The No. 16/17 Florida Gators (3-0, 1-0) began their Southeastern Conference slate in impressive fashion on Saturday, wrapping up a 33-23 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-1) with strong efforts from their offense, defense and special teams. OGGOA takes a look at some of the notable occurrences before, during and after Saturday’s game with notes and quotes from head coach Will Muschamp.
RAINEY’s REDEMPTION TOUR CONTINUES
Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey was already in the midst of a great season before stepping on the field Saturday. While he may have scored three touchdowns in a single game in Florida’s week one victory over Florida Atlantic, there is no doubt that his performance this week was the best of the young season. Rainey carried the ball 21 times for 108 yards, grabbed two receptions for 104 yards (including an 83-yard touchdown) and blocked a punt that resulted in a field goal for the Gators.
“Rainey is a special athlete,” redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley said after the game. “He’s getting better each week, and he’s really grown up and bought into all of this. He deserves all of this that he’s been doing.”
He has now scored a total of five touchdowns through three games (two rushing, two receiving, one return) and is on pace for 2,080 yards of total offense. While his attitude and work ethic have helped motivate the team off the field, Rainey’s play on the field has been the brightest spot for an up-and-coming Florida team in 2011.
MUSCHAMP’s GAME RECAP
Early in his post-game media availability, Muschamp provides his own quick recap of the game as he sees it from offense, defense and special teams.
“I thought we moved the ball well – very effectively early in the game especially. We had some opportunities that we squandered in the first half offensively. Defensively I thought we played very well. As the game kind of changed there throwing the football there obviously we had two mental errors on touchdowns [...] before half, which is disappointing. There are some communication issues we’ve got to clean up. But as the game changed there, you’ve got to play coverage and make them bleed the clock. That’s what we were trying to do in those situations. The worst thing you can do in that situation is give up a big play. Special teams block punt was huge. It was great designed by D.J. [Durkin]. I felt like we had them outnumbered in the protection, and it was a great job by Chris Rainey and the execution of our young men.”
STURGIS REMAINS PERFECT WITH FOUR SCORES
“Just to know you feel good and comfortable about when he walks on the field. When the ball’s on the 35 yard line, you’re talking about a 52-yard field goal, and you feel very comfortable that he’s going to make the field goal,” Muschamp said. “Caleb’s just been outstanding for us. A guy that certainly gives me a huge comfort level when we hit in that 35-yard-line to know that we’re going to get three points, and I feel pretty comfortable about that.”
For the third-straight game, the Gators absolutely blew it when it came to committing penalties. This week was historically bad, however, as Florida doubled up their season total and tied school records for second-most penalties in a game (16) and second-most penalty yards in a game (150). UF has now committed 34 penalties for 270 yards in three games, numbers that Muschamp obviously finds simply unacceptable.
Especially abhorrent on Saturday was the number of pass interference calls against the Gators – six total by five different players. Though two of the calls were questionable, freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson (two), junior safety Josh Evans, redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins, sophomore CB Cody Riggs and freshman S De’Ante Saunders (one each) all committed the foul. These miscues extended drives by Tennessee, many of which concluded with the Vols putting points on the board.
In addition to the extreme number of penalties, Florida’s defense also had trouble holding onto passes they defended. Roberson and Jenkins combined for at least three dropped interceptions, and Roberson also had a caught pick called back due to one of his pass interference penalties. Muschamp commented on the entire situation after the game.
“I look at penalties a couple different ways. Are they discipline penalties? When you jump offsides, when we’re down in the red zone on the 13-yard-line – that’s an issue. When you have to call timeout because we don’t get the right personnel in the game – that’s an issue. Those are what I call procedural issues, and those are discipline penalties – jumping offsides or lining up offisdes on defense, which we did tonight. And we had that issue last week. Those are things that you got to get corrected. Are they being addressed? Yes. Are they being addressed the right way? Obviously not because they’re still happening. Then there’s penalties that are aggressive penalties that are judgement calls – those happen in the game of football, especially the way we play. We play a lot of bump-and-run, we play a lot of man-to-man, a lot of deny-the-ball defense. Those things happen sometimes. I’m not saying they’re OK and I’m not saying I tolerate them.”
BRANTLEY CONTINUES TO PROGRESS
Though he may not be setting the world on fire with his numbers, Brantley looked great to start the game, leading the Gators on a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive and 12-play, 68-yard field goal drive. “What we wanted to do was start fast like we did. We figured if we do that, go down and score, that’ll set the tone for the rest of the game,” he said. “I thought we did a really good job of that – like we did – and we just kept going on from there.”
He struggled a bit throughout the rest of the contest but also had a nice check down to Rainey for his 83-yard score in the third quarter.
“We work all week [on] all of our pass protections and everything. We know where our check downs are and where our outlets are,” he said. “Rainey got out clean and he was in that open area. I was looking for him all the way down and there he was. He can do some special things with the ball like he did tonight.”
Most importantly, Brantley did not turn the ball over for the second-straight game.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp began his post-game press conference by complimenting the fans who he said did a great job. “It was an electric atmosphere out there,” he said. “As you walked in the stadium through the Gator Walk, it was absolutely amazing.”
» He also said that Heisman Trophy-winning QB Danny Wuerffel and Hall of Fame RB Emmitt Smith spoke to the team over the weekend, something he thanked both men for doing and said was very meaningful to the team.
» On Florida’s pass rush: “We had some good pressures. The first interception of the second half was called by Ronald Powell. He was throwing off his back foot – elevated the ball – it was an overthrown ball. We’ve got to get pressure with four guys rushing.”
» On dropped interceptions and pass interference penalties: “We’ve dropped a bunch of interceptions this year. I guess do more ball drills or something. And on the other, I have no comment.”
» On Rainey: “This guy competes every day. Comes to work with his hard hat on. He talks a lot but he doesn’t complain about anything.”
» On whether or not the defense continues to improve: “It’s week-to-week, especially with our guys. We’re going to look at what we did that was positive and then we’re going to correct the things that got to get corrected. You got to constantly coach players, especially younger players, especially first-year scheme players.”
» On what he was yelling about at halftime: “I was upset about a bunch of stuff at halftime.”
» On if the team can win without the wide receivers being involved: “We’ll line up and run the wishbone if we can win. [...] It’s about winning. Do what you got to do to win the game. You can’t take winning for granted.”
» On getting amped at sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell’s forced interception: “When you see a player start to come around and see the light – I want these guys to play well. I play through them. So when you see a guy finally get the pressure, get the caused interception, I’m excited for him. I’m excited he made a great play for the Gators, but I was happy for him.”