10/2: Durkin on Hargreaves, Bullard, Arkansas

Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Wednesday ahead of the fifth game of the season against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Oct. 5.

FRESHMAN SENSATION EARNING RESPECT

It only took four games, but freshman Vernon Hargreaves III appears to have become the most feared cornerback on Florida’s roster.

“Well, he was the SEC Freshman of the Week for a reason,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said on Wednesday. “He’s very talented. I remember recruiting him out of high school, at least watching him on film. He’s everything that you want at the position. He’s very, very confident. He’s very aggressive. I think there’s probably some people that went after him and maybe they regretted that decision afterward. … I know this: he’s impressed me on film.”

Asked later in the day about Bielema’s comments, Durkin agreed with his opponent this Saturday.

“Vernon, obviously on the field talent-wise and ability-wise, that’s a pretty clear thing to see whether it was evaluation from high school up to here or now when we’ve seen him playing college ball. But I think the most amazing thing is off the field, how he handles himself and carries himself,” Durkin said. “He’s a veteran player, upperclassman, but he’s only a freshman. That’s the way he carries himself, he acts, the way he handles himself in meetings, the way he prepares for games and so I think you have something special there when you mix all that together.”

Though Durkin said he never felt as if teams were attacking Hargreaves because he is a freshman, he did say that the opportunity for that to happen has been there because Hargreaves has spent so much time on the field already.

“I know this: we’ve put him in a lot of situations where he’s out there without help and he’s responded. We play a lot of press man. He’s out there and…it’s not him alone – there’s other guys playing the same way – he’s out there alone quite a bit and he’s done a good job responding to it. We try to mix our coverages and help at times, but he’s out there quite a bit.”

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9/23: Muschamp talks injuries, rushers, Kentucky

No. 19/20 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss Saturday’s 31-17 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers and his team’s upcoming road game against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, Sept. 28. The contest will kick off at 7 p.m. and air live on ESPNU.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp announced that junior quarterback Jeff Driskel’s surgery, originally scheduled for Sunday, will instead be performed on Wednesday. Driskel broke his right fibula during Saturday’s game and will have a plate inserted in the leg. “Again, very disappointed for Jeff. It’s part of the game, but it’s very difficult to deal with. Really hurt for him and his family and for us as a football team,” he said.

One other serious injury occurred as redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson, who missed all of 2012 due to injury, was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot and will probably miss 1-2 weeks. “I’m disappointed for Colin. He was starting to really progress and do well for us,” Muschamp said. “He’s had some issues with his foot; this is a different issue with his foot. It’s something that has not happened before.”

Three other Gators were injured Saturday but each is expected to be active for Saturday’s game. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Leon Orr hurt his shoulder and will miss practice on Monday but should be back Tuesday or Wednesday. Redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio, who sat out the first two games of the season with a torn pectoral, got poked in the eye early Saturday and had three stitches after the game. “He’s going to be fine for this week. I’ll tell you, a tough young man he is to play through that,” Muschamp said. Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy was also knocked from the game after being hit hard on a kickoff return; he was later diagnosed with a thigh contusion and was back at practice running on Sunday.

As for the three Florida players that missed the Tennessee game, Muschamp believes two will be healthy enough to play at Kentucky. Junior CB Marcus Roberson (knee) ran well Sunday and will be back at practice Tuesday, and redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore (ankle) will also be back in action Tuesday. Redshirt sophomore running back Valdez Showers, who injured his ankle during practice on Wednesday, was listed as “doubtful” and will likely be out at least one if not two weeks.

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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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