9/21: Quinn talks defense, evaluates players

With the Florida Gators preparing for their first road game of 2011 on Saturday against the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, KY, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn spoke about the Gators defense and also evaluated some of Florida’s standout players.

DEALING WITH PASS INTERFERENCES AND DROPPED PICKS

For any coordinator, committing penalties and not taking advantage of turnover opportunities is a sore subject, but Quinn said Wednesday evening that he is not too concerned with either at this juncture. “We’re going to play physical and we’re going to coach aggressive and play aggressive. For us, some of those penalties, if they’re bang-bang plays, are going to happen,” he said about the pass interference calls on Saturday. “We’re certainly going to work our technique hard just like we do every week, but for us we’re going to stay to our style of play. […] For [the secondary] to play on guys and challenge, that’s exactly the style that we’re looking to do.”

He also believes that the dropped interception problem – especially with redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins – is a correctable one going forward. “We’re trying to coach all the time, whether that’s ball drills in practice, we’re constantly talking about getting our hands on the ball in practice,” he said. “The more opportunities that you do that, even in practice when you’re getting in the ball, those will now transfer to the game. If you’re not getting hands on it and picking it in practice, for the first time for something to happen in the game, we would not like for that to happen. We would like for them to get their hands on it in practice, too.”

PLAYER EVALUATIONS

Sophomore buck LB Ronald Powell: “I thought that he got off the ball a lot quicker. I really thought some of the hesitant, the waiting and the thinking that we saw in the first two ball games, we didn’t see that quite as much in the [third game]. I was pleased with the progress that he made, it was more in line with what the position entails, and I thought he did a good job in the game.” On why there was a big improvement for him: “We went back through the first couple ballgames and watched the technique. We kind of talked about what we were looking for moving forward. I thought it was a little bit of that light coming on and telling somebody exactly what you want and then have him go out and do it. I think that was a good step for him, a really good step. For the position, it’s a unique one, and I think early on he was thinking maybe too much. We saw less of that in the ballgame.”

Junior LB Jon Bostic: “Just the level of preparation, that’s one of the things I’ve noticed with him. He gets football easy, so now it’s talking about the game plan. […] He’s really progressing nicely.”

Senior defensive end William Green: “He’s one of the guys that you really trust. He’s been that way ever since I met him. He’s a guy who does extra. I thought coming out of training camp, he might have been our most improved player from the spring.”

Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley: “He brings a lot of energy to the team. He plays a style that we like – he plays fast and physical and gets his hands on you. I think he’s a disruptive player inside. The more he’s playing and gaining the experience, six games from now, nine games from now, he’s going to be that much better.”

Cornerbacks sophomore Cody Riggs and freshman Marcus Roberson: “Outside at corner, I think we play an aggressive style. We coach aggressive and those guys play aggressive. That’s how we are built on defense. Both of them are really competitive. That’s one thing that jumped out to me with Cody early on is how competitive of a guy he is. He’ll challenge people and play on them. I’m pleased with the style that those two guys are playing [with]. Whether they’re taller guys or shorter guys, I think they really rise to it and play.”

Safeties sophomore Matt Elam and freshman De’Ante Saunders: “I’ve been impressed with Elam from early on. I really thought he was a guy who can get his hands on the ball. I thought he did a good job communicating. He was fast. He was a good enough safety that he can play down and play nickel. Usually you don’t see that. That’s not as common for a safety, usually you see a corner that can go in and play nickel. You don’t see it the other way around that often. That’s one of the cool things about both he and Saunders, is that they’re safeties with cover ability. That’s one of the things that jump out to you about the two safeties, is that not only can they play the deep part of the field but they can also come down and cover. As a defense that really gives you more options, and we’re glad that they can do that.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On what he’s seen from Kentucky’s offense: “The first thing that jumps out at you is it’s a mobile quarterback – a guy that can move the pocket, play outside and make some plays with his feet. Outside No. 16 is a tall target that can really go and attack the ball. They use a number of different runners both inside-the-tackle runners and runners who are good screen and cut-back guys. Up front they have a better offensive line coming back. Usually when you have those guys that played some ball together, the communication and their technique is usually further along than most.”

» On communication between Bostic and Jenkins: “That’s true with really good defenses that you see – there’s a lot of good communication from position to position. […] I’m really encouraged, as we’re getting into our fourth ball game and moving forward, those are the kinds of things you expect.”

» On if sophomore defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd will see some more time at tackle: “It really depends just by the game. There are some games where we’re going to put him outside. Sometimes based on match-up, sometimes based on run-pass, and then there’s other times we’ll move him inside as a pass rusher there. He’s getting more comfortable with it. I think it’s just taking him some reps to do it.”

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9/21: Jenkins communicates, Wenger beams

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preparing for their first road game of the 2011 season, a few prominent players were made available to the media on Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing heading into their showdown with the Kentucky Wildcats on Sept. 24 at 7:00 p.m. in Lexington, KY.

COMMUNICATION THE KEY TO SUCCESS ON DEFENSE

One reason why the Gators have not struggled too much within the defensive front seven is the top-notch communication between linebackers redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins and junior Jon Bostic. Asked Wednesday why he and Bostic communicate so well, Jenkins said their relationship on- and off-the-field has a lot to do with it.

“The Mike and the Will [linebackers] – they’re kind of like playing the same role pretty much in this defense, and the Sam is completely different from the Mike and the Will. We’re always in the meeting room together. We’ve been in the meeting room together since coach strong was there. We’ve always been working together in the meeting room and taking it onto the field,” he said.

Jenkins also described how the improved connection has paid dividends on the field. “Playing in The Swamp on defense, you really need to be able to communicate really well because it gets really loud. Without us communicating, giving hand signals and always knowing what each other is doing, we could have been put in real bad situations,” he said. “We made a few bad plays because we didn’t communicate well in The Swamp. We got to keep getting better at it, but I think it has helped us out from last year where we were young and we weren’t communicating as well as we are now.”

PROUD OF THE YOUNG O-LINEMEN

Redshirt senior transfer left guard Dan Wenger may only be spending one year at Florida, but he is certainly the veteran in a young group of offensive linemen. Asked about how some of his teammates performed on Saturday, Wenger beamed when discussing two of them in particular.

Talking about what redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison did well, Wenger said, “Everything. He played an awesome game. Played his tail off and couldn’t be [happier] for him just for everything he did and the way he’s coming into himself as a player.”

In regards to redshirt junior right tackle Matt Patchan’s personality, Wenger called him a “wildcard,” saying that “you never know what to expect from him just as far as what he might say or do sometimes.” However, he also noted that Patchan is a “hard worker” and an “awesome guy” who he would “give the shirt off my back” for anytime.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Jenkins on being much improved in his second year on the field: “I’m really enjoying the scheme and I’m loving the players I have around me. I can’t do any of it without them. I’m enjoying the coaching. All around it’s a really great start of the season.”

» Jenkins said he has gotten some grief for his dropped interceptions – “Yeah, they’re joking about it a little bit.” – but he does plan to work on his catching with a ball machine, something he hasn’t used much since high school. “I think it’s just bad luck,” he said of his drops. “When you play both ways in high school and then come to college and only play defense, you don’t see the ball as much.”

» Jenkins on sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley clotheslining sophomore safety Matt Elam after the latter’s interception: “We’re used to it. He’ll closthelsline us in practice.”

» Jenkins on if Easley had the same energy last year: “He was the same last year. I’m not exactly sure everything that was going through his head with last year’s scenario and all that, but he was always a playful guy, always having fun out there.”

» Wenger on problems the team had against Tennessee: “In my opinion, I can’t speak for anyone but myself, just being able to finish. We had some opportunities where we were placed in very good positions and we just didn’t capitalize. I’m going to put that on myself as far as me needing to play better. That’s what I’m focusing on this week in practice, just ironing out some of those little things.”

» Wenger if he is disappointed that the team had to use a play-action and fourth-down play to score in the red zone: “We want to pride ourselves on being able to move the football. We can move it all the way in the run game from backed up on our own one, but not being able to punch it in? That’s the most important thing.”

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9/21: Will Muschamp’s SEC teleconference

Updated at 1:00 p.m.

With the Florida Gators just days away from their fourth game of the season under head coach Will Muschamp on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. against the Kentucky Wildcats, he spoke with the media during the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference to provide some insight about where his team is at going into into week three action.

GATORS’ PUNTING SUCCESS IS VERY STRAIGHTFORWARD

If you follow OGGOA on Twitter (and you should), then you may have seen a retweet we sent out Tuesday evening from a Kentucky sportswriter who believes Florida is skirting the rules on punt blocks. This was triggered by something Kentucky Wildcats head coach Joker Phillips said during a press conference on Tuesday about the Gators’ punt block team: “They’ve got big guys pulling this guy that way, and this guy that way and a little fast guy with world-class speed comes up the middle to block it. And you can’t get off the block,” he said. “We’ve got to punch them in the mouth when they try to grab you and get their hands off of you and come off and block the little guy that tries to split the gap.”

Asked about the play Tuesday, Muschamp responded with one of his (now standard) quips. “We just play hard. We play hard and coach hard,” he said. “I’m real pleased with what we do. They didn’t throw any flags on that play, did they? OK. We just ran a guy through a gap.”

Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, whose team was victimized by the punt block on Saturday, brushed off the question, too. “If we do our job, we’re not even having this discussion,” he said.

Muschamp also expanded on why Florida has been so successful blocking punts over the last few years. “We have good players – that’s the first thing that jumps out at you. We’ve got some guys that got some special ability. There’s been a huge emphasis on special teams, obviously when Urban [Meyer] was here, and I’ve carried that over. Special teams are very important to me,” he said.

“I always talk to the players in terms of, if you want the opportunity to play in the National Football League, the old Bill Parcells line, ‘If you’re not a quarterback or an offensive lineman and you don’t play special teams, you’re a selfish football player.’ I live by that. Our guys understand our best payers will play on special teams – you look at what Chris Rainey and a lot of our starters do – we have good players.

“Second thing is we have good speed. You create space plays in special teams, you got to have guys who can run. And then the third thing, I think D.J. Durkin – our special teams coordinator – does an outstanding job. He puts his guys in the right spots, he does a great job with scheming guys to get good players free in certain situations whether it’s the returning game or specialist or whatever. He takes a combination of all those things, that’s why we are where we are.”

He even discussed how the Gators blocking a punt can significantly affect the outcome of that particular game. “The percentages of winning the game go through the roof. It’s such a deflating thing for the punt team,” he said. “I don’t think off the top of my head I’ve won many games if we’ve had a punt blocked. It’s hard to do. The change in momentum, obviously you can easily score off of it either by the scoop or the next offensive possession. The momentum of the game certainly can slip pretty quickly.”

Asked to clarify his comments at the end of the SEC teleconference on Wednesday, Phillips said he was not trying to insinuate that anything Florida was doing was against the rules. “There’s nothing illegal with that. Nothing,” he said. “Everybody does it. We try to do it also. There’s nothing illegal about it. I wasn’t saying there was anything illegal about it. I was saying they do a great job of it.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Muschamp said redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed has a “lower body” injury that is not specifically a hamstring problem. It is the same injury that kept him out last week, but the team has an outside chance of seeing him return to the field. “We still got a shot. He’s been moving around a little bit. He’s a little gimpy here and there, but who knows, we got a lot of time until Saturday,” he said.

» Opening statement: “[I’m] very pleased to be 3-0 with a good conference win over Tennessee. Heading to Lexington this weekend is our first road game. We got 16 guys in our two-deep who have not been on the road yet or got on a plane. It’ll be interesting there. Kentucky is playing very well defensively; they’re giving up 13 points a game and leading the SEC in kickoff coverage and punting. They’re playing well so we’ve got our work cut out for us, especially with the newness of what we’re trying to do.”

» On linebackers junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins being so in sync: “Over a period of time as far as practice is concerned, they’ve played together last year, first of all. Number two, they’re very close off the field. Generally in my experience in coaching, guys that are close on and off the field generally have a bond. […] As much as anything, they’re both highly intelligent young men, very driven. They’re good football players and very productive for us. Those guys have a good bond of the field and they see things the same on the field.”

» On if redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey is doing well off the field, too: “I can only judge from the time I’ve been here. He’s done everything we’ve asked and then some as far as being accountable on and off the field as a football player, a member of our football team and this university. He’s a guy that is early in the meetings, works extremely hard as far as workouts are concerned and practiced, [and] does everything that’s asked of him academically. He’s been a great example for the rest of our football team.”

» On if Rainey should be in the race for the Heisman Trophy: “I think you look at the first three ball games and his production and what he’s done for our football team – running, catching and all the special teams [like] the return and blocking kicks – you’re talking about value to a football team. It’s a long season. We need to continue to play consistently well at his position and what he’s doing for our team. There’s nothing that tells me he won’t from the standpoint of how he’s working in practice and how he’s approaching the game.”

» On the Gators’ depth at running back: “We’ve really consistently played that group of guys [Rainey, Jeff Demps, Mike Gillislee, Trey Burton and Hunter Joyer] and have been very productive at the position. A lot of that credit should go to Charlie [Weis]. Here’s a guy that’s identified, ‘OK these guys are playmakers. These guys can do good things for us. Let’s narrow their role down based on what they can do and their skill set.’ I think he’s done a really good job of identifying what they do well.”

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9/17: Florida vs. Tennessee post-game notes

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

The biggest flaw in regards to the Gators’ offense at this point is their ability to convert red zone appearances into touchdowns. Unlike last season, Florida has been able to count on redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis to bail them out of these situations. With four field goals on Saturday (from 28, 30, 46 and 42 yards), Sturgis now a perfect 9/9 on the season (he is also 12/12 on extra points).

“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.”

PENALTIES…PENALTIES…PENALTIES…

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.”

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Rainey storms No. 16 Gators past Vols 33-23

In a game filled with mistakes and miscues, redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey‘s 212 yards of offense and a raucous crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium proved to be too much for the Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-1 SEC), which fell 33-23 to the No. 16/17 Florida Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC) in Gainesville, FL on Saturday.

Florida defeated Tennessee for the seventh-straight season in front of a sold-out crowd of 90,744 fans in The Swamp, a venue the Volunteers have not won at since 2003.

Rainey, who ran the ball 21 times for 108 yards and caught two passes for 104 yards, earned a touchdown on an 83-yard reception in the third quarter to help complete the first 100/100 game of his career. He also blocked the fifth punt of his career early in the second quarter, setting an all-time school record in the process.

The Gators began the contest by scoring 16 unanswered points. Sophomore running back Trey Burton caught a one-yard pass from redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley for the team’s first touchdown, completing a nine-play, 80-yard drive that opened the contest.

A 17-yard reception by redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thompson was followed by a 28-yard rush by senior RB Jeff Demps to set up the score, and Brantley went 5/5 through the air on the drive. He also completed his first eight passes of the game.

The Volunteers responded with a long drive of their own, but a missed 37-yards field goal by Tennessee kicker Michael Palardy gave the ball back to Florida. The Gators put together a 12-play, 68-yard drive as a response but failed to get in the end zone, settling for a 28-yard field goal from redshirt junior K Caleb Sturgis.

Florida also struggled with two short field opportunities, again settling for a pair of field goals in the second quarter. After Rainey’s blocked punt, the Gators ran a four-play drive that did not gain a yard; following a punt from the Vols’ end zone, Florida went just six yards in four plays and allowed Sturgis to put one through from 46 yards out to take a 16-0 lead with 8:31 remaining in the first half.

Volunteers signal caller Tyler Bray threw the first of his three touchdowns in the second quarter via an eight-yard strike to Marlin Lane to complete a six-play, 89-yard drive just under two minutes before halftime.

Leading 16-7 heading into the locker rooms, Florida hoped to regain their offensive momentum and stall the newfound success Tennessee found on that side of the ball.

Following a pass interference call that helped the Vols continue their touchdown drive, Gators junior safety Josh Evans sought out to redeem himself and did just that, nabbing an interception on Tennessee’s first possession of the second half.

Rainey took his second hand-off of the drive 14 yards and drew a late hit penalty to put the ball in the red zone. Florida chipped away at the yardage before handing the ball to Burton for his second score of the day, a one-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal.

The Volunteers punted on the next drive, giving the Gators the ball on their own 20 after a touchback. Rainey lost three yards on a carry to the right side to start the series but caught from Brantley over the middle which he took to the house for his 83-yard score, putting Florida ahead 30-7 with 8:08 to play in the third quarter.

Down 23 points, Tennessee felt the pressure and began to chip away at their deficit. After the Vols punted yet again, Demps fumbled the ball on a rush up the middle and UT took advantage with a 14-yard slant from Bray to WR Da’Rick Rogers for a touchdown.

A holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff forced UF to start at their own 10. Two short rushes and a pair of incomplete passes led to a punting situation, which senior David Lerner shanked just 22 yards to the Gators’ 31-yard-line.

Bray saw an opportunity and, even though his offense was backed up following a bad snap, completed consecutive 18-yard and eight-yard passes, the latter of which found the end zone for his second touchdown of the afternoon.

With Florida starting to see their lead slip away, Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis relied on Rainey to bring the ball down field. UF’s speedster touched the ball seven times on Florida’s 12-play, 50-yard drive, which resulted in a 42-yard field goal by Sturgis, his fourth of the game.

The Volunteers would not go down without a fight. Tennessee started the next possession at their 40-yard-line, and Bray threw eight passes on nine plays, totaling 54 yards through the air (60 total) and ending the series with a 18-yard touchdown pass.

Getting the ball back with 1:49 to play, the Vols again tried to make a move. After moving the ball 39 yards to the Gators’ 45-yard-line, Bray threw his second pick of the game to sophomore safety Matt Elam.

Florida’s defense, though it nabbed two interceptions and registered three sacks on the afternoon, failed to convert a number of major opportunities and was easily the most penalized unit on the field.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who had six tackles and a sack on Saturday, dropped two potential interceptions and committed a pass interference penalty. Freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson, the victim of two pass interference calls and a holding penalty, also failed to catch two balls that hit him in the hands.

Evans, sophomore CB Cody Riggs and freshman S De’Ante Saunders also committed pass interference penalties, giving the Gators six total. As a team, Florida committed an astounding 16 miscues for 150 yards, significantly more than Tennessee, which was also mistake prone with 10 penalties for 94 yards.

The Gators outgained the Vols by 68 yards but committed penalties that provided opportunities for UT to continue drives that otherwise would have fallen short. Florida held Tennessee to -9 rushing yards, but UT outgunned UF 288-213 through the air.

Brantley finished 14/23 for 213 yards and two touchdowns, while Bray completed 26-of-48 passes for 288 yards with three scores. The latter was intercepted twice but had falls find his opponent’s hands quite often throughout the contest.

Heading out of Gainesville for their first road game under head coach Will Muschamp, the Gators will face the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, KY. The game will air live at 7 p.m. on either ESPN or ESPN2.

Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press

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No. 16 Florida Gators vs. Tennessee Gameday

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather Forecast: 87°F, scattered thunderstorms, winds 8-9 mph
Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET) [3:39 p.m. kickoff]

TV: CBS/CBSHD
SiriusXM: 91
Online Video: CBSSports.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(16/17) FLORIDA GATORS TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Derek Dooley
Record: 2-0 Record: 2-0
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -9.5; O/U 50.5

HOMEWORK

Need to catch up on the Gators before week three action? No problem. OGGOA has been here all week compiling a ton of information so you can do your homework on the team before its next exam Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in The Swamp.

Muschamp’s presser | Weis comments on offense | Quinn comments on defense

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida leads the all-time series against Tennessee 21-19 and holds a 10-5 record at home in those games. The Gators have won six-straight contests against the Volunteers and, since the teams began playing annually in 1990, hold a 15-6 head-to-head record.
» UF has begun the season outscoring their first two opponents by a combined total of 80-3. This just the second time Florida has allowed three of fewer points to a pair of opponents to start a season (1933).
» The Gators’ shutout of UAB was the team’s first since 2006 (Western Carolina).
» It took UF seven quarters to achieve their first turnover of the season.
» Head coaches Muschamp (of Florida) and Dooley (of Tennessee) previously worked together on staffs under the stewardship of head coach Nick Saban at LSU (2001-04) and in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins (2005).
» 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’s offensive line has not allowed a sack this year, making them one of two teams in the SEC and one of five nationally to accomplish that feat through two contests.
» The Gators defense has forced the most turnovers in the SEC (305) since 2000. Florida also has the most interceptions in the nation (68) since 2008.
» Though Florida is 11-for-12 (91.7 percent) in red zone conversions, the Gators have only scored touchdowns on seven of those trips.
» Teams are averaging just 1.9 yards per carry against Florida’s defense this season.
» The Gators’ defense has only allowed three-of-23 (13 percent) third-down conversion attempts to be achieved against them over the first two games.
» The Vols are looking to start their season 3-0 for the first time since 2004. Should they win, it would also be their first three-game road winning streak since 2005-06.
» Though it is early in the season, Florida and Tennessee have each excelled in different areas heading into Saturday’s contest. The Gators top the Vols in rushing average 248.5-127.0 (16th-82nd) and points against 1.5-19.5 (1st-45th), while UT leads UF in passing average 358.0-241.5 (9th-47th) and points scored 43.5-40 (20th-30th). The teams have not played a common opponent this season.

LAST TIME OUT

Florida may have started the 2010 season slow, but they still took it to Tennessee with a 31-17 defeat in Knoxville, TN. The Gators let their running game do the work with Jeff Demps carrying the ball a career-high 26 times for 73 yards and Mike Gillislee scoring two of the team’s four touchdowns that afternoon. Aside from a pair of field goals, the Volunteers only touchdown came on a 49-yard strike midway through the third quarter.

ESPN COLLEGE GAMEDAY

Aside from ESPN reporter Erin Andrews hosting the 9-10 a.m. version of College GameDay on ESPNU, the Gators will be covered extensively on the latter portion of the show from 10 a.m. until noon on ESPN. In an OGGOA exclusive, we have learned that former Florida head coach Urban Meyer will break down how his former team will have to attack Tennessee’s offensive line. Following that segment, Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso will have a discussion specifically about the Gators’ defense under Muschamp.

INJURIES / ABSENCES

» Active: Senior running back Jeff Demps (shoulder), sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd (suspension), sophomore wide receiver Robert Clark (hamstring), freshman tight end A.C. Leonard (meniscus), redshirt freshman WR Stephen Alli (hamstring), redshirt junior WR Omarius Hines (hamstring)
» Inactive: Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee), redshirt sophomore TE Jordan Reed (hamstring), redshirt freshman DE Lynden Trail (performance), redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley (suspension)

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

FLORIDA
» Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (#12)…who has completed 67.3 percent of his passes (33-of-49) this season for 424 yards and a touchdown but also threw two interceptions in the season opener. Brantley only had a 60.8 completion percentage in 2010 with more picks than scores and remains the starter this year.
» Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey (#1)…who has 308 combined yards this season with four total touchdowns including a punt block return. Rainey is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and 12.2 yards per reception and became the first player in school history to have a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in the same game.
» Senior RB Jeff Demps (#28)…who has averaged 8.2 yards per carry so far this year including 105 in the season opener. He sat out most of the team’s second game with a shoulder injury and is Florida’s returning rushing leader from a year ago. Demps eclipsed the 2,000-yard career rushing mark in the first game of the year.
» Sophomore “RB” Trey Burton (#8)…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 (#22)…who stood out all offseason as the most valuable member of Florida’s secondary and moved into a starting role. He is the leading tackler with 11 and recorded the first forced fumble of his career against UAB.
» Sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd (#73)…who will play his first game of the season after sitting out the first two due to suspension. Floyd moved to end this year even though he is a true tackle and will start for the Gators.
» Defensive tackles sophomore Dominique Easley (#2) and redshirt senior Jaye Howard (#6)…who have solidified the interior of one of the Gators’ strongest units. Howard is the team’s most experienced player on defense (19 starts), while Easley may be its most dynamic off the snap, with a first-step raved about by teammates and coaches alike. Howard and Easley have combined for three tackles for loss through the first two games.
» Linebackers junior Jon Bostic (#52) and redshirt sophomore will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (#3)…who have combined for 15 tackles. Bostic has already registered two for a loss, and Jenkins earned the team’s first Hard Hat Award for a big hit in week one.
» Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturigs (#19)…who returns for Florida after missing the final eight games of the 2010 season with an injured back. He is perfect this year on nine field goal attempts (long: 51) and five extra points.

TENNESSEE
» QB Tyler Bray (#8)…who has completed 78.5 percent of his passes for 698 yards and seven touchdowns without throwing an interception in two games this season. He is only the second passer in team history to throw for more than 400 yards in a game, has tossed two or more touchdowns in eight consecutive games and set his school’s record for completion percentage with an 82.9 percent mark against Cincinnati.
» RB Tauren Poole (#28)…who is averaging 5.0 yards per carry in his first two contests this season and had the seventh 100-yard rushing game of his career against Cincinnati.
» WRs Justin Hunter (#11) and Da’Rick Rogers (#21)…who have combined for 502 yards and five touchdowns this year. Hunter’s SEC-leading 302 yards tops the team, and the duo both recorded 10 catches in a single game for the first time in school history.
» LBs Curt Maggitt (#56) and A.J. Johnson (#45)…who are two freshmen in the Vols starting front seven, the first linebackers in their class to ever do so for the team. The duo has combined for 10 tackles (1.5 for loss) in two games.

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Floyd’s teammates anxiously await his return

Serving a two-game suspension for violating the NCAA’s preferential treatment rules “including receiving $2,500 cash over several months from an individual not associated with the university,” Florida Gators defensive lineman is likely ready and raring to go for his first game action of the 2011 season on Saturday against the Tennessee Volunteers.

Though the situation was obviously difficult for the player, his teammates, the coaching staff and the university as a whole appear to have had his back – especially if you consider the statements from athletic director Jeremy Foley and head coach Will Muschamp as testimony to that fact.

For the first time since he was suspended, Floyd’s teammates had the opportunity to open up about their brother in arms. Three defensive players spoke with the media on Monday and all explained how pumped up they were for him to return.

“It’s going to be a big emotional boost,” redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. “Sharrif is a great teammate and we can’t wait to have him on the field with us.”

Redshirt junior sam linebacker Lerentee McCray said Floyd’s return provides some additional opportunities for the defense to succeed against a tough Southeastern Conference opponent in Tennessee.

“Getting Sharrif Floyd back does a lot for our team. It’s motivation, just bringing our brothers along, getting guys back in the rotation so we can have fresh bodies,” he said. “It gives us a real big boost going into a SEC game.

“Sharrif brings size, speed, athleticism – he just brings a lot to that position that you can’t normally get from a guy my size or somebody my stature. He’s a big guy – fast, quick, powerful – he’s a great guy who can play defensive end or defensive tackle, so he brings a lot to the position.”

McCray said he was proud of how Floyd dealt with the NCAA investigation and sitting out the first two games of the season. He also explained how Floyd was still able to contribute to the team from the sidelines.

“I think he handled it very well. I didn’t see him be down on himself very much,” McCray said. “He just watched the game from the sideline and gave us tips and things that we could do better. He just broke down the opponent from the sideline during the game, told us what they were doing and things that could help us out.”

Redshirt sophomore will linebacker Jelani Jenkins believes Floyd’s character will also be a big help to a young team looking for as much leadership as possible each game.

“Sharrif has amazing talents,” he said. “He is a great person, great player, great leader and I’m excited to have him back. I’m looking forward to it. He has a great pass rush ability. With him on the field, it makes everybody’s job a lot easier.”

Unlike the rest of his teammates, Floyd will get his first taste of game action this year against one of Florida’s biggest rivals. If he plays as well as his teammates and coaches expect him to from the get-go, Floyd could be a major boost to a Gators defense that is looking to improve in the pass rush in order to help out a very young secondary.

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9/12: Gators discuss rivalry week, improving pass rush, converting in red zone & more

With the Florida Gators beginning preparations for their first Southeastern Conference opponent of the 2011 season, number of prominent players were made available to the media on Monday to discuss how the team is progressing heading into their showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers on Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m. in The Swamp.

DIFFERENT TAKES ON FIRST RIVALRY WEEK

Of Florida’s three main rivals, Tennessee is always the first they face each season, and different players have varying perspectives about the week in general. While all believe it is important in terms of being the first SEC game of the season, some care very much that it is against Tennessee while others are not fazed whatsoever.

“It’s a big rival game. It’s probably my favorite rival game – playing that and the Florida State game,” said redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who expects the contest to be physical. “Growing up I used to always watch the Florida-Tennessee rivalry. Being from Georgia, both of those teams are hated, but I always grew up watching the Florida-Tennessee game has always been fun to me. These two teams hate each other and they always love to play. Everyone gives it their all and they all enjoy playing in this game.”

For redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, a life-long Gators fan, it is all about getting the win. “We start out SEC play against a tough opponent each year, which is Tennessee. To walk out of the game with a ‘W,’ know that you’ve played fairly well, that gives you some confidence and everything leading into other SEC play,” he said.

Sophomore running back Trey Burton is just ready to play. “It’s a big game for us and it’s always fun to play SEC games because they count,” he said. “It’s a conference game. Our goal is to get to Atlanta, and if we don’t wint his game then we won’t be able to get to Atlanta. These are obviously a little more important than the other games.”

Feeling slightly different is redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who cares more about giving maximum effort at all times than the team he faces. “We try to come out every day and attack each opponent the same,” he said. “Tennessee – they probably have more talent [then our first two opponents] – but we still like to play the best that we can every week, it really doesn’t matter what opponent we play.”

STEP ONE: IMPROVE THE PASS RUSH

Florida did not register any sacks against UAB on Saturday, which head coach Will Muschamp said was OK simply because the opponent got the ball out fast and did not allow many opportunities to do so. “Not having any sacks is some place that we need to get better at. That’s something we were very unhappy about, but we did affect the quarterback and still got some hits on him as he was throwing the ball,” Jenkins said. “Those are always stats that they don’t really show too much but they add up and help us out in the long run.”

Nevertheless, the players are well aware that improving in that area will be a major focus this week heading into SEC play. “This week in practice we need to have a good pass rushing session. We need to get better with our pass rush as far as the defensive line goes,” Hunter noted. “In the UAB game, we could have got to the quarterback a lot more, and I think that’s a big emphasis on what we need to do this weekend.” Redshirt junior LB Lerentee McCray agrees. “The pass rush emphasis is going to be a real big deal after that last game with us not getting any sacks. Just mostly our get-offs. It’s probably going to be a real big emphasis by coaches this weekend at practice.”

STEP TWO: CONVERT IN THE RED ZONE, SPREAD THE BALL AROUND

Though Florida’s offense has performed well over the last two games, the running game has led the Gators in both contests. “Like any quarterback, you want to be able to throw touchdown passes and everything, but the run game has been working,” Brantley said. “The pass game has really been working also, we just haven’t gotten the ball into the end zone through the air. That’s fine as long as we’re putting points on the board and coming out with the W – that’s all that matters to me.”

He recognizes this as well as the fact that Florida has been unsuccessful in converting most of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns. “We ran the ball real well. Once we got to that red zone we just kinda stalled,” he said. “I’m sure this week we’re going to concentrate on it. Once you get in the red zone you got to score. Field goals are nice, but you’d like to punch it in the end zone. […] Everything just gets a lot harder in the red zone. It’s a smaller area of field. We got the right plays for it and everything, we just got to execute them.”

Brantley is also aware that the passing game must open up, but he will not do so at the risk of attacking covered players. “[Long passes are] in the game plan and everything, but we take what the defense gives us. That’s one thing Coach [Charlie] Weis stresses to me and that’s what we’ve been doing,” he said. “All the receivers are built-in to this offense and they completely understand. They know as much as we check down or have to check down, sooner or later it’s going to open up. If they get frustrated or anything, they might miss that opportunity for a big play or something like that to happen. You always want to throw down field, but we’ve got great receivers and one-on-one I know the receivers can get open. We’re just going to go out there and take what the defense gives us.”

HUNTER A JOY TO HAVE AS A TEAMMATE

Taking his first carry in the orange and blue uniform into the end zone for a touchdown on Saturday, freshman fullback Hunter Joyer has been impressing teammates on both sides of the ball as well as the entire coaching staff. His focus, dedication and talent is something that his teammates respect and enjoy competing against.

Jenkins, who encounters Joyer in the backfield from time-to-time when rushing the passer during practice, noted that his strength is a major plus. “[Jon Bostic and I] both have a lot of respect for Hunter Joyer. He’s a great player. He’s real low to the earth, so you have to come at him real low. He’s strong,” he explained. “I remember first seeing him in the weight room benching like 315 [pounds] like it was easy. A lot of guys can’t do that at all. He’s a great player, and I love having him on the other side because we get to practice against him. We’re going against one of the best to prepare for other teams.”

Burton is working with Joyer as a part-time fullback himself and has seen first-hand how his preparation translates onto the field. “Coach [Brian] White works with both of us. Hunter is doing an unbelievable job especially coming in as a freshman,” he said. “I’m real proud of him and he’s learning real fast, and he’s a great kid. He’s unbelievable. He comes in and works real hard. He’s not a guy that will go out and talk a lot. He’s a really soft-spoken guy. He’s really quiet, doesn’t speak too much.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Hunter said the cast he has been wearing is a removable one that is heavy and has made it “difficult at times to do certain thing I would like to do.” He hopes to have it off before Saturday’s game.

» Hunter on the defensive line stepping up: “As a defensive line, we talk about it before games, that we want to put the pressure on ourselves because we’re the most experienced group on the field.”

» Hunter on Tennessee-week motivation: “It is a little different coming to the Tennessee game and not seeing the pictures, posters. New coaching staff and they got their own little thing they like to do and I’m enjoying it.”

» Hunter on how this staff prepares for each game compared to the last one: “They’re both very similar. They’re all about mental focus during practice and during the week, coming in and getting a lot of tape in, a lot of studying in and knowing what you have to do before the game starts. I think they’re both very similar in that aspect.”

» Brantley on how Weis has helped him improve: “He’s helped me out in a bunch of ways – mostly mentally. I think I’ve grown up a lot since last year, just forgetting about plays – even good plays and bad plays – you got to move forward. You can only worry about what’s going on right then and there; you can’t worry about the past.”

» Brantley on redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey being the leading receiver: “He has great hands and once he has the ball in his hands, he can do dangerous things. Coach Weis tells the receivers to keep blocking because you never know who he’s going to make miss and what he’s going to do.”

» Brantley on the intensity inside the locker room for Tennessee week: “Inside our locker room it definitely has the same intensity as it always has been. […] There’s been a lot of great memories. It’s always a big rivalry and always will be I believe.”

» Brantley’s opinion of the new offense: “It’s completely changed. Under center, I-back, just we’re going to run the ball at you. It’s completely changed and I think it’s changed for the good around here.”

» Brantley on how Weis uses Rainey: “He’s not a real downhill power runner, but Coach Weis – he’s able to get those running backs out on the edge, and I think that’s where Chris is most dangerous – in the open field out on the edge. Coach Weis just does a great job suiting the offense around what his players do best.”

» Brantley on if what Rainey can do ever shocks him: “He still surprises me sometimes, but I just know he has it in him. When I watch film on Sundays, when I come in and watch the game, because sometimes I’ll be faking away or I really don’t get to see it. It surprises me a lot. First game when he spun and scored that touchdown, I had no idea that he made that spin or anything. He definitely surprises me.”

» Brantley on Muschamp letting Weis handle the offense: “Coach Muschamp’s our head coach and everyone knows that. He’s not completely distant from the offense during practice; he overlooks the offense at times. We understand that Coach Weis is the main offense, but it’s not too much of a difference because he’s still around quite a bit.”

» McCray on sophomore safetyMatt Elam being the leader of the secondary: “Matt Elam has taken on his role very well. He’s quiet – he pretty much leads by example in the secondary. He has to talk to the other guys to get the guys going sometimes, but he’s doing a good job taking on his role as just being the quiet guy who leads by example.”

» McCray on if he plays harder against SEC opponents: “I just look at it as being a consistent player – just going out and playing your best every game. You can’t play better versus one team and worse versus another team. You just have to go out and put a consistent level of play every time you get on the field.”

» Jenkins on if his teammates make fun of him for dropping two interceptions: “Yeah they always give me grief about that. There are two plays I probably could have made.”

» Burton on how his brother, freshman tight end Clay Burton played during his first game time: “I was happy for him. He had a good time and my whole family was happy for him. He did pretty good. I didn’t really watch too much of what he did, but from what I saw on the sideline, he did pretty good. He was real psyched to play.”

» Burton on his conversation with Weis about his position before the season: “I just told him I wanted to play whatever he saw me playing. It’s his offense and he does what he wants to do.”

» Burton on if he’s noticed the crowd has not been at capacity: “I heard UAB brought back 5,000 tickets or 4,000 tickets, something like that. That might have had something to do with it, but I expect it to be a pretty good crowd on Saturday. The Swamp’s The Swamp.”

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