Interim coach Addazio has full support of Gators

The prevailing sentiment from fans when offensive coordinator Steve Addazio’s name is brought up can best be summed up by a long groan. His offense is widely considered to be bland, unimaginative and ineffective. The Florida Gators decision to only utilize their running backs four times in the 2009 SEC Championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide seemed, plainly, absurd. Yet head coach Urban Meyer trusts no one on his staff more than Addazio and appointed him as “interim” coach in his stead, a decision that was met with elation by the team.

“I think [Addazio will] do a great job,” senior quarterback Tim Tebow said. “When Coach Meyer […] had Coach Addazio walk up in front of the team, it was one of the loudest ovations I’ve been a part of in my entire life.” Tebow said the ovation went on for “three or four minutes,” when Meyer made the announcement in the tarmac at the Gainesville Regional Airport Sunday morning. “That was one of the coolest parts of the last two days. Everyone is behind him. It’s a rallying cry to do well for Coach Addazio, too. Everyone is behind him 100 percent.”

Also on the Addazio bandwagon is junior center Maurkice Pouncey, who told the media on Monday that he is “one of the greatest coaches in history.” “He knows how to lead the team, get the team going,” Pouncey added. “He’s a father figure on the field and off the field. Great guy.”

Respect from the team for Addazio is plenty, but players also expect Meyer to be around quite often during his sabbatical of a to be determined length. “He’ll be around a lot,” Pouncey said. “That day-to-day job on him is tough.”

Maurkice’s brother Mike and junior running back Jeff Demps both told reporters that many more juniors would be declaring for the 2010 NFL Draft had Addazio not been named the interim coach. “It probably would have made the decision for a lot of the juniors who even had a thought about leaving because the program would have been totally changed,” Demps said. “A lot of guys probably didn’t want to go through that.”

Speaking with the media himself Monday, Addazio believes he can keep the ship headed in the right direction should Meyer not return in the short-term. “This has become one of the premier teams and programs in all of college football, and it’s been built on a great foundation with great players, coaches, administrative support and the best athletic director in America,” Addazio said. “All of those things are right there for us to keep this going as a great program, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

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TWO BITS: Rainey sticking around, basketball falls

1 » Amid speculation that he was considering entry into the 2010 NFL Draft, Florida Gators redshirt sophomore running back Chris Rainey told the Orlando Sentinel that he will stay in Gainesville, FL, for “at least another year.” With Rainey, sophomore Jeff Demps and redshirt junior transfer Emmanuel Moody all coming back next season, the Gators’ running back unit may be the deepest it has been in years. Also on the roster will be sophomore Mike Gillislee, redshirt junior walk-on Christopher Scott and four-star 2010 commitment Mack Brown (Lithonia, GA).

2 » After starting the 2009 campaign 8-0 including wins over the Florida State Seminoles and then-No. 2 Michigan State Spartans, the Florida basketball team rose to No. 10/11 in the AP and USA Today/ESPN Top 25 polls, respectively. Consecutive losses to the No. 5/5 Syracuse Orange and unranked Richmond Spiders (both at neutral sites) have since dropped the Gators down to a No. 18 ranking in both polls. Florida has returned home to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center and will take on the South Alabama Jaguars Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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KR Brandon James ruled out for Sugar Bowl

Suffering a stress fracture in his right foot in the first half of the 2009 SEC Championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida Gators senior kick returner Brandon James did not return to the field after halftime. On Monday, head coach Urban Meyer said James had surgery on his foot and will miss the 2010 Sugar Bowl, effectively ending his Gators career. Running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, and possibly even cornerback Joe Haden, will take over the return duties in James’ stead.

One of the most decorated players in school history, James holds Florida records for total kickoff returns (career, season), kickoff return yardage (career, season), kickoff average yards per return (career, season), punt returns (career), punt return yardage (career, season, game), punt return touchdowns (career, season) and total kick return touchdowns (career, season). He also holds the top three spots in season kickoff return yardage, has the longest punt return in school history (83 yards) and is No. 2 all-time for the Gators in total yards gained (rushing, receiving, returning). In addition to his UF accolades, James holds all-time SEC records in total kick return yardage (combined kickoff and punt returns) and kickoff return yardage.

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TWO BITS: Meyer on changes, RBs on SEC carries

1 » Though OGGOA is still 50-50 on whether or not former wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Billy Gonzales was asked to leave or simply took a new job, Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer insists it was the latter. “I think sometimes guys, when you’ve been with them so long, people encourage them to move on,” Meyer said. “I wish it wasn’t at a rival. He’s a good coach. Every year he’s had job opportunities. I don’ think [the split] was unhappy. I just think it’s professional growth. I can see that. I have no animosity.”

2 » As a unit they only totaled three rushing plays in the 2009 SEC Championship game, but running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey are not dwelling on the lack of opportunity. “I didn’t get frustrated,” Demps said. “I don’t think any of the backs got frustrated. There are no ball hogs on this team.” Even so, it remains curious that one of the best rushing teams in the country barely ran the ball in their biggest game of the season. RB coach Kenny Carter said the Gators became pass-first after its early drives were not successful and the team was put in a hole. “You’d like to have a couple of things happen early to set the tone, but we don’t get caught up in that,” Carter said.

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Grading the Florida vs. Alabama game (+ FSU)

Each week following a Florida Gators game, ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive will grade the team position-by-position based on each unit’s performance. This week, we look at how the Gators fared against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 SEC Championship in Atlanta, GA. Following those grades, OGGOA has provided its overlooked grades (without explanations) for the Florida State Seminoles game.

Florida seemingly decided to put the entire offense on senior quarterback Tim Tebow’s shoulders. How else could you explain the 35 passing attempts and team-high 10 carries? On the ground, Tebow rushed for 63 yards. Through the air, he completed 57 percent of his passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. But he also threw a costly interception into the end zone and came up short on numerous occasions. Like the strategy or not, Tebow was responsible for almost every offensive snap of an offense that failed to get the job done against a stout Alabama defense.

Inexplicably, Florida’s running backs touched the ball a total of three times on Saturday. Three. In the Gators’ first 12 games, sophomore Jeff Demps averaged eight carries (7.7 yards), redshirt sophomore Chris Rainey averaged seven touches (6.4 yards) and redshirt junior transfer Emmanuel Moody averaged five rushes (7.3 yards). That is a total of 20 running plays and well over 100 yards of rushing that were not part of Florida’s offensive game plan. The only possible grade for this unit is “incomplete.”

Read the rest of Florida’s grades from the SEC Championship after the jump…
Continue Reading » Grading the Florida vs. Alabama game (+ FSU)

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Tide roll Gators 32-13 to win SEC Championship

The No. 1 Florida Gators (12-1) were denied a chance at their third National Championship in four seasons, falling 32-13 to the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0) at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA, while playing for the 2009 SEC Championship. The second consecutive meeting between the two schools for the SEC title, Alabama got revenge for its defeat in 2008 and will move on to the BCS National Championship game. Florida looks forward to an at-large bid and a likely berth in the Sugar Bowl.

Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram and quarterback Greg McElroy carved up the Gators’ defense to the tune of 490 total yards (the most ever allowed under head coach Urban Meyer) and 32 points (the most allowed by Florida since its loss to the Ole Miss Rebels in 2008). Ingram finished with 189 total yards and three touchdowns as he made a strong bid to claim Alabama’s first Heisman Trophy. McElroy was 12-of-18 for 239 yards and a touchdown and also made numerous big plays with his legs.

For the Gators, senior QB Tim Tebow was 20-of-35 for 247 yards and a touchdown; he ran the ball a team-high 10 times for a team-high 63 yards on the ground. His main target, junior tight end Aaron Hernandez, caught eight passes for 85 yards, while senior wide receivers Riley Cooper (three receptions for 77 yards) and David Nelson (four for 53 yards and a touchdown) led Florida on the outside.

Up 9-0 with 5:33 left in the first quarter, the Crimson Tide gave up a 48-yard field goal to junior kicker Caleb Sturgis to bring the game within a touchdown. Alabama would get the ball back and kick another field goal, though Florida followed that up with a 70-yard touchdown scoring drive in 1:36 to close the lead to 12-10. Seemingly back in the game, the Gators’ next shot on defense was short lived. Ingram took a McElroy screen pass 69 yards on the first play of the next possession, setting up his own three-yard scoring run to extend the lead back to 19-10. A celebratory Florida crowd immediately fell silent.

On the Crimson Tide’s first second half possession, McElroy finished a 74-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to TE Colin Peek, bringing the lead to 26-13. Then, up 32-13 after another Ingram score, Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas put a dagger in the Gators by picking off Tebow in the end zone with 11:51 left in the game.

Throughout the contest, ill-timed penalties haunted Florida. All five incurred by the Gators either negated a big play or an important defensive stand. The defense, which had only given up nine scrimmage touchdowns in its first 12 games, allowed the Crimson Tide to score four on Saturday night. Florida never led in the contest and went away from its run-first mentality, rushing the ball 14 times all game, 10 of which went to Tebow. Sophomore RB Jeff Demps only had one carry for nine yards while redshirt sophomore Chris Rainey touched the ball twice for seven yards.

The Gators will find out their bowl game fate on Sunday at 8 p.m. during the official BCS Selection Show on FOX. Florida is projected to receive an at-large bid for a spot in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA.

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Poll Reviews: FIU/FSU MVP, most important

Over the past two weeks, OGGOA asked you to participate in three polls. The first two determined your Most Valuable Players for the Florid International Golden Panthers and Florida State Seminoles games, while the third determined which administrator was most important to University of Florida athletics. An OGGOA-record total of 875 combined votes (292 average) were cast, and the results are in:

Who was your Florida Gators MVP vs. FIU?
QB Tim Tebow (50%, 92 votes)
QB John Brantley (25%, 47 votes)
RB Chris Rainey (13%, 25 votes)
LB Brandon Spikes (12%, 22 votes)

Who was your Florida Gators MVP vs. FSU?
QB Tim Tebow (77%, 203 votes)
TE Aaron Hernandez (21%, 55 votes)
LB Brandon Hicks (1%, 4 votes)
RB Jeff Demps (1%, 3 votes)

Tebow’s third and fourth OGGOA MVP honors came in back-to-back weeks for the first time all season. His previous victories were against Georgia and Arkansas. Both victories are well-deserved, especially the Florida State one seeing as Tebow put up five touchdowns and had his best performance of the season.

Who has done more for the Florida Gators?
AD Jeremy Foley (39%, 166 votes)
HC Steve Spurrier (32%, 135 votes)
HC Urban Meyer (27%, 114 votes)
HC Billy Donovan (2%, 9 votes)

Reviewing the results of this poll, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the respect and appreciation for what Foley has done for UF’s athletic program is wide-spread. Often times, fans look at the coaches and players and do not know who is really taking care of things behind the scenes. Though I do not need to convince you to vote for Foley, this is just a taste of what he has done since becoming the athletic director in 1992. He hired Meyer, Donovan, Becky Burleigh (soccer), Tim Walton (softball) while retaining Buddy Alexander (men’s golf) and Mary Wise (volleyball) and helping the Gators finish as the top-ranked overall program in the Southeastern Conference in 15 of his 16 years.

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Streaks and records following Florida vs. FSU

– Defeating the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, the No. 1 Florida Gators posted a 12-0 regular-season record for the first time in school history. The Gators also extended their nation-leading, school-record win streak to 22 games, 21 of which have been by a double digit margin.

– Florida won their sixth straight game against Florida State, outscoring them 182-58 since 2006 under head coach Urban Meyer. The Gators are now 33-19-2 all-time against the Seminoles, holding a 20-8-1 record at home in The Swamp.

– 90,907 fans attended the Florida-Florida State game on Saturday, a new Ben Hill Griffin Stadium record.

– The Gators 2009 senior class, the winningest senior class in Southeastern Conference history, improved to 47-6 in their careers, two games better than the previous record.

– Florida’s defense held their opponent to under 100 rushing yards for the fourth straight game and ninth in 2009.

– The Gators were 10-for-13 on third-down conversions, while the defense held the Seminoles to only 2-of-11 in the same scenario.

– Struggling in the red zone early in the season, Florida is now 11-of-14 in the red zone over the past three games. Two of the three empty possessions were the Gators running out the clock. On Saturday, Florida was 4-for-4 in red zone opportunities.

– The Gators have only yielded 11 touchdowns in 2009, with two coming on pick-sixes. This is four fewer than the next lowest total in the nation. Florida has allowed a mere 118 points in 12 games (9.8 average), also good for lowest in the nation.

– A 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter was the Gators’ longest of the season. It resulted in an 18-yard rushing TD by senior quarterback Tim Tebow.

– Tebow broke QB Chris Leak‘s SEC and Florida total offensive yards records, bringing his career total to 11,389 yards after a 311 combined yardage performance.

– Senior kick returner Brandon James broke the SEC career kickoff return record with the 108th of his career on Saturday.

– Sophomore running back Jeff Demps tied his career long with a 62-yard run on Saturday. He topped 100 yards for the third time in his career (106).

– Redshirt freshman cornerback Adrian Bushell made his first career interception on Florida State’s last play of the game.

– 25 seniors were honored before the game on Senior Day. The class’ numerous accomplishments can be found here.

– The Gators wore special Nike Pro Combat uniforms for the game.

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