9/3: Gators vs. Owls post-game news & notes

With the No. 22/23 Florida Gators‘ 2011 season opener against the Florida Atlantic Owls now in the books, OGGOA takes a look at some of the notable occurrences before, during and after Saturday’s 41-3 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

ABSENCES AND INJURIES

Perhaps the most important moment of the evening came before the game started when Florida announced that sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was ineligible and would not play. The Gators will not allow Floyd to rejoin the team until he is cleared by the NCAA, and the University of Florida would not immediately provide many specifics.

Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) and redshirt junior wide receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring) were questionable going into the game and wound up inactive. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely (shoulder) ended up playing after it was originally thought he would miss the contest. Sophomore WR Robert Clark (hamstring) did not dress either.

Florida did not escape the Florida Atlantic contest unscathed. Sophomore running back Trey Burton appeared to injure his hip in the first quarter and did not return, likely for precautionary reasons. Redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson, catching a ball low to the ground, suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit that popped his off and left him on the ground holding his head. Thompson rose and left the field under his own power but did not return.

THE DEMPS AND RAINEY SHOW

The Gators’ offense rolled on Saturday due in large part to dominant performances by running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey. The duo combined for 272 yards of offense and five total touchdowns with Rainey grabbing three on a rush, reception and special teams return on a punt block by sophomore WR Solomon Patton.

The pair ran up the middle and off-tackle, caught passes in the flats and were simply all over the field making both explosive cuts (Demps) and awe-inspiring spin moves (Rainey). Demps even ran the opening kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown until it was called back due to a holding penalty.

BRANTLEY’s STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Hoping to shake the rust off and rebound from a rough first season as a starter, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley played quite well on Saturday, completing 21-of-30 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown. However, Brantley also threw two interceptions in the contest. His first was tipped and eventually brought down, but his second was picked off in the end zone as he tried to fit the ball into traffic for a touchdown.

Florida’s offense, though dynamic, did not go deep into the playbook on Saturday and many of Brantley’s completions were on short passes. That being said, he also made some impressive throws and definitely showed an increased level of confidence, something he can improve on each week.

SECONDARY YOUNG BUT DEFENSE STOUT

Not only did the Gators hold the Owls to three points, they barely let them move the ball until the game was already over. Florida held FAU to just 30 rushing yards and 137 yards of total offense on Saturday. Though UF did not achieve any turnovers in the contest, they succeeded in turning a first-and-goal from the four into a 27-yard field goal and did not let Florida Atlantic capitalize on either of the other two interceptions they grabbed.

The young secondary – consisting of safeties sophomore Matt Elam and freshman De’Ante Saunders as well as cornerbacks sophomore Jaylen Watkins, sophomore Cody Riggs and freshman Marcus Roberson – played well but did make some mistakes.

Redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard and sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell each had a sack, while redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins led the Gators with five total tackles including a powerful hit felt by the entire stadium. Elam, Howard and redshirt junior LB Lerentee McCray each had four tackles.

OTHER NOTES

» Muschamp said after the game that Florida’s blue jerseys would be their standard going forward but that seniors on the team wanted to wear the orange on opening night. A Gainesville, FL native himself, Muschamp often used to see the Gators don orange jerseys at The Swamp.

» Redshirt senior transfer Dan Wenger started at left guard ahead of redshirt sophomore Kyle Koehne and redshirt freshman Chaz Green began the game at right tackle instead of redshirt junior Matt Patchan.

» Florida honored soccer stars Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts of the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team during a break in the first quarter. The crowd chanted “U-S-A” for the duo, which has been in Gainesville all weekend.

» Former safety Ahmad Black, who was waived by Tampa Bay on Saturday, was on the sideline for the game. Former defensive end Kevin Carter was an honorary captain.

» The Gators sold out 137 consecutive home games before Saturday’s contest, which was only filled with 88,708 fans, according to UF.

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FOUR BITS: Martin transfers, Haden, Caquatto

1 » For the third time in his post-high school career, former Florida Gators defensive end/linebacker Chris Martin is putting on a different uniform. According to the Palm Beach Post, Martin joined the Navarro College Bulldogs over the summer and is set to play defensive end for the team this fall. The former five-star recruit, who first enrolled at California before transferring to Florida and choosing to leave the team following his redshirt season in June, will likely look to go the Cam Newton-route and spend a year at Navarro before moving on to a more prominent program.

2 » The word “fan” is derived from the longer term “fanatic,” and perhaps no individual can stake a greater claim to that title than Don Crews, who was profiled by Florida Today in a piece over the weekend. Set to attend his 500th Florida game on Sept. 3 when UF takes on Florida Atlantic, Crews lives 171 miles away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium but has managed to attend nearly every game since 1963.

3 » Much has been said about Cleveland Browns second-year cornerback Joe Haden truly embracing the city of Cleveland, OH ever since he was selected by the Browns with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. A recent story by The Cleveland Plain Dealer dives into the topic even deeper. “What else would I be doing — sitting at home by myself?” Haden joked when asked why he does so much for his fans. “It’s all about giving back, and at the same time, it’s so much fun. [...] It’s really easy to do, honestly. Even if I didn’t play football, I’d be doing all this stuff. I’m just trying to have a good time and make sure everyone knows I care about this city and appreciate the fans.”

4 » Congratulations are in store for Florida sophomore gymnast Mackenzie Caquatto, who finished in fourth place at the 2011 Visa Championships in the senior all-around competition and second place in the uneven bars on Saturday. Due to her placement in the all-around portion of the event, Caquatto earned a spot on the U.S. Senior National Team for the fourth-straight time.

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FOUR BITS: assistants, Frazier, Lochte, Coyle

1 » Not only will members of the Florida Gators basketball team have to get used to a new trio of assistants this season, those assistants also need to build chemistry and get to know each other. The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway, in Lake Buena Vista, FL for an AAU tournament, got a chance to catch up with them and see how things are going. “I feel very fortunate to be part of that staff,” assistant John Pelphrey said. “Those guys are tremendous, both Matt [McCall] and Norm [Roberts]. I just want to play my role to make us be the best we can be and help Billy [Donovan] be the best he can be.” The youngest of the bunch agreed. “It’s been terrific,” McCall added. “[They are] two guys that are hard not to get along with. Just great people, and terrific coaches too.” Roberts explained how the trio has been trying to build a bond. “We’ve done a lot of things with our families,” he said. “We’ve all gotten to know each other in that way, and then being on the road together, talking constantly about recruiting and those things.”

2 » Four-star 2012 shooting guard commit Michael Frazier (Tampa, FL) is as confident as ever in his decision to play for the Gators next year. Also speaking with Brockway, Frazier reiterated that he made the right decision making his pledge two years before he graduated. “My dad told me that I don’t need to waste other people’s time if I know where I want to go,” he said. “I didn’t want to do that because they could be recruiting other guys to help their program. So I just went ahead and committed early because I wanted to be a Gator.” The No. 82 player in the country according to Rivals, he has recently become close with fellow 2012 commit point guard Braxton Ogbueze (Charlotte, NC), the No. 57-ranked player. “I think we could be a great combo, him at the one, me at the two,” Frazier said. “He can really shoot it. It probably will take some pressure off of me, and we’ll be able to open each other up.”

3 » Just one day after setting a world record and winning his second gold at the World Swimming Championships in China, former Florida swimmer Ryan Lochte went on to win two more in the 200-meter backstroke and as the anchor for the United States’ 4×200-meter freestyle relay team. He has now won four medals during the event to go along with his world record time, which marks his third on the international stage.

4 » Just days after her Gators teammates won the 2011 World Cup of Softball as members of Team USA, sophomore shortstop Cheyenne Coyle was named to the 2011 USA Softball Junior Women’s National Team. “Representing the USA has always been a dream of mine from a very young age,” Coyle said in an official release. “I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity to represent my country on and off the field. I look forward to being able to compete with and against some of the best young softball players from all over the world.”

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Lochte sets world record, tops Phelps again

Soon after defeating 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps by 0:00.35 to win the 200-meter freestyle at the World Swimming Championships in China, former Florida Gators standout Ryan Lochte continued his efforts to become the face of USA Swimming with a world record performance on Thursday.

Previously the owner of four world records, Lochte added a fifth by topping Phelps for the second-straight race and finishing the 200-meter individual medley with a world-best time of 1:54.00 in Shanghai, China.

Lochte shaved 0:00.10 off his previous best and set the first world record since high-tech bodysuits were banned at the beginning of last year.

“I wanted to do something that everyone thought was impossible,” he said after the race. “Since they banned those suits, everyone thought a world record would never get touched again. I just wanted to show everyone that can happen. That’s why we have records — they’re meant to get broken. Hopefully everyone now can start realizing that, ‘Hey it’s possible,’ so hopefully a lot more records will fall.”

Last December, Lochte set two world records and won seven medals at the 2010 FINA Short Course World Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The two world records were the only ones set during the entire year.

With two more races to go and a pair of gold medals to potentially be won, Lochte is not nearly done at the championships. He hopes to continue improving his technique as he looks ahead to the 2012 London Olympics.

Photo Credit: USA Swimming

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FOUR BITS: Lochte, Tebow, softball, Watkins

1 » Continuing his efforts in replacing Michael Phelps as the face of USA Swimming, former Florida Gators standout Ryan Lochte defeated the 14-time Olympic gold medalist by 0:00.35 to win the 200-meter freestyle at the World Swimming Championships in China. Lochte, the owner of four world records, took home gold in the event as he continues his trek to the 2012 London Olympics.

2 » The Denver Post reported early Tuesday that the Denver Broncos have been entertaining offers for veteran quarterback Kyle Orton after putting him on the trading block, setting the stage for former Gators signal caller Tim Tebow to take the reigns in Mile High. Tebow, who arrived for the first day of practice at 7:45 a.m. even though the doors did not open until 8:01 a.m., was the second player to make it to the facility (a practice squad offensive lineman got there minutes earlier).

3 » USA Softball won the 2011 World Cup of Softball on Monday, defeating Japan 6-4 in the finale of the event at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, OK. Florida junior right fielder Brittany Schutte contributed a sacrifice fly to plate a run in the contest; Gators senior center fielder Michelle Moultrie was also a member of the team.

4 » Friday Night Lights, though it has not directly resulted in any commitments as of press time, made quite an impression with a number of top players who visited for one of Florida’s biggest recruiting nights of the year. Four-star defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (Forest City, NC), the No. 8 player at his position and a member of the Rivals100, told The Gainesville Sun that the Gators bumped their way up his list, which also consists of Alabama, Clemson and South Carolina. Florida three-star safety commit Rhaheim Ledbetter (Boiling Springs, NC), Watkins’ friend and fellow North Carolina product, believes the player’s most recent trip may have turned him to the Orange & Blue. “I think Friday Night Lights might have just did it for him,” he said on Saturday. “I told him once you get down to Florida and you see that place, you’re gonna love it.” Ledbetter is recruiting both Watkins and five-star defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC) hard, hoping both of his friends join him in Gainesville, FL. “He always gives me the Gator Chomp when he sees me,” Watkins said about Ledbetter’s recruiting tactics. “He wants all of us to come there.”

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FOUR BITS: Zook on Muschamp; Black; Wambach

1 » As a defensive-minded coach with no former head coaching experience, new Florida Gators boss Will Muschamp has been compared to former Florida and current Illinois head coach Ron Zook on numerous occasions. Florida fans, obviously, hope the comparison ends there as Zook’s tenure with the Gators (while successful from a recruiting standpoint) was filled with underwhelming records (23-14 combined) and early eliminations from the title hunt each year.

Appearing on ESPN 1000′s GameNight out of Chicago, IL on Monday, Zook offered some advice for Muschamp on his new gig. “The thing is you got be yourself,” he said. “Don’t try to be anybody else. It’s one of those jobs all you can do is the best you can do. You can’t get tied up with all the other stuff. Believe me, there’s a lot of noise in the system down as there is at a lot of places. He’ll do fine. There’s a great state base there, and he’s a good football coach. There’s no doubt they’ll do fine.”

2 » With the NFL lockout nearing its conclusion, former Gators safety Ahmad Black is excited to finally play professional football for his favorite team growing up, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Selected by Tampa Bay with the No. 151 overall pick in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the 2011 Outback Bowl Most Valuable Player has his sights set on a starting job but hopes to contribute in any way he can.

“I want to try to get a starting spot, but if not, then a significant role on the team,” he told the Pewter Report. “I really just can’t wait to get in there and do my thing.” In the meantime, he has been staying in shape and making sure he is ready to go when the season starts. “I’ve been pretty much training four or five times a week,” Black said. “I’ve been doing a lot of outside stuff, going to the beach and trying to relax a little bit. I know that once we start it is going to be crazy.”

3 » Returning to her hometown of Rochester, NY with locals chanting her name, former Florida striker and U.S. Women’s National Team star Abby Wambach celebrated as the city honored her with “Abby Wambach Day.” As a member of the Women’s Professional Soccer league’s magicJack squad, Wambach was in town for her team’s game but did not play even though the league set an attendance record (15,404) due to the appearance of her and other members of Team USA (Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan). “I hope I didn’t disappoint too many people tonight, but my body really needed a rest,” she told the crowd at halftime. “Honestly, I’m humbled [by your support].” Read more about Wambach’s return to Rochester and the reception she received.

4 » For the second time this offseason, Muschamp will travel to Bristol, CT to participate in another Car Wash at ESPN. Consisting of appearing in nearly all of the network’s programming over the course of a given day, the Car Wash often includes spots on First Take, SportsCenter, College Football Live and a variety of ESPN Radio programs. Muschamp, along with five other Southeastern Conference coaches (including Steve Spurrier and Dan Mullen) will be at the Worldwide Leader on Monday, July 25. The rest of the league will participate in the Car Wash on Tuesday.

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Tebow, Wambach also all over the place Tuesday

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow and United States striker Abby Wambach – two former Florida Gators – were featured prominently on the air Tuesday, with the former’s ESPN/Make-A-Wish Foundation segment and the latter’s guest spot on the Late Show with David Letterman as their primary appearances.

My Wish: Tim Tebow:

Wambach, alongside goalkeeper Hope Solo, on Letterman:

Wambach on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning: Listen

Earlier in the day, Wambach and teammate Lauren Cheney stopped by the Early Show for an interview. CBS has decided not to post it online but instead provided the following quotes from the appearance:

Wambach on the fans: “The outpouring of support that we’ve gotten here since we’ve gotten home to the States has been unbelievable. Times Square, I mean I went for a walk last night, and I must have gotten stopped 100 times. Just congratulating us. People appreciate what we did. Hopefully, we inspired a country. The Olympics are just around the corner. Hopefully, we can bring home that gold.”

Wambach on not bringing home the World Cup: “This country was so supportive. We got so many great e-mails, text messages. Obviously, the people came out and supported us through this whole thing. We’re just so sorry not to have brought home the World Cup. But you know, we do a lot of things over there. We inspired people, and I think in the end those are the positives that we’re going to really take away from this.”

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Wambach nearly the hero again, but Japan fights back to win 2011 Women’s World Cup in PKs

It nearly happened again.

For the third time in as many matches, former Florida Gators striker Abby Wambach appeared to be the savior for the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team, heading in a goal 14 minutes into extra time to give her squad a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, for the second time in the match, the United States squandered its lead, allowed their opponent to score an equalizer and eventually fell 3-1 in a highly-contested penalty kick finish, losing the 2011 Women’s World Cup to Japan on Sunday in Germany.

After a first half in which the USA squandered a number of scoring chances, a beautiful floating pass downfield from Megan Rapinoe to 22-year-old striker Alex Morgan at 69’ put the Americans on the board. The U.S. began playing defensively from that point forward but, just minutes later, the Japanese took advantage of poor defensive play in front of the net and scored an equalizer at 81’.

Heading into extra time, the United States got aggressive once again. Wambach took advantage of a brilliant cross and headed it into the net at 104’, giving the Americans a 2-1 lead with just over 15 minutes of regulation to play.

The second half of extra time began with the USA once again just looking to hold on, but the Japanese would have none of it, scoring just three minutes before the end of extra time to force a penalty kick finish.

The United States missed its first three penalty kicks; the first and third were blocked while the third sailed over the crossbar. Japan’s 2-0 lead was reduced briefly as Wambach struck one into the net, but a Japanese goal on the next try ended the Americans’ dream.

Should the United States have won, they would have captured a world-leading third Women’s World Cup title. The USA, which previously won in 1991 and 1999, lost in the World Cup finals for the first time in team history.

American goalkeeper Hope Solo went home with the Golden Glove Award, while Wambach was named both the Bronze Boot and Silver Ball Award winner.

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