Florida CB Hargreaves already making an impact

Since the Florida Gators started keeping statistical records in 1996, only one player in school history has registered an interception in the first two games of his career. Unsurprisingly, he is the latest in a trend of exceedingly talented freshmen cornerbacks that have made names for themselves with the Gators.

Vernon Hargreaves III has busted onto the scene at Florida quicker and arguably with more of an immediate impact than players like Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins, both high draft selections and current NFL starters.

That fact has not been overlooked by his coaches and teammates.

“Hargreaves is an outstanding player, man. I see him as a young guy and all I can remember is coming in here as a freshman and watching some of the other guys that I was around. Seeing him is just different. He’s a different dude. He’s a great player,” said redshirt junior Sam linebacker Ronald Powell.

According to a tweet from 247Sports.com’s Thomas Goldkamp, receivers covered by Hargreaves have been targeted just 13 times through three games despite his being on the field for starters’ minutes in the first two games and actually starting at nickel during last week’s 31-17 victory over Tennessee.

In those 13 pass attempts, Hargreaves has registered two interceptions and three pass breakups while allowing just three receptions for a total of 19 yards.

“He’s just a ball hawk. He’s just a player,” said sophomore Buck LB Dante Fowler, Jr., the Gators’ standout freshman from 2012. “I remember when Vernon was a junior and we were on the 7-on-7 teams and stuff like that, and he was like very, very quiet. Just to see him out there doing good things, that’s kind of funny. But he’s a ball hawk. He’s broken into it now.”

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Snell’s Slant: Murpry’s turn, Florida’s elite defense

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.

It would be a lie to tell you that I knew Tyler Murphy was talent enough to come in and play as well as he did Saturday. It would be a bold-faced lie to say I know anything about him – other than his name – before Jeff Driskel got injured. It is amazing how knowledge and perception can change in a couple of days.

Diving into the dynamics of which quarterback is better or whether this particular back-up can lead the team better than the starter is irrelevant at this point because only one is even healthy enough to be involved in the conversation. However, it is certainly worthwhile to consider that Florida’s offense, which has struggled as of late, found a nice rhythm after Murphy took over behind center.

In retrospect, the best thing that could have happened for the Gators during fall camp was Driskel being sidelined temporarily due to his emergency appendectomy. It gave the coaching staff a chance to give Murphy some valuable reps – and evaluate him with the first team offense – that otherwise never would have happened.

Even though offensive coordinator Brent Pease talks at length about the mental reps that reserves or injured players take during practice, nothing is a substitute for being on the field and going through the motions.

How talented and consistent Murphy can be remains to be seen, though he certainly flashed it against Tennessee. He proved that he’s a gamer, a guy that can step up when called on to take the reins. But managing the team off the bench is not the same as leading the Gators, one of the best programs in the country, through an entire week and for 60 minutes in a game.

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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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9/7: Florida at Miami post-game report

Five turnovers and a sloppy performance doomed the No. 9/12 Florida Gators (1-1) on Saturday against the No. 24 Miami Hurricanes (2-0) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, FL. After falling 21-16 to Miami, Florida head coach Will Muschamp met with the media and provided some of his thoughts after the game.

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Miami improved to 29-26 all-time against Florida with no future games scheduled.
» The Gators failed to start the season 2-0 after doing so in eight-straight years.
» Florida fell to 1-6 under Muschamp when rushing for fewer than 150 yards, 3-6 when allowing 21+ points and 4-8 when tied or trailing at halftime.
» Saturday’s win was the Canes’ first over a ranked opponent since Oct. 22, 2011.
» The Gators have forced at least one turnover in 13-straight games.
» Miami made its 74th appearance on ESPN, second-most among college programs.
» Florida had two players register 98+ receiving yards in the same game for the first time since Jan. 1, 2010. It was the first time since Nov. 3, 2007 that two wide receivers eclipsed 98+ yards.
» A Gators quarterback passed for over 219 yards for the first time since Nov. 19, 2011. That was also the last time a Florida receiver registered a 100+ yard game.
» The Canes posted 212 total yards, just seven more than Toledo a week ago. The last time Miami had fewer yards in a victory was Oct. 26, 1996.
» UF bested UM statistically in total offense (413-212), passing yards (291-162), rushing yards (122-50), first downs (22-10), third-down efficiency (.400-.090) and time of possession (38:20-21:40).
» It was the second time as many seasons that the Gators committed at least five turnovers in a single game.
» Florida’s defense gave up 21 or more points for just the third time in the last 16 games under Muschamp dating back to the bowl game following the 2011 season.
» It was just the fourth time under Muschamp (28 games) – and second time since the start of the 2012 season (15 games) – that the Gators coughed up two first-quarter touchdowns. Florida is 1-3 in those four games.

» Redshirt junior Sam linebacker Ronald Powell, returning after spending 20 months without playing a college football game, registered a sack for the second-straight game.
» Freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III nabbed an interception for the second-straight game. He also switched his uniform from No. 16 to No. 1, becoming the first true freshman to wear No. 1 since Keiwan Ratliff in 2001.
» Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy blocked his third kick in two seasons.
» Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel threw for a career-high 291 yards.
» Wideouts senior Solomon Patton and redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar both registered career-highs in receptions and receiving yards. Patton finished with six catches for 118 yards and also picked up the first touchdown of his career. A South Florida native, Dunbar hauled in seven balls for 98 yards.

OPENING STATEMENT

“We gave them way too much momentum early in the game, defensively the first drive. We just got out of sorts with our substitutions and communications. It settled down as the game went on. Gave them a big play. You give a team belief and certainly that’s what we did defensively early. You can’t turn it over five times and go 1-for-6 in the red zone scoring touchdowns. Moving the ball, had over 400 yards, thought we mixed the run and pass well, probably did some good things at times. But the bottom line is you cannot continue to shoot yourself in the foot and give somebody else an opportunity, especially on the road, and we certainly did that. We gave them way too much momentum early in the game defensively, and you’re not going to win any games turning it over five times, especially in the red zone – just killer turnovers.

“I felt like the fourth down, going for that early, I feel like we needed to. We weren’t stopping them defensively at that time very well. I felt that we needed to spit the ball in the end zone. Disappointed with the turnovers and the red zone situation and the momentum early in the game. I thought our kids fought hard and gave themselves an opportunity there at the end with an on-side kick and see what happens. I credit our kids for that. We need to go back in the off week, go back with ball security, coming together and playing a little better in this situation.”

Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say after the game…
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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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TWO BITS: Will Powell or Tebow play tight end?

1 » A nugget of news was buried deep in a well-written Yahoo! Sports feature on Florida Gators redshirt junior linebacker Ronald Powell. According to Eric Adelson, Powell revealed that there have been internal discussions about him seeing some time at tight end once it is determined that he is fully healthy. “Once I’m feeling good,” he said, “I’m sure they’ll work something in for me.” Powell was recruited by then-Florida head coach Urban Meyer at both defensive end and tight end and told he would have the opportunity to play both. Once Meyer left and head coach Will Muschamp took over, Powell transitioned to the BUCK position and the Gators simply did not have a need for him on offense with Jordan Reed still on the roster. But with Florida now struggling to find playmaking ability among its current tight ends and Powell finally healthy, his versatility may very well be utilized by the coaching staff this year.

2 » According to Peter King of TheMMQB.com, quarterback Tim Tebow turned down an “inquiry” from an NFL franchise to join the team’s roster at a different position. King reported this nugget Thursday night on NBC, noting that the player remains focused on playing quarterback in the league. “I will remain in relentless pursuit of continuing my lifelong dream of being an NFL quarterback,” said Tebow in a prepared statement after being released by the New England Patriots.

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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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