Florida opponent previews – Missouri and Georgia

By Mike Brandes – OnlyGators.com Contributor

After squaring off against two bitter rivals, the Florida Gators will square off against one of the two newest additions to the Southeastern Conference, the Missouri Tigers.

The 2013 Florida squad drew comparisons to Missouri’s 2012 team, under-performing because of excessive injuries that ravaged its roster. The Gators hope to replicate what the Tigers did in 2013 as well as the program rebounded from that injury-plagued season to win the SEC East with a 7-1 conference record.

Head-to-Head

FLORIDA GATORS MISSOURI TIGERS
Head Coach: Will Muschamp (Year: 4) Head Coach: Gary Pinkel (Year: 14)
2013 Record: 4-8 (3-5) 2013 Record: 12-2 (7-1)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Common Opponents: 3-3 Common Opponents: 5-1
Scoring Offense: T-112th (18.8 ppg) Scoring Offense: 13th (39.1 ppg)
Scoring Defense: 15th (21.1 ppg) Scoring Defense: 34th (23.1 ppg)

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8/18: Muschamp on depth chart, competition heating up as season approaches

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to kick off his team’s final few days of practice before preparation finally begins for the team’s first opponent on Saturday, Aug. 30.

INJURY UPDATES

The Gators were dealt their first notable injury blow this season as Muschamp announced that freshman defensive tackle Thomas Holley, who was already dealing with scar tissue on a sports hernia he had repaired in high school, also had an undetected torn labrum in his hip and was scheduled for surgery on Monday. Holley will take a redshirt.

Senior offensive guard Trenton Brown (foot contusion), redshirt sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye (hamstring) and freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe (ankle) were all injured in practice this week, though all are expected back soon. Brown will return to practice on Tuesday, while Maye and Sharpe are scheduled to get back onto the field next Monday after a week on the sideline.

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8/12: Roper breaks down Gators offense, backup quarterbacks and running backs

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper met with the media on Tuesday after the team’s 11th fall practice to provide his thoughts on the offense to this point. Roper also evaluated a number of Gators who should be big factors for Florida in 2014.

EARLY RETURNS

The theme coming out of spring practice was that the Gators installed more of the offense and were much further along in the learning process than Roper expected. While that might have been true then, Roper was cautious Tuesday to say that Florida’s players fully understand what is going on with his scheme.

“I think they’ve got a really good understanding of what we’re asking them to do, our base offense, I should say, the guys that were around for those 15 days – our two offensive lines, our two quarterbacks,” he explained. “Really, the young guys, it’s a battle right now to have a great understanding because it is so new to them and our defense is so multiple and causes so many problems. But the guys that have been in the battles before can obviously apply experiences to what we’re teaching them offensively, I think they’ve really got a good understanding of what we’re doing.”

He later added: “These guys aren’t there yet because they’ve just been in it 25-26 practices in. The biggest thing to guard against is putting too much on their plate.”

While Roper may still be spoon-feeding the Gators his offense, he is pleased with how the team has responded to his system and coaching.

“I think [their attitude's] been really good. I think these guys are excited about playing football,” he explained. “It wouldn’t matter who you rolled in here. When this time of season comes running around, everybody is excited. But I hope they’re enjoying the offense. I hope they’re enjoying competing every day on the practice field, and I think they’re excited about going and competing on Saturdays.”

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8/11: Muschamp updates injuries, backup quarterback, progress after nine practices

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss how the team is progressing in fall training camp. The Gators have completed seven days of practice to this point.

INJURY UPDATES

Though most of the injuries Florida players have suffered early this fall are minor, the list is beginning to lengthen with the Gators now nine practices into training camp.

Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his knee on Thursday, has not yet returned to practice and spent Monday running in an anti-gravity treadmill. He is expected to return to the field on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose and junior running back Matt Jones, both of whom are returning after suffering season-ending knee injuries in 2013, had swelling in the joint and did not practice Monday. Debose should return on Wednesday, while Jones might be back as early as Tuesday.

Sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor missed practice with a strained hamstring and will be held out until the end of the week, either Thursday or Friday barring an unforeseen setback. Junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard (ankle) did not practice Monday but will be back Tuesday.

Four players including redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Trip Thurman, redshirt freshman defensive ends Bryan Cox, Jr. and Alex McCalister, and freshman defensive back Duke Dawson all suffered shoulder injuries over the weekend but “should be fine” in the next few days.

Additionally, freshman DL Taven Bryan, who had been impressing Muschamp early in training camp, has strep throat and is day-to-day. “I hate that Taven has strep throat, because I thought he was making some progress. This will set him back,” he said.

Already out of action, freshman DL Thomas Holley continues to recover from a sports hernia that occurred in high school. Due to the build up of scar tissue, he will need minor surgery and remain out of action indefinitely until given clearance by doctors.

“They’re going to go in and shave that down, but I don’t know what the time frame is for that. I want to say the surgery is Tuesday,” Muschamp explained. “It’s not a major procedure, it’s more like having a scope done. He had some scar tissue that was built up that was very of discomforting when he ran, so he will be out for some time, but I do not know how much.”

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8/6: Year two for Taylor and Robinson, Gators hopeful about rebuilt offensive line

A number of Florida Gators players met with the media on Wednesday after their third day of fall practice. On Sunday, head coach Will Muschamp discussed Florida’s young offensive line and indicated that a few freshmen could be part of UF’s rotation in 2014.

YEAR TWO

With a full season under his belt, sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor is now more confident than ever. Taylor averaged 4.6 yards per carry (508 yards on 111 rushes) behind a lackluster offensive line during his freshman campaign and rumbled home for four touchdowns despite only being the primary ball-carrier in five contests.

“I’m just ready to go out there and just keep working hard every day, keep getting better and just trust my offensive linemen and everything else is going to fall into place,” he said on Wednesday. “I’m just ready to have a great year this year, and I can’t wait to get out there on the field. It all starts in practice. I’m just going to keep working hard and every day, just keep trying to get better and better at the little things.”

Taylor said now that he is more familiar with the tempo of practice, he is more equipped to allow what he learns on a weekly basis to translate over into the games. As such, he spent a portion of the summer learning how to be a better pass blocker from some of his teammates.

“I was doing different things with my offensive linemen, D.J. Humphries, we were doing little pass blocking drills to help make me a complete back,” he noted.

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Hype train rolls on for WR Demarcus Robinson

More than once this offseason – including at the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days on Monday – Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp called this season’s roster the most talented he’s had during his tenure at the school.

While corroborating that statement before the season is difficult considering Florida has lost a ton of top-end defenders in consecutive seasons and enters the 2014 campaign with its underwhelming specialists unchanged, the Gators certainly do possess a rebuilt stable of offensive talent.

Yet while Florida’s veteran wide receiver (redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar, incoming pass-catching tight end (redshirt senior Jake McGee) and three starting-caliber running backs (sophomore Kelvin Taylor, redshirt senior Mack Brown and redshirt junior Matt Jones) were all mentioned by the contingent in Hoover, Alabama, on Monday, it was a talent who frustrated and underwhelmed as a freshman that got the most praise.

“You heard it here first. He is that good,” sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III – a third-team Associated Press All-American, unanimous first-team Freshman All-American and unanimous first-team All-SEC nominee – said of the player.

Hargreaves was speaking to FOX Sports reporter Bruce Feldman about Florida sophomore wideout Demarcus Robison, the four-star prospect who was supposed to be a game-changer and big-time playmaker for the Gators as a freshman.

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2014 SEC Media Days – Will Muschamp pleased Florida’s roster, progress made in spring

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III represented the team on Monday by participating in the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.

Below are highlights primarily from Muschamp’s sessions with the media.

BETTER THAN EXPECTED

If anyone is to believe in the possibility of Florida turning things around in 2014, rebounding from its worst season since 1979, it is going to start on the offensive side of the ball. Muschamp knew this and brought in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to employ a spread offense and make the Gators a more dynamic playmaking team.

Not only will Roper’s offense put redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel back in the shotgun, where he is more comfortable and capable, it should give Florida more space to make plays. Muschamp is already extremely impressed with how much UF has been able to get accomplished in such a short period of time.

“I went back and looked at our numbers from 2012 when we were in the shotgun as opposed to being under center. When Jeff was in the shotgun, our yards were better, our explosive plays were better in both the run and pass game. He was recruited to Florida to be a gun quarterback,” he explained.

“In making that change, I felt like Kurt Roper was a great hire for us from a standpoint of a guy that philosophically is on the same page with me as what we want to be, that’s a balanced offense. …

“In our 15 days of springs, we got a lot more done than I thought we would. He’s an outstanding fundamental football coach, very positive. It was good to see our offensive kids having fun again on the field. Really excited about that. Probably what excites me the most is this is probably the most talent we’ve had on offense in my four years at Florida.”

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2014 Florida Gators Orange & Blue Debut Review

The 2014 Orange & Blue Debut is in the books with the Florida Gators coming away from their spring game without a winner as the first-team Blue and second-team Orange left the field tied at 23-23 at the end of the fourth quarter.

Florida’s offense certainly looked much improved, though there were questions about the Gators defense – specifically the line – especially by the time the scrimmage concluded.

OnlyGators.com offered free live coverage of the event as well as head coach Will Muschamp post-spring game press conference and now wraps it all up with evaluations, notes and quotes in the Orange & Blue Debut Review.

OFFENSE

» The running backs showed off with redshirt senior Mack Brown (Blue) toting the rock eight times for 55 yards and a touchdown. Brown pulled off a tremendous 19-yard rush by stopping short on an off-tackle run, reversing field and carrying the ball down to the one-yard line before rumbling into the end zone on the next play.

» Sophomore Kelvin Taylor (Blue) only got five total touches in the scrimmage (one reception for no gain) but looked impressive while on the field. Faced with three defenders on his way to the goal line, Taylor juked inside to avoid all three and took the ball down to the two-yard line on an 11-yard gain. He found pay dirt on the next play for the first touchdown of the game.

» Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (Blue) completed 10-of-17 passes for 125 yards and 31-yard touchdown on a drag route to sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (Blue) in the first half. Robinson took Driskel’s pass across the middle and charged upfield for the score. Driskel went 0-for-3 on his first series but calmed down, made some nice passes and moved his unit nicely in both the run and pass game. Driskel finished 19-of-33 for 171 yards.

Muschamp said he was “real pleased” with how Driskel played, especially considering he had not played football all offseason until these 15 spring practices. “Probably one of the better throws he had today was a throwaway, a scramble pass in a one-minute situation before half that he threw out of bounds. Decision making and all those things will continue to improve as he processes information within what we’re trying to do. I think he’s in the shotgun and that’s what he was recruited here to do.”

» Robinson finished with five receptions for 53 yards on the afternoon and also had a fourth down conversion when he caught a pass on a curl route and took it for a first down. “I think we’re as deep as we’ve been at wideout with some guys that can make plays on the ball,” Muschamp said. “Demarcus Robinson is a home run threat on every play,” Driskel added.

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