1 » Florida Gators (13-5, 2-2) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-7, 2-2) Pre-Game:
– Florida leads the all-time series 35-20, winning 19 of the last 23 meetings.
– Last season, the Gators and Gamecocks split the series; UF won 97-93 at home while USC took a 70-69 decision in Columbia, SC.
– Florida has won three straight vs. South Carolina in Gainesville and 10 of the last 11.
– Sophomore point guard Erving Walker and freshman guard Kenny Boynton are averaging 38.6 points (more than half of the team’s 76.8) and 7.8 assists per game in SEC play this season.
– Walker and Boynton are 29-for-34 from downtown; Walker is shooting 59.3 percent from three in the last four games and has combined with Boynton to hit 29-of-66 treys (43.9 percent). The rest of the team is struggling.
– After not having a 20-point game in his first 50 games with the Gators, Walker has had three in his last four outings including a career-high 27 points Thursday vs. Arkansas.
– Junior forward Alex Tyus is dominating the front court, averaging 14.3 points and 7.8 rebounds over the last nine contests. He has hit double figures in nine straight games and scored 15+ in five of those nine.
– Gamecocks senior guard Devan Downey, a first-team All-SEC selection, leads his team in points (21.2), assists (3.8) and steals (3.2). He is averaging 30.3 points in conference play and has scored 25 in all four SEC games with two 30-point outings.
2 » Dueling articles were posted by The Gainesville Sun and Florida Today on Walker and Downey, likely the premiere match-up of Saturday evening’s game. Kevin Brockaway explains that size isn’t everything when it comes to Walker and Downey while David Jones tells you that the teams’ little guards look to put up big numbers.
Extra Bit » Florida five-star safety commitment and early enrollee Matt Elam will be presented the state’s Mr. Football award during halftime of the game.
1 » Four-star offensive guard recruit Eric Mack (St. Matthews, SC) was committed to the South Carolina Gamecocks for quite some time. Recently saying he felt uncomfortable with the school, Mack decommitted from head coach Steve Spurrier and chose today between the Auburn Tigers and Florida Gators. Unfortunately for Florida fans, Mack has decided to attend Auburn in the fall. The Gators have anywhere between two and four scholarships to fill before their 2010 recruiting class is complete.
2 » Here is an interesting and quite comical story coming out of WBIR in Knoxville, TN. Drew McElroy, a local attorney and big Tennessee Volunteers fan, has filed paperwork with the city’s Public Properties and Facilities Naming Committee to rename Knoxville’s waste water treatment plant the “Lane Kiffin Sewage Center.” And why not? “It dawned on me–Lane Kiffin told us that he hoped the fans would understand,” McElroy said. “I thought, ‘Well, naming the wastewater plant for him would let him know, I think very clearly, we do understand.'” More on this from WBIR.
Extra Bit » A nice read from Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Stapes on the position of college football head coach being the most dangerous job in sports. “Nearly every Division I head coach puts in more than 100-hour weeks during the season and heavy recruiting periods,” Staples writes. “If anything, it’s amazing more coaches haven’t suffered heart attacks or more serious ailments as a result of stress and brutal work schedules.”
Sports Illustrated followed up its college basketball All-Decade lists published on Wednesday with a number of college football All-Decade lists Thursday, and the Florida Gators earned their way toward a few notable distinctions. In the main article, where SI went over the highlights and lowlights of the decade, the Gators took home three of the top honors: Player of the Decade, Best Coach and Signature Play.
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Tim Tebow, Florida
A star from the day he set foot on campus, Tebow will graduate with two SEC championships, two BCS titles and a Heisman Trophy. He is 34-6 as a starter and set SEC career records for total yards (11,699), rushing touchdowns (56), total touchdowns (141) and rushing yards by a quarterback (2,899). His impact, though, extended beyond the box score. “I don’t think I have ever seen a better leader,” said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.
BEST COACH: Urban Meyer, Bowling Green/Utah/Florida
Meyer, who became a head coach in 2001, turned around three programs this decade thanks to a hypercompetitive personality and relentless zeal for recruiting. He leads all active coaches with an .841 winning percentage (minimum five years) and is the only coach to win two BCS championships. Bowling Green, 2-9 the year before his arrival, went 17-6 in Meyer’s two seasons. Utah went 22-2 under his watch. Florida has gone 56-10 in his five seasons.
SIGNATURE PLAY: The Tim Tebow “jump pass”
Florida coaches Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen first broke out their throwback play in a 2006 game against LSU. Facing second-and-goal at the one, Tebow faked like he was running for the end zone, stopped, jumped into the air, double-clutched like a basketball player, then lobbed a touchdown pass to Tate Casey. Most memorably, Tebow used the play to throw a game-sealing TD to David Nelson in the 2008 BCS Championship Game against Oklahoma — this time on a perfect spiral with no hesitation.
Though Florida is well-represented on that list, the recognition did not stop. Tebow’s speech following the Gators’ loss to the Ole Miss Rebels on Sept. 27, 2008, named “The Promise,” was No. 5 on SI’s 10 signature moments of the decade. “Following an inexplicable 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss, Tebow finished his usual question-and-answer session, but the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner wasn’t done talking,” Andy Staples writes. “Tebow honored his pledge. The Gators won their next 10 games, outscoring opponents 469-131. Florida rolled to the BCS title, and after the season, the school memorialized Tebow’s promise by inscribing it on a plaque that stands outside Florida Field.”
Tebow was also named as the starting quarterback for SI’s All-Decade Team. “A star from the day he set foot on campus, Tebow will graduate with two SEC championships, two BCS titles and a Heisman Trophy,” writes Stewart Mandel. “He is 34-6 as a starter and set SEC career records for total yards (11,699), rushing touchdowns (56), total touchdowns (141) and rushing yards by a quarterback (2,899). His impact, though, extended beyond the box score. ‘I don’t think I have ever seen a better leader,’ said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.”
Mandel followed that up by naming Meyer as the All-Decade Team’s head coach. “Meyer, who became a head coach in 2001, turned around three programs this decade thanks to a hypercompetitive personality and relentless zeal for recruiting. He leads all active coaches with an .841 winning percentage (minimum five years) and is the only coach to win two BCS championships. Bowling Green, 2-9 the year before his arrival, went 17-6 in Meyer’s two seasons. Utah went 22-2 under his watch. Florida has gone 56-10 in his five seasons.”
SI is not done either. Tebow’s Heisman Trophy-worthy performance against the South Carolina Gamecocks on Nov. 10, 2007, earned him one of the decade’s most memorable college football performances. “Heisman Trophy voters had almost come around to the idea of giving the award to a sophomore when the Gators traveled to Columbia. In case anyone was still on the fence, Tebow erased all doubt, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for five more in a 51-31 win. “That was a Heisman performance tonight,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “In fact, it was one of the best performances by a football player that I have ever seen.””
It was not all sunny for Florida on these lists. The Gators were the No. 8 entry on lists for the Top 10 College Football Games of the 2000s and Top 10 College Football Upsets of the 2000s for losses to the LSU Tigers(24-28 in 2007) and the Tennessee Volunteers(32-34 in 2001), respectively.
Referring back to the initial list, Mandel tabbed the Southeastern Conference the decade’s Best Conference and the spread-option as the Best Innovation of the decade.
1 » “Two and possibly three” Florida Gators recruiters will be visiting Calhoun County, SC, on Monday to meet with four-star offensive lineman recruit Eric Mack at his school and home, according to The State newspaper. While Mack is still a South Carolina Gamecocks commitment, his potential position coach has left the program and the Gators have been after him for the last few months. He is scheduled for an official visit to Florida on January 22 – a week after he visits South Carolina.
2 » University of Florida senior outfielder Francesca Enea has been named a semifinalist for the Sixth Annual Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup. Presented to an intercollegiate and professional athlete each year who best display character, teamwork and citizenship, the award recognizes excellence both on and off the field. Senior quarterback Tim Tebow was a finalist for the award in 2008, and Enea is certainly a deserving semifinalist. She holds seven records with the Gators including single-season and career marks in home runs and RBI. Tearing her ACL twice in her short career, Enea has also been involved in a lot of community service off of the field.
Florida Gators defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has been announced as the 21st head coach of the Louisville Cardinals. Strong was named the front-runner to replace former head coach Steve Kragthrope by Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich after the regular season concluded, though Jurich waited to speak to Strong and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley until after the Gators competed in the 2009 SEC Championship. The two first met Sunday evening in Gainesville, FL, and spoke about the job throughout the week as Jurich waited for the University of Louisville‘s Athletic Association Board of Directors to approve the hiring of Strong. That endorsement came Wednesday afternoon, and a school press conference scheduled for 4 p.m. confirmed Strong’s future with the Cardinals.
“I’ve done a lot of homework with this hire, and I was amazed how well-respected and revered Charlie Strong is throughout the country ,” Jurich said at the press conference. “He commands a lot of respect from people within the game, including ex-players and coaches around college football. However, after meeting him in person, I was even more impressed. Tony Dungy had a huge impact on me with this hire. He was passionate about Charlie as a coach and as person. I respect the opinions of Urban Meyer, who was part of our staff at Colorado State, and Jeremy Foley, who is one of the most respected athletic directors in the country. They both raved about Charlie as a football coach and his great character.”
During his first address to the Louisville faithful, Strong first paused and then cried when asked by a reporter if he thought he would ever get the chance to be a head coach. “Because you just never knew if it would happen,” he said. Strong also described the meeting when Jurich offered him the job as “very emotional” for his family. “Coaching is taking young men and making an impact and influence on their lives to make them better people,” Strong said. “I want them to know that their sole purpose here is to get a degree and to go win football games.”
Strong got his start as a graduate assistant at Florida from 1983-84 and has spent the majority of his 27-year coaching career with the Gators. He returned to the team in 1988 as outside linebackers coach for two seasons before leaving and coming back in 1991 under head coach Steve Spurrier as assistant head coach/defensive tackles coach. In 1999, he became the first African-American coordinator in Southeastern Conference history when he was hired by Lou Holtz of the South Carolina Gamecocks to coach the defense. His most recent stint with Florida began in 2002 as defensive coordinator under then-head coach Ron Zook. Strong survived the transition of the team to current head coach Urban Meyer, who eventually gave him complete control of the defense and the additional title of assistant head coach. He also served as the Gators’ interim coach (effectively the second African-American head coach in SEC history) in Florida’s 2004 Peach Bowl loss to the Miami Hurricanes.
Throughout his career, Strong has been known as a terrific recruiter who is able to connect on a personal level with his players. He has coached in 19 bowl games, including 12 in January, due in part to his installation of an aggressive, attacking scheme that puts pressure on the quarterback and forces turnovers. Strong has developed six first-round NFL Draft picks and 15 players who were drafted in the third round or higher (prior to the 2010 draft). Since 2003, Florida’s defense under Strong has intercepted 132 passes, good for No. 3 in the nation and best in the SEC. No SEC defense has forced more turnovers (139) or interceptions (95) than the Gators since 2005, and only one other school in the nation (Boston College) has picked off more passes. Florida’s defense has also paced the SEC in total rushing yards allowed and rushing yards per game allowed since 2005 while remaining at the top of the league in red zone scoring defense over the last two seasons (second in the nation – East Carolina).
Because of the recent success of the Gators under Meyer, the coach has lost a number of his assistants to promotions. Doc Holliday was with Florida from 2005-2007 as associate head coach/safeties coach/recruiting coordinator before leaving to become the West Virginia Mountaineers associate head coach while also coaching tight ends, fullbacks and running the team’s recruiting. Co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Greg Mattison left after the 2007 season to coach linebackers for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens (he is now the team’s defensive coordinator). And most recently, former offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen was hired as the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs before the 2009 BCS National Championship. Mullen took tight ends/assistant offensive line coach John Hevesy with him as his assistant coach/offensive line coach/running game coordinator.
Strong was bombarded by phone calls from assistants around the country looking to earn a spot on his Louisville staff before he was even officially interviewed for the position. Rumors are swirling that he may tap either Florida wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Billy Gonzales or running backs coach Kenny Carter to become his offensive coordinator. (Gonzales has since denied these rumors, though it is believed that Meyer has already spoken with Notre Dame Fighting Irish running backs coach Tony Alford about replacing Carter should Strong bring him along.) Some are also speculating that Strong could ask assistant head coach/defense/defensive line coach Dan McCarney or assistant defensive coordinator/safeties coach Chuck Heater to join him as his defensive coordinator. Either McCartney or Heater is expected to be named the Gators’ defensive coordinator in succession of Strong.
The Cardinals told Strong that he could stay with the Gators to coach in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, and according to a statement he gave the St. Petersburg Times, he will do so.
Facing their toughest test on the court since the 2006-2007 season, the Florida Gators basketball team (4-0) will take on the No. 2/2 Michigan State Spartans (4-0) in the opening game of the 2009 Legends Classic on Friday at 8 p.m. in Atlantic City, NJ. Florida will then face either the UMass Minutemen or Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday at either 5:30 p.m. or 8 p.m.
This is the sixth meeting between the Gators and Spartans, with Michigan State holding a 3-2 lead in the series. The Spartans won the last meeting 68-56 in Tampa in the second round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament and also defeated the Gators 89-76 in the 2000 National Championship. Florida head coach Billy Donovan and Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo are contemporaries, having known each other since the early 1990s.
- Florida Gators junior cornerback Joe Haden was named Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week following a terrific performance against the South Carolina Gamecocks on Nov. 14. Haden collected 11 tackles (10 solo), sacked quarterback Stephen Garcia, caused two forced fumbles, took down an interception and contributed to a pass break up in the game.
– Redshirt juniors transfer running back Emmanuel Moody and defensive tackle Terron Sanders are doubtful for this Saturday’s game against the Florida International Golden Panthers. Moody has suffered from chronic ankle problems throughout his career and injured it again on Saturday. Sanders’ rib injury is less worrisome, and while he will sit out the game, it could be a precaution.
– There has yet to be any additional news on senior cornerback Moses Jenkins, who suffered a serious concussion back on Sept. 26 against the Kentucky Wildcats. The University of Florida seemingly refuses to release more information on Jenkins’ injury, though OGGOA has covered it extensively over the last two months, most recently with this story. As far as we know, he is still waiting for the ruling on his medical redshirt.
– One would expect many of Florida’s back-ups, including quarterback John Brantley, to earn some playing time on Saturday. OGGOA is purely speculating here, but there is also a chance head coach Urban Meyer benches sophomore kicker Caleb Sturgis for redshirt senior Jonathan Phillips, even if it is only a one-week thing to give Sturgis something to think about.
1 » In news that can only be classified as expected, Florida Gators junior cornerback Joe Hadentold the Orlando Sentinel this weekend that he will file paperwork with the NFL Draft Advisory Board in order to receive an evaluation of where he, theoretically, would be picked if he was to enter the 2010 NFL Draft. A likely first-round selection who could quite possibly be the best CB available, Haden has received lofty praise from head coach Urban Meyer and NFL experts over the past year.
2 » Sophomore safety Will Hill watches the Cartoon Network, not ESPN. Meyer avoids the Internet. The entire Gators team is keeping the word “Alabama” off their lips. All of this to make sure the group stays even-keel, not letting the highs get them too high or the lows take them too low. “If I don’t listen to it, it can’t bother me,” Hill said. With the Florida International Golden Panthers next on the docket, Florida’s players know that you cannot overlook any opponent. “FIU is a pretty good team, despite what people think of them,” junior safety Ahmad Black said. “Michigan lost to Appalachian State before, so we learned you can’t take anyone lightly.” Even so, a big win is expected by fans who have been clamoring for signs of life from the offense. “They want us to beat every team by 102 and give up no yards and score every time we touch the ball,” Black said.
3 » Want a unit to thank for the Gators’ 10-0 record and perfect 8-0 Southeastern Conference slate? Look to the defense, which has not allowed a touchdown in the fourth quarter in more than a month Florida’s offense is also outscoring opponents 71-20 in the last 15 minutes of each game. It is rare that defensive coordinator Charlie Strong’s unit is not dominant all game long. On Saturday, Strong had to make some halftime adjustments and stress how much an improvement was needed in the second half. “He tried to let us hear it,” Haden said. “He said we weren’t playing like a gator defense, and I knew for a fact that we weren’t – just don’t stuff we don’t normally do and people messing up on their assignments.” The Gators shut out the Gamecocks the rest of the game, turning a 17-14 halftime lead into to a 24-14 victory.
4 » Freshman left tackle Xavier Nixon was given the chance to start on Saturday by Meyer and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Steve Addazio, but he was sworn to secrecy. While Nixon played well, he did make a few mistakes – nothing that cannot be corrected with practice and game experience. He even received advice from Haden, who started as a true freshman for the Gators in 2007. “It was a crazy experience,” Nixon said of starting against the South Carolina Gamecocks. “I was thinking about starting when I first got here and realized it’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.”
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