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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No. 18 Florida Gators vs. UAB Blazers Gameday

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather Forecast: 83°F, isolated thunderstorms
Time: 7:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: FSN/FSNHD
SiriusXM: 220/199
Online Video: WatchESPN
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(18) FLORIDA GATORS UAB BLAZERS
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Neil Callaway
Record: 1-0 Record: 0-0
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Conference USA
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -23.5; O/U 53.5

HOMEWORK

Need to catch up on the Gators before week two 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 evening at 7 p.m. in The Swamp.

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

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is 1-0 in the all-time series against UAB, defeating the Blazers 51-3 in 2002, the only time the teams squared off.
» The Gators are 36-15-3 against current members of Conference USA and have not lost to one such opponent since 1979. Florida last squared off against C-USA member Central Florida in 2006 and claimed a 42-0 victory.
» Florida has won 88 percent of its home games (118-16) since 1990, the best home winning percentage in the nation. In that period, the Gators are 56-4 against non-conference opponents and 92-4 against unranked teams.
» 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.
» Nine Florida players earned their first starts last Saturday in the season opener as freshmen safety De’Ante Saunders and cornerback Marcus Roberson; redshirt freshmen tight end Gerald Christian, wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and right tackle Chaz Green; sophomores defensive tackle Dominique Easley and S Matt Elam; redshirt junior linebacker Lerentee McCray; and redshirt senior transfer left guard Dan Wenger took the field with the Gators’ first team. It is the first time in school history that a pair of true freshman started the season opener in UF’s secondary.
» Florida’s offensive line did not allow a sack last Saturday.
» The Gators defense has forced the most turnovers in the SEC (304) since 2000; however, UF did not obtain any in its season opener, finishing with a -3 turnover margin (interceptions). Florida also has the most interceptions in the nation (68) since 2008.
» UF did not punt the ball last week but sophomore WR Solomon Patton blocked one which was returned for a touchdown. He has blocked a punt in back-to-back games dating back to last season (2011 Outback Bowl).

LAST TIME OUT

Florida and UAB have only met on one other occasion – Aug. 31, 2002 – when the Gators stomped the Blazers 51-3 in Ron Zook’s first game as the team’s head coach. Florida outgained UAB 643-240 in the contest and Rex Grossman went 16/26 for 337 yards and two touchdowns. Taylor Jacobs broke the Gators’ single-game receiving record with 246 yards and two scores on eight receptions, while Earnest Graham took 13 carries down the field for 182 yards and two touchdowns.

INJURIES

» Acitve: Soph. RB Trey Burton (bruise), redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson (head)
» Probable: Redshirt junior WR Omarius Hines (hamstring)
» Questionable: Redshirt jr. CB Jeremy Brown (knee), soph. WR Robert Clark
» Inactive: Soph. DT Sharrif Floyd (suspension), fresh. TE A.C. Leonard (meniscus)

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

FLORIDA
» Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley…who completed 70 percent of his passes (21-of-30) in the season opener for 229 yards and a touchdown but also threw two interceptions. Brantley only had a 60.8 completion percentage in 2010 with more picks than scores but is said to have been revitalized by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
» Running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey…who are co-starters in the backfield and two of the most dynamic and explosive players in the SEC. Demps and Rainey combined for 272 total rushing and receiving yards with five touchdowns against FAU. Rainey became the first player in school history to have a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in the same game, while Demps eclipsed the 2,000-yard career rushing mark and had four runs over 20 yards in the contest.
» Sophomore Trey Burton…who is the team’s most versatile player and proved that fact last year, scoring 12 touchdowns as a true freshman including 11 on the ground. Burton will line up all over the field for the Gators and could be found as a running back, fullback, H-back, tight end or wide receiver.
» Elam…who stood out all offseason as the most valuable member of Florida’s secondary and moved into a starting role in 2011. He notched four tackles in the season opener good for second-best on the team
» Sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell…who steps into a new position somewhat unique to Muschamp’s defense. Powell started one game as a true freshman but has earned that role permanently this season and achieved a sack against FAU.
» Defensive tackles Easley and redshirt senior Jaye Howard…who have solidified the interior of one of the Gators’ strongest units. Howard is the team’s most experienced player on defense (18 starts), while Easley may be its most dynamic off the snap, with a first-step raved about by teammates and coaches alike. Howard had a sack in the season opener, while Easley registered three tackles including one for a loss.
» Redshirt sophomore will linebacker Jelani Jenkins…who had a team-high five tackles last Saturday including a big-time hit that earned him the team’s first Hard Hat Award.
» Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturigs…who returns for Florida after missing the final eight games of the 2010 season with an injured back. He is perfect this year on two field goal attempts including Florida’s first points of the season – a 51-yarder on UF’s first drive.

UAB
» QB Bryan Ellis…who started the final nine games of the Blazers’ 2010 season and finished with 2,940 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He leads a strong UAB passing attack that hopes to keep UF on its heels throughout the contest.
» RB Pat Shed…who is the team’s leading rusher for a year ago with 847 yards on the season. He also plays a role in the passing game and amassed 471 receiving yards as well as seven total touchdowns for the Blazers.
» LB Lamanski Ware…who is UAB’s defensive leader as well as a team captain in his senior campaign.

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9/7: Hammond, Bostic comment on the Gators

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preparations for their second game of the season on Sept. 10 at home against UAB, a few prominent players were made available to the media on Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing.

PERIMETER BLOCKING A BIG PLUS

Running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey got most of the praise for the offense’s dominant season opening performance against Florida Atlantic. However, as offensive coordinator Charlie Weis pointed out Tuesday and redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. confirmed Wednesday, the perimeter blocking of the pass catchers on outside runs and swing passes was also quite clutch.

“We just embraced [blocking] because [Weis has] put so much emphasis on Demps and Rainey and their speed,” Hammond said. “We know that we don’t have to hold the blocks for that long because they’ll get behind us real quick. He put emphasis on just block, letting them run, get up the field and do what they do. […]

“It’s just trusting the offense and knowing your assignment and what you have to do. When you see it happen and you see him spring and he’s going and you see the number run by you, just knowing that you blocked for your teammate and you’re doing everything to help the team win, it’s a great feeling.”

FRESHMEN STAND OUT TO BOSTIC

Junior mike linebacker Jon Bostic has lot to deal with game-in and game-out, but if one of his younger teammates steps up as much as he thinks he can, things could be a bit easier going forward. Redshirt freshman LB Michael Taylor, who stayed off the field in 2010 but has turned some heads so far this year, may be integral to the unit’s success going forward. “One thing about him – he attacks real well,” Bostic said. “He’s one of those guys – when he sees it, he’s just going to go. He’s got a trigger. […] He’s real important [to the team.] We tell him that every day. He’s just one play away. Anything can happen and he’s in the game. We’re going to need him as the season goes along.”

Bostic has been equally impressed with freshman fullback Hunter Joyer, whose strength and effort have already stood out to him. “Physical. He’s real physical,” he said of Joyer. “The first time I went against him, I came in the hole and I hit him, and I came back and told Jelani [Jenkins]. I said, ‘Have you hit Hunter Joyer yet?’ He’s like, ‘No.’ I’m like, ‘He didn’t move.’” After Bostic chuckled at Joyer’s strength, he explained why he is so important. “He’s quiet – goes out every day and works hard. He’s one of those guys people always look over. They see Rainey scoring, Demps scoring, but he’s that guy that puts in the extra work and gets them to the next level. “

DEFENSE GOOD BUT TURNOVERS NEEDED

The Gators defense held FAU to 30 net rushing yards on Saturday, a fact that Bostic said the defense took a lot of pride in when watching the film. “That’s our main focus every week – is to stop the run,” he said. “We want to get them in second-and-long, third-and-long, but that first down is where we really want to stop the run.”

However, when it came to game-changing plays in the form of turnovers, he was aware that Florida undoubtedly fell short. “Even though we held them to limited rushing yards and limited passing yards, that’s one thing we need to stress every game,” he said. “We need at least three turnovers a game. That’s our goal every game.” The Gators may have come a bit closer to that goal had Jenkins not dropped a ball that hit him in the hands. “We tell him every day that he can’t catch,” Bostic said laughing.

One thing Jenkins is succeeding at is improving his on-field communication. According to Bostic, the two veteran linebackers are so in-sync that sometimes they do not even need to say anything to each other. “The communication between us is real good, especially with me and Jelani – for some reason we may not even have to talk all the time,” he said. “I may look at him or he may look at me and it’s like I know what he’s thinking, he knows what I’m thinking. We’re trying to get communication like that between all of us.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Hammond on redshirt sophomore WR Andre Debose’s improvement: “He looks a lot more comfortable. He’s making more plays and he’s just coming along. He’s catching the ball, making plays and knowing his assignments. He’s making an improvement. He’s been in the playbook, he’s been working, he’s been making more plays and getting more confident and it’s just carried to the games.”

» Hammond on if Weis’s teachings hold more water than other coaches he’s had: “Yeah but at the same time, if we have a correction or a dilemma, we’re not scared to go up and ask him and say, ‘Well I think this. I’ve seen this. I’ve seen that.’ He’ll break it down. He’ll coach it up. We’ll have our little disputes, but at the end of the day we’ll get it all squared away. When he says something in installs, he’s run that play forever, so I’m pretty sure he knows the ins-and-outs of it and he’s seen it work at the top level so, it works.”

» Bostic on the linebackers’ effort on Saturday: “I’d say we played pretty good. We were aggressive coming down hill. We still have a lot of things we can work on footwork-wise, technique, getting all the calls out. Overall we did pretty well.”

» Bostic on one thing that his unit can improve: “Basically just knowing what we’re doing on every play, getting more comfortable in there. Even though we may be comfortable in practice, getting under the lights and in front of another team, you start thinking a little bit more. We just have to relax when we’re out there.”

» Bostic on if Demps or Rainey ever surprise him: “Yeah. Every time. Like when Demps will break off a run, you say it every time, ‘That guy can run.’ With Rainey, you never know what to expect. He’ll put a move on you to the left or right, you never know what you’re going to get out of him.”

» Bostic on the improvement of the offense: “Our offense did keep us off the field a lot more than we were used to. […] One thing going in, we were like, ‘We were on the field forever last year.’ This year we were pissed off at them in the first half. We were like, ‘Can we play?’ I think end of the second quarter I was in like 12 plays at the most.”

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9/5: Will Muschamp’s Monday press conference

Head coach Will Muschamp meets with the media each Monday to wrap-up the previous Saturday’s game and look ahead to the Florida Gators next opponent. Below are some of the most important notes and quotes from this week’s availability.

OPENING STATEMENT AND PLAYER AWARDS

Opening statement: “I thought it was a solid performance. I was really pleased with our mental focus coming into the game and how our kids approached the game, understanding we’ll play better people throughout the year to be realistic here. I thought for a first ball game we had some hiccups here and there, some things we got to get cleaned up, a lot to teach from the tape but a lot of positives as well.”

Offensive Players of the Game: RBs redshirt senior Chris Rainey and senior Jeff Demps
Scrap Iron Award (best offensive lineman): Redshirt senior transfer guard Dan Wenger
Big Play Award: Demps
Extra Effort Award: Junior left tackle Xavier Nixon
Defensive Player of the Game: Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley
Hard Hat Award (big hit): Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins
Special Teams Player of the Week: Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis
ST Big Play Award: Sophomore wide receiver Solomon Patton
Scout Team Players of the Week: Offense-Evan Holmes (fr.), Hygens Succes (jr.); Defense-Michael McNeely (fr.); Special Teams-Solomon Schoonover (sr.)

SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week: Redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard

INJURY UPDATES

Sophomore RB Trey Burton (bruise) and redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson (head) “should be fine” going into next week’s game. Redshirt junior WR Omarius Hines (hamstring) is expected to return this week.

Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) and sophomore WR Robert Clark (hamstring) will be either probable or questionable based on how they perform throughout the week in both practice and the training room.

A TAKE ON ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM

Muschamp provided his perspective on Saturday’s opponent, Alabama-Birmingham. He said he is familiar with head coach Neal Calloway and knows that he “understands about toughness” in regards to a football team’s mentality. Muschamp expects a one-back offense behind a very experienced offensive line that has combined for 118 starts and is returning all five starters from a year ago. He said UAB moved the ball on every opponent they faced one year ago, noting that offensive coordinator Kim Helton played at and graduated from Florida before beginning his coaching career. Muschamp said a new defensive coordinator, Tommy West, will provide the Gators with some unknowns heading into the game and that UAB’s rugby-style punt team will be an something Florida will be prepared for going into the contest.

NOTES & QUOTES

» In regards to sophomore DT Sharrif Floyd’s NCAA eligibility and status, Muschamp partially deflected the question but seemed confident that all would work out in the end. “He’s fine. I have no comment on that at this point,” he said.”

» On if 32 combined touches were too many for Demps and Rainey: “A little of that had to do with Trey [being injured], but we scored 41 points, so we were kind of happy about that.”

» On redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley’s performance: “I thought John was outstanding. I thought he directed the offense, got us in and out of the right runs and passes – no different than I felt watching the film. I thought he was very accurate with the ball, took it to the right places with what they were giving us –t hey were playing more of a sink, soft coverage taking away some vertical things down the field. We hit swing passes all night.”

» On the 10th anniversary of September 11th: “That’s a tough deal. Obviously an attack on our country, to go through what I know a lot of people close to me went through with that is just a tough deal. To have to think through all of that happening – it seems like it was yesterday to me, not 10 years ago now. It’s a tough deal.”

» On how he dealt with his team that weekend: “Getting our team ready was an afterthought after that happened to me. It was more about circling the wagons, understanding why it happened, explaining it to young men why something like that happens. You can’t. You can’t think rationally with irrational people. What happened was totally irrational.”

» On freshman fullback Hunter Joyer’s performance: “We planned on playing him. He’s really progressed well. He really, for a first ball game going out there, was very productive for us in protections, in blocking. A guy that I’m very excited about having on our football team. He gives you a lot of variety of what he can do. He’s very tough; he’s going to be a really good football player for us and we’re very pleased with where he is right now in his progress.”

» Muschamp said that redshirt sophomore WR Andre Debose is getting better and better each time he sees him and is one back-up who really stood out to him on Saturday. “Andre Debose continues to make progress,” he said, “made a really nice catch on third own there on the seven-cut on our sideline.” Defensively Muschamp shouted out freshmen safety De’Ante Saunders, cornerback Marucs Roberson linebacker Graham Stewart and redshirt LB Michael Taylor as players who caught his eye.

» On not getting any turnovers but giving up three: “Yeah, it was a huge concern. That’s something we’re trying to emphasize I think in camp. We did a decent job with that. We were minus-three in turnovers and we were plus-eight in explosives. We had 10 explosives offensively and gave up two defensively. Those are the two factors that we can talk about – all the others you want to talk about – those are the two most critical ones: big play ratio and turnovers.”

» On whether or not he is pleased with how the team has bought into his blue collar mentality: “I want to credit Urban [Meyer] and his staff. A lot of that credit goes to Mickey [Marotti] in the weight room because that’s really where the foundation of your team [is set]. Coaches can only touch the athletes so many times out of the year by the rules. Mickey is with them 12 months out of the year. Certainly his work ethic, his approach and what they’ve been engrained through this program – and that’s why I wanted to retain Mickey for the job he does. They knew how to work, they knew how to compete, they knew how to work out, they knew how go to the practice field every day and have a business-like approach to what we’re trying to do. They certainly have bought in from day one, in my opinion. Some better than others and the ones that didn’t as much aren’t here anymore. I feel very comfortable where we are as far as the work ethic and the approach. Can we do it consistently? We’ve got some young guys that have got to display that over a period of time. We’re talking about one football game at this time. We’ve got a long season ahead of us. That’s the big challenge, and I’m going to challenge the football team today. ‘You’ve got to do it consistently. Now you’ve shown you can, now it’s a week-in, week-out deal. It’s a day-in, day-out. You can’t just show up some days because you’re excited because it’s the first game. It’s got to be week-in, week-out.”

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9/3: Gators vs. Owls post-game news & notes

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

ABSENCES AND INJURIES

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

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

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

THE DEMPS AND RAINEY SHOW

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

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

BRANTLEY’s STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

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

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

SECONDARY YOUNG BUT DEFENSE STOUT

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

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

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

OTHER NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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