than he’s fine, but if he feels like we’re not living up to the expectations he set – that’s when he starts to get upset,” Harrison said. “If he has to, he will [get in your face]. He will do whatever he has to do to get the best offensive line.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Rainey on how head coach Will Muschamp has changed this week: “[He’s] more aggressive. He wants everybody to be mentally tough, focused and no putting around. It’s game week.”

» Rainey said all of the linebackers and defensive linemen hit hard but redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins is probably the hardest hitter on the team from his experience.

» Elam on freshman De’Ante “Pop” Saunders moving to safety: “Pop’s been doing great. I didn’t expect him to do so well because he’s never played the position, but Pop has been doing good.” He added that Saunders’s size is not an issue for the position.

» Elam on tackling redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed: “It’s very hard to cover and tackle Jordan Reed. He’s a very great player. He makes me better every day, and I make him better.”

» Elam on his excitement level heading into this season: “I’m way more excited because I have a lot more on the line, a bigger role and a lot of weight on my shoulders. That’s why I’m so excited.”

» Harrison on his expectations for the first game: “I would just like to see both offense and defense running as smooth as possible. I’d like to see all of us coming together and meshing as a team. We’ve been going against each other all through camp, so now it’s time to actually bring it together as a team and compete against other opponents.”

» Harrison on being ready to hit somebody: “I’m dying to. I’ve been itching to since Penn State.”

» Harrison confirmed what others have said, that the offensive line is very close both on and off the field. He said that the players being close in age has helped them communicate better and their friendship has really helped their production on the field.

» Harrison on redshirt senior transfer guard/center Dan Wenger: “He’s actually helped a lot. He’s been around the offense for five years going on his sixth year right now. He’s been able to point out little things that maybe the coach could not relate to us as well. He’s been able to help us out with that and it’s really helped the offense.”

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8/30: Riggs competing, respect for FAU, Jenkins leading, Reed blocking, Dunbar’s opening

With the Florida Gators beginning weekly preparations for their first game on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Tuesday to discuss how the team is progressing.

RIGGS READY FOR HIS SECOND SEASON

By all accounts, sophomore cornerback Cody Riggs played well as a freshman in 2010, but that does not mean there was nothing for him to improve going into his second year. Specifically, Riggs noted Tuesday that he made it a point to gain some significant weight in order to be a tougher player for wide receivers to get open against. “I’ve gotten more physical this year. I’ve also put on some weight so I’m able to handle bigger receivers,” he said. “I put on 15 pounds since last year. I’ve gotten stronger in the weight room and on the field it’s showing.”

Citing his game experience from last season and his tenacity for trying to improve each and every practice, Riggs still believes he has a shot to earn a starting role in Saturday’s season opener against the Florida Atlantic Owls. “It’s all up for grabs,” he said. “It’s up to Coach [Will] Muschamp whoever starts this week.” He does admit, however, that some of the younger players at his position are doing well and can be relatively interchangeable when necessary. “We have a lot of talent back there,” he said. “If someone goes down, the next person comes in and we’re not going to miss a beat.”

Riggs, who prides himself “on bothering receivers up and down the field,” also believes the secondary as a whole will be making plenty of plays throughout the year. “We get after the ball a lot in practice,” he said. “We just try to make as many plays as possible. Whenever the ball is our way, we just try to make a play on it.”

PLAYERS RESPECT FLORIDA ATLANTIC’s ABILITY

Though FAU’s own head coach, Howard Schnellenberger, admitted Monday that his team is probably not going to win Saturday’s game against Florida, the players on the home team see things a bit differently. To them, the Owls are just like any other opponent that they will have to play at the top of their game to take down.

“I have a lot of respect for their team and the way they play,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. “They’re a hard-nosed team and they like to run the ball. They’re not going to come in here afraid of us, so we’re going to have to play to our best to beat them.” Redshirt freshman wide receiver Quinton Dunbar co-signed Jenkins’s thoughts. “They got pretty good athletes,” he said. “I feel like they got nice size, nice corners, so we just got to come out and play our game. We can’t slack on them.”

JENKINS LEARNING TO BECOME MORE VOCAL

With a relatively quiet demeanor off the field, Jenkins has been forced to have a loud voice on the field not only to direct his team during the game but also to help lead a defense filled with a lot of younger players. He says the transformation has not been “too difficult” for him to undergo this year. “We have a lot of checks, we have a lot of signals as a defense that force you to be vocal,” he said. “You’re always talking out there, always communicating, so it hasn’t been that difficult. [...] People count on you on the field to make a lot of calls, even off the field they’re always listening to you. The more you know the defense, the more you’re talking always helping each other out.”

LEARNING TO LOVE BLOCKING

When redshirt sophomore Jordan Reed was finally named a full-time tight end, he envisioned catching plenty of passes, making some great plays and hauling in some receptions for touchdowns. There was one part of his duties, however, that has been the toughest for him to learn thus far. “Blocking. I was a quarterback before, so I never had to be physical,” he said. “Now I’m learning to block and everything, so that’s probably [been] the hardest. I don’t think anybody likes blocking. You got to learn to love it, but you’re never going to like it.”

It is a good thing that Reed is learning to block well because offensive coordinator Charlie Weis loves to feature the tight end in his offense, something Reed is perfectly aware of. “From what I heard from the past about his offenses, I knew that he used the tight end a lot, so I was pretty excited,” Reed said of Weis agreeing to let him play it full-time. “I just got to go out there and make plays. Hopefully he’ll try to get me the ball.”

REDSHIRT FRESHMAN SENSATION’s TIME TO SHINE?

Dunbar’s name has popped up over and over again throughout the offseason as the player who has stepped up the most during practice and training camp. He showed some flashes of his ability during the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut in the spring and is ready to contribute this year however he is needed. “Deep passes come into play,” he said, “but I’m an overall receiver – short, deep, medium – it doesn’t matter. I’ve been working on every route.”

Speaking about both the offense of himself and his personal goals, Dunbar believes the season opener can do a lot of good for the Gators. “[We just have to] come out clicking, with great timing, doing good to get ready for the season,” he said. “Personally for myself, it’s just to get one game under my belt, get game action and get used to game speed.”

He also discussed the advantages of having Weis on the field this year as opposed to up in a box watching the game from above. “He’s closer to the field so he can see some things out there that he probably can’t see from the box. That’s probably a big advantage,” Dunbar said. “This is a new offense, so [he can] continue to show us things during the game. It’s very helpful. If I see something out there that I don’t understand, I see the offensive coordinator there so I can ask him.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Riggs on redshirt junior CB Jeremy Brown (knee) missing time: “I’m sure it hurts him a lot. Jeremy’s a great player and we miss him a lot.”

» Riggs on Muschamp’s demeanor this week: “Still as fired up as always. He’s always trying to make us better.”

» Dunbar said that Weis is “an aggressive coach but at the same time he teaches you.” He recounted being yelled at by Weis a few times and said he usually makes a confused face that sometimes gets him even angrier.

» Reed said he was able to knock down redshirt sophomore LB Dee Finely once during spring practice. “It felt good,” he said, “but not better than catching the ball.”

» Reed said the offense is using “a lot” of two tight end sets with redshirt freshman Gerald Christian playing opposite him.

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