Florida football notebook: No. 11 Gators eager for home opener Saturday

By Michael Phillips
September 7, 2019
Florida football notebook: No. 11 Gators eager for home opener Saturday

Image Credit: @UFGatorBand / Twitter

It seems like it’s been a long time since the No. 11 Florida Gators last suited up for a game. Florida is coming off a 24-20 victory over the Miami Hurricanes two weeks ago, and after a bye, it is eager to get back to work in anticipation for its home opener Saturday night against Tennessee-Martin. 

“We’re excited this week, obviously,” head coach Dan Mullen said Wednesday. “Home opener, which is really exciting for us. Obviously get in The Swamp, get in front of our fans, get out here and go play. Really excited about that.”

After a couple of days of practice, Mullen and a few players met with the media to discuss what this week would look like and how they are preparing for their home opener, and here’s what they talked about. 

Florida not taking UT-Martin lightly 

The Gators currently sit as a 41-point favorite over the Skyhawks, but just because they are facing what Las Vegas considers to be a far lesser opponent in Week 2 does not mean they are overlooking the competition.

“We definitely know that we definitely had scares like Vanderbilt almost last year,” senior linebacker David Reese said. “Teams like Georgia State, very good teams with very good athletes, so people got to understand you can’t take any team for granted. I feel like we have enough seniors on our team to know how important it is to be 1-0 every week.”

Week 1 proved what happens when you assume a win is already in the books before you play the game as we saw Wyoming beat Missouri, Georgia State upset Tennessee and Boise State come back to edge Florida State. 

That’s the goal this week — making sure the focus stays on this game. Florida was able to sit back during Week 1 and see what went on around the country, and it was able to use what it witnessed to reinforce how important it was to never assume a game is already won. 

“For us, I know that it’s important to not take any team lightly,” redshirt junior quarterback Feleipe Franks said. A”t the same time, I think you prepare the same week-in and week-out no matter who you are playing. I think that’s the most important kind of takeaway I got from it.”

No timetable for Brenton Cox

The Gators have done all they can with the NCAA to earn immediate eligibility for the former Georgia Bulldogs star. They have submitted all the appropriate transfer paperwork and are now playing the waiting game. According to Mullen, no frustration has set in yet for Cox.

“He’s got a great attitude,” Mullen said of his new defensive end. “He’s been working hard at things so he knows he’s kinda in limbo as we’re waiting.”

Although the waiting is now into Week 2 of the season, Mullen still feels confident the NCAA will grant Cox immediate eligibility in 2019. 

“I mean, from other waivers I’ve seen that have been cleared, he’s a very similar case so we’re certainly hoping for that,” Mullen said. “Obviously some of those were submitted much earlier so they’ve gotten those results back, but I mean, I’ve seen a lot of similar cases cleared eligible, so we’re optimistic about that but you never know. And we’ll wait to see as that comes but he’s been doing a good job of taking care of his business at practice and, you know, working hard every day at giving good looks and filling roles on the team and taking care of business in the classroom.”

Continued criticism for Franks 

Franks has battled the critics since he stepped on Florida’s campus. He didn’t always deal with it well, but he’s worked and put the outside noise out of reach. However, that obviously doesn’t stop the outside noise from taking place. After an up-and-down opener against the Canes, the critics were right there once again, but one teammate says none of that matters to them or the quarterback himself.

“We really don’t pay attention to it,” senior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “He is our guy. He is our leader. He is very competitive. He is a guy that wants to win at the end of the game, sometimes his emotions rise up, but at the end of the day he is the guy when we need to make a play we count on. He makes those plays when we need him to. It doesn’t matter what anybody else has to say. We’re behind him 100 percent.” 

It’s not easy to block things out, especially with how easily accessible every take is with social media, but Franks has learned to let that all go and knows he has all the support he needs. 

“I mean, like I said, everybody is going to have an opinion,” Franks said. “Whether you like me or not, I’m here to win games. I’m here to become the best person, the best player I can be. That’s my main focus. What everybody else thinks is really not my main concern. Everybody on this team has my back. Coaches have my back, and really that’s all I’m worried about. And the family has my back.”

David Reese praises fellow linebackers

Linebacker depth was a big question mark heading into the season following Vosean Joseph’s departure to the NFL. Ventrell Miller and James Houston were with the team last season but did not feature at linebacker much at all. Now, they are key pieces in the linebacker rotation, and Miller even received the start opposite Reese against Miami. 

“He did great,” Reese said of the redshirt sophomore. “Everytime his number was called on, he came through with a big play, a big sack. He had two out of the 10 [sacks], so our D-line did a great job of collapsing the quarterback, and I feel we did a great job of taking advantage of that young O-line.”

Miller finished with six total tackles and two sacks while Houston knotted three tackles and a sack against the Canes. The redshirt sophomore did make one big mistake when he was flagged for a late hit out of bounds, but Houston overall had a solid outing. 

“I feel like he’s a really good player and when he comes into the game he has a great impact,” Reese said of Houston. “He just made a mental mistake. That’s something he’s got to grow on. As an older guy he’s got to understand. He’ll be OK.”

Both came in and filled a void, along with sophomore Amari Burney, to make for a very solid linebacking core. Miller and Houston’s emergence certainly goes a long way for making this a better defense.

“It’s important to the program and also keeping guys fresh on the field,” Reese said. “It lets you know the program is still going to be OK when everyone leaves and the program is still heading in the right direction. Those are the guys that are going to lead the team the next year, and they’re going to be ready next season to be star linebackers.”

Week 2 suspensions?

There were four Florida players ultimately suspended for the Miami game, including three on scholarship: junior safety Brad Stewart, redshirt junior wie receiver Rick Wells and junior defensive tackle T.J. Slaton. All were sidelined for “failing to live up to the Gator Standard.” The announcement came less than 30 minutes prior to kickoff in Week 0, and it looks like, should there be additional suspensions in Week 2, that timetable will continue.

“Maybe,” Mullen said on if there will be any suspensions this week. “We’ll let you know on Saturday, what time? Say like half hour before kickoff usually, we’ll let you know if there is any suspensions, who would be suspended or not suspended or any of that stuff.” 

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