Two Gators practicing for 2012 Senior Bowl

Two players representing the Florida Gators are currently in Mobile, AL practicing for 2012 Senior Bowl. Weigh-ins and the first day of practice took place on Monday, additional practices will take place Tuesday-Thursday, a walk-through will occur Friday and the game will be played at 3 p.m. on Saturday airing live on NFL Network.

Running back Chris Rainey, playing for the South team, checked in at 5’8 3/8″ and 178 lbs. with 9 1/2 in. hands, a 30 3/4 in. arm length and a 72 1/4 in. wingspan.

Rainey is seeing time as a rusher, wide receiver and kick returner and told the Idaho Statesman that the game will not be close. “I’m glad to be part of this. I just know it’s going to be a blowout this Saturday,” he said.

According to CBS Sports, he was also the only player singled out and praised by head coach Mike Shanahan on Tuesday. Shanahan that he was “just impressed with the way he’s handling himself the first couple of days. [...] He’s picked things up very quickly. You’re never really sure how people adapt to a system. And I’m not his agent, but I do want a little piece of the action.”

Rainey has signed with Joel Segal of Lagardere Unlimited, the agency that also represents all of his former Lakeland teammates including Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh), Mike Pouncey (Miami) and Ahmad Black (Tampa Bay) as well as a bevy of other Gators in the NFL.

South team defensive tackle Jaye Howard also caught the eyes of a number of scouts and general managers over the first three days after coming in at 6’3″ and 292 lbs. with 10 1/8 in. hands, 32 1/8 in. arms and a 78 3/8 in. wingspan.

Signed with Drew Rosenhaus of Rosenhaus Sports Representation, Howard is trying to make his way up draft boards. SI.com‘s Tony Pauline was impressed with his efforts Tuesday, saying he “made several nice plays” and noticably “fires off the snap and is able to penetrate the line of scrimmage.”

Former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who spent last season with North Alabama and has signed with Ben Dogra of Creative Artists Agency, came in at 5/9 6/8″ and 191 lbs. with 8 1/4 in. hands, 30 3/8 in. arms and a 74 1/4 in. wingspan.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock’s No. 2 cornerback available in the 2012 NFL Draft, Jenkins is trying to prove that his character concerns are a thing of the past in order to make his way into the bottom of the first round.

“I just go in, that’s who I am, tell them what happened and be honest,” Jenkins said when speaking with reporters, according to the Dallas Morning News. “I did it. I made a mistake. I take full responsibility for it. [...] I’m sure I’ll have to deal with it, but I’m looking forward to it. I don’t have nothing to hide. I just go in and they ask me the questions and I give it to them and I’m honest and I look them in the eye and talk to them and let them know that I am honest and I learned from my mistakes.”

His performance so far in practice for the South team may go a long way towards him accomplishing that goal. “He’s fast, easily stays downfield with opponents and [...] looks as though his ball skills have improved. Scouts have to be thinking first round for Jenkins after his performance,” Pauline explained.

Jenkins has already interviewed with a mystery team, Minnesota, Oakland, Dallas and Miami, the latter of which also met with Rainey at the Senior Bowl.

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Mel Kiper on Florida Gators in 2012 NFL Draft

ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. spoke on a conference call Thursday, taking an early look at the 2012 NFL Draft and where he expects players across the nation to be slotted.

Asked about players coming into the league from the Florida Gators this year, Kiper expects running back Chris Rainey to be the highest pick but says he is unlikely to be selected before the fourth round.

“Florida right now is looking at guys that are figuring on day three of the draft,” he said. “Rainey is an interesting guy because he has speed and has got some versatility. He certainly could fit what a team is looking for in the fourth round area.”

The rest of available Gators – notably defensive tackle Jaye Howard and quarterback John Brantley – Kiper believes will be picked in rounds 5-7 depending how they perform at Pro Day and the 2012 NFL Combine.

“Howard right now I have as the 12th highest-rated defensive tackle and that was before the juniors came in,” he said. “That would push him down between say 17 and 23, which pushes him into the late-round category.”

Kiper has Brantley as the No. 15 quarterback overall and says that his inability to show any major strides this season is the reason he will not be picked higher if at all.

“He never developed into the quarterback he was hyped to be,” he explained. “We all heard about John Brantley coming through. He was going to be coming over off of [Tim] Tebow. He was going to be the pure passer. He was going to be the guy that was going to get that passing game going. You never saw any indications of him being an early round pick. He just didn’t perform to that level.

“Obviously he did not have great talent around him to the level that Florida has had in past years. We know that. The guys up front and certainly the guys at the skill positions even though they did have [Jeff] Demps and Rainey and some other kids that have ability. You never saw any indication that Brantley was going to take that next step and put himself in the mix with the first-second-third-round quarterbacks.”

Other UF players available for selection in the draft include defensive end William Green, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and center/guard Dan Wenger.

Kiper’s highest-rated player with any ties to Florida is North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. He believes Jenkins “looked like a first-rounder” while playing for the Gators and continued to play up to that level this season.

If there were no character concerns, Kiper thinks Jenkins could have been selected in the middle of the first round. Now he will have to fight to be among the first 32 picks.

“When you look at Jenkins, I’d say right now early- to mid-second with a chance of moving into the late first if he maximizes the next three months,” Kiper said. “But right now I’m projecting him as a kid that goes between 33 and 42.”

Kiper, who had thrown some positive comments Tebow’s way during the 2011-12 NFL season, found an opportunity to reaffirm his original stance on the Denver Broncos quarterback when discussing why he never wavered from believing Robert Griffin III would be a quarterback at the next level.

“I know I’ve debated that with different people, about him being a wide receiver. I never saw that. I thought he was a quarterback all along,” Kiper said of Griffin. “I didn’t think that about Tebow. I still think Tebow’s an H-back. And I said that about Pat White, I thought he should have been a receiver and a return man. He wanted to be a quarterback and now he’s out of the league.

“Sometimes you hit, sometimes you don’t on these guys. But I always thought Griffin was a quarterback and not a projection. I think Denard Robinson’s a projection, a wide receiver coming out of Michigan. I didn’t think that about RG3.”

No matter how things unfold for Florida, chances are the Gators will not have a first-round pick to their name for the first time since 2006. Florida has had 43 players selected in the first round of the draft all-time including 12 in the last 15 years.

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Gator Bites for Thursday, January 12th

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 catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» In a poll conducted by ESPN and calculated monthly, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow topped the December list as the United States’ favorite athlete. Tebow is “just the sixth different athlete to finish No. 1 in the monthly rankings since 2007” and, in the 18 years of the poll, only 11 different athletes have ever held that distinction.

» In addition to the Top 10 list OGGOA posted Wednesday from CBS’s the Late Show with David Letterman, Tebow was also brought up on TBS’s Conan. Host Conan O’Brien, claiming he was absent the budget to air actual game footage, had his staff put together a recreation of his game-winning play from Sunday…with peanuts replacing the players.

Continue Reading » Gator Bites for Thursday, January 12th

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TWO BITS: Senior Bowl, transfer destinations

1 » A pair of Florida Gators – redshirt seniors running back Chris Rainey and defensive tackle Jaye Howard – have officially accepted invitations to participate in the 2012 Senior Bowl, the organization announced on Wednesday. The duo will play on the South roster and are the only Florida players currently invited/committed to the event. “It feels good. I know a lot of great players have come to this game and I’m glad I’m invited and hope to do the best that I can to compete with the other greats,” Rainey said in the event’s official release. “The first thing I’m going to tell the scouts and coaches is that I want to be on special teams. They are going to have to set up some scheme for me to block a punt or do whatever they want me to do on special teams, because I love special teams and that’s the number one thing that wins games.”

Howard said he is playing in the game because he wants to “prove that I’m one of the elite defenders in this class this year and it’s a business trip for me.” He continued, “I’m quick, I can run all over the field and chase plays down. I want to prove that I can play several positions on the defensive line, not just d-tackle. I can play the end, nose guard—everything on the d-line, so I can bring that to a system.” The Senior Bowl will be played on Jan. 28 and air live on NFL Network beginning at 4 p.m. Practices will also be televised during the week leading up to the game on the same network.

2 » Four former Gators who decided to transfer this season have already chosen their new destinations, according to various reports. Defensive back Joshua Shaw has chosen to head closer to home (Palmdale, CA) and picked UCLA where he will sit out a season per NCAA transfer rules, while linebacker Dee Finley announced that he will play for Tuskegee, a HBCU, beginning next year. Two Florida players are expected to be heading to Louisville to play for former UF defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Tight end Gerald Christian told the Palm Beach Post on Wednesday that he will be going to Louisville, while multiple reports over the last two weeks have wide receiver Robert Clark planning to join him. Like Shaw, each will have to sit out one year due to NCAA transfer regulations and will be eligible to play beginning in 2013.

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Special teams, defense lead Florida to 24-17 win over Ohio State in 2012 Gator Bowl

Offense was not the Florida Gators’ strong suit this season, but Florida (7-6) got just enough of it Monday to compliment a sterling effort from their special teams and defense en route to a 24-17 toppling of the Ohio State Buckeyes (6-7) in the 2012 Gator Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL.

The Gators and Buckeyes were tied at a touchdown apiece minutes into the second quarter until a kickoff return and punt block were each brought back for touchdowns to give UF a 21-10 lead and help the team pull out a much-needed victory to end a tough first season under first-year head coach Will Muschamp.

Florida started out at their own 40-yard-line after the opening kickoff fell out of bounds at the one. The Gators got two quick first downs before redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was hit from behind and, after a review that overturned an incomplete pass, the loose ball was ruled a fumble and given to the Buckeyes. OSU moved down the field but consecutive sacks by UF sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd forced a punt.

The Gators took over on their own 20, and Brantley began leading his team down the field once again. On first-and-10 from the Buckeyes’ 22-yard-line, junior left tackle Xavier Nixon (knee) and Brantley (right forearm) both went down with injuries when the latter was sacked. Brantley would return to the game and two plays later threw a 17-yard strike on third down to redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thomspon for the first touchdown of the game.

Thompson’s reception was questioned by Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell as it appeared the ball came loose when he hit the ground, but Florida got on the field to kick the extra point before he could call a timeout to force a review.

A review wound up being called on the ensuing possession when OSU running back Dan Herron fumbled the ball on first down. UF recovered and won the challenge but coughed it back up to the Buckeyes just two plays later when Brantley mishandled a snap.

Ohio State took advantage of the miscue by tying the game. QB Braxton Miller, who did not attempt a pass in the first quarter, completed three throws for 41 yards as part of an eight-play, 72-yard drive that ended in a touchdown with 11:25 left in the first half.

Florida responded even quicker as redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, going down the field untouched and putting his team ahead 14-7 while setting a school record for longest play in a bowl game and a Gator Bowl record for longest play. He was named the contest’s Most Valuable Player after the game.

Two possessions later, the Gators were stopped for a three-and-out, but a shanked punt by freshman Kyle Christy allowed the Buckeyes to take over at midfield. After gaining two first downs, Miller was sacked for an 11-yard loss as redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard broke through the offensive line. OSU kicked a 47-yard field goal to reduce their deficit, heading into the half down four.

Forcing Ohio State to punt on their first possession of the second half, Florida had both redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey and sophomore WR Solomon Patton break through the formation. The former blocked the punt, which was picked up by freshman linebacker Graham Stewart and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. It was the sixth blocked punt of Rainey’s career, setting a SEC record.

The Gators got another defensive stop and began moving the ball once again until Brantley’s third down pass was intercepted by LB Tyler Moller at Florida’s 47-yard-line. However, just three plays later, Miller completed a pass to Posey that was quickly fumbled (forced by freshman cornerback Louchiez Purifoy), recovered by UF, fumbled again and picked up by junior safety Josh Evans.

Brantley made up for his pick with a great 32-yard pass to redshirt junior TE Omarius Hines on his next play, starting the Gators off on a eight-play, 53-yard drive that stalled a half-yard short of the end zone. Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturigs netted a 17-yard field goal to provide Florida with a two-touchdown advantage.

Though the Gators stifled the Buckeyes’ offense much of the second half, Miller led Ohio State on a seven-play, 88-yard drive in just 2:08 that ended in an 11-yard touchdown pass to WR Jordan Hall, who made several players miss on his way to the end zone.

Florida, however, recovered the onside kick and kneeled the ball to end the game and earn the hard-fought victory.

Brantley finished his final contest in orange and blue 12/16 for 132 yards with a touchdown, interception and two fumbles. Rainey had team-highs in carries (16), rushing yards (71) and receptions (three) while also coming through with the game-changing punt. Thompson’s touchdown was his first of the season, and Demps was also efficient with eight touches for 34 yards.

Miller was also quite efficient, going 18/24 for 162 yards in the air and two scores; he also carried the ball 15 times for 20 yards, losing a lot of ground due to the number of times he was sacked.

OSU outgained UF 299-263, passing and rushing for more yards, but was held to just 2-of-10 on third down conversion attempts. The Buckeyes also forced one more turnover (3-2) than the Gators and held the ball for slightly under five minutes longer. Florida, however, converted 50 percent of their third downs (6-of-12) and scored twice on drives of one play or fewer.

The Gators avoided a losing season but handed the Buckeyes their first seven-loss campaign since 1897. Florida now has 24-straight winning seasons and 32 consecutive years ending with a record at or above .500, two accomplishments which lead the country. UF also posted four-straight bowl wins for the first time in school history.

Ohio State is now 0-10 all-time against SEC teams in bowl games due to a victory in 2010 being vacated. The Gators also improved to 2-0 all-time against the Buckeyes with their last victory coming 41-14 in the 2007 BCS National Championship.

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2012 Gator Bowl Gameday (Jacksonville, FL): Florida Gators vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

Location: EverBank Field – Jacksonville, FL [Capacity: 84,000]
Weather Forecast: 57°F, sunny, winds WNW at 13 mph
Time: 1:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN2/ESPN2HD
SiriusXM: 91
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

FLORIDA GATORS OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Luke Fickell
Record: 6-6 Record: 6-6
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Big 10
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -2; O/U 44

HOMEWORK

Need to catch up on the Gators before the bowl game? No problem. OGGOA has been here since the end of the regular season compiling a ton of information so you can do your homework on the team before its next exam.

Muschamp on Gator Bowl, coaches | Coordinators discuss players, game

HISTORY / STREAKS

» Florida leads the all-time series against Ohio State 1-0, with the No. 2 Gators defeating the No. 1 Buckeyes 41-14 in the 2007 BCS National Championship.
» Both teams are entering the game with a 6-6 record (each are 3-5 in their conference as well) and looking to finish the season above .500. UF losing would make them sub-.500 for the first time since 1979, while OSU would not have reached that low of a level since 1897 if they drop the game.
» Both teams are starting head coaches in their first year (and in Fickell’s case his last year) at the helm.
» This is Florida’s 21st consecutive appearance in a bowl game, good for first in the SEC and second nationally. The Gators have played in 18 January bowl games in the last 20 years dating back to 1993. The Buckeyes are second in most January bowl games since 1993 with 16 appearances.
» UF is 19-19 all-time in bowl games and 6-2 in the Gator Bowl but has not participated in this event since 1992. Florida is 7-6 in bowl games against current Big 10 teams.
» Ohio State has not played in the Gator Bowl since 1978 and has not played a bowl game in the state of Florida since 2002. The Buckeyes are 19-22 all-time in bowl games and 15-19 in those played in January.
» The Gators are 4-0 this season when rushing for more than 150 yards and 6-2 when gaining more than 100 yards on the ground. Florida, however, is 1-5 when being outrushed and 0-5 when tied or trailing at the half.
» UF had 18 players make their first career start in 2011 and the 15 true freshman that have seen the field is tied for seventh-most nationally.
» The Gators have half as many upperclassmen (14 seniors, 11 juniors) as they do underclassmen (27 sophomores, 24 freshmen) seeing action this season.
» Florida offense has struggled as of late, and the Gators have had major problems putting the ball in the end zone. Florida has scored points in just 33 of 48 quarters this season and touchdowns in only 25 of those quarters.
» UF’s 13.42 yards per pass completion is No. 1 in the SEC and 16th nationally.
» The Gators are only converting 49 percent (17-of-35) of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns but have scored at least a field goal when the offense has a possession inside the 20-yard-line 86 percent of the time.
» Florida is No. 9 nationally and fifth in the SEC in total defense (299.6 yards per game). The Gators are also No. 25 nationally and fifth in the SEC in scoring defense (20.6 points per game).
» The Gators’ defense is second in the nation in preventing third-down conversions, allowing just 27.7 percent of those attempted to be successful. However, UF is 66th nationally in preventing fourth-down conversions, allowing a 52.0 percent success rate.
» The Buckeyes have allowed the third fewest 100-yard rushers among all teams nationally since 2007, giving up just 11 such performances.
» Florida was one of the least disciplined teams in the country during the regular season, ranking 114th (out of 120 teams) nationally in penalties, committing 93 in 12 games for 699 total yards lost. Ohio State ranks 45th in that category, committing 66 in 12 games for 547 total yards lost.
» The Gators have a +1 turnover margin in six victories but a -12 margin in six losses.
» Florida’s defense has forced the most turnovers in the SEC (315) since 2000. UF also has the most interceptions in the nation (76) since 2008.

LAST TIME OUT

On the way to the team’s second national title, Florida defeated Ohio State 41-14 in the 2007 BCS National Championship the last time these two teams squared off. The No. 2 Gators, led by quarterback Chris Leak (25/36 for 212 yards, touchdown), routed the No. 1 Buckeyes by outscoring them 41-7 after OSU wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Florida led 34-14 at halftime and stifled Ohio State’s offense, holding the team to just 82 yards over the course of four quarters. UF linebacker Earl Everett’s helmet-less sack on OSU QB Troy Smith is one of the most memorable moments from the game and the 2006 season.

FLORIDA’S PRE-GAME THOUGHTS

Muschamp on the team’s improvement: “We’ve made some progress, and I think a lot of that has to do with not having to get ready for a game in a game-week situation, being able to go back to a lot of fundamentals, a lot like training camp or spring practice to be able to work on a lot of those things.”

Muschamp on his team this year: “Coaching at the University of Florida is a dream of mine to be in this opportunity that I’ve been presented. I’m excited about work every day. I’m frustrated at the results maybe at times, but from the standpoint of how our players have worked, how they’ve committed themselves and these guys up here I think have done a good job. Is it the results we want? No. Are we where we want to be? No. But have I seen improvements and improvements within our program sometimes inside the building that maybe people don’t see? We’ve made tremendous strides as a team. It was a tough situation what we inherited, quite honestly. We’ve made tremendous strides.”

Muschamp on if the perception of being sub-.500 is worse than the reality: “It would be disappointing, obviously. It’s not something that we want to have happen. These players and myself and us as a staff don’t want to be saddled with that. Certainly is that a motivating factor? It certainly should be.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley on playing his last game: “I grew up as a Gator. Now that I’ll be exiting this program after this game, I’ll always be a Gator. Through thick and thin. I’ll always be wearing the orange and blue and watching them on Saturdays for years to come.”

Brantley on if he would have done things differently: “I’m just fortunate enough to wake up every day and put on the Gator uniform. To be able to have this opportunity to play major college football at such a great university and one that I’ve loved my entire life was a dream come true, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

INJURIES / ABSENCES

FLORIDA
» Active: Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (head)
» Game-time decision: Redshirt junior Sam linebacker Lerentee McCray (shoulder)
» Inactive: Redshirt sophomore tackle Matt Patchan (back), redshirt sophomore defensive end Kedric Johnson (undisclosed), sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley (torn ACL), redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee), freshman CB Marcus Roberson (neck)

OHIO STATE
» Active: Linebacker Andrew Sweat (head, shoulder)
» Game-time decision: Tight end Jake Stoneburner (knee)
» Inactive: Running back Rod Smith (undisclosed)

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

FLORIDA
» Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (#12)…who has completed 58.9 percent of his passes (132-of-224) this season for 1,912 yards and 10 touchdowns but has also thrown six. He had a career-best game against Furman, throwing for 329 yards and four touchdowns, but followed it up with a career-worst performance against Florida State, throwing for 104 yards with three interceptions.
» Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey (#1)…who has 1,140 yards of total offense this season with five touchdowns (including a punt block return). Rainey is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 12.5 yards per reception and leads Florida in rushing this season. He became the first player in school history to have a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in the same game, achieved the school and SEC record for career punt blocks (five), and is the active leader in that category nationally. He also rushed for 100 yards or more in three-straight games, the first UF player to do so since Fred Taylor last accomplished that feat 14 years ago.
» Senior RB Jeff Demps (#28)…who is second on the Gators in carries (91) and rushing yards (539) this season but leads Florida in touchdowns scored (six). Injuries and poor run blocking have limited Demps’s effectiveness in 2011, but he continues to do whatever he can to help the team each week.
» Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose (#4)…who jumped to first on the Gators’ receiving list with a career-high 151 yards and two touchdowns two games ago against Furman. Debose had mirror image 65-yard touchdowns against Alabama and LSU earlier in the season. Fans have been waiting for Debose to emerge for some time, but his 423 receiving yards now lead the team. Additionally, his 28.2 yards per catch is the highest average in the SEC and third nationally.
» Sophomore safety Matt Elam (#22)…who is the most valuable member of Florida’s secondary. He is second on the team in tackles (72) and at one point created turnovers in three-straight games (fumble-INT-INT). His 12 tackles against LSU a month ago marked a career high, and his nine tackles for loss this season are a team-high.
» Redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard (#6)…who has helped solidified the interior of the Gators’ strongest unit. Howard is the team’s most experienced player on defense (29 starts) and has registered 8.5 tackles for loss along with four sacks and two recovered fumbles this season. He is fourth on the team in total tackles (60) and has even broken up two passes).
» Linebackers junior Jon Bostic (#52) and redshirt sophomore will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (#3)…who are 1-3 on the team in tackles. Bostic (86) and Jenkins (71) have each excelled in different areas for Florida. The former has six tackles for a loss and three sacks while the latter has one sack, seven pass breakups and two interceptions (one pick-six) on the year.
» Sophomores DT Sharrif Floyd (#73) and Buck LB Ronald Powell (#7)…who are each looking to make a statement in Monday’s game. Floyd moves back to his more natural position after spending all season at end and registering 44 tackles and just five for a loss with no sacks, while Powell wants to build on his solid performance against FSU. He has registered 30 tackles (eight for a loss), five sacks and a forced fumble.
» Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturigs (#19)…who has returned for Florida after missing eight games one year ago with an injured back. He is 21-for-25 in field goal attempts on the season (long: 55) and is perfect with 28 extra points, leading the Gators with 91 points scored this season. Sturgis is fourth in the nation with 21 field goals made but tied for 22nd in kicking points.

OHIO STATE
» QB Braxton Miller (#5)…who was named the Big 10 Freshman of the Year after completing 50 percent of his passes for 997 yards with 11 touchdowns and four picks on the season while also leading Ohio State in rushing with 144 carries for 695 yards and seven more scores. All of this and Miller did not start until the fourth game.
» RBs Dan Herron (#1) and Carlos Hyde (#34)…who are also toting the ball quite often for the Buckeyes with over 100 carries each this year. The duo has combined for over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns.
» WR Devin Smith (#15) and tight end Jake Stoneburner (#11)…who are two of three players on the team with double-digit receptions on the season. Smith (12) leads the team with 247 yards and has four touchdowns, but Stoneburner (who may not even play due to injury) has a team-high seven touchdowns on just 14 catches.
» LB Andrew Sweat (#41) and DL John Simon (#54)…who are two of OSU’s best defenders. Sweat has totaled 68 tackles along with five for a loss, an interception and a forced fumble this season. Simon is even more dominant with 50 tackles including 15 for a loss and seven sacks.

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12/28-29: Coordinators talk players, Gator Bowl

Interim offensive coordinator Brian White and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn met with the media this week to answer some questions and look ahead to the Florida Gators‘ next opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Florida and Ohio State will go head-to-head in the 2011 Gator Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL on Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. Below are some of the most important notes and quotes from the availabilities.

PLAYER UPDATES AND EVLAUATIONS

Despite both missing the first day of Gator Bowl practice, senior running back Jeff Demps (personal issue) and redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thompson (illness) were on the field on Wednesday. Additionally, White said that redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley is completely healthy and has even been routinely taking snaps under center during practice.

White also noted that, with 2012 being the offense’s second year in the pro-style system, he expects to see some major improvements and is already seeing players doing much better in these practices.

“There’s always a learning curve your first year in any program. Once you flatten that learning curve, you see an exponential jump, and certainly that’s what we’re hoping for,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of progress with our young players – Chaz Green being one of those players, Andre Debose being another one of those players, Hunter Joyer invaluable time and reps for a player like Hunter, Mike Gillislee. There are a lot of players that have improved dramatically and hopefully they can put the performance on the field and really use it as a springboard to 2012.”

Quinn spoke about five players in particular, praising three and providing some evaluations on two others. He said that redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter has been playing great in bowl practices, being strong and square and really jumping out with his technique. Quinn also noted that there are two players who have continued to get better as the year has gone on and should make a big impact next Monday.

“[De’Ante] Pop Saunders has been one that’s really come on and done some good things,” he said. “At linebacker, [Michael] Taylor has improved from where I saw him in the spring to training camp to now playing some meaningful and valuable reps for us. Those guys at those two spots would be two that have shown up and [I can tell] are coming on and doing a good job.”

He also spoke about sophomore Sharrif Floyd’s participation going forward and how redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard will fare in the NFL.

On Floyd’s position on Monday and beyond: “It’s really going to depend on the situations. In this bowl practice, we’ve played a lot of him inside [in nickel formations], but we’ve also played a lot of him at the defensive end spot. [It will] just kind of be by the flow of the game. Fortunately for him, he’s had reps at both spots playing tackle and playing end. When it’s a running team, sometimes you like to have a bigger base end out there where you can play strong and hanker on the outside. And then in nickel, we’re going to need some speed to chase this guy down because he’s certainly a guy who can run and move on the field.”

On Howard’s NFL prospects: “Inside is where I see him, playing nose tackle and three technique. I thought he’s really improved as the season went on. It was important for him from last year to this year to get his weight down and his conditioning up so he can finish on plays. I think he’s shown that on tape. I think he’s a real strong guy that can anchor. [...] He’s done a good job this year. He’s really done a good job with his hands being strong, improvement and I think the arrow is going up on him moving forward.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» White on calling plays once again:“What people don’t realize are game plans are a very collaborative effort. They’re very structured and your calls are very defined based on situational football – down and distance. Not to diminish the role of a playcaller, but it’s not as difficult as one would think. There is a knack to making the right call at the right time, but for the most part he could have picked anyone else on our staff – they are very qualified to do it, too.”

» White on how practice has been going: “We’ve had very good timing and practiced very wisely.”

» White on why Gillislee did not get more carries during the year: “The Florida State game was just a function of the way the game unfolded. We wanted to use him a lot more in that game, but you’re playing from behind. Sometimes it doesn’t go according to your plan. Mike has made improvement. We’re looking forward to him having a role in this game. To say it’s going to be anything more than a role would be disingenuous.”

» Quinn on what improvement he is most proud of this year: “Our situational awareness – I think our third down defense those guys deserve a lot of credit for that. Knowing that on 3rd-and-6 you play differently than 3rd-and-12 and 3rd-and-1. That situational awareness for me is one of the things that sticks out on the back end.”

» Quinn said that not getting takeaways on defense this year negates any positive statistics about the unit, including the fact that it is No. 9 in total defense and does very well against third downs. He said there was plenty of room for improvement in 2012.

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12/27: Muschamp on Gator Bowl, hiring coaches

Head coach Will Muschamp met with the media Tuesday to answer some questions and look ahead to the Florida Gators‘ next opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Florida and Ohio State will go head-to-head in the 2011 Gator Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL on Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. Below are some of the most important notes and quotes from Tuesday’s availability.

INJURIES AND ABSENCES

Four Florida starters were notable absent or hobbled during the team’s first practice since Christmas break on Monday. Muschamp explained that senior running back Jeff Demps had a “personal matter” to attend to and will be with the team Tuesday morning. Additionally, redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thompson was missing from the field due to being stuck in the hotel with an illness.

Two Gators – redshirt senior offensive lineman Dan Wenger (ankle) and redshirt junior Sam linebacker Lerentee McCray – are injured heading into the game. Wenger is “still struggling,” according to Muschamp, who said that he took some practice reps in Gainesville, FL and is expected to play in the game. McCray, on the other hand, is doubtful for the contest with a bad shoulder. “We’ve exhausted about every measure we can as far as the shoulder is concerned, trying to work to get total range of motion and strength back,” he said.

NO JOBS OFFERED, NO HIRINGS COMPLETED

Despite a report that Muschamp has zeroed in on his next director of strength and conditioning, the coach said Tuesday that nothing could be further from the truth at this time. “I haven’t hired anybody. I’ve talked to a lot of people at the strength position and the offensive coordinator position, and when I make the hire everybody will know,” he said. “No one has been hired. No one has been offered a job yet. So that’s it.”

The primary reason Muschamp indicated for not having made a hire is that he is not done with the interview process. Though he has spoken with a number of candidates for both positions, he plans to continue doing so throughout the week and insisted that Florida will not make an announcement until after the bowl game.

“I still have people I want to talk to. I’ve talked to probably six, seven, eight people so far and some people over Christmas and some people this week I plan to talk to and then after the bowl game,” he said. “I’ve never put a timetable on it because it’s [what is] the right fit for Florida. It’s going to be the best decision for Florida. It’s an important hire – obviously both of them are – and I’ve talked to multiple people [for] both situations.”

One candidate for offensive coordinator is current running backs coach Brian White, who will be the team’s playcaller against Ohio State next Monday. Muschamp said he has not learned anything new about White as he’s watched him in his interim role but maintained that he continues to be impressed with him as a coach.

“I know he’s a good football coach, and he’s just reassured my confidence in him as a football coach. He’s done a nice job of preparing our football team. It’s all about situational football and being prepared for situations when they occur in the game. As a playcaller, he’s got a knack for that,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s any question that being a playcaller for a long time, to have somebody in the room that has done it before [is a positive]. Everybody’s got great ideas until they’ve sat in that chair, and then they understand the difference and see the big picture. They understand all the things that go with running an offense or running a defense. There’s no question that his experience, I thought, was very critical in our growth as an offense to be a part of our offense as we move forward.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Muschamp said the team spent the first 4-5 days of bowl practice working on fundamental football and used the final four before Christmas break doing normal game week preparation. He decided to have Florida run, stretch and once again familiarize themselves with the game plan because there is an extra day of preparation.

» On the 2011 season as a whole: “It’s been a disappointing season from the standpoint of what our record is. It’s been very frustrating. It is what it is at the end of the day. We need to prepare well for this football game. We’re playing a good football team, and we need to play well.”

» On redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard’s play this season: “I thought Jaye played well. Jaye’s played himself into a decent situation there for April. He really has. He’s played well. He’s played blocks well. You talk to a lot of the people who’ve played us, they all compliment how he’s played and how much better he’s played, his pad level, his hustle to the ball, finishing plays. He’s done a nice job.”

» On if he’s spoken to Urban Meyer since he took the Ohio State job: “A couple times, more than anything about hiring coaches and stuff that he was looking at. He called for my opinion on a couple and that was about it.”

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