Track the Florida Gators en route to New Orleans

The No. 3 Florida Gators are on their way to New Orleans, LA, to practice for a week before facing the Louisville Cardinals in the 2013 Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, 2013 at 8 p.m. As a long-time special ONLY GATORS Get Out Alive feature, the following is the flight information for the Gators, who are flying over on an American Airlines Boeing 757-200 twin-jet. You can also track the flight live while it is in the air!

ORIGIN: Gainesville Regional Airport (KGNV)
DESTINATION: Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (KMSY)

DURATION: 1 hour 23 minutes

DEPARTURE: 10:57 a.m. EST [scheduled 11:00 p.m. EST]
ARRIVAL: 11:20 p.m. CST [scheduled 11:23 p.m. CST]

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12/19: Quinn and Hunter talk practice, juniors

With the team beginning preparations for the 2013 Sugar Bowl against the Louisville Cardinals in New Orleans, LA on Jan. 2, No. 3 Florida Gators defensive coordinator Brent Pease and redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter sat down with the media to discuss the team’s defense and how it is shaping up for the bowl game.

FOWLER IS “SPECIAL,” POOLE IS IMPRESSING

Head coach Will Muschamp has propped up sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy all season for making great strides in his game during practices leading up to the 2012 Gator Bowl. Asked Wednesday who has made similar strides so far in these bowl practices, Quinn pointed to two players in particular.

“In the front seven, one that is really coming on that you can see is [Buck linebacker] Dante Fowler. He’s played all year. He’s playing really at a high level right now and to me you can see the momentum, the confidence and the understanding at a faster rate. That part has been exciting,” Quinn said. “On the back end, one guy that has caught my attention that is doing a good job right now is [CB] Brian Poole. I’d say those two players are really ones to me that have caught my eye, and I thought they’ve had a good camp in terms of the work and stuff they’ve put in.”

For players like Purifoy last year and Poole this year, Quinn said it is all about growth and development. Freshmen may not pick up terminology or technique in the few practices before the season begins, so the coaching staff may not have the necessary confidence in them to play them early. As the season goes on, the players are able to pick up a lot more and are then able to display the improvements they have made in bowl practices when younger players get more time on the field.

Asked to point out players that have impressed him in bowl practice, Hunter named Purifoy, Fowler, junior DT Damien Jacobs, freshman defensive end Jonathan Bullard and sophomore CB Marcus Roberson. He had plenty of praise for Fowler in particular.

“That kid’s special. He’s special. He’s what I wanted to be my freshman year. He is very special. He’s going to be a great player here. Quick, powerful guy,” Hunter said. “I think he can play inside at three-technique; I think he can play outside at the end. He can cover tight ends. He’s just a special athlete, special football player. He’s learning the system more than anything. He’s getting smarter. He’s a smarter football player than he was when he first came in. These practices [are] where the coaches can help the younger guys more because the seniors know everything.”

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12/17: Muschamp on players, Sugar Bowl, Phillips

No. 3 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss the last two weekends of practice, preview the 2013 Sugar Bowl and update the statuses as well as provide his thoughts about a number of players on the team.

INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (foot) and redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Ian Silberman (shoulder) will both miss the bowl game. Each player had successful surgery on his respective injury recently but will not be able to return in time. Furthermore, redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan (torn pectoral) has been doing individual work with the team but has not been cleared to play just yet. Muschamp said there are no other players expected to be absent for the bowl game, though he did mention previously that sophomore safety De’Ante Saunders would not play.

TRANSFER CONFIRMED

Muschamp confirmed that freshman defensive back Willie Bailey, a three-star recruit who did not play this season, has decided to leave the program and pursue opportunities elsewhere. “Willie Bailey has decided to transfer. He and I met last week and felt like he wanted to move on. We will support him in that,” he said.

He also noted that there should not be any more transfers before the bowl game but things could certainly change after Jan. 2. “We’re good right now. Obviously after the bowl game you sit down and evaluate where a young man is but right now we’re good to go,” Muschamp added.

RETURNING TO PRACTICE

Florida has practiced each of the last two weekends but has spent that time mostly working on fundamentals and getting back to basics. Muschamp said that the Gators will begin preparing for the Louisville Cardinals on Tuesday. Florida will then take a break for the holidays before resuming practice in New Orleans, LA, the site of the Sugar Bowl, on Dec. 27.

One thing he has tried to do since the end of the regular season is come up with a balance for the team between resting and getting away from it all but still remaining sharp football-wise.

“It’s really important for them to get away and decompress a little bit from football. You look at bowl games, with this long of a layover, it’s a one-game season. That’s how you really got to approach it,” he said. “You got to put all of your energy into it. I don’t like focusing too early on a bowl game because I think the players get too stale with the preparation. They get tired of watching the same film over and over and over again.”

Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say…after the break!
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FOUR BITS: transfer, Sugar Bowl, graduation

1 » Florida Gators freshman defensive back Willie Bailey, a three-star recruit out of Hallandale, FL who did not see the field in his first season with the team, has decided to transfer and pursue his college football career elsewhere. According to Bryan Holt of InsidetheGators.com, who spoke with Bailey’s high school coach ($) and confirmed that the decision has been made, the transfer was a long time coming though he left still very fond of Florida. The Gators are expected to see plenty of attrition this offseason with some players transferring, others graduating with eligibility remaining and even other potentially leaving early for the NFL. The school has not yet confirmed Bailey’s transfer, and the player has not determined his future destination.

2 » It is still very early in the 2012-13 season, but Florida basketball has been turning heads with its play through seven games this campaign. The Gators are now ranked second nationally in scoring defense and third in scoring margin, meaning the team is still putting up plenty of points while holding opponents to low averages. Perhaps most impressive is that Florida has accomplished all of this without a full complement of players. Read more about what the Gators have done so far and what can be made of the team’s early non-conference success in my newest commentary for ITG.

3 » Florida is having a tough time selling tickets to the 2013 Sugar Bowl, and a recent report from the Orlando Sentinel makes the situation seem dire. According to the Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson, who spoke with UF senior associate athletic director of communications Steve McClain, the Gators have sold just 6,500 tickets to the game despite being contracted to purchase a total of 17,500. Florida’s opponent in the game, the Louisville Cardinals, has already sold more than 14,000 tickets out of its 17,500 allotment. This is the second time in as many Sugar Bowl appearances that the Gators have struggled selling tickets. Florida only sold approximately 12,000 tickets to the 2010 contest, which was also quarterback Tim Tebow’s last game in a Gators uniform. The Southeastern Conference can buy up to 3,000 tickets out of Florida’s allotment, which means the school is still on the hook for approximately 8,000 tickets. More tickets will certainly be sold in the next two weeks, but UF will not come close to selling out of its allotment as fans prefer to save significant money and watch at home or purchase tickets closer to the game at cheaper prices due to the overwhelming inventory available. If more than 7,000 tickets go unsold after the SEC helps out, those tickets will cost the university approximately $1 million.

4 » A total of 25 former and current Gators student-athletes are set to receive their degrees during fall commencement on Dec. 15. Below are some standout names on the list, which can be viewed in full by clicking here.

David Eckstein^ – Baseball – Political Science
Daniel Pigott – Baseball – Building Construction
Jon Bostic – Football – Health Education and Behavior
Frankie Hammond, Jr. – Football, Track & Field – Telecommunication
Omarius Hines – Football – Anthropology
Omar Hunter – Football – Anthropology
Lerentee McCray – Football – Anthropology
Matt Patchan* – Football – Anthropology
Sam Robey – Football – Criminology
Caleb Sturgis – Football – Sport Management
McKenzie Barney – Soccer – Telecommunication
Erika Tymrak – Soccer – Criminology
Kathryn Williamson – Soccer – Psychology
Teresa Crippen – Swimming – Sport Management
Genevieve LaCaze – Track & Field – Applied Physiology and Kinesiology
Tangerine Wiggs – Volleyball – English

^ Eckstein (1994-97) is 37 years old.
* Patchan has a year of eligibility remaining.

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Muschamp, Strong speak about Sugar Bowl bids

On Sunday, after the No. 3 Florida Gators and No. 21 Louisville Cardinals were officially announced as the participants in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, head coaches Will Muschamp and Charlie Strong spoke to the media, accepting their respective bid to the bowl and discussing their own team heading into the game. Below are highlights from that media availability that were not otherwise featured in OGGOA‘s story on Strong from Sunday evening.

» Muschamp on the opportunity to play in the game: “We’re honored to play in New Orleans. New Orleans is a great place with a lot of Gators. It was our first national championship in 1996. This will be our seventh BCS bowl appearance, which is first in the SEC. A lot of respect for Louisville and their football team they have and of course Charlie strong, who was a huge part of two national championships here at the University of Florida in ‘06 and ‘08. He’s an outstanding defensive coordinator and a good friend.”

» Muschamp on not having a chance to play for the national title: “It is what it is. The system we have in place is what we have. We had our opportunity in Jacksonville, didn’t quite get it done to get into the national championship game. But we’re going to play in the sugar bowl and represent our conference. That’s a huge honor in itself to represent the University of Florida every time you step on the field. We have great motivation for this game, regardless of the circumstances.”

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Sugar Bowl against Florida a well-deserved treat for “good guy” Charlie Strong

Charlie Strong and Florida Gators defense are terms that go hand-in-hand, except this time Strong will not be leading one of the best units in the country onto the field but rather trying to figure out a way to score on it.

All of that will occur in one month when Florida and Strong’s Louisville Cardinals square off in the 2013 Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in New Orleans, LA.

It will be one day short of exactly three years from the last time he donned orange and blue and coached the Gators’ defense against Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. Florida allowed just three points in the first half and cruised to an impressive victory.

“We are so excited here at the University of Louisville to be playing an opponent like the University of Florida,” said Strong on Sunday after the game was announced. “I spent so many years there and I just think back; it seems like it yesterday we were in the Sugar Bowl playing Cincinnati for the last time being at the University of Florida.”

Though he is years removed from the program, Strong praised the Gators’ defense and said he watches Florida play each and every week. In fact, he still communicates with some of the players he helped recruit, most of whom are in their final seasons at UF.

“You look at the defense and you’re so familiar with the guys there, when you think about those guys,” he said. “Lerentee [McCray], he has been there forever, Omar [Hunter] and [Jelani] Jenkins, all those players, Frankie Hammond at wide receiver; and Caleb Sturgis, I thought my man was done but he’s still kicking there. You look at [Jon] Bostic and how well he’s played. Then you look at the quarterback position with [Jeff] Driskel being a dual threat where he can run and throw the ball.

“That’s an outstanding program; a program that’s built with toughness, offensive and defensive line, a very tough program. So it’s going to be an exciting matchup.”

Strong certainly seemed enthused on Sunday. His passion for the Florida program sounded as genuine as it was when he was a coordinator. He also took some time to praise the school’s administration, head coach Will Muschamp and what the Gators have accomplished so far this season.

Read the rest of this story…after the break!
Continue Reading » Sugar Bowl against Florida a well-deserved treat for “good guy” Charlie Strong

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No. 3 Florida Gators set to face No. 21 Louisville Cardinals in 2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl

Coming off an 11-1 regular season, a five-game improvement from a year ago, the No. 3 Florida Gators have been awarded a spot in the 2013 Sugar Bowl where the team will take on the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals (10-2) on Jan. 2 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA. The game will air live at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Florida and Louisville will be participating in the 79th annual version of the game. It is the ninth time the Gators will play in the Sugar Bowl but the first for the Cardinals.

UF holds a 3-5 all-time record in the Sugar Bowl, last playing against and defeating Cincinnati 51-24 on Jan. 1, 2010. Florida is also 2-0 all-time against Louisville; the teams have not met since 1992.

The Gators were originally expected to face the Oklahoma Sooners in the game. However, a strong finish to the season by Northern Illinois Huskies moved them up to No. 15 in the final BCS standings and into a game. The Huskies earned a guaranteed berth because they finished in the top 16 of the BCS standings and ahead of at least one automatic qualifying conference champion, thus knocking the Sooners out of an at-large bid and moving the Cardinals into the Sugar Bowl.

The game has an additional level of intrigue as Louisville is currently led by former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who took over as head coach in 2010. Also on Strong’s staff are former UF defensive backs coach Vance Bedford (defensive coordinator), running backs coach Kenny Carter (same position) and defensive graduate assistant Tommy Restivo (DB coach).

The Cardinals’ roster also includes Gators transfers wide receiver Robert Clark, tight end Gerald Christian and cornerback Adrian Bushell.

Florida will be appearing in its 22nd consecutive bowl game, a mark that ranks first in the Southeastern Conference and second nationally. The Gators are 20-19 all-time in bowls; UF has won four straight and six of its last seven.

Sugar Bowl Committee President Jack Laborde: “We’re very excited to be welcoming the University of Florida and the University of Louisville to New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Each year, we have the pleasure of welcoming thousands of fans to this great city and showing off all it has to offer – world-class cuisine, trend-setting music, outstanding gridiron competition and more. We look forward to introducing our unique flavor of hospitality to all of the players, coaches, administrators and fans from these two great schools.”

Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan: “We’re very pleased to have the opportunity to host these two outstanding teams in this year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl Committee has worked hard over the years to present outstanding match-ups that produce thrilling games. In Will Muschamp and Charlie Strong, we have two of the country’s top young coaches and we know both will have their teams ready to play on January 2nd. We have little doubt that this game will produce another memorable chapter in the great history of the Sugar Bowl.”

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3/24: Florida vs. Louisville post-game notes

The No. 7-seed Florida Gators saw their season come to an end on Saturday as they fell 72-68 to the No. 4-seed Louisville Cardinals in the Elite Eight round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Florida head coach Billy Donovan, senior point guard Erving Walker and freshman guard Bradley Beal all spoke following the game.

ELITE ACHING

Blowing a double-digit second-half lead in the Elite Eight for the second time in as many seasons, things were somber at the podium when the Gators took a seat. It was especially unnerving for Walker who was the only player on the court who knew for certain that it would be his final game in a Florida uniform.

“It feels terrible. We had a lead; we gave it up late,” he said. “We just didn’t make shots down the end and didn’t defend them well. They were able to get down the lane and make some big plays. […] We knew they were going to make a run at some point. That’s a great team in Louisville. We thought we had control of it and we thought we would be able to keep them at bay, but they just continued to make plays and took the lead.”

Walker said the entire locker room was “hurting” but even that bad feeling would not change what he has gone through since joining the Gators. “I had a great four years here. I had the best four years of my life,” he said.

Both players also expressed their sorrow that Florida had to lose at this point, so close to reaching their ultimate goal. “We had a good journey. We’re disappointed that it had to end right here, but when you reflect back later you realize we did a great thing by making it to the Elite Eight,” Walker said. Beal added, “It was a tough journey for us. A lot of people counted us out. We stuck with it, and we played together as a team. We got this far – I’m real proud of my guys. It was just unfortunate that we ended up losing today.”

Walker ends his career in orange and blue with his name littered throughout the team’s all-time record book. He leads Florida in career assists (547) and minutes (4,358) and comes in second in game played (144) and three-point field goals both made (285) and attempted (755). Walker is also fourth in scoring (1,777), fifth in games started (113) and total field goal attempts (1,345), seventh in both free throws made (436) and attempted (552), and ninth in steals (159).

IF HE HAD TO LOSE…

Obviously Donovan hoped to lead his team to their first Final Four berth since 2007 but if he had to fall in the Elite Eight there is no other coach he would rather lose to than Louisville’s Rick Pitino. “If someone said to me, ‘You have to lose a game. Who would it be to?’ I’d have to say him,” he said. “Obviously he’s towards the end of his career.”

Donovan then went on a mini-rant in hopes of bolstering his former coach’s hall of fame chances. “I’ve never said this publicly, but I’ll say it here. I’m absolutely shocked he’s not in the hall of fame. Shocked. It should have happened a long time ago, in my opinion,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a coach in the country that has done more with less. And believe me, I was on a team with a lot of less. He’s done it when Kentucky was on probation, a second time taking Louisville to a Final Four. To me, that’s what I’d like to see happen for him as he finishes it up. It hurts me, it hurts our team losing but to see him [win and continue on], I’ll be very happy for him.”

There are plenty of reasons Florida lost on Saturday but one of them was the coaching of Pitino and specifically his decision to switch from a 2-3 zone to man-to-man defense in the second half. The Cardinals were able to make the Gators take more difficult threes and continued to force UF to turn the ball over.

“The difference in the game, if you look at it, was our 14 turnovers to their six,” Donovan said. “They didn’t really turn us over much in the press, it was more in the half court, handling and making decisions and recognizing what was open. At times we did not do that. […] At this time of the season, against the [quality of] teams you’re playing against, you know teams are going to make a run at you. That’s going to happen. They made a great run, and I give them a lot of credit.”

A TOUGH WAY TO GO OUT

Reporters, analysts and fans will draw a lot of similarities between the Gators’ collapse in 2012 to the way the team folded under pressure in 2011’s Elite Eight. Donovan, however, does not feel the same way and believes that Florida played much better in this contest than last year’s team did in their final game of the season.

“Totally different actually. Last year we really got beat on loose balls. I didn’t feel like we got beat there. I felt like our guys did a great job on loose balls. There were a couple that got away from us. I really thought that, for the most part, we really played the right way and played a pretty good game,” he said. “I think we had some defensive breakdowns a couple times. I also thought offensively we were way too rushed.”

The Gators losing on Saturday is undoubtedly a disappointment, but Donovan said it will not take anything away from his memories of the 2011-12 season.

“[I will remember this team as] a team that was really young and immature in a lot of ways and, in front of my eyes, I got to watch them grow up and mature competitively,” he said proudly. “To see where Patric Young was at the start of the year in January to where he finished. To see where Brad was in November and December to see where he finished – same thing with Erik Murphy. Our guys grew up, and I think that was one of my biggest difficulties with them during the course of the season.

“There was an immature competitiveness about them. I don’t mean that negatively; they just didn’t understand what it took. Because of them being great kids, it was great to see them mature and grow that way because you don’t get to this point in time unless you have some substance. And I think our guys have some substance and some toughness and some qualities. They poured their heart and soul into trying to win the game.”

NIKE “RISE AS ONE” GRAPHIC PACKAGE

As part of the company’s Rise As One campaign, Nike sent us over a wide variety of graphics that you can use to decorate your computer/tablet desktop, Twitter profile, Facebook profile or iPhone. You can find all of the files below.

Florida Gator Head logo
Twitter profile | background | Facebook profile 1 | profile 2 | cover

Nike Gator Head crest logo
Twitter profile | background | Facebook profile 1 | profile 2 | cover | iPhone background

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Beal on if the bitter end to the season changes his decision-making process at all: “I’m really not even focusing on next year right now. I’m still affected by this loss right now. I’m just going to focus in and bond with the team still. We just had a tough loss; I’m really not focusing on the future right now.”

» Beal on his travel at the end of the game: “I just had bad footing. I travelled. I travelled but he may have bumped me but whatever. I still have to be strong with the ball and just learn my surroundings and be more careful in those situations.”

» Walker on the players returning to the team: “This program is still on the [rise]. They got a lot of great players, and I think Coach Donovan will continue to do a great job. I think they’ll get to the Final Four next year.”

» Donovan on wishing Pitino got more respect from Kentucky’s fans and administration: “He could have gone anywhere else and there would be statues built of him in Lexington with what he’s done. Because of that rivalry there’s some people that can’t handle it. I just wish the people back there, the whole state would just embrace him for the job that he’s done at both programs.”

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