Florida Gators: Ace Sanders

It’s Rankings Week at GatorNation. Every day we’ll rank some aspect of the Florida football program heading into the 2013 season. Today we’re ranking the Football Bowl Subdivision teams on the Gators’ schedule. On Tuesday we’ll rank the top 10 offensive players Florida will face in the fall.

Ranking the schedule

1. Georgia (Nov. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.): Sure, the Bulldogs lost nine starters on defense, but Aaron Murray, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley are coming back, and that makes them one of the SEC’s best teams. Georgia scored a school-record 529 points last season behind those three, and the offense figures to be explosive again in 2013. It’ll need to be to carry a rebuilt defense.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Top 5 moments: Blitz

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
10:00
AM ET
Editor’s note: GatorNation is counting down the top five moments of Florida’s 2012 season this week. They could be plays, drives, quarters or decisions, but regardless of what they are, they are the significant moments that shaped the season.

We continue with No. 2: Blitz

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If you blinked, you might have missed one of the most significant moments of Florida’s season.

In fact, there were a lot of people at Florida Field on Oct. 20 who weren’t even in their seats when it happened.

[+] EnlargePurifoy
Gerry Melendez/Getty ImagesAfter forcing a fumble that led to an early touchdown against South Carolina, Loucheiz Purifoy forced another fumble on the ensuing kickoff return by Bruce Ellington.
It was the first offensive play of the game. CB Loucheiz Purifoy blitzed from the left side of the defensive formation and sacked South Carolina QB Connor Shaw and forced Shaw to fumble. LB Lerentee McCray recovered the ball at the 2-yard line, and three plays later the Gators led 7-0.

The turnover sparked the Gators, who went on to beat the Gamecocks 44-11 one week after a surprising 14-6 victory over LSU. The victory served notice to the rest of the SEC that Florida was a serious contender for the conference title.

"We’re on our way to being what Florida used to be, what Florida’s known for," C Jonotthan Harrison said after the game. "We remember the feeling [of going 7-6 in 2011], how bad it hurt. We just used that as pure motivation and came out and completely dominated this team."

Purifoy’s hit on Shaw started that. Though Shaw is a right-handed quarterback, he never saw Purifoy coming untouched from the right side of the offensive formation. Not until it was too late, anyway, and Purifoy knocked the ball out of Shaw’s hands at the 5-yard line.

(Read full post)

In what was easily the toughest individual award to give out this year, Florida's Will Muschamp and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin were voted by their peers as SEC co-Coaches of the Year.

During Muschamp's second season at Florida, he helped lead the Gators to an 11-1 record and a 7-1 record in SEC play. Florida ended the season No. 3 in the BCS standings and will play Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Gators also defeated four teams that finished the season ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings.

As for Sumlin, in his first year at Texas A&M, the Aggies went 10-2 (6-2 SEC) and upset No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. A&M also owned the SEC's No. 1 offense and quarterback Johnny Manziel broke the SEC record for total offense in single season and is a Heisman Trophy finalist. The Aggies are headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl to take on Oklahoma.

The coaches also named Manziel, who threw for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns to eight interceptions and rushed for an SEC-high 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns, the SEC's Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.

Here are the individual awards voted on by the SEC's coaches:

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

CO-SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
*Caleb Sturgis, Florida
*Ace Sanders, South Carolina

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Manziel

SCHOLAR-ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Barrett Jones, Alabama

JACOBS BLOCKING TROPHY
Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

CO-COACHES OF THE YEAR
*Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
*Will Muschamp, Florida

* ties

Gators punishing violators

October, 23, 2012
10/23/12
5:59
PM ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- They call them violators.

That's the term Florida's coaches and players use for players who don't secure the football when they're carrying it. Don't hold it high and tight? A violator. Hold the ball away from their body? A violator. Don't hold it with two hands in traffic? A violator.

And the Gators are making violators pay. A lot.

Chris Johnson
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida's Chris Johnson (32) picked up a fumble and nearly scored during the second quarter against South Carolina. Florida forced four fumbles and recovered three.
Florida has already forced nine fumbles this season. The Gators have recovered seven, including three in last Saturday's victory over South Carolina. Why have they been so successful this season? Because they're watching film to find violators who don't secure the ball, and they're going after those players on Saturdays.

"Coach [Dan] Quinn brought that word around and it hung with us ever since," CB Loucheiz Purifoy said. "A violator is someone who is going to lose the ball, regardless. If you've got the tip of the ball down, you’re a violator. If we can get it out, that’s what you call violator. I’m sure South Carolina heard that a lot [last] weekend."

Purifoy said QB Connor Shaw was the Gamecocks' No. 1 violator on film, which is why he went for the ball when he hit Shaw on a blitz on the game's first play. The ball popped loose and the Gators recovered on the South Carolina 1-yard line. Another noticeable violator on film? WR Ace Sanders. Trey Burton got him, too, forcing a fumble on a punt return.

(Read full post)

Florida Awards Tracker: Week 7

October, 23, 2012
10/23/12
8:00
AM ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here’s a recap of how Florida’s players on national award Watch lists are faring this season:

Kyle Christy
Rob Foldy/Icon SMIKyle Christy is now first in the nation in punting after a huge day against South Carolina.
LB Jon Bostic
Watch lists: College Football Performance Award Linebacker Trophy, Butkus Award, Rotary Lombardi.
Last week’s stats: four tackles.
Season stats: 38 tackles, three sacks for minus-17 yards, three QB hurries, one forced fumble, two pass break-ups.
Comment: Stats don’t show it, but he played a solid game against the Gamecocks.

FB Trey Burton
Watch list: CFPA Running Back Trophy.
Last week’s stats: five carries for 10 yards, 1-for-1 passing for 1 yard, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery.
Season stats: 15 carries for 119 yards and two TDs, seven catches for 74 yards, 1-for-1 passing for 1 yard, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery.
Comment: His hit on Ace Sanders resulted in a fumble he recovered to set up Florida’s second touchdown.

P Kyle Christy
Watch list: CFPA Punter Trophy
Last week’s stats: averaged 54.3 yards on seven punts.
Season stats: averaging 47.9 yards on 36 punts, 13 inside the 20, 18 of at least 50 yards.
Comment: Huge day vaulted him to No. 1 in the nation in punting. Won SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.

WR/KR Andre Debose
Watch lists: CFPA All-Purpose Trophy, CFPA Kickoff Returner Trophy, CFPA Wide Receiver Trophy, Biletnikoff.
Last week’s stats: one punt return for 19 yards, one kickoff return for 39 yards.
Season stats: averaging 25.3 yards on 12 kickoff returns, averaging 10.2 on nine punt returns, two carries for 1 yard, one catch for 5 yards.
Comment: Debose did a much better job of coming up to field punts and saving the Gators yardage. He’s starting to develop the consistency the coaching staff is looking for.

DE Dominique Easley
Watch list: Ted Hendricks Award.
Last week’s stats: one tackle, one sack for minus-3 yards.
Season stats: nine tackles, two sacks for minus-8 yards, two QB hurries.
Comment: He blew up South Carolina’s first place, forcing QB Connor Shaw to hold onto the ball too long and setting the stage for Loucheiz Purifoy’s strip sack.

(Read full post)

No. 7 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1 SEC) at No. 2 Florida (6-0, 5-0 SEC)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Florida Field, Gainesville, Fla.
CBS

Three storylines

1. Division race: This game won’t officially decide the Eastern Division championship, but it will give the winner the inside track. If the Gators win, all they would have to do is beat Georgia on Oct. 27 to win the title. If South Carolina wins, the Gamecocks would have the tiebreaker over Florida and Georgia. They still have games against Arkansas and Tennessee remaining, and the Gators would need to win out and have South Carolina and Georgia lose another game to win the title.

2. M.A.S.H units: Both teams have been ravaged by injuries and the flu. South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore has a bruised hip and coach Steve Spurrier said he may not start. Plus, DT Kelcy Quarles is doubtful because of a shoulder injury and DE Jadeveon Clowney is bothered by a foot injury. Several other Gamecocks are banged up, too. There’s also been a flu bug that has run through the team this week, and it caused WRs Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington to miss practice. Florida has five starters recovering from injuries: G James Wilson (eye), C Jonotthan Harrison (arm), LT Xavier Nixon (upper body), DE Dominique Easley (knee) and LB Jelani Jenkins (hamstring). UF coach Will Muschamp said all should play against the Gamecocks, but he has been vague about injuries before. If UF’s players do return, that will give the Gators the advantage.

[+] EnlargeConnor Shaw
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireSouth Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw might not have the track speed of Florida counterpart Jeff Driskel, but he's got a better track record as a passer.
3. Make plays in the passing game: Going on the assumption that Sanders and Ellington have recovered from the flu, this is an area which clearly favors South Carolina. Sanders and Ellington both have 17 catches, but Ellington is the big-play receiver. Sanders averages 9.4 yards per catch while Ellington averages 15.6. Connor Shaw is a dual-threat quarterback -- as is UF’s Jeff Driskel -- but Shaw is a more accomplished passer and is completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 910 yards and 10 TDs with four interceptions. UF is last in the SEC in passing (145.0 yards per game). UF’s biggest weapon in the passing game is TE Jordan Reed (21 catches, 237 yards, one TD), but the WRs have struggled to get separation and to consistently make plays. Frankie Hammond (11 catches) has two catch-and-run TDs of 50 yards or longer, but he’s also got four drops. UF’s wide receivers have a combined 30 catches.

Gators to watch

RB Mike Gillislee: He didn’t put up great numbers against Vanderbilt (67 yards on 17 carries) but he did shred LSU’s defense for 146 yards. He’ll need to have similar success against the Gamecocks.

LB Jon Bostic: Bostic has benefitted from the new strength program as much as anyone. He’s more physical than he was last season and he’s able to shed blocks easier. His play will be key to the Gators’ effort to limit Lattimore.

RB Omarius Hines: It seems like every time Hines touches the ball, good things happen (except, of course, for his fumble against Bowling Green). The Gators are in need of playmakers in the passing game, and Hines should get a few chances on Saturday.

Gamecocks to watch

DE Devin Taylor: Clowney gets all the publicity, but Taylor is a dangerous pass rusher as well. Though he only has 1.5 sacks this season, he has 17.0 in his career. If the Gators pay too much attention to Clowney, Taylor could hurt them.

(Read full post)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 2 Florida plays host to No. 7 South Carolina on Saturday with first place in the SEC's Eastern Division on the line. While this game won’t clinch the title, a victory for the Gamecocks (6-1, 4-1) would give them the tiebreaker over the Gators (6-0, 5-0) and Georgia (5-1, 3-1).

Here's five storylines for the game:

[+] EnlargeSouth Carolina's Marcus Lattimore
AP Photo/John AmisSouth Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore has 584 yards and 10 touchdowns in seven games this season.
1. Running game is key: Both teams are built on the running game and both have very good workhorse backs. South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore likely would already have more than 3,000 career yards had he not missed five games in 2011 with an ACL injury. But the 6-foot-2, 218-pound junior seems to have recovered well and has run for 584 yards and 10 TDs this season. He’s a physical runner who moves the pile and doesn’t get stopped behind the line of scrimmage. UF’s Mike Gillislee was a role player his first three seasons but has been fantastic as the Gators’ top tailback this season (615 yards, 7 TDs). The 5-11, 209-pound senior is also a physical, between-the-tackles runner, but he’s also got breakaway speed and a surprising amount of wiggle. Both of them will be fed the ball a lot on Saturday and limiting their impact on the game will be top task for each defense.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Scouting report: South Carolina

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
8:00
AM ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 3 Florida, which sits atop the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division, plays host to No. 9 South Carolina on Saturday at Florida Field. Here’s a look at the Gamecocks:

SOUTH CAROLINA

Record: 6-1 (4-1 SEC).

Coach: Steve Spurrier, eighth season (61-36); 23rd season overall (203-76-2).

Series record: Florida leads 23-6-3.

Top players: QB Connor Shaw (75-108-4, 910 yards, 9 TDs; 280 yards, 1 TDs rushing); RB Marcus Lattimore (584 yards, 10 TDs); DE Jadeveon Clowney (31 tackles, 6.5 sacks); LB Shaq Wilson (44 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 2 INTs).

Scouting the offense: Lattimore shows no sign of any lingering effects of the torn ACL he suffered in the seventh game of the 2011 season. He’s averaging 83.4 yards per game rushing. Shaw struggled in last week’s loss to LSU, but the junior has been solid this season. He’s not a great passer, but he’s getting the job done thanks to a couple of good receivers in Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders, both of whom have 17 catches. Lattimore is also a big factor in the passing game (team-high 22 catches). The Gamecocks are playing similar offensive football to Florida. They want to be physical and run the ball and make just enough plays in the passing game to keep teams from selling out to stop the run.

Scouting the defense: The defense ranked third nationally in total defense last season but lost defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to Southern Mississippi. New coordinator Lorenzo Ward has picked up right where Johnson left off, though. The Gamecocks are giving up just 12.3 points per game (second in the SEC) and allowing teams only 296.3 yards per game (third in the SEC). South Carolina leads the SEC in sacks (26), with Clowney leading the way. He’s a force on either end of the line and the Gamecocks like to move him around. The Gamecocks have only given up three touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns, numbers which are bested only by Alabama in the SEC.

Three keys to watch:

Shaw was yet another mobile quarterback who hurt the Gators last season, rushing for 88 yards and two TDs in the Gamecocks’ 17-12 victory. UF has been much better against mobile QBs this season, though. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel hurt the Gators in the first half, but UF bottled him up in the second half and have been much more disciplined since then. Vandy QB Jordan Rodgers hurt the Gators with his feet last season but was no factor on Saturday. UF needs to contain Shaw and force him to throw because that’s a matchup the Gators should win. Even with the emergence of Sanders and Ellington, the Gators have the advantage because of how well the secondary has been playing.

LSU limited Lattimore to 35 yards and one touchdown, and the Gators need to mimic the Tigers’ approach: Gang tackle, don’t give up double-digit yardage runs, and make him work for every yard he gets. That means the defensive line is going to have to play better than it did against Vanderbilt. The Commodores pushed the Gators around a bit and ended up rushing for 126 yards.

UF’s offensive tackles (Chaz Green and Xavier Nixon/D.J. Humphries) are going to have to play as well as they did against LSU to keep Clowney from setting up camp in the backfield. LSU’s embattled offensive line did a good job against the Gamecocks and Clowney. They had just one sack and it wasn’t from Clowney. With Nixon’s status up in the air because of an upper body injury, expect the Gamecocks to pick on Humphries and line up Clowney against the true freshman as much as possible.

 
Slowly, we’re moving away from the Alabama-LSU storyline in the SEC. Sure, it was fun, but it’s time for something new around these parts.

Last season, the two best teams played twice -- the latter game being for the national championship -- and heading into the 2012 season, it seemed as though we were headed for another gargantuan showdown between the two.

That game in Baton Rouge, La., could still be huge, but now in Week 7, that storyline actually appears a little dull and outdated. There’s new excitement in the SEC, and it has nothing to do with the Crimson Tide or Tigers. Its setting is in the East, and it couldn’t be more interesting.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
Jeff Blake/US PresswireSteve Spurrier's Gamecocks are one of five SEC teams with a realistic shot at the national title.
Now, Alabama is still king. You can’t take anything away from the Tide, but having more competitive blood in the SEC this season is more fun for the league, and it should make things much more interesting as the season goes on and BCS talk heats up.

“I think people would say there are more than two teams that could contend for a national title right now,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.

Even for a conference that has had so much success winning national championships -- six in a row -- having more than two teams capable of bringing home the crystal ball is better for the league as a whole.

South Carolina and Florida rank third and fourth, respectively, in the Associated Press Top 25, while Georgia is sitting at 14th. The Bulldogs might have taken a tumble with that ugly loss to the Gamecocks, but you can’t count them out. With talent still aboard and a relatively soft second-half schedule, the Dawgs still could be in the SEC picture -- and maybe the national championship picture -- at season’s end.

South Carolina and Florida haven’t been flashy, but they have smothering defenses, and we’ve learned that having a killer defense sometimes can be far more important than a fun offense in the SEC. Just look at the Gators' win against LSU last weekend.

All three are good, and all three appear to be here to stay in 2012.

(Read full post)

Depth charts for all 14 SEC teams are out, so let's take a look at them.

I'll handle the Eastern Division, while Chris takes a look at the West later today.

I've added some notes of my own for each team:

FLORIDA

Depth chart
  • The first thing you notice is that "Or" comes up a few times. The quarterback spot is still up for grabs, as sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will play by quarters against Bowling Green Saturday. The "X" receiver spot has three names by it with Frankie Hammond, Latroy Pittman and Andre Debose competing for that spot. Everyone is still waiting for Debose to be more of a complete player.
  • Both corner spots might appear to be up for grabs, but it would be a shocker if sophomores Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy didn't start. Roberson has the talent to be an All-SEC player at some point, while the staff thinks Purifoy is an extremely athletic player. Also, seeing Antonio Morrison behind Jelani Jenkins is impressive. He's been solid since arriving this spring.
  • You don't see De'Ante Saunders on there at free safety. Will Muschamp said he's battling a hamstring injury and will be out two weeks. Corner Jeremy Brown is also battling a wrist injury and isn't on the two-deep, either.

(Read full post)

Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

(Read full post)

SEC newcomers to watch

April, 3, 2012
4/03/12
10:34
AM ET
Newcomers come in all shapes and sizes.

There are freshmen newcomers, junior college transfers and regular transfers. Regardless, they all come in with the expectations of playing immediately. JUCO standouts and transfers maybe more so than rookies, but the days of automatically redshirting true freshmen are over. Like, dead.

Last year, the SEC saw a few newcomers make immediate impacts. A great example is Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who transferred from USC back in 2010, but didn't play until last fall. All he did was lead the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. There was Arkansas linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, who came from the JUCO ranks to be one of the Hogs' most productive linebackers.

Freshman Isaiah Crowell had an up-and-down season, but was sixth in the SEC rushing, and was named the SEC's freshman of the year. His classmate, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, wasn't too bad, either. You also can't forget about South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was seventh in the SEC with eight sacks.

So, as spring practice begins to wind down around the conference, we're taking a look at five newcomers to keep an eye on in 2012. Some are on campuses, some aren't. Some are obvious choices, and you could be surprised by a couple. Top newcomers can be top league players, or players who will make big impacts on their teams at a position of need.

(Read full post)

Spring preview: Eastern Division

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
10:36
AM ET
Now that you've seen what to watch in the SEC Western Division, let's check out the East:

FLORIDA

Spring practice start date: March 14
Spring game: April 7

What to watch:

Finding offensive playmakers: Year 2 of the Will Muschamp era begins with the team trying to find someone who can make a few plays for this fall. New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a host of unproven offensive talent to work with. Wide receiver Andre Debose was Florida's best deep threat last year, and the coaches raved about receiver Quinton Dunbar's potential, but neither was consistent enough in 2011. Maybe Florida can finally turn to bigger backs Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown in the playmaking department.

Toughening up the offensive line: The Gators' line struggled throughout the 2011 season. It wasn't always at 100 percent, but Florida's line also just wasn't tough enough -- mentally or physically. The Gators couldn't get the tough yards on the ground and didn't exactly protect quarterback John Brantley enough. The line should get a boost with early enrollees D.J. Humphries, who was the top offensive line prospect in the 2012 class, and Jessamen Dunker, but Florida will have to get improvement from players who return to a line that lost just one starter from last season.

Quarterback battle: Brantley is gone, leaving rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy. Brissett replaced Driskel as Florida's No. 2 quarterback last year, while Murphy has yet to take a college snap. Brissett and Driskel had plenty of down moments last fall but should get a chance to reinvent themselves this spring with new leadership and more practice reps. This spring will be extremely important for all three quarterbacks as they try to improve a position that struggled mightily the past two years.

(Read full post)

You've already seen Chris Low's to-do lists for the Western Division teams, so now it's time to check out what the East teams need to take care of before next fall:

FLORIDA
  • Two major areas new offensive coordinator Brent Pease needs to hit during his first offseason with the Gators is running back and wide receiver. Florida must find a downhill running back for Pease's offense, and a reliable go-to wide receiver -- two things Florida lacked in 2011.
  • With quarterback John Brantley graduating, Pease must find a new starting quarterback. That means developing rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel, who struggled in relief of Brantley at times last season, and Tyler Murphy, who has yet to take a snap.
  • Toughen up mentally and physically. The Gators ranked 89th nationally in penalties, and were called out by coach Will Muschamp as being too soft in his first season. Soft can't win in the SEC.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ESPN 300 Ranking Motivates Byron Cowart
After a recent rise into the top 10 overall, defensive end Byron Cowart of Armwood (Seffner, Fla.) joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss recruiting and the new ESPN 300.Tags: Byron Cowart, Armwood, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Matt Schick
VIDEO PLAYLIST video