Gators finally winning Muschamp’s way

It took 16 games, dozens of questions and hundreds of hours of work but on Saturday evening in Knoxville, TN the Florida Gators finally played the brand of football that head coach Will Muschamp has been emphasizing since he was hired.

Despite winning seven-straight games in the series, No. 17/18 Florida was the underdog on Saturday when they faced the No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers in Neyland Stadium. That did not matter, however, as the Gators triumphed 37-20 by following the three tenets that Muschamp laid out for the team back in Dec. 2010.

Florida ran the football.

The Gators outgained the Vols 336-83 on the ground. UF ran the ball 43 times, averaged 7.8 yards per carry and scored two rushing touchdowns.

“I think obviously our rushing yardage with [330+ yards], when you do that you’re going to win games. And we were able to do that in the ballgame,” Muschamp said.

Florida controlled the line of scrimmage.

Offensively, sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel was not sacked once on Saturday. Huge holes were opened for running backs senior Mike Gillislee and junior Trey Burton. Defensively, the Gators only registered a single sack but also notched five tackles for lost yardage and hit QB Tyler Bray seven times. UF also held UT to 83 rushing yards, most of which was gained in the first half.

“As the game wore on, I felt like we were winning the line of scrimmage,” Muschamp said. “Got a lot of pressure with four guys rushing. When we went up two scores I just told Dan [Quinn], ‘We need to make them bleed right now,’ as far as moving the football. We needed to just hang in there, don’t give them anything cheap. We needed to play coverage and rush four. […] When you’re able to rush four and drop seven, it gets cloudy in there for the quarterback.”

Florida won the turnover battle.

The Gators were an aggressive, ball-hawking unit on Saturday. In addition to the interceptions nabbed by redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray and junior safety Matt Elam, UF had two other opportunities to take away the ball and were extremely aggressive in trying to strip opposing receivers and ball carriers.

“No turnovers offensively was critical and then defensively two turnovers for 14 points. So we’ve kind of flipped ourselves in the first three games a little bit on turnover margin; still need more on defense,” Muschamp said.

Florida is 3-0 for the second-straight season under Muschamp though he refused to equate the two accomplishments in any way, shape or form on Saturday.

“This is a different 3-0. Better teams. Tennessee is a much, much, much improved football team defensively. They’re a good-looking team standing across the field,” he said. “[Texas] A&M, going on the road in two road environments, we are a much better football team than we were at this time last year. Does that mean anything? No. It just means that we’re 3-0. The great thing about being 3-0 is you’ve got a chance to be 4-0.”

What has gotten the Gators to this point has been an emphasis on coming up big late in games. Florida has outscored their opponents 50-13 in the second half (27-0 in the fourth quarter) this season, coming from behind in each of their last two contests.

“We have put a tremendous emphasis on winning the fourth quarter and winning the second half and wearing down our opponent. That’s something that we’ve been able to do in the first three ballgames. That’s something that our kids have bought in to doing.” Muschamp said.

“We were in the locker room just now and a bunch of our guys just now were talking about the fourth quarter. We’re going to win the fourth quarter. And they believe that; they have a strong belief in that’s what they’re going to do.

“We grew up a lot last year. You sit in that locker room at Auburn and South Carolina and Jacksonville [against Georgia] – it’s tough, it’s hard. These guys got a lot of pride. We’re the University of Florida. These guys didn’t come here to go 7-6. These guys have responded the right way, and we’ve responded with the right people, guys that have bought into what we’re doing.”

He continued moments later: “When you have a buy-in like that it makes it easy to be honest with you. Our guys have seen the results now so now they’ve seen the success of it. Even after the first week when everybody was so upset about Bowling Green – we got what we wanted. The formula was going to be fine. And then we needed to give Jeff a little bit more, and we did. And then we were able to do a little bit more of the offense. We were able to spread it out a little bit more and create some other run situations for him because of the issues he creates for a defense.”

There is no question that the Gators are better than they were this time last season but the coaching staff will ensure that their 3-0 start is placed in the rearview mirror come Sunday. Florida is not yet back at the top of the pack, and Muschamp knows his team has plenty of work to do before it can be satisfied.

“I’m not ready to waive the flags, that’s for sure,” he said.

“Are we where we want to be? Heck no. So let’s don’t start celebrating here,” Muschamp added. “Let’s be realistic with where we are. We got a long way to go but we got guys that have bought into what we’re trying to do and that’s what we need to have.”

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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Second half surge sends No. 17/18 Florida to 37-20 victory over No. 23 Tennessee in Knoxville

Following a rough first 30 minutes that left fans wondering whether or not the No. 17/18 Florida Gators were up to the task of winning a second-straight game on the road, Florida (3-0, 2-0 SEC) once again proved that they are a second-half team as they outscored the No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-1 SEC) down the stretch to take a hard-fought 37-20 victory on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN.

The Gators registered 227 yards of offense in the third quarter alone and outgained the Volunteers 555-340 over 60 minutes on the way to their eighth-straight victory against their SEC rivals. Florida outscored Tennessee 17-6 in the second half and possessed the ball for nearly seven more minutes over the course of the game.

Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel came through big in his second start for the Gators, going 14/20 or 219 yards and two touchdowns while adding seven carries for 81 yards on the ground. Senior running back Mike Gillislee, hampered with a strained groin heading into the contest, carried the ball 18 times for 115 yards including two breakaway rushes that helped lead UF to victory.

After kicking off to start the game and forcing a punt, Florida took over from their own 11 but was pushed back to the two after redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose fumbled a pitch on a reverse. The Gators were saved, however, by a 55-yard punt from sophomore Kyle Christy that flipped the field nicely.

Tennessee brought the ball across midfield on its very next possession, but redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray intercepted quarterback Tyler Bray on 3rd-and-12 to get the ball back for Florida. It was the first pick of his career.

The Gators did not waste much time from there as Driskel hit redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed on a 20-yard pass and junior running back Trey Burton followed that play up with a fake Wildcat handoff that he took 14 yards into the end zone.

Read the rest of his Florida-Tennessee game story…after the break!
Continue Reading » Second half surge sends No. 17/18 Florida to 37-20 victory over No. 23 Tennessee in Knoxville

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Gameday: (18) Florida Gators at (23) Tennessee

Location: Neyland Stadium – Knoxville, TN [Capacity: 102,455]
Weather Forecast: 78°F, mostly cloudy, winds NNE at 4 mph
Time: 6:00 p.m. EDT

TV: ESPN/ESPNHD (Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe)
SiriusXM: 137/201 | Radio: Gator Radio Network (affiliates)
Online Video: WatchESPN.com | Mobile Video: WatchESPN app
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

(18) FLORIDA GATORS (23) TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Derek Dooley
Record: 2-0 (1-0 SEC) Record: 2-0 (0-0 SEC)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Southeastern
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida +3; O/U 48

HOMEWORK

Need to catch up on what happened with the Gators over the last week? No problem. OGGOA has been here the whole time posting a ton of information so you can do your homework on the team before its next exam on Saturday.

Florida one win away from hitting “start fast” goal | Pease: Offensive line remains the strength | Freshmen contributing defensively | QB Driskel, TE Reed can get offense rolling | Gators are tougher, more experienced

EXTRA CREDIT: Four things Florida must do to take down Tennessee in Knoxville

HISTORY / STREAKS

» Florida is looking to extend its seven-game winning streak against Tennessee, which dates back to 2005. The Gators are 22-19 all-time against the Volunteers but just 11-10 in Knoxville. Additionally, UF is 20-6 against UT (9-4 in Knoxville) since 1976.
» Saturday’s game will be featured as the host site for ESPN’s College GameDay. It is the 23rd time (15-7) that Florida will be on the road for College GameDay and the team’s 34th occasion in which they have been featured on the program. The Gators were the visiting team for College GameDay last week as well and defeated Texas A&M.
» It is the seventh time in the history of the television program that UF-UT will be featured on College GameDay (second-most all-time). ESPN will be in Knoxville with the show for the first time since 2004.
» Florida is 9-1 against unranked opponents and 0-5 against ranked teams since Muschamp took over the program in 2011. Tennessee is 13-4 against unranked teams and 0-10 against ranked opponents since Dooley took the helm in 2010.
» Muschamp and Dooley know each other well having previously worked together under head coach Nick Saban at LSU (2001-04) and with the Miami Dolphins (2005).
» The Gators and Vols are both ranked heading into their showdown for the first time since 2007. UT is ranked for the first time, period, in 64 polling weeks.
» For the first time since 1996, Florida was not slated to open its SEC schedule against Tennessee (UF played TAMU last weekend). The Gators and Volunteers game will not be aired by CBS at 3:30 p.m. for the first time in eight years.
» UF won its eighth-straight league opener last Saturday.
» Florida was 0-5 when trailing at the half in 2011 but has started the 2012 season 1-0 in that category after outscoring Texas A&M 10-0 in the second half last Saturday.
» The Gators are 5-0 under Muschamp when rushing for more than 150 yards and 0-4 when rushing for fewer than 100 yards. Florida is also 6-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points and 6-3 when scoring first.
» UF has converted just 8-of-28 third-down attempts (28.6 percent) this season.
» The Gators have held their opponents to 8-of-31 on third down (25.8 percent); UF was second nationally in third-down defense (27.3 percent) last season.
» Florida has at least two kickoff returns for touchdowns in each of the last two seasons after never having more than one in a single season before 2010.
» The Gators are outscoring opponents 23-7 in the second half and 17-0 in the fourth quarter through two games this season.
» Florida’s defense is one of 10 nationally that has not allowed a passing touchdown.
» Tennessee’s offense has eclipsed 500 total yards in consecutive games for the first time since 2000 and hit that mark in its first two games for the first time in school history.
» The Volunteers are ninth nationally in passing offense (353.5 yards per game) and 15th nationally in scoring offense (43 points per game).
» Tennessee has four scoring drives of 34 or fewer seconds through two games.
» The Vols are 10-1 under Dooley when eclipsing 25 points (13-3 when scoring 20+).
» Tennessee’s defense is +3 in turnover margin this season and nabbed four interceptions against N.C. State in the teams’ season opener.

LAST TIME OUT

Florida captured its seventh-straight victory over Tennessee when the programs met last season with the Gators defeating the Volunteers 33-23 in Gainesville, FL. UF took an early 16-0 lead on UT thanks in part to three field goals by Caleb Sturgis though Tennessee scored just before the half to reduce their deficit to 17-6. Florida wasted little time in expanding their lead, scoring two touchdowns (one an 83-yard pass from John Brantley to Chris Rainey) in the first seven minutes of the third quarter to jump ahead 30-7. The Gators’ defense softened from there as the Vols outscored them 17-3 over the remainder of the game, but Florida’s early lead catapulted them to victory and their seventh consecutive 3-0 record to start the season.

ESPN: KEYS TO THE GAME

Read the rest of the Florida-Tennessee preview including injuries and absences and which players to look out for from both sides of the field.
Continue Reading » Gameday: (18) Florida Gators at (23) Tennessee

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Rainey storms No. 16 Gators past Vols 33-23

In a game filled with mistakes and miscues, redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey‘s 212 yards of offense and a raucous crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium proved to be too much for the Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-1 SEC), which fell 33-23 to the No. 16/17 Florida Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC) in Gainesville, FL on Saturday.

Florida defeated Tennessee for the seventh-straight season in front of a sold-out crowd of 90,744 fans in The Swamp, a venue the Volunteers have not won at since 2003.

Rainey, who ran the ball 21 times for 108 yards and caught two passes for 104 yards, earned a touchdown on an 83-yard reception in the third quarter to help complete the first 100/100 game of his career. He also blocked the fifth punt of his career early in the second quarter, setting an all-time school record in the process.

The Gators began the contest by scoring 16 unanswered points. Sophomore running back Trey Burton caught a one-yard pass from redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley for the team’s first touchdown, completing a nine-play, 80-yard drive that opened the contest.

A 17-yard reception by redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thompson was followed by a 28-yard rush by senior RB Jeff Demps to set up the score, and Brantley went 5/5 through the air on the drive. He also completed his first eight passes of the game.

The Volunteers responded with a long drive of their own, but a missed 37-yards field goal by Tennessee kicker Michael Palardy gave the ball back to Florida. The Gators put together a 12-play, 68-yard drive as a response but failed to get in the end zone, settling for a 28-yard field goal from redshirt junior K Caleb Sturgis.

Florida also struggled with two short field opportunities, again settling for a pair of field goals in the second quarter. After Rainey’s blocked punt, the Gators ran a four-play drive that did not gain a yard; following a punt from the Vols’ end zone, Florida went just six yards in four plays and allowed Sturgis to put one through from 46 yards out to take a 16-0 lead with 8:31 remaining in the first half.

Volunteers signal caller Tyler Bray threw the first of his three touchdowns in the second quarter via an eight-yard strike to Marlin Lane to complete a six-play, 89-yard drive just under two minutes before halftime.

Leading 16-7 heading into the locker rooms, Florida hoped to regain their offensive momentum and stall the newfound success Tennessee found on that side of the ball.

Following a pass interference call that helped the Vols continue their touchdown drive, Gators junior safety Josh Evans sought out to redeem himself and did just that, nabbing an interception on Tennessee’s first possession of the second half.

Rainey took his second hand-off of the drive 14 yards and drew a late hit penalty to put the ball in the red zone. Florida chipped away at the yardage before handing the ball to Burton for his second score of the day, a one-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal.

The Volunteers punted on the next drive, giving the Gators the ball on their own 20 after a touchback. Rainey lost three yards on a carry to the right side to start the series but caught from Brantley over the middle which he took to the house for his 83-yard score, putting Florida ahead 30-7 with 8:08 to play in the third quarter.

Down 23 points, Tennessee felt the pressure and began to chip away at their deficit. After the Vols punted yet again, Demps fumbled the ball on a rush up the middle and UT took advantage with a 14-yard slant from Bray to WR Da’Rick Rogers for a touchdown.

A holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff forced UF to start at their own 10. Two short rushes and a pair of incomplete passes led to a punting situation, which senior David Lerner shanked just 22 yards to the Gators’ 31-yard-line.

Bray saw an opportunity and, even though his offense was backed up following a bad snap, completed consecutive 18-yard and eight-yard passes, the latter of which found the end zone for his second touchdown of the afternoon.

With Florida starting to see their lead slip away, Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis relied on Rainey to bring the ball down field. UF’s speedster touched the ball seven times on Florida’s 12-play, 50-yard drive, which resulted in a 42-yard field goal by Sturgis, his fourth of the game.

The Volunteers would not go down without a fight. Tennessee started the next possession at their 40-yard-line, and Bray threw eight passes on nine plays, totaling 54 yards through the air (60 total) and ending the series with a 18-yard touchdown pass.

Getting the ball back with 1:49 to play, the Vols again tried to make a move. After moving the ball 39 yards to the Gators’ 45-yard-line, Bray threw his second pick of the game to sophomore safety Matt Elam.

Florida’s defense, though it nabbed two interceptions and registered three sacks on the afternoon, failed to convert a number of major opportunities and was easily the most penalized unit on the field.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who had six tackles and a sack on Saturday, dropped two potential interceptions and committed a pass interference penalty. Freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson, the victim of two pass interference calls and a holding penalty, also failed to catch two balls that hit him in the hands.

Evans, sophomore CB Cody Riggs and freshman S De’Ante Saunders also committed pass interference penalties, giving the Gators six total. As a team, Florida committed an astounding 16 miscues for 150 yards, significantly more than Tennessee, which was also mistake prone with 10 penalties for 94 yards.

The Gators outgained the Vols by 68 yards but committed penalties that provided opportunities for UT to continue drives that otherwise would have fallen short. Florida held Tennessee to -9 rushing yards, but UT outgunned UF 288-213 through the air.

Brantley finished 14/23 for 213 yards and two touchdowns, while Bray completed 26-of-48 passes for 288 yards with three scores. The latter was intercepted twice but had falls find his opponent’s hands quite often throughout the contest.

Heading out of Gainesville for their first road game under head coach Will Muschamp, the Gators will face the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, KY. The game will air live at 7 p.m. on either ESPN or ESPN2.

Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press

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