Florida Gators: Austin Hardin
But after losing 37-7 to No. 2 Florida State (12-0, 8-0 in the ACC) in the Swamp on Saturday, Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC) can take solace that its season of misery is mercifully over.
Not even an inspirational pregame speech by Gators great Tim Tebow could do more than delay the inevitable.
"What he said to us was, 'Any man that goes down, he has the ability to get back up. But the difference is how that man gets back up, because a man can get down and come back withered, can come back beaten. But a man that goes down and comes back up and is changed and is different from being down, that's who we are. That's who the Gators are. That's how we need to play and that's who we need to be,' " Florida left tackle Max Garcia recounted.
"So, I'm going to stick with that for the rest of my life. It really penetrated my soul."
With Tebow watching on the sidelines, the Gators were bouncing around and showing more emotion than they had in weeks. In front of a nearly full stadium, its fans at full throat, Florida's defense harassed Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston into one of his worst quarters (4-of-6 for 35 yards) of the season.
Winston threw his first interception in three weeks -- an excuse-me catch by Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who broke up the pass with his back to the ball but was able to find and reel in the deflection. It was the Gators' first interception since the second quarter of the Missouri game on Oct. 19.
The crowd roared its approval, and there was more energy in the Swamp than at any point in the season.
Florida outgained FSU 81 yards to 33 in the first quarter, but 50 of those yards came on one Wildcat keeper up the middle by senior Trey Burton. Two plays later, Burton injured his shoulder on another keeper and did not return to the field.
With Burton went half of the offense the Gators were planning to run.
"We were probably going to have 30-35 plays with Trey [at Wildcat quarterback]," Muschamp said. "Some of the misdirection runs now go out of the game plan, so you've got to make adjustments and you've got to change.
"I hurt for Trey because he’s a senior, his last game in the Swamp, so [it's] very difficult for him. He’s a great young man. It just kinda sums up what’s happened this year. Very frustrating."
With Burton's injury, Florida was missing 16 scholarship contributors in this game. And with cornerback Marcus Roberson dealing with an ankle injury in the first half, UF was missing 10 of its original 22 projected starters on offense and defense.
Winston and the Seminoles still led 3-0 after the first quarter, as FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo converted the same 49-yard field goal that his Florida counterpart, Austin Hardin, missed.
A 12-play, 96-yard drive that culminated in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Kelvin Benjamin might have put the game out of reach, but more importantly, it quelled the enthusiasm of the Florida defense and the crowd.
FSU had weathered the early storm of defensive pressure and taken a 17-0 lead into halftime. It tied the lowest first-half scoring output of the season for the Noles, which happened previously against Nevada in Week 2.
A game that looked on paper like a colossal mismatch inevitably turned out that way. The Florida defense couldn't get off the field, thanks to FSU going 9-of-15 on third-down conversions. Meanwhile, Florida went 1-for-11 on third down and averaged 3.9 yards per play on the day.
"You got to maintain the ball against an offense like that," Muschamp said. "You got to take time off the clock. ... We weren’t able to do that. Give them credit. They made plays on third down, and we didn’t. I think we were 1-of-10 or -11 on third down. You got to convert those, and we’ve struggled to make explosives, make third-down conversions. You name it, we haven’t done it.”
In a season of making all the wrong history, the only drama Florida could muster against Florida State was whether the Noles would shut out the Gators for the first time in the 58-game series.
The answer was no, but it was close. And now the Gators boast the nation's second-longest streak of scoring in consecutive games (322, second to Michigan's 374 games in a row).
With one score in the fourth quarter, Florida finished the season with 11 passing touchdowns. It's the fewest since 1989, the season before Steve Spurrier was hired as coach. On the other sideline, sitting out the Noles' final series to let his backup play, Winston had already broken Florida State's single-season record for passing TDs, with three more on Saturday giving him a total of 35.
"It’s been a tough year, difficult to deal with, but it is what it is," a somber Muschamp said when it was over. "Those guys have persevered through some tough times and certainly this season being the iceberg of it all."
Now that it's in the history books, however, Florida's 2013 season might be remembered less as an iceberg and more as the ship that sunk when it struck one.
1. The level of enthusiasm: The Gators return home after completing their SEC schedule with five consecutive losses. Against an FCS opponent, there is always the possibility of a letdown in terms of the players' focus and passion. Do they just want this nightmare season to be over? Will they mail it in? There is certainly a chance the Gators will take the field only to find a half-filled stadium, as many irate fans have promised to stop attending games while their team struggles. On the other hand, Florida should motivation to end its long losing streak, and an overmatched opponent could be just the ticket to winning back some of those disappointed fans.
2. Defending the dreaded triple-option: It won't be easy. Florida coach Will Muschamp said the team "spent a lot of time in the offseason preparing and looking at different teams and how they handled this because it's so different from what we've faced." Georgia Southern totaled 341 yards against Alabama's stout defense in 2011, so the Eagles have everyone's full attention. The Gators defense, which ranks No. 15 against the run (allowing 115.1 yards a game) seems to understand its task at hand and Georgia Southern's capability of causing embarrassment. The triple-option attack forces defenses to play mistake-free and with great discipline while also defending big plays in the passing game that can come from just about anywhere on the field.
3. Who starts at quarterback? Starter Tyler Murphy (shoulder) missed last Saturday's game at South Carolina and is listed as questionable against GSU. He did get some throws in this week during practice, but Skyler Mornhinweg remains poised to make his second career start. Mornhinweg led a very conservative offense against the formidable Gamecocks defense, but Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said this week they believe the redshirt freshman can handle an expanded playbook and more of a look in the passing game. The Gators might be tempted to keep Murphy on the sideline as a Plan B vs. the Eagles, considering how much Florida wants Murphy to be healthy for the regular-season finale against No. 2 Florida State.
4. Momentum: Florida fell short of winning in Columbia, S.C., last week, but the Gators returned home with a measure of pride and confidence after nearly pulling off a surprising upset. Unlike the previous four games in its losing streak, Florida got off to a fast start against the Gamecocks. A first-quarter touchdown gave the Gators their first lead in a game since a 3-0 advantage at LSU on Oct. 12. Florida also had a 14-6 lead at halftime at South Carolina, its first advantage at the break since a 17-7 lead over Arkansas on Oct. 5. It will be interesting to see if the Gators can shake off the disappointment of their second-half collapse last week and reclaim the momentum they generated in the first half.
5. Anyone want to kick field goals? Two missed field goals against the Gamecocks might well have been the difference between winning and losing (not to mention staying home during bowl season). Florida has enough problems on offense to contend with, but when the Gators get bogged down in or near the red zone, a special kind of anxiety takes over on fourth down. After enjoying the luxury of record-breaking kicker Caleb Sturgis and his 79.5 percent field-goal accuracy for the previous four seasons, UF has struggled. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin, the nation's No. 1 kicker prospect in the Class of 2012, has the strongest leg and was supposed to be the answer. However, he's made 4-of-11 field goals (36.4 percent). Senior Brad Phillips made a 28-yard field goal against Arkansas on Oct. 5 but also missed an extra point. Junior walk-on Francisco Velez has made 4-of-5 field goals but has limited range. The next time Florida is in field-goal range, the Gators might just want to go for it on fourth down.
The SEC's best run defense can be run on: LSU sophomore Jeremy Hill averaged 6.4 yards per carry and finished with 121 yards on 19 attempts. As a team, the Tigers averaged 4.5 yards per carry and finished with 175 rushing yards against a Florida defense that had allowed only one team above 100 yards (Arkansas, which ran for 111). Nobody before LSU averaged more than 3.8 yards a carry against the Gators. Florida's front seven couldn't get off blocks enough times, and it showed.
Offense still has work to do: Will Muschamp said as much after the game -- the Gators have to do better up front. Quarterback Tyler Murphy had a lot of pressure in his face throughout the day, and he handled it pretty well, but he was hurried more than Florida would like. In the running game, the Gators had problems getting much going, finishing with just 111 rushing yards on 40 carries (2.8 yards per carry). The Gators finished with 240 offensive yards total and didn't have many explosive plays to get the offense rolling.
Florida might have a new kicker: It wasn't Austin Hardin taking field goal attempts on Saturday, it was Francisco Velez instead. The junior was 2-for-2 on field goal attempts and connected on a 44-yarder. His field goals accounted for the Gators' only points in the game. Muschamp said kicker is an "open competition" and that Velez kicked the best in the last week of practice and is their kicker right now.
1. Arkansas run game vs. Florida run D: This will be the matchup to watch today. Arkansas is second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (237) while Florida is No. 1 in the country in rushing defense (53.5 yards allowed per game). Arkansas hasn't faced a defense as good as Florida's and the Gators haven't faced a team as productive as the Razorbacks on the ground, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Freshman Alex Collins (597 rushing yards) and sophomore Jonathan Williams (471) pace the Razorbacks. Florida's run defense hits opponents at or behind the line of scrimmage 57 percent of the time, 15 points better than average among AQ conference squads, and the Gators haven't allowed an opponent to rush for 75 yards or more yet this year.
2. Florida's series dominance: This is the first meeting between the two teams since 2009 and Florida leads the all-time series 8-1. Since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, Florida has won all eight meetings between the squads. Arkansas has lost its last five SEC games and is in the middle of a stretch where it is playing ranked teams four straight weeks. The Razorbacks lost their last two games, falling to unranked Rutgers and to No. 9 Texas A&M. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema only lost three straight games in a season once while he was at Wisconsin back in 2008, when the Badgers dropped four in a row.
3. Continued success for Murphy?: This will be Tyler Murphy's second start since taking over for an injured Jeff Driskel at quarterback. So far, Murphy has been nothing short of stellar. His QBR of 96.1 would rank second in the FBS if he had enough snaps to qualify in the national rankings, but the results have been positive for Florida's offense when Murphy has been under center. In his 19 drives, he has led Florida to seven touchdowns to only four three-and-outs, with three drives ending in turnovers. In 28 drives under Driskel, Florida had five touchdowns, seven turnovers and eight three-and-outs.
4. Running game emerging: Matt Jones had his best game of the season last week (28 carries, 176 yards, one touchdown) since returning from a viral infection that caused him to miss the opener. While much of the talk around Florida has surrounded the quarterback, it's the running game that will carry the Gators. Mack Brown is a solid complement and the Gators have rushed for more than 200 yards in all but one game this season, the loss to Miami.
5. Kicking game: Florida kicker Austin Hardin missed a field goal attempt last week and is 4-of-7 on the season, with his misses coming from 39, 41 and 53 yards, respectively. The Gators were accustomed to having an ace in the hole at kicker when Caleb Sturgis was around but Hardin, a redshirt sophomore, is still trying to find some consistency. He beat out senior Brad Phillips in preseason camp, but it'll be interesting to see if Phillips gets a look if Hardin doesn't show improvement.
Something's got to give: Arkansas comes into the game with the SEC's top rushing offense, averaging a league-high 237 rushing yards per game. True freshman Alex Collins is sixth overall in the country with 597 rushing yards this season and the Razorbacks have a solid one-two punch at the position when you add Jonathan Williams (471 rushing yards) to the mix. Florida, of course, is boasting college football's top rushing defense, allowing a measly 53.5 yards per game. The Gators allow just 2.43 yards per carry. So watching the battle at the line of scrimmage when Arkansas has the football will be compelling.
Keep away?: While Arkansas likes to run the ball, so does Florida. The Gators lead the nation in time of possession, averaging 38 minutes and 58 seconds of possession time per game. That keeps an opposing offense off the field, but offensive coordinator Brent Pease isn't necessarily looking to grind the clock down all the time. Pease said that sometimes he'll "still stress that you want to have explosive plays and you hope you get those where you’re scoring in two or three [plays], which limits your time of possession." So the Gators will continue to look for opportunities to make big plays on offense.
Building on Kentucky performance: Sophomore running back Matt Jones had his best game of the season last week against Kentucky, exploding for 176 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. After missing practice and game time earlier this year because of a viral infection, it appears Jones is no longer feeling any effects that might have lingered. The Gators are fortunate to have another quality option in the backfield with Mack Brown, but Jones' emergence last week was key and he'll have a chance to build on it this week.
Continuing success at QB: Since being pressed into the lineup because of a season-ending injury to starter Jeff Driskel, quarterback Tyler Murphy has played well. He has completed 71.9 percent of his passes and has been a threat with his feet also, rushing for 120 yards. Pease said Murphy just needs to keep being himself. As long as others around him continue to do their job, all should be well for Murphy.
Improve the kicking game: Redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin missed a 53-yard field goal try last week and while long field goals are never easy, he is 4-for-7 on field goals (57.1 percent). That won't get it done if games are close and a field goal attempt is a deciding factor in a win or a loss. Hardin has been the lone successor so far to Caleb Sturgis, who was a Lou Groza Award finalist last year, but senior Brad Phillips is competing in practice with Hardin.
The Gators are looking to prove that last year's 11-win season wasn't a fluke, but they'll start the year with a beat-up offense, as key players like running back Matt Jones and offensive linemen Chaz Green and Jon Halapio are out.
The defense will be down top linebacker Antonio Morrison, who is out due to suspension, and will have some younger blood on the field Saturday.
Here are five things to watch in the Gators season opener against the Rockets:
2. Return of the Mack: Coming out of high school, Mack Brown was considered one of the South's top running backs. But the redshirt junior has just 167 career yards and no touchdown on 40 carries. Brown has a chance to get half as many as his career carries on Saturday when he makes his first start at running back. With Jones out, Brown is now the center of Florida's running back stable. He's had an issue with fumbles in the past, but appeared to clean that up this fall. He's a tough runner, who has the ability to break a few. Last year, the Rockets ranked 82nd nationally in run defense (182.3).
3. Stopping the uptempo offense: This will be Toledo's first game ever against an SEC opponent. That means the Rockets will get a taste of what it's like to play what should yet again be one of the nation's top defensive units. But Toledo will have that exhausting uptempo offense on its side. The Gators did well against the uptempo last year, but right out of the gate, it's bothersome. Just look at how tired South Carolina's defense looked Thursday night against North Carolina. The Gators are working in some new parts on defense, and we all know how jacked up players get for openers. Toledo's trio of quarterback Terrence Owens, running back David Fluellen and receiver Bernard Reedy return a combined 6,033 offensive yards and 38 touchdowns from 2012 and will try to wear this defense down. One way to stop the uptempo is to disrupt things up front, where the Gators have harped on generating more pressure this year.
4. Safety zone: The Gators are replacing two starters -- Matt Elam and Josh Evans -- at safety. Heading into preseason camp, coach Will Muschamp wasn't exactly thrilled with the play at the position. But that changed with the emergence of veteran Cody Riggs, who moved to safety after spending most of his football career at cornerback. Riggs has really embraced his new role and will play both safety spots on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Marcus Maye will start alongside Riggs. Maye flew around the field during fall camp to earn his starting spot, but this will be the first action Maye sees in a Gators uniform. Riggs has tons of experience and started playing safety before his season-ending foot injury early last year. Maye will have some wide eyes Saturday, so expect Toledo to try and test him early.
5. Place-kicker: With record-setting kicker Caleb Strugis gone, the Gators have major questions at place-kicker. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin beat out senior Brad Phillips this fall and will see his first collegiate action Saturday. This is the first of many tests for Hardin. With the offense still a relative unknown, Hardin's foot could be called upon a lot this year. That's a lot of pressure to put on a young kicker. Getting some of those nerves out of the way on Saturday will go a long way.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida begins August camp on Friday. Here’s a primer to get you ready:
Three questions the Gators must answer in camp
Can the receivers contribute? It must sound like a broken record, but the development of the receivers is the key to the season. They haven’t been very good for the past three seasons, and that really hurt the Gators in 2012 because of quarterback Jeff Driskel’s inexperience. H-back/wildcat QB Trey Burton, with 69 career catches, will line up at receiver. That will help, but he’s not a downfield threat or someone that scares a secondary. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar and sophomores Raphael Andrades and Latroy Pittman must become consistent with their routes, adjustments and blitz reads. At least two of the five freshmen -- including early enrollee Demarcus Robinson -- have to become significant parts of the rotation, too. New receivers coach Joker Phillips, who has 18 years of experience and two former pupils in the NFL (Randall Cobb and Steve Johnson), should make a difference. But remember, a chef is only as good as his ingredients.
Can the linebackers hold up their end? The Gators are loaded in the secondary and with pass rushers, and the defensive line should be fine. The question mark on defense is at linebacker, especially with starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison suspended for the first two games. There’s little doubt that Morrison is going to be a big-time player, but there are questions at every other spot. Buck/strongside linebacker Ronald Powell is coming back from a torn ACL and the top two candidates at weakside linebacker (Darrin Kitchens and Michael Taylor) have been role players throughout their careers. Taylor will likely start in the middle while Morrison is out. That’s a steep drop-off from Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, and the Gators need to find playmakers. Don’t be surprised if freshman Daniel McMillian takes over as the starter on the weak side by the middle of the season.
Will either kicker turn out to be reliable? It’s unfair to expect Austin Hardin or Brad Phillips to have the same kind of impact as Caleb Sturgis. He was the best kicker in school history and was accurate from long range. But it isn’t unreasonable to ask either of those guys to be consistent in the 40-yard range, and neither was during spring practice. It’s a battle that will continue throughout camp -- and possibly into the season. Sturgis consistently bailed out the offense in 2012, and the Gators won’t have that luxury if the offense struggles again (see receivers above).
Three position battles to watch
Tight end: Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor are competing for playing time. The group struggled during the spring and Burton has a slim lead. Thompson was more of a blocker in high school, but his size makes him an intriguing option in the middle of the field and the red zone. He’s a better blocker than any of the other tight ends and could win the job if he can show some consistency and prove he’s a reliable receiver. Westbrook is more of a blocker and Taylor is a flex tight end with potential, but the coaching staff isn’t happy with his toughness. There’s not a lot of experience here -- they’ve combined for four catches for 17 yards in their careers -- and it’s unlikely any can be the weapon in the passing game that Jordan Reed was the past two seasons (73 catches, 866 yards, 5 TDs).
Safety: If the season started today, cornerbacks Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs would be the starters. That’s not a bad thing because both are solid players who understand the defense and won’t give up big plays. But what is a concern is that none of the other safeties showed enough consistency in the spring to earn one of the spots. Marcus Maye, Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers have four weeks to prove they can get the job done.
Three players you might not have thought to watch in camp, but really should
Bryan Cox: A redshirt freshman defensive end, he showed flashes of potential in the spring and made a few plays during the final scrimmage. He’s playing behind Jonathan Bullard, so he gets overlooked, but he’s got good size (6-foot-3, 260 pounds) and athleticism and could be a breakout player on defense.
Gideon Ajagbe: Hunter Joyer was the only fullback on the roster until the staff moved Ajagbe and redshirt freshman safety Rhaheim Ledbetter there in the spring because the staff was worried about overworking Joyer during the season. Ajagbe adjusted well and should give Joyer some valuable rest and therefore reduce his risk of injury.
Chris Wilkes: It was obvious that the staff wasn’t happy with backup quarterbacks Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg, which was one of the reasons UF added Wilkes. He was an Ole Miss signee in 2008 but instead chose to sign a baseball contract with the San Diego Padres. Wilkes enrolled in May and missed spring practice and hasn’t played football in five years, but he’s a former pro athlete and should at least push Mornhinweg and Murphy a bit.
No. 97 Brad Phillips
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No. 16 Austin Hardin
Redshirt freshman kicker
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Florida signed 23 players in 2012 and several made an immediate impact: offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr., and linebacker Antonio Morrison were Freshmen All-SEC. Others, however, didn’t get a single snap of playing time.
Here’s how we see the rest of the class shaping up:
Top of the class
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2012 overall record: 11-2
2012 overall record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (2nd Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1
QB Jeff Driskel, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Jon Halapio, RB/WR Trey Burton, DE/DT Dominique Easley, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson, S Jaylen Watkins, P Kyle Christy
RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, DT Sharrif Floyd, S Matt Elam, S Josh Evans, LB Jon Bostic, LB Jelani Jenkins
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Mike Gillislee (1,152 yards)
Passing: Jeff Driskel* (1,646 yards)
Receiving: Jordan Reed (559 yards)
Tackles: Josh Evans (83)
Sacks: Dominique Easley* (4.0)
Interceptions: Matt Elam (4)
1. Back in business: Sophomore Matt Jones running back had a fantastic spring and the coaching staff is convinced he’ll be a more than capable replacement for Gillislee. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Jones is a perfect fit for Will Muschamp’s power-run offense. He’s a straight-ahead, downhill runner, who runs through contact and gets tough yards. The offense will be built around him, especially with the questions surrounding the passing game. Redshirt junior Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor, the son of former UF standout running back Fred Taylor, give the Gators solid depth at the position.
2. Lined up: UF’s offensive line made strides in 2012 and it will be even better in 2013. The addition of transfers -- Max Garcia (Maryland) and Tyler Moore (Nebraska) -- gives the Gators a pair of former starters to add to an already solid base with Harrison and Halapio. Plus, sophomore D.J. Humphries is an immediate upgrade from Xavier Nixon at left tackle. Garcia will start at left guard and pair with Humphries to give Driskel better blind-side protection than he had a year ago.
3. The middle is settled: With the loss of Bostic and Jenkins, the Gators needed a middle linebacker. The staff moved sophomore Antonio Morrison from weakside linebacker, and Morrison showed pretty quickly he was up to the task. He’s not the biggest middle linebacker the Gators have had (6-foot-1, 230 pounds), but he is certainly one of the most physical. Morrison hits like he weighs 260 pounds -- just ask 245-pound former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, whom Morrison leveled last season. Morrison proved he could handle making the defensive calls and he should easily step into the role Bostic held for the past two seasons.
1. Receiver issues ... again: The Gators have problems at wide receiver and must get better at the position or the offense will again struggle. That’s been the case since the 2009 season ended. The latest attempted solution is former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips. He has coached receivers for 18 seasons at Kentucky (1991-96 and 2003-2009), Cincinnati (1997), Minnesota (1999-2000), Notre Dame (2001) and South Carolina (2002). NFL players Steve Johnson (Buffalo) and Randall Cobb (Green Bay) are among the receivers Phillips worked with during his tenure at Kentucky. He also coached Craig Yeast, Keenan Burton, Dicky Lyons Jr. and Derek Abney, all of whom rank in the top five in school history in career receptions or career receiving yardage. Can Phillips get consistent production out of Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose, Raphael Andrades, Latroy Pittman, Burton or Solomon Patton? Can he turn one of the five freshmen -- notably Demarcus Robinson or Ahmad Fulwood -- into the big-time playmaker the Gators have lacked since Riley Cooper? Zach Azzani, Aubrey Hill and Bush Hamdan have tried and failed.
2. Safety dance: There’s some concern about the Gators’ safeties because some of the younger and less experienced players haven’t developed as the staff had hoped. Cody Riggs and Watkins, who started at corner early last season, will begin August practices as UF’s two starting safeties. They have both played there during their UF careers and there are no concerns about those two players, but there are some about Valdez Showers, Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman. Realistically, the Gators are better off with Riggs and Watkins starting because that gives UF the chance to get its top four defensive backs on the field at the same time instead of working Watkins, Riggs, Roberson, Purifoy and Brian Poole in a rotation at cornerback. Still, those other three need to earn more trust from the coaching staff.
3. Just for kicks: Kickers Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips struggled throughout the spring. Neither is as reliable or as good from long range as Caleb Sturgis was, but it’s the first part that’s more important. The offense, especially if the receivers don’t get any better, will continue to have a hard time consistently moving the ball. Sturgis was able to bail the Gators out because they needed only to get to the 35-yard line to be in range for a makeable field goal. That mark may have to be the 20 in 2013. Unless Hardin or Phillips makes a major leap this summer, expect the Gators to go with the kicker who practices the best each week.
Here’s the breakdown:
LT: D.J. Humphries (6-5, 285, So.)/Trenton Brown (6-8, 363, Jr.)
LG: Max Garcia (6-4, 307, RJr.)/Ian Silberman (6-5, 290, RJr.)
C: Jonotthan Harrison (6-3, 303, RSr.) /Kyle Koehne (6-5, 314, RSr.)
RG: Jon Halapio (6-3, 317, RSr.)/Trip Thurman (6-5, 313, RSo.)
RT: Tyler Moore (6-5, 315, RSo.) OR Chaz Green (6-5, 305, RJr.)
TE: Clay Burton (6-4, 247, Jr.)/Tevin Westbrook (6-5, 258, Jr.) OR Colin Thompson (6-4, 250, RFr.) OR Kent Taylor (6-5, 223, So.)
RB: Matt Jones (6-2, 228, So.)/Mack Brown (5-11, 215, RJr.)
Through Friday, GatorNation will break down what happened during the 15 practices. We’ll look at surprises, players under pressure to produce, and the most interesting and pressing storylines for the Gators heading into August practices.
Here are the five biggest surprises of the spring:
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Rather, it’s finding someone who can step in for kicker Caleb Sturgis. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin and senior Brad Phillips are both struggling, and UF coach Will Muschamp isn’t happy.
“You leave a guy you had such confidence and the team had such confidence in and now you’re a little bit of the unknown,” Muschamp said. “The unknown for a coach is never good. That’s kind of where we are right now. The ability is certainly there. I have total confidence in those kids as far as their ability is concerned. They just have to do it. They have to be more consistent.”
Consistency and long-range accuracy were Sturgis’ strong points. His field goal percentage (79.5) ranks second all-time in school history among kickers with 50 or more attempts and he kicked a school-record eight field goals of 50 or more yards in his career.
Hardin entered the spring as the front-runner to win the job. He has a big leg -- he consistently put his kickoffs in the end zone in high school -- and was ESPN’s top-ranked kicker coming out of Atlanta Marist in 2012. Phillips filled in here and there when Sturgis was injured. Phillips has made two of his four field goal attempts, both PATs, and has had four touchbacks on 27 kickoffs.
Two-deep: Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin and senior Brad Phillips will battle throughout spring and preseason practice to be the starting kicker. Junior Kyle Christy will be the Gators’ punter.
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