11/2: Addazio, McCarney, players discuss Georgia

Florida Gators offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Steve Addazio, assistant head coach, defense/defensive line Dan McCarney, junior safety Will Hill, redshirt senior guard Carl Johnson and redshirt freshman G Jon Halapio spoke to the media Tuesday as the team took a final look back on its win against the Georgia Bulldogs and ahead to its road game against the Vanderbilt Commodores.

SPEEDY BACKFIELD CREATES HOME RUN THREATS

As head coach Urban Meyer has mentioned repeatedly over the last few weeks, one of the reasons for Florida’s inefficient offense during its three-straight losses was a lack of the home run plays. Addazio believes that element has officially returned now that junior running back Jeff Demps and redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Rainey are back playing. “The ability to have Demps and Rainey together back there, the ability to create a lot of speed back in that backfield again, gives you those opportunities for home run balls. [Options and dives] can be home run strikes now, they’re not just necessarily four-or-five-yard strikes.”

GEORGIA GASSED BY NO-HUDDLE OFFENSE

A common theme the players have expressed since the Georgia game ended on Saturday was how winded and unprepared the Bulldogs were for Florida’s enhanced no-huddle offense. “The no-huddle was actually harder in practice than it was in the game,” Johnson said. “It was fairly easy because Georgia was so tired. They weren’t even getting in their stance half the time because they were so tired. It wasn’t that bad. I thought it would be a lot, lot worse, but they make it so much harder in practice. We don’t have the 40-second clock rule in practice. The coaches are like, ‘Get on the ball, run another play!’”

Halapio shared similar sentiments. “I felt sorry for them boys because we practiced that bonazi stuff, that no-huddle stuff for two weeks. We were in shape. We had no mercy against them,” he said. “They were breathing and they couldn’t even get set. They were all walking around. They couldn’t even do trash talk or nothing. They couldn’t even talk to each other they were so gassed out.”

HILL EVALUATES HIS PERFORMANCES THIS SEASON

No matter what the coaches said about how he played, Hill knew he was better than the performance he was giving on the field throughout the season. After missing UF’s first two contests, Hill regained his starting job against Tennessee and has been performing admirably but with plenty of mistakes since. Though he suffered another miscue on Saturday, he hopes that he has now turned a corner.

“I played decent [early in the season]. I didn’t play like a top guy. I was just playing as a regular guy,” Hill said Tuesday. “I know what the coaches expect and I know what the team expects and I wasn’t up to those expectations. I was just average. [Saturday] was a big game for me. To be able to step up and help the team, I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff like how can I help the team, how can I better myself, how can I better the team? By me performing the way I did, it just showed a lot of improvement.”

FIVE-STAR FRESHMEN DEFENDERS COMING INTO OWN

McCarney raved Tuesday about the progress of freshman defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and defensive end (currently outside linebacker) Ronald Powell. He said Floyd is “the most improved freshmen that I’ve got on the defensive line right now,” adding that injuries have “given Sharrif more of an opportunity and he’s really gaining confidence, improving. I think he’s one of the most improved players on our defense right now.” As for Powell, his improvement has come from a variety of directions. “He’s playing lower. He’s playing with better fundamentals. He’s playing with better technique. He’s understanding the game. He’s understanding the game plan. He’s understanding schemes, what people are trying to do to him,” McCarney said. “He’s really improved a lot – immensely. He’s one of the most talented, most mature freshmen I’ve ever been around [and] I’ve been doing this a lot of years.”

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11/1: Straight from the Gators’ mouths…

Redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley, freshman QB Trey Burton, junior running back Jeff Demps, senior center Mike Pouncey, senior safety Ahmad Black and senior linebacker Brandon Hicks answered questions for the media on Monday about a variety of topics concerning the Florida Gators and their win on Saturday over the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville, FL. OGGOA has compiled some of the most important notes and quotes from the event this week.

BRANTLEY, BURTON COMFORTABLE WITH EACH OTHER

Brantley waited for his turn. He sat behind the legendary Tim Tebow and watched as he returned to school after winning a Heisman Trophy and BCS National Championship in back-to-back seasons. He has been criticized softly by some of his coaches and harshly by many of his team’s fans, yet Brantley has kept his cool and is embracing head coach Urban Meyer’s decision to share his position with a true freshman who has a Tebow-like talent for running the option. Just ask him.

“We run the option really well – it’s what we’ve done really well here for the past few years. We wanted to get that back in the system,” Brantley said. “If that means to put someone else back there to run it, by all means let’s do it. That’s what’s been successful and that’s what we’re going to keep doing. […] Anything that can help the team I’m all for. […] I knew coming into the season we’re an option team. If that means to bring in another quarterback, do that, I’m all for it.”

While Gator Nation certainly appreciates Brantley’s flexibility, he has also made it easy on Burton by befriending him while sharing the spotlight. “He’s a great dude, awesome football player,” Burton said of Brantley on Monday. “I love hanging out with him. Him and I joke around every day, every time I see him we say ‘What’s up?’ to each other. We hang out all the time. I can’t say enough about him. He’s one of my best friends on the team. […] Whatever we can do to win, him and I both have the same feelings. It doesn’t matter if we play or we don’t play, as long as we win, we’re happy. And that’s truly how both of us feel.”

DEMPS “SLOWLY BUT SURELY” GETTING HEALTHIER

Hobbled for three consecutive games before returning at 90 percent capacity on Saturday against Georgia, Demps (foot) remains on the mend but is trying to reach perfect health. Unfortunately, he is still experiencing sharp pains going through the top and side of his foot when attempting to change direction while running, something he has high hopes will be corrected soon. He is currently wearing a soft protection brace on his foot – not tape – and is getting 20-25 reps each practice in order to stay in game shape.

“It’s coming along pretty good – slowly but surely. [I’m] getting good treatment by our training staff,” he said. “Right now I’m able to practice in limited reps, but the reps that I am getting are quality reps. Right now I’m able to run straight ahead pretty well, but it’s kind of hard for me to change direction. […] It’s been tough. At times I’ve gotten frustrated, but at the same time I have to stay positive and keep my teammates going and at the same time they have to keep me going.”

GETTING OFF THE FIELD ON THIRD DOWN

For the second-straight game, Florida’s defense is having difficulty getting off of the field on third down. Against Mississippi State, UF was unable to stop the run; with Georgia the problem was stopping QB Aaron Murray from completing long third down passes.

“Third down is key. That’s like our money down. I’ve been on this team a while and third down used to be us getting off the field a little bit quicker,” Black said. “We can improve, we can get better. That’s what practice is for.” Hicks also notices it is an issue. “To let a team convert on a third down, and it’s third and long, it hurts the defense as well. It feels like we didn’t do our job,” he said.

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11/1: Urban Meyer’s Monday press conference

Think Saturday’s win meant something to Meyer?

Head coach Urban Meyer and a small group of players meet with the media each Monday before the Florida Gators compete in a game the following Saturday. OGGOA has compiled some of the most important notes and quotes from the event this week.

CHAMPIONS AND AWARDS

After three consecutive losses and an overall lack of things to celebrate post-game, a tough win allowed Meyer to announce that 17 Gators had earned the designation of Champions after Saturday’s win over the Georgia Bulldogs.

Offensively, Meyer named redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Rainey, freshman quarterback Trey Burton and redshirt sophomore WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. as his most valuable players along with senior center Mike Pouncey, redshirt junior QB John Brantley, redshirt senior guard Carl Johnson, redshirt junior WR Deonte Thompson, redshirt freshman tight end Jordan Reed, redshirt senior tackle Marcus Gilbert, redshirt freshman guard Jon Halapio and redshirt junior fullback Steven Wilks as his champions. On the defensive side of the ball, junior safety Will Hill won the MVP award, while senior safety Ahmad Black, junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins, redshirt freshman linebacker Jelani Jenkins, and senior defensive ends Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens were champions.

The Southeastern Conference honored senior punter/kicker Chas Henry with its Co-Special Teams Player of the Week award and Burton with its Tri-Freshman of the Week award on Monday. Henry was 2-of-3 on his field goal attempts including a 37-yard game winner, and Burton rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown.

IMPROVEMENT IN FOUR DEFICIENT AREAS

One week ago, Meyer mentioned four particular areas in which Florida was struggling on offense and needed to drastically improve on in order to turn around the season. Here is how the Gators fared in those four areas against the Bulldogs:

1. Turnovers – 4-to-1 ratio with Brantley’s interception coming when sophomore WR Omarius Hines quit running a route.
2. Big plays – Florida had five against Georgia after none in the previous five games combined – a big turnaround.
3. Pass efficiency – UF’s quarterbacks were 30 points more efficient (120) than average.
4. Red zone efficiency – The Gators converted 5-of-6 red zone opportunities with a miscue coming on a missed field goal by Henry on the first offensive drive of the game.

OFFENSE REBOUNDS, DEFENSE CONTINUES TO STRUGGLE

While the offense spent two weeks of practice being retooled and streamlined, the defense’s goal during the bye week was figuring out how to get off the field on third down. Mississippi State ran the ball down Florida’s throats in its upset victory two weeks ago, and Georgia accomplished a similar feat through the air. Meyer was blunt when speaking about what had to be improved on that side of the ball.

“We’re not playing great defense. It’s just the way it is. We’re not and we have to improve,” he said. “Does that mean we didn’t have some great efforts? We certainly created turnovers and short fields, which our defense has done a decent job of all year. Back to compartmentalize – it’s third downs and red zone. We were 3-of-3 [in red zone scores] we gave up and third downs are not good.”

Asked if he will reevaluate the defense the same as he did the offense, Meyer responded: “I just don’t have time. I’ve never done that. These are the issues, get them cleaned up immediately. We have very good coaches. We just got to clean up a few things because at times we play outstanding defense. It’s getting off the field that has been a situation for us.”

GAME BALL TO MR. ANDREU

To begin his press conference, Meyer handed a game ball to long-time Gainesville Sun writer Robbie Andreu, whose father passed away in October. Today, Nov. 1, also happens to have been his father’s birthday. Best wishes from OGGOA.

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Week 9: Gators post-game news and notes

Snapping a three-game losing streak, the Florida Gators (5-3, 3-3 SEC) snuck a 34-31 overtime win by the Georgia Bulldogs (4-5, 3-4 SEC) at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, FL, at EverBank Field. With so much to discuss, OGGOA presents some important notes and quotes following the contest.

OH HENRY!

By now everybody knows what happened Saturday – after missing his initial field goal attempt wide left in the first quarter, Florida senior punter Chas Henry nailed two in a row including a 37-yarder in overtime to ice the game. However, what is not known is how much that one kick meant to Henry. “It was the best feeling I’ve ever had,” he said. “The main thing that went through my mind was how I let my team down two weeks ago against Mississippi State. That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to go through. I got so much support through the coaches, my family and friends, and my brothers in the locker room. The internal family we have is as strong as you can get. I let them down one time. I was never going to let it happen again. It felt great. Unbelievable.”

Henry’s field goal was so emotional that it caused head coach Urban Meyer to immediately drop to his knees according to those on the scene. Why exactly did he do that? “After he hit that field goal? It was Chas Henry hitting a damn field goal. Think about that for a minute. That’s not easy,” Meyer said. I didn’t realize I did that. It was a good moment.”

Meyer gave Henry three opportunities to kick field goals Saturday because he had confidence in the young man after seeing how he played in practice on Thursday. “He’s got a strong leg; he just has not majored in that,” he said. “We thought we were going to have Caleb [Sturgis]. Caleb came out Wednesday and kicked beautifully. Then his back, he could’ve pushed it but we’re not going to do that – it could hurt him for a long time if he hurts it more. On Thursday, Chas came out and hit every field goal. We always go right-left, right-left, right-left, right-left, and he went right up to 42 yards, I think he was seven-for-seven.”

THRICE IS NICE FOR WILL THE THRILL

Though only two of his three interceptions will count when looking at the box score 10 years from now, senior safety Will Hill’s performance will be remembered for some time. Following in the footsteps of some of the Gators’ other terrifying free safeties, Hill came through when it counted by saving a two-point conversion and starting Florida’s celebration early with an 89-yard interception return (that did not go for a score) in overtime. He had been struggling all season and even failed in protection on an early Georgia touchdown, but Hill got some of his mojo back by the time the whistle sounded.

“[Ahmad] Black had good coverage on A.J. [Green],’’ Hill said of the overtime interception. “He tipped the ball and it just fell in my lap. I just saw an opportunity and made the best of it. I was struggling earlier in the season and coaches never gave up on me, teammates never gave up on me. And for me to come out and playing like this, it’s just like paying the team back.’’

“Big play of the day,” Meyer said of Hill’s overtime pick. “And from what [defensive coordinator] Teryl Austin mentioned in [the locker room], he said it was Will Hill’s best game. We’ve been waiting for that all year. Will Hill played very well tonight.” Austin had his thoughts as well. “You saw it today. He played. He played like a Florida safety plays,” he asid. “He made some wonderful plays out there today. He was physical, he hit guys, he intercepted the ball, he did a great job for us today. Really proud of him.”

FLORIDA FINDS A LONG-LOST “EDGE”

Aside from injuries and execution, one of the main reasons the Gators’ offense has been so vanilla this year is because the team found it difficult to find an edge. Meyer believes Florida found exactly that over the last two weeks and wishes he would have identified it and installed it earlier this year. “I could kick myself for not doing that more this summer,” Meyer said of using a steady two quarterback rotation. “I did not anticipate…Trey Burton’s one of those guys, I didn’t know he was that good as a runner. I thought he was pretty good and then he was dynamic. Jordan Reed did a nice job, came in and gave us some two-plus yardage plays. We’re going to do more of that. We have to find that edge. Florida’s always had the edge.

“In ’05 we really didn’t really have one, and then ’06 we had some edge when we recruited Percy [Harvin] and then Dallas [Baker] came on. Then obviously Tim [Tebow] went crazy in ’07, ’08 you had a bundle of them – there’s edges all over the place. […] We’re just still trying to find what that edge is. You can’t play offensive football without it. You can sit and run between the tackles, you can run perimeter plays or you can throw, and if you don’t have that edge than it’s just a mess. And that’s kind of where we’ve been. We’re looking at tempo as an edge, multiple quarterbacks as an edge and development of players. You want to get that speed back with [Chris] Rainey and [Jeff] Demps, that helps us a lot as well.”

RAINEY’s REDEMPTION

Ask any of his teammates or the player himself, and it is obvious Rainey has had a tough few weeks after being suspended indefinitely following his arrest. In addition to being scolded by the coaching staff, administration and the media, Rainey has been hard on himself and made a concerted effort to turn his life around. Saturday’s game was the first he had played in more than a month, and Rainey made the most of it going off for 241 all-purpose yards including 84 rushing yards.

“Rainey stood up after the game and thanked God for giving him a second chance. He’s taking full advantage of it,” said senior center Mike Pouncey, one of Rainey’s best friends. “He thanked the whole administration – [athletic director] Jeremy Foley and the president [Bernie Machen] – and he thanked God as well. He thanked everyone for giving him a second chance because without Jeremy Foley and President Machen, it wouldn’t be possible for him to play right now. I love Chris like a brother. […] He’s been living with me since high school, and we have a special relationship. I felt his pain those weeks he was out. He loves football. He’s a great person, and I know that was one of the happiest moments of his life just to be out there with us playing.”

Meyer attributes Rainey’s presence to many of the other big plays made during the game. “The threat of a perimeter issue opens up – the Trey Burton touchdown, that was a lot of the Tim stuff we used to do when you had Percy,” he said. “If you have a threat of this [holds arms out], it sometimes opens that [em>points arms to middle] up. That’s the mix of perimeter and interior rushing. That’s a direct result of having a perimeter.”

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Henry holds off Dogs as Gators win OT thriller

On the eve before Halloween, EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL, was filled with tricks and treats including a game-winning 37-yard field goal in overtime from senior punter Chas Henry to push the Florida Gators (5-3, 3-3 SEC) over the Georgia Bulldogs (4-5, 3-4 SEC) 34-31.

Tied at 31 in overtime, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was picked off by Florida junior safety Will Hill on third down after redshirt freshman Jelani Jenkins tipped Murray’s pass. Hill nearly returned the ball for a touchdown to ice the game but stepped out at the four; the Gators got the ball back at the 25 for their attempt. Failing to gain a first down on their first three plays, Florida turned to Henry who made his second field goal of the night to help the Gators snap a three-game losing streak and win their 18th in the last 21 games against the Bulldogs.

With junior running back Jeff Demps and redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Rainey active for Florida, the Gators running game came alive. Demps rushed nine times for 38 yards, and Rainey carried 16 balls for 84 yards – both had a touchdown. Rainey also led UF with 241 all-purpose yards as he was the team’s primary kick returner. However, it was freshman QB Trey Burton who really helped move Florida’s offense, keeping 17 balls for 110 yards and two scores including a 51-yard touchdown run.

Redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley, who was 16-of-25 for 193 yards with an interception, spread the ball around evenly. Sophomore WR Omarius Hines caught four balls for a team-high 50 yards, redshirt sophomore WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. hauled in three for 46 yards, Demps took two for 43 yards, redshirt junior WR Deonte Thompson caught two for 36 yards and Burton gained 35 yards on a team-high five receptions.

Georgia took it to Florida on the ground and through the air, rushing 34 times for 126 yards and a touchdown as a team and gaining 313 yards passing on Murray’s 18-of-37 performance with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins picked off Murray on the first play of the game, but the Gators offense stalled and failed to gain points after Henry missed a field goal. Hill intercepted Murray twice during the game and once more on a failed two-point conversion in the second half.

With the win, Florida moves into second place in the SEC East standings and within striking distance of earning a berth to the 2010 SEC Championship game should they defeat Vanderbilt (next Saturday at 12:21 p.m. on SEC Network) and South Carolina. Saturday’s game was the first time the Gators had gone to overtime in a contest since Nov. 5, 2005; Florida now holds a 3-2 record when playing in extra time.

Photo Credit: Stephen Morton/Associated Press

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10/13: Austin, Heater talk defensive improvement

Florida Gators defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Teryl Austin and co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chuck Heater spoke to the media Wednesday taking a look back on the tough loss to the LSU Tigers and ahead to the match-up against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at home on Saturday night.

WHAT’s UP WITH WILL HILL?

A five-star recruit coming out of high school, special teams dynamo and one of the reasons now-senior safety Ahmad Black was partially forced out of his starting job last year, junior S Will Hill missed the first two games of the 2010 season due to team discipline and has not been the same since. Heater says the Hill is struggling most with his tackling but that the staff remains confident he will turn things around.

“He’s had some missed tackles. That’s a situation you’re always coaching against on the back end because a missed tackle on the back end can become a problem in a hurry,” Heater said. “He’s not the only guy [doing that], but he’s a guy we’re trying to improve and he’s trying to improve and get where he wants to get to.”

ELAM’s CONCUSSION KEEPS HIM OUT

Speaking of the secondary, freshman S Matt Elam (who has been playing nickel cornerback this year) was concussed during the LSU game. He has yet to practice this week and could be held out of the Mississippi State game if he does not improve later in the week. “He’s getting close, missed a few days this week but he’s getting closer,” Heater told the media Wednesday. “He observed practice today. We’ll reevaluate tomorrow. They have a whole systematic approach to these things so I just defer to the trainers. I think he’s making progress. He’s certainly better than he was two days ago and he’s able to do more things today than he did yesterday, so he’s making progress.”

The Palm Beach Post’s Jason Lieser spoke with Elam’s high school coach, Jack Daniels, who said he has never had a concussion before.

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10/6: Austin on Lemmens, Elam, Hill and tackling

Florida Gators defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Teryl Austin along sophomore linebacker Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Omar Hunter spoke to the media Wednesday as the team took a final look back on its crushing loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide and ahead to its match-up against the LSU Tigers at home on Saturday night.

LEMMENS “BETTER THAN YOU THINK”

Though he began the season as a starting defensive end, senior Duke Lemmens is now playing a hybrid role in what the Gators call their “heavy package,” where a larger player is used as a stand-up linebacker in an effort to close rushing lanes. Austin raved Wednesday about what Lemmens brings to the table and how effective he has been.

“What we’re getting from Duke is great effort. He plays in space better than you think. He’s a big guy, he’s a 250 lb. guy on the edge, and that really helped solidify some of the run lanes,” Austin said. “Duke’s done a great job with it and we’re going to keep moving forward with it. Because of his size he gives you a real stout guy at the edge of the defense to hold the edge of the defense, but he also gives you some pass rush being a former defensive end.”

YOUNGSTERS RESPOND TO VETERAN LEADERSHIP

With more than half of Florida’s players in their first or second year on the team, rebounding from a tough road loss is a difficult thing to do. Austin noted that the veteran leadership on the defense has gone a long way to making the younger players get over the loss and concentrate on the game ahead. “[There are] not a lot of losses around here to reach back and dig from and talk about, but the one thing they did [say] what happened Saturday we can’t change that so what do we have to do to get better this week? The seniors and the older guys have really led the way and they’re trying to bring the young guys [in],” he said. “We’ve had two pretty good, spirited practices, and that’s really what you’re really looking for as a coach – the guys really coming out, competing and trying to get better. Because what happened last Saturday has no effect on what happens this Saturday.”

THE TIME IS NOW FOR HILL TO IMPROVE

Over the last few weeks OGGOA has been poking and prodding around to find out what exactly has been going on with the development of junior safety Will Hill. The most anyone would tell us was that he was inconsistent in practice and not showing the same gumption he did in the offseason. Austin confirmed exactly that Wednesday when asked directly about Hill’s performances.

“No. [He has to] play better,” said Austin about Hill’s consistency. “He has the ability really to be an impact-type player because he’s big, he has range, he can tackle, he can do all the things you want a safety to do – [what] all the great safeties around here have done. He hasn’t taken that step yet so we need him to take it. It starts out there on the practice field and hopefully carries over to the game. Because he’s been working hard. We gotta get it to carry over into games, and I think hopefully it will start this week.

“Right now he’s just not playing up to the ability he has right now, and that will come. I’m not worried about him. I think he’ll play better this week and he’ll continue to play better as we move [forward] because he had an outstanding fall camp. You want him to play better, but I know he can play better and he will.”

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10/4: Urban Meyer’s Monday press conference

Updated Oct. 5 at 1:15 p.m.

Head coach Urban Meyer and a small group of players meet with the media each Monday after the Florida Gators participate in a game the previous Saturday. OGGOA has compiled some of the most important notes and quotes from the event this week.

DEMPS REMAINS PROBABLE, GILLISLEE TOO

The last thing Florida needed after having junior running back Jeff Demps at less than 100 percent on Saturday was another one of its top rushers to go down; unfortunately, that is exactly what happened as sophomore RB Mike Gillislee badly bruised his ankle against Alabama. Meyer noted that both players are Probable (read: 75 percent) for Saturday night’s game against LSU. Expect them to play.

In addition to limiting him in the backfield, Demps’ injured foot kept him off of special teams with Gillislee handling kickoff returns. As long as both are able to play Saturday, expect that to continue until Demps is completely healthy and able to practice at full speed for an entire week without “sharp pains” in his foot.

RED ZONE REVERSE

Entering the Alabama game Florida had gone 14-for-14 in the red zone over the previous two games with 13 touchdowns and a field goal. In fact, the Gators’ red zone efficiency on the season was 89.5 percent including 16 touchdowns. That changed for the worse Saturday as Florida went 1-for-4 in similar opportunities, something that has certainly gotten Meyer’s attention.

WEEK FIVE CHAMPIONS

Meyer did not announce any Champions for the Alabama game because, let’s face it, there was little to be proud of when the game was over. In lieu of his accolades, OGGOA has decided to name senior punter/kicker Chas Henry our week five champion for his top-notch performances during the contest. Henry averaged 62.3 yards per punt with a career-long of 75 and, filling in for injured junior K Caleb Sturgis, knocked through field goals of 39 and 22 yards for the Gators’ only points of the game.

He also received a honorable mention from the Southeastern Conference on Monday and this statement from Meyer: “If we had won the game, his contributions would have probably been player-of-gamish.”

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