Defense dominates, Murphy shines as Florida wins ninth-straight over Tennessee 31-17

Supported by a dominant defense that forced six turnovers on the afternoon, redshirt junior back-up quarterback Tyler Murphy shined as he led the No. 18/19 Florida Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) to a 31-17 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Replacing junior starting QB Jeff Driskel midway through the first quarter, Murphy finished 8-of-14 for 134 yards and a touchdown and also carried the ball 10 times for 84 yards and another score on the ground.

Driskel, while throwing a pick-six on UF’s second offensive series of the game, broke a bone in his right leg and never returned. He will miss the remainder of the season.

The Gators, which have now won nine-straight games against the Vols dating back to 2005, utilized a superb defensive effort to mitigate the early miscue – along with numerous others throughout the game – and pull off the victory.

Junior punter Kyle Christy muffed a snap on Florida’s first offensive series, and Tennessee subsequently took over at UF’s 15-yard line. UT would not convert the turnover into points, however, because sophomore Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. forced and recovered a fumble on second down to give the ball back to UF.

The Vols’ next offensive series ended the same way with Fowler sacking QB Nathan Peterman and forcing a fumble that was recovered by redshirt junior LB Michael Taylor at the six-yard line. The Gators only came away with three points as redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin made a 23-yard field goal.

Sophomore defensive back Brian Poole registered Florida’s third turnover of the game by picking off Peterman at UF’s 44-yard line. Two plays later, Murphy hit senior wide receiver Solomon Patton on a screen that Patton took 52 yards for a touchdown.

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Florida prepares for Tennessee, secondary shifts

No. 18/19 Florida Gators (1-1) defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin spoke with the media on Wednesday, and a number of players chimed in throughout the week, ahead of the third game of the season against the Tennessee Volunteers (2-1) on Sept. 21.

SIGNING “ROCKY TOP”

Florida fans may cover their ears when the Tennessee band blares “Rocky Top” – especially when it’s done at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – but the players on the field have no such option. A number of Gators were asked this week how they handle the song and many, somewhat surprisingly, admitted that they sing along with it.

“[The] song gets so annoying you got to make the best out of it,” said senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley, who noted that he only knew the words “Rocky Top” but not the rest of the song. “That’s stunning to you?”

Junior fullback Hunter Joyer chimes in as well: “When we flex and warm up and stuff and they play that, I sing a little bit. … It’s a good song. I don’t like Tennessee, but it’s a good song.”

As competitive a player as Florida has on its roster, redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor said he has never uttered the words to the Vols’ tune. “Nope. I’ve never seen a Rocky Top mountain, so I don’t really sing it. I mean, we know the words because the song is kind of corny but that’s about it.”

So what does he think about his teammates singing it during the game? “We’re usually winning,” he said, “so it’s pretty much an insult to them.”

Senior safety Jaylen Watkins, playing his last game against Tennessee, notes: “All of us hate the Rocky Top [song]. It will be good to not hear it anymore.”

He is more focused on winning. “This is a big rivalry, and it would be great to leave and say I never lost to Tennessee.”

SHIFT IN THE SECONDARY

A relatively poor performance for redshirt freshman safety Marcus Maye, who started the first two games of his career against Toledo and Miami, moved him off of the first string at least for the time being. Replacing him is Watkins, who many believed would start at safety anyway this season.

“Jaylen’s been a guy for us all along that has played more than one position. It’s nothing new. It’s just a matter of shuffling things around and getting our best guys on the field at one time,” said Durkin on Wednesday. “However we got to do that, we’re constantly talking about our depth chart and our personnel and building our packages to get the best 11 guys on the field to go execute what we want to do.”

Said Taylor of his teammate moving into the starting lineup: “Jaylen’s a smart football player. He knows the defense very well. I think he’ll be able to execute very well for us back there and provide us with some big plays. Not saying that anybody else wasn’t able to, but he’ll be able to provide us with some big plays that we need as well.”

Durkin spoke on Maye’s demotion, noting that he will still see plenty of time on the field. “Marcus Maye is and will continue to be a great player for us. He’s very talented. He’s got to continue to learn and grow and get comfortable with what he’s doing back there,” he said. “But I think Marcus Maye, we have all the confidence in the world he can play. And he will. You’ll see him out there, and he’s going to really help us.”

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Perfection not yet achieved by Florida’s defense

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp got the ball rolling in his post-game press conference following his team’s devastating loss on the road at Miami.

Muschamp said he held Florida’s defense to a higher standard than it performed at that Saturday and noted that he was dismayed by the Gators coughing up a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter.

One of the first players to meet with the media on Monday following Florida’s bye week, senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley echoed his coach’s words in an even more direct and specific fashion.

“Our goal is not to let the defense score, period,” said Easley matter-of-factly. “So, once we manage to get that stat, I think we can say we are one of the best defenses.”

Asked if holding every team scoreless is a legitimate goal, Easley nodded his head.

“In my life, I strive for perfection. If there’s no perfection, there’s no greatness. We’re supposed to be great.”

It is a message he is trying to disseminate to his teammates.

“He always talks to us about that, too,” said sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard. “As you all see, the past few games, we had good games on the defensive side of the ball but we gave up a big play here and there. He’s just talking about correcting the little stuff to make us become a great defense.”

Indeed, the Gators’ defense is already widely believed to be one of the best in the nation. Florida is ranked third in total defense and rushing defense and also first in third down conversion percentage defense. The Gators have only allowed opponents to convert 2-of-24 tries (.083) on third down through two games.

Easley is not the only one who believes the goal of UF’s coaches is to pitch a shutout every time the team steps on the gridiron.

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Snell’s Slant: Gators must stick together after Florida offense folded against Miami

A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He has returned to continue sharing his musings through the 2013 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.

Everyone has experienced déjà vu in one way or another over the course of their life. At the conclusion of Saturday’s game between Florida and Miami, I strangely found myself not nearly as upset or irritated as I normally would be after the Gators lose (especially when they do so in such a pathetic manner).

The interesting part was that I couldn’t help but notice the uncanny parallel between Saturday’s game and another that still sticks in my craw to this day – Florida vs. Tennessee in 2001 – a game I started at left guard. The similarities are quite scary, actually. For those of you that either do not remember the game or were not yet Florida fans, that 2001 contest was another simple reminder that it takes both offense and defense to win a football game.

There are no two ways about it – it is frustrating when one side of the ball is not “pulling their own weight.” This is the exactly same way I felt during and after our showdown with the Vols 12 years ago.

Our defense couldn’t stop Tennessee’s offense, which wasn’t actually that good. A trip to the SEC Championship was on the line as well as, ironically considering when I am writing this, a shot at playing Miami in the Rose Bowl for the National Championship.

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Florida QB Driskel’s career day marred by miscues

Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel was not the only member of the No. 9/12 Florida Gators (1-1) that turned the ball over on Saturday. But as the leader of the team and offense, his mistakes were the most glaring – and game-changing.

And that’s why the story of Florida’s 21-16 loss to the No. 24 Miami Hurricanes (2-0) at Sun Life Stadium, at least as it pertains to Driskel, is centered on his three untimely turnovers rather than the career-high 291 yards he threw for on the afternoon.

It’s also why he took responsibility after the game – not like he had much of a choice in the matter.

“We couldn’t hold onto the ball. I think we had five turnovers. It started with me,” he said. “I was careless with the ball, a couple of interceptions, putting the ball on the ground there at the end and a couple of fumbles. They were all costly.”

The turnover parade did not start with Driskel. Sophomore running back Matt Jones, playing his first game of the season after being sidelined with a serious viral infection, fumbled the ball on his third carry of the season during the game’s opening possession.

Down 14-6, Driskel led the Gators into the red zone by completing a 46-yard pass to senior wide receiver Solomon Patton. He negated his productive bomb with his first pick of the game, a pass to Patton – who was covered by five orange jerseys – from the Canes’ 11-yard line on 3rd-and-Goal.

“When I saw the ball in the air and I saw the guy cutting it, I knew it wasn’t pretty,” he explained. “It was a dumb play. I should have just taken what the defense gave me. Instead, I tried to make the bigger play. That’s what I’ve got to move on from.”

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9/4: Durkin on UF’s linebackers, UM’s playmakers

Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Wednesday ahead of the second game of the season against the Miami Hurricanes on Sept. 7.

LINING UP THE ‘BACKERS

Florida was forced to replace all three of its starting linebackers from a year ago as Jon Bostic and Lerentee McCray graduated and Jelani Jenkins left early for the draft. The replacements looked quite solid on Saturday, but the position group will be bolstered even more when sophomore Antonio Morrison returns to action on Saturday.

“He’ll play quite a bit, absolutely,” Durkin said. “He’s been practicing with us and playing through everything. His conditioning is fine, and he’s ready to go.”

Morrison may be back in action, but he has not regained his starting job just yet. That distinction belongs to redshirt junior Michael Taylor, who was second on the team with five tackles (one for loss) last weekend against Toledo.

Durkin believes Taylor fits the mold of what he and head coach Will Muschamp look for in a Florida football player.

“Mike is about what we are about here and that’s hard-working, blue collar, tough, physical. Those are the things that describe him as a player and that’s how I would hope anyone would describe our defense and our program. Mike fits what we do really well,” he said.

Also making an impact last Saturday was redshirt junior Neiron Ball, who moved to an outside linebacker spot during camp and has made the most of his new opportunity.

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Snell’s Slant: No surprises with Gators game plan

A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He has returned to continue sharing his musings through the 2013 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.

While some may think the Florida started slow on Saturday, scoring just 24 points against a Toledo team that really struggles defensively, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with how the Gators looked overall.

Those of you that read this column know I predicted that Florida’s offense and defense would both be rather “vanilla” on Saturday and that is basically what happened no matter what the coaches want to claim.

RELATED: Brent Pease – “We didn’t have a ‘vanilla’ game plan.”

Offensively, especially for playing with a toned-down game plan, the Gators executed quite efficiently. There were two 10-play, 80-plus yard drives in the first half alone.

It really seems that the strength of this year’s team, as it was last year, is the offensive line. Not having been able to watch practice, I was curious to see how this group would gel with so many parts having changed after last season. As an offensive lineman myself, I can definitely say I was thoroughly impressed with these gentlemen.

Mack Brown had over 100 yards rushing, Jeff Driskel had ample time to find open receivers and there were very few penalties tagged on this group.

It generally takes a few games for an offensive line to start clicking as well as the Gators’ line did on Saturday, especially when there’s new starters. That Florida line looked as if it was already in midseason form from the opening snap of the game.

While the passing game was decent – all respect goes to Driskel for his performance – it is fair to say that everyone was left wanting to see the kind of explosive plays that the Gators are going to need to take that step forward this season.

There was hope that Florida would really open things up vertically and give some of the young, inexperienced wideouts a chance to spread their wings against this non-conference opponent. Even though the game plan was expected to be simple, more vertical passes could certainly have been called.

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9/1: Muschamp updates injuries, previews Miami

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss some leftovers from the team’s 24-6 victory over Toledo while looking ahead to Saturday’s game on the road against the Miami Hurricanes. The contest will kick off at 12 p.m. from Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL, and air live on ESPN.

WEEKLY AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Week: Redshirt junior running back Mack Brown
“Mack ran extremely hard in the game and certainly a guy that really played well.”

Scrap Iron: Redshirt senior center Jonotthan Harrison, redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia, redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore
“I thought all three of those guys played really well, really built some continuity with those guys up front. Tyler and Max have been two really good additions for us.”

Big Plays (Offense): Brown, senior wide receiver Trey Burton, redshirt sophomore RB Valdez Showers
“Really proud of Valdez, a guy that makes a transition in the middle of camp, competing for a job on the other side of the ball, very unselfish in coming over and helping our offense and will continue to do so. He’s a guy that adds some dimension to us.”

Defensive Player(s) of the Week: Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Bryan Cox, Jr., senior DL Dominique Easley, sophomore Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, redshirt senior nose tackle Leon Orr, redshirt junior Sam LB Ronald Powell
“All of those guys played well to contain [the quarterback] in the pocket, be able to rush four effectively throughout the game, affect the quarterback and stopping the run.”

Ball Hawks: Freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (for the interception) and Easley, Powell, Orr and redshirt junior Mike LB Michael Taylor (for the pressure)

Hard Hat: Redshirt junior LB Neiron Ball
“A guy that’s really helped [take] a huge step forward defensively for us was for him to be able to play off the ball, which since I’ve been here he has not done. Shows really good instincts in the run game and an active, active playmaker. He’s been a huge addition for us.”

Special Team Player of the Week: Sophomore RB Mark Herndon
“He continues to be productive in everything we ask him to do, but certainly a special teams leader for us.”

Big Play (Special Teams): Junior CB Marcus Roberson
“A guy that flipped the field a couple times with a couple big punt returns.”

Scout Team Players of the Week: Redshirt junior WR Ryan Parrish, redshirt freshman LB Jeremi Powell, freshman WR Chris Thompson

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