Florida Gators: Bowling Green Falcons

Frankie Hammond Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at WR Frankie Hammond.

WR Frankie Hammond
Redshirt senior
20 catches, 273 yards, 3 TDs

Role in 2012: UF coach Will Muschamp said Hammond was the Gators’ most consistent receiver in the spring and fall practice. He was supposed to be the No. 1 target but instead ended up the second option behind Quinton Dunbar.

The good: Hammond delivered two big plays that proved to be critical to a pair of victories. He caught a short pass, broke a tackle, and went 50 yards for a touchdown and 10-point lead against Bowling Green. He also had a 75-yard catch and run for a TD against Tennessee. Hammond may not have been very productive on the field but he was a good example for freshmen Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades in terms of work ethic, practice habits, and mental preparation.

The bad: Hammond had trouble with dropped passes. He also was caught in the size-speed trap: He wasn’t quite fast enough to be a downfield threat, but he’s not quite big enough (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) to be an over-the-middle target, either. Like most of UF’s receivers, he struggled to get separation at times, too. Hammond’s career totals (61 catches, 787 yards, 6 TDs) are less than what some of UF’s former receivers compiled in a season.

Crystal ball: Hammond has one last chance to leave his mark on the program, but it comes against a Louisville defense that is giving up 194 yards per game passing. He won’t get drafted but could end up in an NFL training camp. Hammond has a better future in track and field, where he competes in the high jump. He placed second in the SEC indoor championships and ninth in the NCAA indoor championships this past February and March.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It looks like Florida has fixed its short-yardage problems.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Kim Klement/US PresswireHis numbers may not wow you, but RB Mike Gillislee has been vital to Florida's success this season.
After struggling early in the season to convert on second and third down in which they had 3 yards or fewer to go, the Gators have been nearly perfect in those situations in their last two games. That includes going 8-for-9 last Saturday against LSU, which entered the game with the Southeastern Conference’s No. 2 rush defense (86.0 yards per game).

“We’ve put a huge point of emphasis [on short yardage] since the first couple of games,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “To be at [almost] 100 percent against a front like that [LSU] says a lot about our players and the scheme that our offensive staff put in place.”

Florida only converted a first down six times in 21 chances in which it faced 3 yards or fewer to go for a first down in its first three games, which doesn’t include a kneel-down and a fake field goal against Texas A&M. In the Gators’ last two games, however, they’re a combined 17-for-18. The only time they failed came against LSU when RB Mike Gillislee gained 2 yards on a second-and-3 play. However, Gillislee gained 3 yards on the next play and the Gators got the first down.

Florida scored three short-yardage touchdowns against Kentucky, all coming on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. UF went 9-for-9 on short-yardage plays against the Wildcats.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida nearly doubled its season total in sacks after taking down LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger four times in a 14-6 victory on Saturday.

Linebackers Jon Bostic and Lerentee McCray, safety Josh Evans and defensive tackle Damien Jacobs each recorded a sack. The Gators had only five sacks in their first four games, but UF coach Will Muschamp said that was more a result of the style of offenses the Gators faced in the first four games than a lack of production from the pass rushers.

[+] EnlargeLerentee McCray
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida senior buck linebacker Lerentee McCray collects one of the Gators' four sacks against LSU.
Bowling Green and Texas A&M were teams that used short, quick timing passes that didn’t allow enough time for UF’s rushers to get to the quarterback. Kentucky used a rolling pocket to keep the rush off backup QB Morgan Newton. The only team that used a seven-step drop and wanted to throw the ball vertically down the field was Tennessee -- and the Gators sacked QB Tyler Bray three times.

"I think we’ve pressured pretty well but we haven’t faced a team other than Tennessee that throws the ball vertically down the field," Muschamp said. "We can talk about pressuring all you want, [but] you’re not going to get there [against those type of teams] in most situations. We’ve been pressuring them but we’ve been more effective this game."

Bostic and Evans’ sacks came on blitzes. McCray was able to beat the tackle around the edge, and Jacobs’ sack was the result of him helping collapse the pocket in the middle.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp isn’t particularly happy with what he’s getting out of his kickoff and punt return units, so he made sure the Gators worked on the return game on Tuesday and Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeAndre Debose
Kim Klement/US PresswireDespite uneven practice effort, Andre Debose has not lost his job as Florida's primary kick and punt returner.
The biggest issue is that No. 11-ranked Florida (4-0, 3-0 SEC) isn’t blocking very well on punt or kickoff returns and that’s why the Gators aren’t making big plays on either unit.

"We need to get more production out of our punt return group," Muschamp said. "We've got some explosive guys. We need to settle on a guy and get a guy back there that's No. 1 going to field the ball, but No. 2, can get the ball north and south. Stick your foot in the ground and get north and south.

"And then more production out of our kickoff return unit. Again we've got some guys that got some ability, some explosive ability. We've got to do a better job of blocking, staying on blocks."

Florida ranks 13th in the 14-team SEC on kickoff returns (19.5 yards per return). UF has only eight returns, but Auburn leads the league at 31.5 yards per game on eight returns. The Gators are sixth in the SEC in punt returns (9.6 yards per return), but there have been opportunities for more yards and bigger plays if the punt returners were more confident in fielding the ball.

Andre Debose and Marcus Roberson have let several punts drop and roll that should have been fielded. Even if those kicks were fair caught and there was no return, that still would have saved the Gators yardage.

"We need to field the ball," Muschamp said. "We’re losing precious yards there as far as the ball rolling and bleeding out on us. It’s about field position and securing the football."

Debose ranks sixth in the SEC in punt returns (9.6 per return) and had a 32-yard return against Bowling Green. He’s eighth in kickoff returns (24.2 yards per return). Though he has been inconsistent in practice on offense and did not field any kicks in the first half of last week’s game against Kentucky and fumbled and recovered a punt in the second half, Muschamp said Debose hasn’t lost his job as the Gators’ main kick and punt returner.

"He’s got to field the ball a little bit better on punts, but other than that he’d be fine," Muschamp said. "If we were going to play tomorrow he’d be back there catching punts."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease called the Gators' offensive line the strength of the offense.

That doesn't seem to make sense, though, when you consider the Gators have given up nine sacks in two games, chose a more mobile quarterback as the starter, and are struggling in short-yardage situations. But Pease has an answer for each of those issues.

Of the nine sacks, six are on quarterback Jeff Driskel, two are on the offensive line, and one is a receiver's fault. Driskel ran out of bounds on a bootleg against Bowling Green in the season opener and Pease said Driskel was to blame for five of the eight sacks they suffered against Texas A&M.

"We go back and study them," Pease said. "That’s what everybody on the outside always looks at -- the sacks. Go back and look. Out of eight sacks, two of them were ones that we needed to have better protection. You can’t put that (the rest of the sacks) on the O-line."

As for naming Driskel the starter over Jacoby Brissett, who is a pro-style pocket passer, Pease said that wasn't because the staff was worried that the offensive line would have trouble in pass protection.

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Andre Debose still not impact WR

September, 6, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When receiver Andre Debose got to Florida in 2009, then-coach Urban Meyer called him the next Percy Harvin.

Instead, he's turning out to be the next Bo Carroll -- an average player on on offense but a very good kick returner.

The 5-foot-11, 189-pound Debose is perhaps the Gators' most electric player with the ball in his hands and he already holds the school record with three kickoff returns for touchdowns and it's only one game into his redshirt junior season. He has two 99-yard returns, including one against Ohio State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl to earn game MVP honors.

As a receiver, however, Debose is hit-and-miss. He has just 26 catches for 528 yards and four touchdowns in 24 career games. All four of his touchdown catches last season were 64 yards or longer, including 65-yarders in back-to-back weeks against Alabama and LSU. However, he has only had more than two catches in a game three times: Florida Atlantic and Furman in 2011 and Kentucky in 2010. He had a career-high four catches against the Wildcats.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida’s players are being disciplined for committing 14 penalties in the Gators’ season opener against Bowling Green.

Coach Will Muschamp won’t say what the punishment is, other than to say it comes on the practice field, but he offered assurances that the players are facing consequences for committing a penalty against the Falcons.

Then again, they were disciplined last season, too, and the Gators ended up finishing 114th in the country in penalties per game.

Maybe, linebacker Jon Bostic said, the solution is for the players to start doing a much better job of policing each other when it comes to breaking rules.

"It comes down to us," Bostic said. "If we say we want to be a team and be at a certain place where we want to be, it’s going to step back on the offensive leaders and defense to really say, 'Hey, we’ve got to stop this.'

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Which Florida players are making the biggest contributions on the field?

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesFlorida coach Will Muschamp saw a handful of players perform well Saturday.
GatorNation will tell you every week.

Therefore we're introducing the Gator Greats, our weekly power rankings of Florida’s top contributors. It’s not just a list of MVP candidates, but a compilation of the players who are making the biggest difference each week.

Sunday Night QB: UF must let offense go 

September, 2, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp knows that 21 passes aren’t going to get it done against Texas A&M on Saturday.

UF CommunicationsFlorida offensive coordinator Brent Pease was told to run the ball in the opener, and the Gators stuck with it against Bowling Green.
The Gators will need to be a little more equitable than they were against the Aggies, running the ball on 67 percent of their offensive snaps. They will have to throw the ball, and not just wide receiver screens, either. They’ll have to take shots down the field.

Muschamp says that will happen, that he won’t handcuff offensive coordinator Brent Pease the way he did against Bowling Green.

"As our competition heats up a little bit we’ve got to be able to open up our offense more," Muschamp said moments after the Gators’ 27-14 victory. "We will. It’s a long season and you’ve got to understand that it’s not just about emptying your bullets [from your gun] here in Game 1. We’ve got to win the game, do what we need to do to win the game, and that’s what we did.

"As we move to Week 2, we need to be able to open ourselves up a little bit more."

That means throwing the ball more than 10 yards down the field, which the Gators rarely did against Bowling Green. Jacoby Brissett overthrew Andre Debose on a post pattern but did hook up with Quinton Dunbar on an 18-yard throw. Frankie Hammond’s 50-yard touchdown came after he broke a tackle on a 10-yard pass, and Jordan Reed’s 16-yard catch-and-run came off a 10-yard pass.

Other than those three plays, the Gators had just one other pass play gain more than 10 yards.

The game plan was conservative by design. Muschamp said he wanted the Gators to establish their identity as a power-run team and the only way to do that was to run, run and run some more. He told Pease to pound the football.

"Brent’s a lot more imaginative, I can assure you of that, but I told him we’re going to run the football," Muschamp said. "We need to establish what we are. You can’t talk about it. You’ve got to be about it and you’ve got to do it. And we made the decision going into the game that’s what we were going to do in this football game.

"… I think that you can preach a certain sermon over and over and over again but until you’re willing to go do it out there in front of the Gator Nation and fans, it’s not what you’re actually about. We’re going to be a physical organization and you’ve got to do it. You can’t talk about it."

So the Gators played power football, which at times turned out to be difficult because Bowling Green put extra players near the line of scrimmage. But Muschamp said he was stubborn about sticking with it.

The cost was a chance to really get a look at the two young quarterbacks who have been competing for the starting job since the spring, which is what Muschamp said he wanted to do by rotating Brissett and Driskel. Driskel ended up playing the bulk of the game and threw 16 passes -- all conservative throws. Brissett was on the field for 11 snaps and threw five passes. But even though Driskel got significantly more work, Muschamp said he wasn’t ready to name a starter for the game in College Station yet.

Regardless of which quarterback starts or if they rotate, Muschamp has to give Pease more freedom to call the offense he brought with him from Boise State. That means going full bore with the motions and shifts, which weren’t used heavily against Bowling Green, and using the passing game as a weapon and not a change of pace.

"It makes the game easier," Hammond said. "It makes defenses back up off you and makes the run game easier because it will open things up for us vertically."

Three observations

Three things of note in Saturday’s game:

  • CB Loucheiz Purifoy lined up at receiver several times, which seems a bit odd. Unless there were suspensions we didn’t know about, the Gators had six healthy receivers available: Hammond, Quinton Dunbar, Debose, Solomon Patton, Stephen Alli and Latroy Pittman. Plus, Raphael Andrades was dressed (though he didn’t play, according to the game book) and TE Kent Taylor is essentially being used as a slot receiver. It would seem to indicate that the coaching staff has little confidence in the group -- unless it was a move designed to get a better blocker on the field. Purifoy is 6-foot-1, 189 pounds and bigger than Patton, Hammond and Debose.
  • CB Jaylen Watkins might have won a starting job. He replaced Purifoy opposite Marcus Roberson in the first half after Purifoy missed two tackles in the same drive, including one that set the Falcons up with a first-and-goal. On Bowling Green’s next possession, Watkins broke up two passes to help force a three-and-out. He finished with three pass breakups.

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Film study: Gators vs. Bowling Green 

September, 2, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here’s an analysis of three key plays in Florida’s 27-14 victory over Bowling Green on Saturday. The first two are scoring plays in which the Gators did a good job of blocking and picking up a blitz. The third, however, is an illustration of what can go wrong when blocking breaks down and the quarterback is too tentative.

Mike Gillislee’s TD run


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UF-Bowling Green: Top five performers 

September, 2, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida had a difficult time time in its 27-14 victory over Bowling Green on Saturday night. Here's a closer look at the top five performers in the game.

Mike Gillislee, RB
Over the last several years, not many Florida running backs have had 24 rushing attempts in a game, but Gillislee carried the load for the Gators. He finished with 148 yards and two touchdowns. If Gillislee can stay healthy, the senior has a chance to have a big year for the Gators. It was Gillislee's first career 100-yard rushing game.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida running back Mike Gillislee had been waiting for Saturday ever since he stepped foot on campus in 2009.

Gillislee finally got his chance to be the Gators’ No. 1 tailback, and the 5-foot-11, 201-pound senior responded with exactly the kind of game Florida needs from its running backs. Gillislee pounded his way through Bowling Green’s defense for a career-high 148 yards and two touchdowns in UF’s 27-14 victory.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFlorida running back Mike Gillislee had a career-high 148 yards and two touchdowns Saturday against Bowling Green.
"It’s the chance and the opportunity I’ve always dreamed about," said Gillislee, who had rushed for 930 yards and 10 touchdowns in spot duty during his first three seasons. "And now it’s the moment. I think I handled it good for the first time ever starting a football game and playing a whole game in college."

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It was a little tense for a while, but No. 23 Florida finally pulled away in the fourth quarter for the victory over Bowling Green in front of 84,704 at Florida Field.

The Gators (1-0) didn’t look crisp on offense and struggled at different times on the defensive line, but were just good enough to win their 23rd consecutive season opener. That’s the second-longest current streak in the nation, behind only Nebraska (27).

It was over when: Frankie Hammond caught a short pass from Jeff Driskel, shook a tackle from Bowling Green CB Cameron Truss, and went 50 yards for a touchdown to give the Gators a 24-14 lead with 13:18 remaining.

Game ball goes to: Florida RB Mike Gillislee proved he’s capable of being the Gators’ No. 1 tailback. The senior ran for 148 yards on 24 carries. He set career highs with 94 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the first half.

Stat of the game: Florida committed 10 penalties for 76 yards in the first half, but committed just four in the second half.

What it means: It appears that Driskel will be the Gators' starting quarterback moving forward. The sophomore played the entire first quarter and into the second and the entire second half. Driskel finished 10-of-16 for 114 yards and one touchdown. Jacoby Brissett played only in the second quarter and completed 3-of-5 passes for 31 yards.

Turning point: Florida CB Marcus Roberson intercepted a tipped pass at the UF 17-yard line early in the fourth quarter to stop the Falcons from scoring a potential go-ahead touchdown. Roberson returned the ball 31 yards, and three plays later Hammond broke free for his 50-yard TD.

Second guessing: Offensive coordinator Brent Pease made several questionable play calls in short-yardage situations. He had Driskel pull off a quick punt (which went only 15 yards) on fourth-and-6, called a rollout pass on fourth-and-1, and called another rollout pass on third-and-2. None of them worked.

What we learned about this team: The offense is still a work in progress, especially the passing game. The receivers did not consistently get open, and the quarterbacks missed wide-open throws, too. Now, things may have purposely been a little vanilla because of next week’s game against Texas A&M. The Gators didn’t show as many motions and shifts as expected. Still, there was no rhythm to the passing game.

Best call: Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson called a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from midfield, and P Brian Schmiedebusch ran to his right and gained 8 yards. The Falcons got an extra 15 because returner Andre Debose hit Schmiedebush out of bounds. RB Anthon Samuel scored on a 12-yard run three plays later to tie the game at 14-14 with 9:57 remaining in the third quarter.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 23 Florida didn't look good early in the half against Bowling Green at Florida Field, but the Gators got better as the half went along.

Neither of the quarterbacks, however, did much, so it'll be interesting to see how the rotation will work in the second half.

Stat of the half: One of the things the Gators were supposed to have been working on throughout the offseason was being a more disciplined team. They need more work. UF committed 10 penalties for 76 yards, which included two personal fouls.

Player of the half: Florida RB Mike Gillislee ran for a career-high 94 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries, including a 38-yarder to put UF ahead 14-7 with 5:03 remaining.

What's working for Florida: After a slow start, the Gators' offensive line began to assert himself. Bowling Green was able to close down running lanes behind big defensive tackle Chris Jones on UF's first drive, but the Gators got much more movement on the second. That drive went 85 yards and all but 10 of them came on the ground. The Gators finished the half with 145 yards on the ground.

What's not working for Florida: The passing game doesn't look any better than it did under John Brantley last season. UF quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel (4-for-5, 27 yards) are still struggling with intermediate passes. Two of Driskel's four first-half completions were on wide-receiver screens and his one incompletion was because he threw behind a wide-open Quinton Dunbar. Brissett went 3-for-5 for 31 yards.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It’s time to dip in to the GatorNation recruiting mailbag and answer your questions. Because of the number of questions we’ve received, we won’t be able to get to all of them today, but we encourage you to ask your questions on our Insider fan forum, The Chompions Club. Astute readers will also notice a new spot on our homepage where you can submit mailbag question about the football team at any time. We read every question we receive.

GatorT51: Do you think Mike Gillislee will be the featured back and get bulk of the carries against BG or do you think it will be by committee with Gillislee, Mack Brown, Matt Jones & Trey Burton getting an equal number of touches?

[+] EnlargePease
UF CommunicationsFlorida offensive coordinator Brent Pease held the same position at Boise State last season.
A: Gillislee will be the main back and I expect him to average about 15-18 carries per game this season. He had a fantastic spring and August and made his biggest improvement in pass protection. He’s had a nagging ankle injury the past two seasons but seems to be over that. Mack Brown and Matt Jones will get their share of carries against Bowling Green and the two will continue to battle throughout the season to be the No. 2 back behind Gillislee.

Impulse36: Haven't seen many Boise St. games, what is Pease's passing game like? Does he go with short passes, screens, throws that require timing? Does he usually throw it deep? From the spring practice, sounds like we play action into deep throws. The coaches (or possibly the reporters) tended to mention receivers getting behind the defense and catching deep passes. Are the QBs capable of making that quick three-step drop slant throw (pinpoint accuracy) or are they more suited for throwing deep (strong arm)? How much is expected of the QB at the line of scrimmage, is he expected to make hot reads, call out blitzes? Thanks!

A: Whew, long list of stuff. I’ll try and answer it all as succinctly as I can. Pease’s offense uses all of those things, and one of the things I’m eager to see is the screen game. UF hasn’t really been a good screen team, with the running backs, anyway, and I’ve always thought that was an area in which the Gators could excel. The problem the QBs are having right now, though, is in their timing. They’re both holding onto the ball too long, which is normal for any young quarterback. Jacoby Brissett seems to be having that trouble a bit more than Jeff Driskel because he doesn’t want to leave the pocket. There are some play-action deep throws, but I question the ability of the receivers to consistently get open.

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McElwain discusses new Florida football
SEC Network's Greg McElory and Booger McFarland sit down to discuss the future of Florida football with head coach Jim McElwain.