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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Gators LB Antonio Morrison’s suspension reduced to one game, will return vs. Hurricanes

Game Week – Monday: Opening Week Depth Chart | RT Chaz Green Out for Season, RB Matt Jones Set for Miami | New Mr. Two Bits, Muschamp on Tight Ends, Season Opener

Florida Gators sophomore Mike linebacker Antonio Morrison‘s two-game suspension has been dropped to one game, head coach Will Muschamp announced on Monday.

Morrison, who was suspended by Muschamp on July 21 after being arrested for the second time in five weeks, will be held out of the lineup when Florida hosts Toledo on Aug. 31 but return for UF’s trip to Miami on Sept. 7.

“After a thorough review of the Antonio Morrison situation and how he’s handled his punishment, I’m going to suspend him for this game only,” Muschamp said. “I just don’t feel like his actions warranted a two-game suspension.”

Expected to start for the Gators, Morrison was first arrested on a charge of misdemeanor simple battery on June 16 after allegedly striking a bouncer. He accepted a deferred prosecution agreement from the state of Florida, agreeing to pay fines, perform community service and complete other tasks during a six-month probationary period in order to get the charge expunged from his record.

Morrison was then charged with resisting arrest without violence and harassing an on-duty animal after he barked at a police dog early in the morning of July 21.

Muschamp immediately suspended Morrison for two games after learning of the second arrest, but the charges were completely dropped two days later with state attorney Bill Cervone saying Morrison’s arrest was “overzealous to the point it was embarrassing.”

Due to the nature of the second arrest and the punishment Morrison has already received – missing numerous practices and undergoing internal punishment – Muschamp felt it was necessary to allow him to the field early.

“He’s very remorseful about the whole situation, and we’ve moved forward,” Muschamp added. “Guys make mistakes and have poor judgment at times. I’m just disappointed with how the entire night was handled.”

Redshirt junior Michael Taylor will start in Morrison’s place against Toledo.

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Florida Gators 2013 opening week depth chart

Game Week – Monday: LB Antonio Morrison’s Suspension Reduced | RT Chaz Green Out for Season, RB Matt Jones Set for Miami | New Mr. Two Bits, Muschamp on Tight Ends, Season Opener

Though things could still change over the next five days, the Florida Gators on Monday morning released the team’s first official depth chart for the 2013 season.

Florida omitted players that are not participating in the season opener due to injury or suspension; therefore, the depth chart below is an “active” version rather than a “best-case scenario” version. Notations marked with (») can be found below certain positions.

OnlyGators.com will update this post shortly with additional details and thoughts from head coach Will Muschamp‘s Monday press conference.

OFFENSE

QB: 6 Jeff Driskel, 3 Tyler Murphy
RB: 33 Mack Brown, 37 Mark Herndon, 10 Valdez Showers
» 24 Matt Jones is not playing on Saturday.
FB: 43 Hunter Joyer, 25 Gideon Ajagbe
WR (X): 1 Quinton Dunbar, 11 Demarcus Robinson
WR (Z): 83 Solomon Patton, 5 Ahmad Fulwood, 85 Chris Thompson
» 13 Latroy Pittman and 4 Andre Debose (out for season) knocked out of Z.
F Position: 8 Trey Burton, 13 Latroy Pittman, 30 Mike McNeely
TE: 88 Clay Burton, 87 Tevin Westbrook, 84 Colin Thompson
» 18 Kent Taylor not on the three-deep.

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 76 Max Garcia
» 74 Trenton Brown no longer the back-up to Humphries.
LG: 76 Max Garcia, 63 Trip Thurman
» 77 Ian Silberman no longer the back-up to Garcia.
C: 72 Jonotthan Harrison, 64 Kyle Koehne
RG: 64 Kyle Koehne, 77 Ian Silberman
» 67 Jon Halapio is not playing Saturday; Thurman moved to left guard.
RT: 73 Tyler Moore, 74 Trenton Brown
» 75 Chaz Green is out for the season; Brown moved to right tackle.

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Powell, Fowler rush Gators defense up a notch

If Will Muschamp is to believe what he sees on the practice fields, the Florida Gators may have finally put together a reliable and consistent pass rushing duo for the first time in his tenure as the head coach in Gainesville, FL.

Couple the return of redshirt junior Ronald Powell with the emergence of sophomore Dante Fowler, Jr., and the Gators have a potentially productive one-two punch that could very well move Florida’s defense from a top-five contender to best in the nation.

Powell, who missed the entire 2012 season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament that was ruptured again during practice just as he was set to return to the field, is finally off of doctors’ tables and on the field for the Gators. He worked out with the team all summer long and shined for Florida early on when fall camp convened.

“He’s really excited to practice, and I’m maybe more excited than him to see him on the field in practice,” Muschamp said of Powell. “I’ve been through these situations before with guys that come back from injuries. You just manage them through it, and sometimes with a guy like him, it’s hard to manage it because he’s going to want to go, go, go all the time, and there are days we’re going to want to shut him down and make sure we prepare him the right way for a long season.

“But I have tremendous expectations of where he is. The strength levels are very good. The knee is very stable. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s in really good shape. He’s worked as hard as any of our players have all summer to put himself in a situation to have a great year.”

Fans will get the first opportunity to see Powell practice on Thursday evening as the Gators open up the first of four camps to the public. But if new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin’s evaluation of him thus far is any indication, Powell may very well be in for the double-digit sack season he hoped to achieve as a true sophomore in 2011.

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