Gators reflect on ‘Cats, look ahead to Razorbacks

A number of players from the No. 18/19 Florida Gators (3-1, 2-0 SEC) met with the media throughout the week to discuss team issues and preview Saturday’s game against the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-2, 0-1 SEC).

DEFENSE

Senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs

» On senior DT Dominique Easley‘s mindset: “He’s doing pretty good. He’s staying positive. I’m trying to keep him positive so everything’s going good. Just trying to put him back in that joking mood he’s always usually in. He’s a big prankster and a big joker so I try to keep him going that way.”

» On the opportunity Easley’s injury presented for him: “It’s a big opportunity because I’m going to have way more reps than I thought I was going to have this year. This is my last year also, so it’s a big opportunity for me to put myself on the market. Me and him talked about that last week. He told me not to miss out on it.”

» On Arkansas’ offense: “Physical, they’re real physical. I think they’re a little chippy, a little dirty, so we’re going to have to be ready for all that this week.”

» On how the Razorbacks are dirty: “I just see from film a lot of the stuff after the play. Especially with the center, number 64, he’ll get after you after the play. He’ll make you want to do some things to him. So we’re going to have to try to keep our temper and keep cool on that. Just hit them in the mouth first. Just keep hitting them until they quit. That’s how you do it.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor

» On what he says when he trash talks: “You guys couldn’t handle that so I can’t really say that in here. If y’all mic me up, you might find out.”

» On whether Arkansas’ center is ‘dirty’ like Jacbos said: “I haven’t seen ‘dirty.’ I’ve seen that he finishes plays. All that talk of ‘dirty,’ if somebody’s trying to come block you, if you don’t let them get into your body there’s no way they can block you. Using good hands, keeping them away from you. Anything he would try to do, if it was dirty, would be negated because he can’t even touch you.”

» On the Hogs also trash talking: “So, we’ll have a lot of fun. … That’s how I’ve always played. I’ve always played with a lot of emotion. I love the game of football so I’m going to be out there, I’m going to be passionate about what I’m playing. I’m going to let you know what I’m finna do and I’m gonna do it. So that’s just how I like to play.”

» On Arkansas’ physicality: “We’re a physical team as well, so, we go again physical opponents every day in practice. We bang in practice. Not on Thursdays and Fridays because it’s close to the game, but we bang all the way up until [that]. It’s not going to be nothing we’re not prepared for.”

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9/30: Muschamp on Easley to NFL, injuries, Hogs

No. 18/19 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss Saturday’s 24-7 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats and his team’s upcoming home game against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday, Oct. 5. The contest will kick off at 7 p.m. and air live on ESPN2.

HEADING TO THE NFL

Asked about senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley future and whether he would consider applying for a medical redshirt and playing a fifth season, Muschamp announced that there was no question Easley would be moving on with his career.

“Dominque’s definitely going to go to the NFL,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s had two ACLs. I think that’s the best move for him right now is go and prepare himself for April and getting ready for that. He and I talked briefly about it. That’s what he wants to do, and I support it 100 percent.”

Muschamp said he is not concerned about teams being worried in regards to Easley’s injury history. He thinks what Easley has been able to do on the field will be more than enough to convince teams to draft him.

“He’ll have plenty of interest. He’s going to be a productive guy on the next level. He’s a really good football player,” Muschamp said. “He’s extremely intelligent. He gets the game. His tape speaks for itself in how he plays the game, how he approaches the game. He’ll be fine. There will be a lot of organizations that want him in their organization.”

Muschamp also noted that he has not spoken at length with redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose regarding his future though the two did touch base. Debose would have to apply for a second medical hardship waiver but would likely have it granted considering he did not play a single down in 2013.

INJURY UPDATES

Aside from season-ending injuries, the Gators appear to be relatively healthy heading into their next game. Redshirt sophomore running back Valdez Showers (ankle), who has missed the last two games, should be back in practice by Tuesday but will definitely see the field by Wednesday at the latest. Muschamp also noted that junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) could have played against the Wildcats if needed but was held out as a precaution considering he was a game-time decision.

Redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson (foot) will remain out for this week, but sophomore TE Kent Taylor (ankle) should be back in uniform for the game. Muschamp had not previously announced Taylor’s injury but noted Monday that he has missed 2-3 weeks of action.

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Gators RB Jones breaks out with career game

When Florida Gators sophomore running back Matt Jones was laid up in a hospital bed a number of weeks ago recovering from a serious viral infection, doubt crept into his mind as to whether he would ever get back to form this season.

It took him weeks of check-ups, blood tests and the like just to get on the practice field and more than two full weeks of practice until he saw game action.

That came against Miami on Sept. 7 when he averaged 2.6 yards per carry and coughed up a fumble. He played better two weeks later when Florida hosted Tennessee, scoring a touchdown and averaging 4.1 yards per touch, but fumbled for a second time in as many games.

Jones admitted after Saturday’s contest that he was not physically ready to play in either of those games. He kept telling himself that he was healthy and ready to go, but he was only about 70-80 percent at UM and a bit better than that against UT.

Though he still looked a step slow and did not have his normal burst during the Gators’ 24-7 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats, Jones put together a career game he should remember for quite some time. He took a career-high 28 carries for a career-high 176 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per rush and scoring a touchdown, and also grabbed three receptions for 20 yards.

“I’d say I’m about 95 percent right now,” he said afterwards. “That’s what I grind[ed] for all offseason. Definitely missing camp kind of took me off track. But this is what I was really grinding for, just games like this.”

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Murphy, Jones lead the way for Gators’ offense as Florida wins 27th-straight against Kentucky

Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy looked like a seasoned, experienced signal caller in his first career start, leading the No. 19/20 Florida Gators (3-1, 2-0 SEC) to a 24-7 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats (1-3, 0-1 SEC) on the road at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY, on Saturday evening.

Murphy ended the first half 11-of-11 for 120 yards and a touchdown, adding another score and 20 rushing yards on four carries, and gave the Gators a 21-7 edge at halftime. He threw an interception in the second half but was supported by a strong effort from UF’s dominant defense and sophomore running back Matt Jones, who took a career-high 28 carries for a career-high 176 yards and a touchdown.

Florida won its 27th consecutive game against Kentucky dating back to 1986, extending the nation’s longest active winning streak against an annual opponent. The Gators are also 33-1 against the Wildcats since 1980 and have outscored their SEC East rivals 262-43 over the last seven games.

Florida opened up with its longest scoring drive of the season, gaining 93 yards on 13 plays in 7:47 and capping it off with a touchdown when Jones carried the ball into the end zone on 3rd-and-Goal.

Kentucky answered in kind, moving the ball 50 yards in 12 plays before being faced with 4th-and-9 at UF’s 25-yard line. UK lined up for the field goal but faked it with kicker Joe Mansour taking an over-the-head toss from the holder 25 yards to tie the game at 7-7.

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Ousted UK coach Phillips making impact at UF

Joker Phillips’ career with the Kentucky Wildcats spanned parts of four decades including 23 seasons and hundreds of games as a player, graduate assistant, assistant coach, coordinator and head coach.

On Saturday, for just the second time in his 26-year coaching career, Phillips will step foot into Commonwealth Stadium as a visitor, an unwelcome guest looking to earn a victory with his new team, the Florida Gators.

Due to program regulations, Phillips – a position coach – was not made available to speak with the media, so he could not directly discuss his thoughts and feelings entering Saturday’s contest. But other coaches and players provided were able to provide their opinions on his behalf.

“I know as a player and a coach there, as a coordinator and a head coach, there’s no question I’m sure he’ll be emotional about that. Any time you spend a lot of time at a place, as much time as we spend hours in the office and working hard for a university, there’s no question that’s part of it,” head coach Will Muschamp said.

“Joker is a professional. He’ll handle it the right way. Any time you spend a large amount of your life as a player and as an assistant, a coordinator and a head coach [at one school], certainly you’re invested in that university. …

“You do feel a little different going back to a place like that that you spent so much time. People don’t realize the amount of time and effort we put in to what we do, giving our time to young people and dedication to the administration and all the things involved with a university. And then when you’re not there anymore, for whatever reason, it takes a little part away from you. You always leave something where you’ve been before. I’m sure Joker feels the same way.

“He and I talked a little bit about it Sunday night, the amount of time he spent in Lexington and how much he enjoyed it and the situation there. He really has fond memories of his time at Kentucky.”

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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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Florida Gators back-up quarterback Tyler Murphy aced his pop quiz, faces tough tests ahead

Tyler Murphy passed his first test.

Well, it was actually more like a pop quiz.

The redshirt junior quarterback, who had never completed a collegiate pass let alone thrown a touchdown, did both – and much more – on Saturday to lead the Florida Gators back from an early deficit to a 31-17 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers.

Thrust into the game early in the first quarter with a seven-point deficit – created on a pick-six thrown by junior QB Jeff Driskel on Florida’s second offensive series – Murphy got something he likely thought would never come, an opportunity. Driskel broke the fibula in his right leg and had season-ending surgery on Sunday.

“When I saw him go down, I was just hoping he’s OK. He’s a good friend of mine,” Murphy said. “We’ve gone into practice a lot as far as pushing each other to get better. In my head, I was just hoping he was able to get up and keep playing. You never want to see a guy go down. I was just hoping he was healthy, a minor sprain or something, and he could get up and keep playing.”

Until 2013, he was never truly better than the Gators’ third option.

“It was tough sitting on the sidelines. Never fun. Sometimes you kind of have to do things when you come to a big football school like this. It’s always going to bring in the best guys in the country,” Murphy said on Saturday.

“It was tough, you know what I mean, but I was just happy the team was doing well and winning. I was just trying to find a way to contribute whether that was scout team or trying to coach guy sand push guys to get better.”

In 2010, Murphy’s first year, John Brantley was in his first year as a starter but struggled mightily, leading the coaching staff to employ a three-quarterback system, none of the three being Murphy. He redshirted.

He remained out of the mix as the fourth quarterback behind Brantley and a pair of four-star freshmen in Driskel and Jacoby Brissett in 2011 and bumped up one spot to third-string in 2012 when Driskel started and Brissett was the reserve. Suddenly, when Brissett decided to leave after being passed over for the starting job, Florida had no one else to turn to but Murphy to back-up Driskel in 2013.

“It’s been extremely tough for him. You got to give him a lot of credit. He’s been passed up by guys, by young guys and things like that, hasn’t been looked at as being one of the starters for a while – until now,” senior wide receiver Trey Burton said. “It shows what type of guy he is. He understands. He’s willing to sit and wait his turn.”

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Florida receivers trending upward, running game questions, Jeff Driskel’s redshirt eligibility

OnlyGators.com tackles three hot topics coming out of Saturday’s 31-17 victory by the No. 18/19 Florida Gators (2-1, 1-0 SEC) over the Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 SEC) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

The Gators have seen wide receivers step up, must deal with a change in running philosophy and have questions to answer about the team’s future at quarterback.

WIDEOUTS BEGINNING TO EMERGE

Heading into the 2013 season, it appeared that Florida’s best chance to significantly improve its passing game would come on the back of two players – just not the two players that have stood out through the first three games. With redshirt senior Andre Debose (torn ACL) out for the season and supposed freshman sensation Demarcus Robinson held catchless in his first two games (he was suspended against Tennessee for a violation of team rules), two veterans have stepped up in a major way.

Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar has amassed 162 yards on 11 catches over the last two contests. He had a career-high 98 yards against Miami on Sept. 7 and added 63 yards – his third-highest collegiate total – on Saturday.

Perhaps even more impressive, senior Solomon Patton has totaled 192 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games. In his previous 32 appearances, Patton only combined for 100 receiving yards and never found the end zone once.

“We challenged him. ‘Do you want to just continue to be a jet sweep guy or do you want to be a major contributor to our football team?’” explained head coach Will Muschamp after Saturday’s game.

“So he worked on route running. He worked on letting us have the confidence to tailor some things after him. … He mastered those throughout spring and then he had a great summer. He came in and had a really good camp. That, to me, as much as anything, he saw an opportunity his senior year in his last go-around at the University of Florida and ‘I’m going to take advantage of my opportunities.’ And he certainly did.”

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