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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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’s Pease on red zone, receivers, offense

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media on Tuesday ahead of the third game of the season against the Tennessee Volunteers on Sept. 21.

MOVING THE BALL, PUTTING UP POINTS

Offense is about two things – possessing the ball for a long period of time and putting points on the scoreboard. The Gators were successful at doing one of those things against Miami but not the other as Florida gained 413 yards of total offense but only found the end zone once two Saturdays ago.

“We’ve moved the ball, and it’s come down to really this last game where, in the red zone, decisions, we turned the ball over. We had two bad decisions and really two bad calls on me. The quarterback sneak when we were down there, that’s on me. I shouldn’t have done it,” Pease said on Tuesday.

UF being a run-first offense intent on owning time of possession in a game and keeping the ball away from the other team has not resulted in high-scoring games for the Gators over the last three years, something that does not appear to bother Pease.

He is more concerned with completing long drives and seeing individual players break out during a game.

“We’re built to hold onto the ball a little bit more. I still think that we try to build explosive plays on what we can do. We stress to our kids, ‘You got to create dynamic situations. If you get the ball in your hands, you have to be that dynamic person.’ We got to take more advantage of our opportunities when we’re touching the ball on our drives because we’re not probably going to create as many drives for ourselves,” he explained.

“Our efficiency is going to be more grinding it a little bit more and create some big plays throwing the football. That’s where I think we got to be more consistent in getting points because we’re probably more designed to go 6-12 plays in a drive rather than 3-4 and hold onto the ball for more than two minutes in a drive.”

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Florida flops in Miami as Canes top Gators 21-16

The No. 9/12 Florida Gators led the No. 24 Miami Hurricanes in nearly every major statistical category on Saturday afternoon, but Florida’s massive amount of turnovers – especially in the red zone – became the stat that really counted as Miami took an early lead and never lost it in a 21-16 victory in Sun Life Stadium.

In what was the last time the Gators and Hurricanes will square off in the regular season for the foreseeable future, Florida committed six turnovers including one on downs and four in the red zone. Miami improved to 29-26 in the all-time series.

Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel threw two interceptions – one on 3rd-and-Goal at the Miami 11-yard line early in the second quarter and another on 3rd-and-3 at the UM 17-yard line with less than seven minutes to play. He also fumbled the ball on UF’s ensuing possession when he was left unprotected and rocked for a nine-yard sack.

Sophomore running back Matt Jones, playing his first game of the season after recovering from a serious viral illness that forced him to miss multiple weeks of fall practice, fumbled on his third carry of the game during the opening possession.

The Hurricanes responded to Jones’ miscue, completing a nine-play, 50-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass from QB Stephen Morris to WR Herb Waters.

The tide appeared to turn in favor of the Gators late in the first quarter when junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, returning to the field from a one-game suspension, blocked a punt that Florida recovered at Miami’s nine-yard line. Driskel ran in untouched for a touchdown two plays later, but a failed two-point conversion attempt by redshirt junior back-up QB Tyler Murphy left Florida trailing 7-6.

Unfortunately for UF (1-1), its defense remained unglued on UM’s next possession, giving up positive yardage on five of the next six snaps including a 52-yard touchdown pass from Morris to WR Phillip Dorsett.

Driskel moved the Gators down the field, hitting senior WR Solomon Patton for 46 yards, but threw his first interception of the game in the red zone. Following a three-and-out, Florida found itself in the red zone again, faced with a 4th-and-1 on Miami’s 16-yard line after three-straight runs by Jones. A keeper was called for Driskel, who was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

The Gators returned to the red zone for a third-straight possession as Driskel hit Patton on receptions of 17 and 18 yards during the 12-play drive. However, Florida coughed up the ball once again as senior WR Trey Burton fumbled after a short reception.

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Gameday: No. 9 Florida Gators at No. 24 Miami

Location: Sun Life Stadium – Miami Gardens, FL [Capacity: 76,854]
Weather: 86°F (feels like 94°F), cloudy, isolated t-storms (30%), winds ENE at 6 mph
Time: 12:00 p.m. EDT

Tickets: Best deals on Florida Gators tickets starting at $152 on TiqIQ

TV: ESPN (Dave Pasch, Brian Griese and Tom Luginbill)
SiriusXM: 91 | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter (Limited)

No. 9/12 FLORIDA GATORS No. 24 MIAMI HURRICANES
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Al Golden
Record: 1-0 Record: 1-0
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Atlantic Coast
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -3.5 | O/U: 48

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Miami leads the all-time series against Florida 28-26, though the Gators actually have a 14-13 advantage going head-to-head with the Hurricanes in Miami, FL.
» Though Florida won the last meeting between the two schools in 2008, that victory snapped a six-game winning streak for Miami in the series.
» The Gators and Canes played annually from 1944-1987 but did not square off at all in the 1990s. On Saturday, they will be sharing the field for the sixth time this century.
» Florida hopes to open the season 2-0 for the ninth-straight year.
» UM has not played a team from the SEC since facing UF in 2008.
» Florida was 4-2 against ranked opponents in 2012, posting a 164-133 scoring margin in those games. Miami, on the other hand, was 0-3 against ranked teams last season and got outscored 36-126 in those contests.
» The Gators are 13-0 under Muschamp when rushing for more than 150 yards (1-5 when rushing for fewer than 100 yards). Florida is also 15-3 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points, 11-2 when an opponent rushes for fewer than 100 yards, 13-3 when scoring first (6-5 when an opponent scores first) and 15-1 when leading at the half (4-7 when tied or trailing at the break).
» The Hurricanes are 11-2 under Golden when scoring 30+ points.
» UF still leads the nation in interceptions (97), interception return yards (1,703) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (16) since 2008.
» Florida had two touchdown drives of 80+ yards against Toledo, the first time that’s happened in the same game since Nov. 5, 2011.
» Miami has amassed 500+ yards of offense in three-straight games along with a combined 126 points and average margin of victory of 22.0 points.
» The Gators’ defense held the Rockets to six points last week, the sixth time the team has held an opponent without a touchdown under Muschamp.
» The Canes have gone three games without allowing an opponent to score a touchdown on their home field. In those 160:39 minutes, Miami has only given up six field goals and 18 total points.
» Florida has forced at least one turnover in 12-straight games.
» The Gators have forced the most interceptions among SEC teams this century (349).
» UM will be making its 74th appearance on ESPN, second-most in the history of the network (Auburn – 75).

» Redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar (Miami, FL), redshirt junior safety Cody Riggs (Fort Lauderdale, FL) and junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (Fort Lauderdale, FL) are all South Florida natives named captains for Saturday’s game.
» Others playing in front of their friends and family include senior linebacker Darrin Kitchens (Homestead, FL), junior S Jabari Gorman (Miami, FL), junior tight end Tevin Westbrook (Coconut Creek, FL), redshirt freshman defensive lineman Bryan Cox, Jr. (Fort Lauderdale, FL), freshman running back Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL) and freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (Delray Beach, FL).

Read about the injuries and absences and much more…after the break!
Continue Reading » Gameday: No. 9 Florida Gators at No. 24 Miami

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