Florida Gators: Trey Burton

Rain drenches Florida pro day

March, 17, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There hasn't actually been a dark rain cloud hovering above the Florida program for the last year. It's only seemed that way as the Gators slogged through more injuries and losses than they've seen in decades.

So what else would you expect but heavy rainfall throughout Monday's pro day with more than 50 representatives from all 32 NFL teams in attendance?

[+] EnlargeLoucheiz Purifoy
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLoucheiz Purifoy was one of several defensive backs drawing attention at Florida's pro day.
"You kind of feel sorry for these guys working out in these conditions," said Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, who was there to watch three Florida cornerbacks who are expected to be picked during the NFL draft on May 8-10.

After lifting in the weight room, the event shifted to the track inside the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. The three cornerbacks -- Marcus Roberson, Loucheiz Purifoy and Jaylen Watkins -- drew a lot of attention.

Roberson and Purifoy, two of UF's top prospects, each posted disappointing 40-yard dash times of 4.61 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. They were able to show slight improvement Monday with unofficial times of 4.59 and 4.53 seconds, respectively. Watkins, who is still recovering from a sprained Achilles tendon, did not run the 40-yard dash (he posted a 4.41 at the NFL combine) but did participate in drills.

"I think all three will translate very well to the next level,” coach Will Muschamp said. “Jaylen's a guy that can play multiple positions. He can play safety, he can play nickel, he can play dime, he can play corner. He's a core special-teams guy for us over the years. So, a guy that can do a lot of things for you. Marcus is a guy that's got really good instincts in coverage, especially in man coverage. He can get his hands on people, which in the NFL the rules are a little different. But you've got to win on the line of scrimmage, and he can do that. He's a guy that's got really good ball skills down the field. Loucheiz is a guy that can give you some special teams, a really good kickoff coverage guy, a guy that's got some return skills, but another guy that can win on the line of scrimmage and has got great, long speed down the field. So I think each player gives you a little something different of what you're looking for."

Another Florida prospect who could be selected in the early rounds, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, was on hand but did not participate as he continues to rehabilitate a torn ACL he suffered early last fall.

"He's going to work out [at UF] on April 18," Muschamp said. "Now we've not set that date. He and I talked this morning and didn't feel like he was ready. I told him, 'If you're not ready, don't work. You wait until you're ready to go cut it loose and give them a good day's work.' So I want to say April 18, but that's not been totally decided yet."

DE/LB Ronald Powell, OG Jon Halapio, C Jonotthan Harrison, WR Solomon Patton, TE Trey Burton, DL Damien Jacobs, OL Kyle Koehne and LB Darrin Kitchens also took part in the drills.

Halapio, who missed the first two games of his senior season with a torn pectoral muscle, said he is healthy and proved it in front of scouts by benching 225 pounds 32 times, which would have ranked among the top 10 for offensive linemen at the combine.

"People really underestimate what he did this past year," Muschamp said. "There's a lot of young men that would have probably taken a redshirt and had surgery. We gave him several options and he just said, 'I'm going to tape it up and play.'”

Patton is a prospect who might be slightly off of the radar of some teams, as he wasn't invited to the NFL combine. Monday at UF, he ran an unofficial best of 4.31 in the 40 and performed well in drills, catching most passes in the rain away from his body.

Muschamp believes Patton will make an NFL roster.

"There's no question he's going to find a role," Muschamp said. "[He's] a guy that can play in the slot and has return skill, big-time kickoff return and great special-teams guy -- one of the better kickoff cover guys I've been around."

Overall, the soggy conditions did not put too much of a damper on Florida's pro day.

"We play football in the rain," Muschamp said with a grin. "I think those guys got a lot of comments from coaches and scouts about how our guys going out and competing. They didn't bellyache about it. They go out there and compete, and that's what you want to see."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Spring has sprung in the state of Florida, which means a much-needed football fix is almost here.

We're getting you ready for the Gators' spring practice with a look at five key position battles to watch when practice gets started on March 19.

This weeklong series opens with a look at the much-maligned wide receivers corps.

[+] EnlargeDunbar
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesQuinton Dunbar provides reliability and experience.
Returning starters: Senior Quinton Dunbar (40 catches for 548 yards) is a solid possession receiver who has improved every year. He had his best season in 2013, setting a school record with at least one catch in 28 consecutive games to break Carlos Alvarez's record of 25 straight games. Dunbar is a consistent, reliable target and will be counted on to bring veteran leadership this fall.

Departures: Senior Solomon Patton had a breakthrough season with 44 catches, 556 yards and six touchdowns -- all team-leading numbers among receivers. Senior Trey Burton had his best season as a pass-catcher with 38 receptions for 445 yards and one TD. Both are hoping to find a place in the NFL, which leaves the Gators with a very inexperienced group of receivers.

Returning reserves: Senior Andre Debose, who missed last season with a torn ACL, has applied for a medical hardship to return for a sixth season. Although he has been wildly inconsistent, Debose has the ability to be the big-play deep threat Florida desperately needs to scare defenses. Rising sophomores Ahmad Fulwood (17 catches, 127 yards), Demarcus Robinson (five catches, 23 yards) and Chris Thompson (two catches, 13 yards) got experience as true freshmen in 2013 and will be counted on to fight for starting jobs. It's now or never for rising juniors Latroy Pittman (two catches, 18 yards) and Raphael Andrades (no catches in two games).

Newcomers: Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins are redshirt freshmen hoping to make a splash in their first spring practices. Both are talented four-star ESPN 300 prospects. Florida also signed a pair of three-star prospects, Ryan Sousa and C.J. Worton, who will arrive this summer and have already been designated as slot receivers for fall camp.

What to watch: Like Florida's offense in general, the wide receiver position has been in disrepair since 2009. The Gators are determined to climb out of the cellar of FBS offenses, and the passing game is clearly the biggest area for improvement. A big factor in Florida's favor is the presence of wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, who returns for his second year to give much-needed continuity. Phillips is a well-seasoned offensive coach with a solid track record of producing wideouts. In 2014, it will be time for everyone involved to take their games to another level, and that begins in earnest on March 19. Dunbar must be a leader on and off the field this spring, as Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel needs a go-to receiver. But Dunbar will need at least one sidekick. In fact, Florida has enough talented wide receivers that the coaching staff is hoping for a true star to emerge and perhaps surpass Dunbar. Will Debose finally be healthy and consistent? Will either of UF's immensely talented sophomores, Fulwood and Robinson, seize a starting position? Or will we see another spring star flash (only to disappear in the fall) like Pittman did two years ago? There are question marks everywhere you look when it comes to this group of receivers. Given the talent the Gators have been recruiting, surely it's just a matter of time before they truly strike gold and find a wide receiver who brings some fireworks back to the offense.

UF spring players to watch: D. Robinson

February, 26, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With the Class of 2014 recruiting cycle in the rearview mirror, the long college football offseason is well under way. But fear not. Spring football is just around the corner.

We're here to get you ready with a look at the top five Gators to watch when practice gets started on March 19.

This weeklong series continues with a look at one of the most talented wide receivers on the team.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Robinson
AP Photo/John RaouxDemarcus Robinson enrolled early but it didn't translate into a breakthrough freshman season in 2013.
WR Demarcus Robinson
Sophomore
6-foot-2, 201 pounds

Credentials: Robinson arrived at Florida a little more than a year ago as a much-anticipated early entry freshman. He was the No. 7 wideout in the nation and the No. 53 overall player in the ESPN 300. He got a head-start by going through spring practice and playing in the spring game, but expectations for his freshman season went through the roof after Robinson was a standout in fall practice.

How he fits: The tools Robinson brings are obvious. He has great athleticism to go along with good size, two much-needed traits in a wide receiver corps that has fallen far short of expectations since 2009. That's a long time that the Gators and their fans have been waiting for a big-time talent to emerge. Robinson has that kind of talent, but he couldn't get on the field consistently as a freshman and had just five catches for 23 yards. His work ethic and maturity were called into question, and he was suspended twice. Not a good start, but Robinson is clearly worth whatever extra attention the coaching staff is giving him.

Who he's competing with: It's not like Florida's entire wide receiver corps is devoid of talent, but the unit is very unproven and it lost two starters from 2013 in Solomon Patton and Trey Burton. Patton was a speedy jitterbug and as much of a deep threat as there could be in Florida's dysfunctional offense. But Burton was a possession receiver, so there's definitely playing time available for a big guy like Robinson who is capable of making plays all over the field. The Gators return starter Quinton Dunbar, another possession guy. Sixth-year senior Andre Debose will also be in the mix coming off a torn ACL last year. But Robinson's biggest competition might come from Ahmad Fulwood, another rising sophomore who outplayed and passed Robinson on the depth chart last fall. By the end of the season, true freshman Chris Thompson was also garnering playing time. Redshirt freshmen Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins will go through their first spring practices. While two other holdovers, Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades, typify UF's situation at receiver -- there's depth and talent but little in the way of a proven threat. There's clearly opportunity for someone -- anyone -- to step forward and grab.

What needs to happen this spring: The Gators desperately need an explosive threat at wide receiver, someone they can get the ball to in space and then sit back and watch the fireworks. It has been a long time since Percy Harvin did that for Florida, but the bar isn't necessarily that high. UF coaches will settle for reliable pass-catchers who understand the scheme and can get open consistently. Robinson has to win people over this spring. If he can show the maturity he was lacking last season, he'll have plenty of chances to shine on the field. So if he can stay focused and learn the playbook, Robinson could be that breakout wide receiver Florida so badly needs.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Urban Meyer's last complete recruiting cycle at Florida, the Class of 2010, was astounding on paper.

On the field, it hasn't quite lived up to such lofty billing.

The Gators signed 27 recruits in 2010, a class that ranked No. 1 in the nation. Seventeen players were among the top 150 prospects in the nation, 14 in the top 81.

[+] EnlargeSharrif Floyd
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSharrif Floyd was one of too few gems to come out of Florida's top-ranked 2010 recruiting class.
Much was expected of such an impressive array of top-rated players, but instead of playing for championships, this class became better known for falling short of those goals.

Still, the class produced a few obvious stars and a sizable group of starters and role players. It clocks in at No. 4 in our weeklong series looking at Florida's most impactful recruiting classes in the last decade.

The stars: Defensive linemen Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam were rated among the top 25 prospects in the nation and lived up to the hype at Florida. Floyd and Easley quickly proved to be dominant forces at defensive tackle, and Elam showed elite instincts as a playmaker in center field. Floyd and Elam were first-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. Easley has suffered some setbacks with two torn ACLs and chose to forgo a fifth season of eligibility at Florida to enter the NFL draft this May.

The contributors: Ten players rode out the transition from Meyer to Will Muschamp to make their mark as starters. Several others found useful roles. Defensive back Jaylen Watkins and wide receivers Solomon Patton and Trey Burton all avoided redshirts, grew into starting roles and made significant contributions on and off the field. WR Quinton Dunbar, OL Chaz Green, DT Leon Orr and LBs Michael Taylor and Neiron Ball return as likely starters in 2014.

The letdowns: One could argue that Ronald Powell belongs in this group because he was the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2010 and was expected to be a star. In four years he overcame two ACL surgeries on the same knee, had a fantastic attitude and was productive when he was on the field. It's easier to look for letdowns among the 11 players in this class who transferred. Safety Jonathan Dowling, the No. 10 overall recruit in the nation, transferred after he was dismissed for violating team rules. Josh Shaw, the No. 3-ranked cornerback prospect, started out well at UF but transferred closer to home in the Los Angeles area and has played well for USC. Gerald Christian (No. 2 TE prospect in 2010) and Chris Dunkley (No. 7 WR) were two other high-profile transfers. QB Tyler Murphy, CB Cody Riggs and OL Ian Silberman recently transferred after spending their first four years at Florida.

The results: When crowning Florida's 2010 recruiting class as No. 1 in the nation, ESPN called it one of the best classes ever. Everything clicked in 2012, when the Gators went 11-1 in the regular season and played in the Sugar Bowl. But sandwiched around that were 7-5, 6-6 and 4-8 regular-season records in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The class produced two high draft picks in Floyd and Elam. Easley is likely to be a second-rounder this spring, and Watkins could go anywhere from the second through fourth rounds. But after those four, there aren't any sure bets in the NFL. That's surprising for a class that was so highly touted.

Reviewing Florida's Class of 2010

January, 29, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Every year on signing day, Florida coach Will Muschamp takes a moment to throw a jab at the media.

The circus surrounding college football recruiting has grown to epic proportions, and he clearly bristles at the thought of ranking classes or players before they don cleats.

"You judge a recruiting class after it’s been on your campus for two or three years," he's said. "Everybody wants to judge it in February and rank them and say this class is great. That’s ridiculous to be able to rank a class in February when these guys haven’t even stepped on campus yet and been through a spring practice and been in fall camp.

"I’ve been around a lot of guys who were two-stars who ended up playing in the NFL for a really long time. They were really good players. And I’ve been around some five-stars who couldn’t play."

With that sentiment and the passage of four years, we review Florida's 2010 class.

It ranked No. 1 in the nation with four five-star players, 15 four-star recruits and 17 players from the ESPN 150 (including 11 of the top 50). ESPN called it "simply one of the best classes ever."

The stars

[+] EnlargeSharrif Floyd
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSharrif Floyd became everything the Gators hoped he would when they signed him in 2010 and was Minnesota's first-round pick in 2013.
Sharrif Floyd (No. 3 DT prospect in the nation): He just about embodied the blueprint for how you'd like a top prospect to go through school. Floyd grew into a dominant force in the middle for Florida, was a leader and became a first-round NFL draft pick after his third season.

Matt Elam (No. 2 ATH): Like Floyd, Elam played right away and became a team leader at safety for the Gators, starting every game of his final two seasons. And like Floyd, Elam was a first-round pick after three years in college.

Dominique Easley (No. 1 DT): Easley's flame burned bright on and off the field. His magnetic personality made him a team focal point right away, and his ability to torment offensive linemen made him a standout on the field. If it weren't for two surgeries on torn ACLs in each knee, Easley would be a lock for the first round of the NFL draft this May.

The contributors

Ronald Powell (No. 1 ATH): The No. 1 overall player in the country, Powell was the headliner for Florida's vaunted class. But he never truly lived up to the hype, compiling modest stats and suffering two torn ACLs in the same knee. After a healthy season as a fourth-year junior, Powell hopes to be picked in the middle rounds of the upcoming NFL draft.

Mack Brown (No. 4 RB): He was supposed to be the first premier running back then-coach Urban Meyer had ever recruited, but it took Brown time to adjust to the college game. He finally contributed as a junior and will be a key reserve in 2014.

Chaz Green (No. 4 OT): Started nine games as a redshirt freshman and 10 games as a sophomore before missing last season to injury. He's expected to be a key member of UF's O-line in 2014.

Jaylen Watkins (No. 5 CB): He never got the hype of some teammates, but Watkins quietly had a solid career at UF. He started 28 of 48 games played in four seasons at cornerback and safety.

Cody Riggs (No. 7 CB): Like Watkins, Riggs has proven to be a versatile member of the Gators secondary. After redshirting the 2012 season due to injury, he'll be back as a senior this fall.

Leon Orr (No. 8 DT): Returns for his senior season after finally breaking through as a starter last season.

Michael Taylor (No. 12 OLB): Became a starter in 2013 after two seasons as a backup. He'll return for his final year.

[+] EnlargeSolomon Patton
AP Photo/John RaouxIt took time for him to develop but WR Solomon Patton made an impact in his senior season.
Solomon Patton (No. 17 WR): Had a standout senior season after toiling in anonymity the previous three.

Gideon Ajagbe (No. 23 OLB): Never a factor at linebacker, he finally saw action last season after switching to fullback.

Neiron Ball (No. 28 OLB): A quiet contributor, he made seven of his nine career starts in 2013 and will be counted on this fall.

Trey Burton (No. 30 ATH): Played every skill position on offense during his four seasons and was a consummate leader.

Quinton Dunbar (No. 42 WR): Has been a solid starter for most of the last two seasons and looks to do the same as a senior.

Darrin Kitchens (unranked LB): Was a valuable reserve for the last four years.

The transfers

Jonathan Dowling (No. 1 S): Was kicked off the team and transferred to Western Kentucky, where he became a two-time first-team All-Sun Belt selection. He's skipping his senior year to enter the NFL draft.

Josh Shaw (No. 3 CB): Played in 10 games with one start as a redshirt freshman before transferring to USC. He emerged last season, finishing third on the Trojans with 67 tackles and four interceptions.

Gerald Christian (No. 2 TE): Played eight games for UF after redshirting, then transferred to Louisville and caught 26 passes for 401 yards and four TDs last fall.

Chris Dunkley (No. 7 WR): Redshirted, then transferred to USF. He finally got playing time in four games last fall after being plagued by suspensions.

Ian Silberman (No. 3 OT): Never rose above the level of reserve in three seasons at UF. He graduated in four years and transferred to Boston College.

Chris Martin (No. 10 DE): After an arrest for marijuana possession, he transferred to two junior colleges, then transferred to Kansas and was dismissed after an arrest for an alleged robbery.

Jordan Haden (No. 44 S): Enrolled early but transferred before his first season. Haden has played the last two seasons for Toledo.

Robert Clark (No. 48 CB): Played two seasons before transferring to Louisville, where he caught 23 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown in 2013.

Tyler Murphy (No. 54 ATH): Started six games at QB as a junior in 2013, graduated, then transferred to Boston College for his final season.

Lynden Trail (No. 63 DE): Redshirted and saw no action in 2011 before transferring to Norfolk State.

Michael McFarland (unranked TE): Redshirted, then transferred to USF, where he's worked his way up the depth chart. Was second on the team with 23 catches for 288 yards and two TDs in 2013.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Much like the little black lovebugs that swarm these parts twice a year only to splatter across windshields like a plague, the Florida Gators' injury bug in 2013 was a nuisance. Then it reached epic proportions. Here's a complete breakdown:

August

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Jeff Driskel's season ended in the third game, when he broke his leg vs. Tennessee.
Injuries: Junior QB Jeff Driskel (appendectomy), sophomore RB Matt Jones (viral infection), senior WR Andre Debose (torn ACL), freshman LB Matt Rolin (torn ACL), junior OT Chaz Green (torn labrum)
Impact: In hindsight, maybe we should have known something was a bit off when players started falling before preseason camp. The injury parade started with Driskel and Jones missing reps at a time when they were supposed to be two of the primary focal points in the UF offense. Days into camp, another offensive weapon was lost when Debose tore his ACL in a noncontact situation. "He just planted his foot and there was a tear," coach Will Muschamp said. Florida' O-line got its first big jolt later in camp when Green, the starting right tackle, was lost for the season. With 19 career starts, Green was expected to anchor the right side of the line. The OL already was without senior guard Jon Halapio, who missed all of camp with a partially torn pectoral muscle suffered in late July and missed the first two games of the season.

September

Injuries: Freshman S Nick Washington (shoulder), Driskel (broken fibula), senior DT Dominique Easley (torn ACL)
Impact: Coming off a shaky three-turnover performance in Week 2's loss at Miami, Driskel was hurt in the first quarter against Tennessee the following week. Because junior backup QB Tyler Murphy rallied the Gators and engineered wins in the next two games, it appeared Florida wouldn't be impaired by the transition from one mobile quarterback to another. Eventually, however, Murphy's limitations in the passing offense showed against tougher competition. The two biggest things Florida lost with Driskel were the read-option element of the offense and the ability to diagnose defenses and check out of bad plays. Losing your best quarterback can cripple any team's offensive season. Losing your best player overall? That hurts in many more ways. Easley's injury changed the course of Florida's season. On the field, the senior was Florida's most disruptive defender, an agitator an identity-maker. He provided the crucial push up the middle that many teams desire but few have. Off the field Easley was a vocal leader, a motivator and someone who could keep the team loose. "You don't replace Dominique Easley," Muschamp said later. "It's not just from a play-making standpoint, it's from a leadership standpoint. It's the heart of your team."

October

[+] EnlargeMatt Jones
Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader via Getty ImagesMatt Jones was Florida's leading rusher when he was lost for the season in the LSU game.
Injuries: Jones (torn meniscus), Murphy (sprained shoulder), senior DT Damien Jacobs (concussion), junior LB Ronald Powell (ankle), senior LB Darrin Kitchens (shoulder), redshirt freshman LB Jeremi Powell (torn ACL), sophomore LT D.J. Humphries (sprained MCL)
Impact: Florida's loss to LSU on Oct. 12 split the season in two. The Gators came into the game with a 4-1 record and ranked No. 17 in the nation. They left with the first of seven straight losses and two more injuries that would plague them the rest of the way. Jones, the starting tailback, saw just six plays against LSU. Florida lost its top blocker and biggest home-run threat at tailback and would have to break in a true freshman replacement. Murphy sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder against the Tigers and struggled with accuracy until his season ultimately ended a few weeks later. The following week in a crushing loss at Missouri, the Gators lost their eighth player for the season in special teams standout Jeremi Powell. But the month wasn't quite over, and UF lost Humphries, its starting left tackle, when he hurt his knee in practice. The offensive line was in disarray heading into the Georgia game.

November

Injuries: Sophomore OT Tyler Moore (broken elbow), sophomore LB Antonio Morrison (torn meniscus), junior LB Michael Taylor (sprained MCL), freshman LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder), freshman DL Joey Ivie (heel), senior WR Trey Burton (shoulder)
Impact: At this point in a season marred by injuries, it started to get ridiculous. Just when the offensive line had found itself against Georgia, Moore fell off his scooter when it slipped on a wet sidewalk and was lost for the rest of the year. Just before it faced Georgia Southern's dangerous triple-option offense, Muschamp announced that Morrison, the team's middle linebacker and top tackler, was out for the season. Casualties No. 9 and 10. To further drive home the point, Florida lost Morrison's replacement (Taylor) and then lost his replacement (Anzalone), as well as another linebacker (Kitchens) in the GSU game. At one point, the Gators turned to David Campbell, a senior walk-on who wasn't even on the game-day roster. Before the final game of the season, Florida suffered another scooter injury when Ivie sliced his heel and needed 25 stitches. The season ended, as you might imagine, with an injury ruining the Gators' game plan against Florida State. Burton was to run the wildcat for about 50 percent of the offensive plays and had early success with a 50-yard run. He hurt his shoulder and was knocked out of the game two plays later.

Conclusions

It would be hard for any offense to be effective without its top two QBs, starting tailback and three best offensive tackles. The running game that keyed an 11-win season in 2012 could not be relied upon in 2013. Similarly, the Gators' run defense fell apart by the end of the season. Florida's defense showed signs of being dominant with Easley, giving up just 55.3 yards a game on the ground, but then sprang leaks without their big man in the middle.

The upside? None of the injuries is believed to be career-threatening, and Florida developed some depth when it was forced to turn to younger players.

"There were a bunch of [important players] that didn't play for us," Muschamp said after the season's final game. "They were all on the sidelines in street clothes. We have good football players, and we have a good staff. We just got to get back healthy and continue to move forward. I'm not using excuses, it's real."

Real painful.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's only fitting that a season characterized by injuries and an ineffective offense would conclude with a whimper thanks to those same culprits.

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.

[+] EnlargeBurton
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsDespite carrying the ball just twice, Trey Burton led the Gators with 47 yards rushing versus Florida State. Burton left the game with a shoulder injury in the first quarter.
"Very frustrating, difficult day that ends a very frustrating, difficult season," coach Will Muschamp said. "That’s the best way I can sum it up."

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.

Pease hopeful despite uncertain future

November, 26, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Brent Pease said on Tuesday he hopes he'll return as Florida's offensive coordinator and feels he has earned the right to stay. But overall Pease sounded resigned about the uncertainty he faces after the Gators' season ends on Saturday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeBrent Pease
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsOffensive coordinator Brent Pease said on Tuesday that the Gators' injuries aren't an excuse for the team's woes on offense.
"You look at the first year and some of the situations and knowing the body of work and not just one, a game-to-game basis and situations we’ve been under," he said during a media session that was dominated by questions about his job security. "I hope any evaluations are looked at that way. But, you know, I understand things, too.

"I know you’ve got to win and have success. If it’s not meant to be ... I came into this with friends, and I’m walking out of it with friends."

The Gators offense under Pease has sunk in his second year at the controls. Florida averages 327.9 yards a game -- including 176 yards a game through the air -- and 19.9 points per game. All of those figures rank among the worst offenses in the FBS.

After Saturday's 26-20 loss to FCS Georgia Southern, Florida coach Will Muschamp seemed to blame many of his team's struggles on the offense's inability to put points on the board.

"You've got to be able to change the scoreboard," he said. "We're struggling offensively, and it has infected our entire team right now."

Pease's response on Tuesday?

"He has a point in the fact that you got to continue to change the game," he said. "I think, one, we went out, got ahead early and then we falter and not find some consistency and continue to find points here or there. I guess [we] struggle with confidence at certain points in time."

As all of the Florida coaches and players insist, however, it's only fair to factor in the devastating effect of injuries this season. Florida's offense is playing without its first- and second-string quarterbacks, its starting running back and three top offensive tackles.

Pease agreed that it would be unfair to evaluate his offense considering all of the injuries, but then said, "You don’t want to use it as an excuse because you’ve got to play with the kids you have."

He also said he feels he is on the same page with Muschamp, saying, "I know what his philosophy is." Muschamp has favored a conservative approach in his three seasons as coach, but he admitted on Monday that he plans to reevaluate his philosophy after the season ends.

Muschamp also said he would evaluate his entire staff, as he always does after the season. But with Florida's results -- a six-game losing streak, no bowl game and a punchless offense -- such promises from the head coach have taken on an ominous tone with regards to his coaching staff's future.

"If [criticism is] coming my way, then it's coming my way," Pease said. "That's something you've just got to kind of take the blows."

Pease is certainly not alone under the microscope.

"I think our staff, everyone -- coaches, players, everyone alike in that locker room -- we're all in a tough situation right now," defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "I think Brent is just like everyone else. We're trying to teach our guys to respond well when you’re in a tough moment. Tough people do that, and Brent’s a tough guy. We’re all in this together. It’s not just him or any one person on the staff. It’s everyone. We’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to play better, we’ve got to do a lot of things better, and we will."

For all of their struggles, the players still have their coaches' backs, expressing their confidence and support.

"I'm a big fan of Coach Pease and I always will be," senior receiver Trey Burton said. "I thank him for everything he's done for me and my family and the lessons that I've learned from him. I can't put into words how thankful I am for him."

Loss to Vanderbilt turns up heat on UF

November, 9, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ron Zook called it "noise in the system" when negativity swirled around his third and final season at Florida. But Zook never lost to Vanderbilt, much less by blowout in the homecoming game.

That would be Will Muschamp's Gators, who lost their fourth consecutive game, an emotionally draining 34-17 loss served up on a platter for Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4 in the SEC) on Saturday. It was the Commodores' first victory in Gainesville since a 7-0 victory in 1945, the first game of the series.

"You're not going to win many games turning it over four times and spotting the ball on the 10, 22 and 4," a dejected Muschamp said after the loss that dropped the Gators (4-5, 3-4) below .500 during the season for the first time since 1992.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWill Muschamp and the Gators lost their fourth game in a row, and their first to Vanderbilt at home since 1945.
"We're not good enough to overcome critical mistakes like that. You hold a team under 200 yards. ... Emotionally, it takes the wind out of your sails when you turn the ball over. You throw it to them, you give it to them inside the 10-yard line three times, you're not going to win. We're not good enough to overcome those things. We've got to take care of the ball."

The obvious scapegoat was quarterback Tyler Murphy, who was responsible for all four of Florida's turnovers. He threw three interceptions -- each returned deep into UF territory -- and gave Vanderbilt a sack-fumble just before the first half ended.

"I didn't play well," Murphy said. "I mean, when you throw three interceptions, you put the defense in a bind. You kill your momentum offensively. I've got to play better."

Murphy, who took the reins of the offense after Jeff Driskel was lost for the season in Week 3, is one of many Gators backups who have been thrust into starting positions. Florida has lost nine players for the season to injury, including five starters.

But Muschamp, Murphy and his teammates refuse to use the injuries as an excuse. The Gators and their fans expected even a hobbled team to defeat Vanderbilt.

The Commodores came to Gainesville with the nation's 85th-ranked scoring defense (30.3 points per game). Murphy took advantage with a career-high 305 yards on 30-for-46 passing, but much of that production came with Vandy safely ahead in the second half.

The expected advantage for Florida's defense, which entered the game No. 5 in the nation in total defense, was even more pronounced.

Vanderbilt came to Gainesville as one of the slowest-starting teams in the country. The Commodores were outscored 85-24 in the first quarters of its first eight games. On Saturday, however, the Commodores scampered through openings in a mistake-prone Gators defense, intercepted Murphy deep in UF territory and took a 10-0 lead, setting an ominous tone.

Murphy's second interception was just as damaging. The junior, who has been struggling with a shoulder injury sustained against LSU on Oct. 12, lofted a long pass into the swirling wind and badly underthrew Quinton Dunbar. Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler easily corralled the ball at the 50 and set up the Commodores offense at the Florida 22. Four running plays later, the Gators were looking at a 17-0 deficit just over 20 minutes into the game.

After a penalty gave them the ball at their own 9-yard line, the Gators finally showed some life with one of their clock-chewing drives. On the 13th play, freshman running back Kelvin Taylor ran for 10 yards to set up a first-and-goal, but Murphy checked out of a straight-ahead run to a short-side option that he fumbled out of bounds. After two incompletions, UF settled for a field goal amid a shower of boos from the stands.

"It was a miscommunication between me and the line," Murphy said. "That's just once again [where] we shot ourselves in the foot in the red zone. We got a field goal and needed a touchdown.”

Murphy's nightmarish day continued on the third play of the second half. His throw behind Trey Burton was bobbled into the arms of Vanderbilt safety Andrew Williamson, who followed the first-half script and returned the ball 38 yards to Florida's 4-yard line to set up the Vanderbilt offense for another easy touchdown and an insurmountable 24-3 lead.

After voicing their displeasure, the fans left in droves throughout the second half. Afterward, Muschamp took full responsibility for what they had witnessed.

"I’m a competitor. I don’t like losing. I certainly don’t like the product we are putting on the field, and that’s my responsibility. I take full credit for that," he said. "When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s not good, it’s not good, and it hasn’t been good. And that’s on me. We’ll make the decisions to move forward that we need to do to help this football team in the latter part of the season as we move forward. That’s my plan. I’m not asking for anybody to be happy. I’m not asking anybody to give a pass.

"My expectation, I’ll guarantee, is as high or higher than anyone sitting in those stands. There’s nobody more let down or hurt or competitive edge dented a little bit by this run. So it’s on me. We’ll get it turned. I can assure you that."

The players took a less defiant tone and were more stunned at what their season has become.

"Very shocking," Murphy said. "We come here, everyone in that locker room came to Florida to win and we're not winning, and you know that's unacceptable. As players we know it's unacceptable, and we're just going to keep fighting and keep pushing. We're going to try to make the best out of this season."

With the heat rising after every loss, Muschamp said he is not worried about his job and plans to consider staff changes at the end of the season, as he has done before.

"You evaluate everything at the end of the season and that’s certainly what I will do," he said. "I’ve done that my first two years and I’ll do that this year. I'm not worried about that."
Here are five matchups to watch when Florida has the ball in Saturday's game in Jacksonville:

Florida's running game vs. Georgia's front seven: This is perhaps the most important matchup on this side of the ball. Florida's offensive identity is built around pounding the run and controlling the clock, and it made hay in that department with Mike Gillislee toting the rock an SEC-high 244 times for 1,152 yards last season. The results have been highly uneven this year with quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Matt Jones sidelined by season-ending injuries. Georgia native Mack Brown (99-359, 3 TDs) is Florida's leading rusher, but he is not the Gators' scariest ball carrier. That honor goes to freshman Kelvin Taylor (28-172, TD), the son of Gator great Fred Taylor. Kelvin has played more recently. The problem is that, like most freshman, he is a liability in pass protection. Until he becomes a more consistent blocker, defenses know what Florida likely intends to do when he lines up in the backfield.

Georgia pass rushers vs. depleted Florida line: The Bulldogs' defense hasn't had much to brag about this season, but they have actually applied fairly consistent pressure against opposing quarterbacks. Georgia is tied for third in the SEC with 19 sacks -- many of which have come from the revitalized defensive line. Defensive end Ray Drew leads the team and is tied for fourth in the SEC with five sacks. Outside linebackers Leonard Floyd (four) and Jordan Jenkins (three) are just behind him. Florida has struggled with its pass protection this season, and it could be an even bigger issue on Saturday now that left tackle D.J. Humphries is out of the picture for the next few games. The Gators have allowed 17 sacks this season -- only Ole Miss and Vanderbilt (19 apiece) have allowed more among SEC teams -- so their injury-depleted line needs to raise its level of play or Florida's offense might have difficulty moving the ball on Saturday. Jarvis Jones, who wreaked havoc against Florida in each of the last two meetings, is no longer on the roster, but Drew, Jenkins and Floyd are good enough to give the Gators problems.

Tyler Murphy on the edge: Driskel's replacement under center, Murphy, started out well enough, leading the Gators to wins against Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas in his first three games. But Murphy took a pounding in the last two games, both losses, and Florida's offense was barely able to generate any scoring punch. He is most effective as a run-pass threat -- Murphy ran 10 times for 84 yards after taking over against Tennessee -- but his Total QBR numbers have fallen off a cliff since his strong start. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Murphy posted an outstanding Total QBR of 93.8 in the first three games, completing 72 percent of his passes, but he averaged an 8.9 QBR against LSU and Missouri -- including a 3.0 against Missouri, the lowest QBR by a Florida starter in the last decade. He'll have to make some things happen with his legs for Florida's offense to be effective Saturday, as he leaves a lot to be desired as a pure drop-back passer.

Containing Florida's receivers: The Gators have pretty much stunk in the passing game over the past few seasons, and 2013 has been no different (12th in the SEC in passing at 175.4 ypg). The speedy Solomon Patton (28-426, 4 TDs) -- whom Georgia safety Shawn Williams bulldog tackled just before he reached the first-down marker on a run last season, knocking Patton out of the game -- has been one of the Gators' only consistent receiving weapons. Otherwise, Florida's receiving corps has been a train wreck this season. Andre Debose is out for the year with an injury. Trey Burton (29-336, TD) has the most catches on the team, but hasn't been particularly consistent. Quinton Dunbar (22-301) is the only other Gator with more than 46 receiving yards. Georgia's secondary has been subpar this season -- the Bulldogs rank 11th in the SEC in pass defense (253.4 ypg) -- so the matchup between its defensive backs and Florida's mediocre wideouts pits two weaknesses against one another.

Burton as wild card: Think back to Florida's 2010 win in Jacksonville. Florida utility man Burton might have been the most effective quarterback on the field that day. Operating out of Florida's Wildcat package, Burton ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns, led the team with five receptions and completed two passes for 26 yards. He still operates out of the Wildcat at times, so keep an eye on the versatile senior, who is capable of impacting the game in a variety of ways.

Five things: Florida at LSU

October, 12, 2013
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It will be a battle of wills when LSU and Florida meet in Death Valley at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Tigers have a powerhouse offense while the Gators sport one of the top defenses in the country. So who gives? We'll find out soon, and in the meantime, here are five things to watch in Baton Rouge, La.:

1. Revenge factor: LSU watched its hope of an undefeated season end swiftly and soundly last year, when it lost a heartbreaker to Florida on the road. Mike Gillislee ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns and Zach Mettenberger barely moved the needle at quarterback for LSU, throwing for 158 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. But that offense seems like a distant memory now as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has breathed new life into LSU's passing game. With largely the same personnel on offense as a year ago, it's safe to assume that Mettenberger & Co. will look at this game as a statement of just how far they've come.

2. Slowing LSU's offense: Will Muschamp and the Florida staff have an unenviable task ahead of them. Do you double team Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and risk not having a safety near the line of scrimmage? Or do you play man, pull down an extra defender in the box and try to stop Jeremy Hill? Truthfully, there may not be a right answer, not while Zach Mettenberger is throwing the ball like he is. But Florida might have the best chance to solve the riddle of LSU's offense thanks to its depth at cornerback with Loucheiz Purifoy, Vernon Hargreaves and Marcus Roberson.

3. Time for Tyler: Tyler Murphy wasn't supposed to be in this situation, but here he is. When Jeff Driskel went down, it looked like Florida's hopes went down with him. The offense was already stagnant and Murphy was so green under the collar. But Murphy has played well since taking the reins. He's completed 77.5 percent of his passes and has thrown four touchdowns and just one interception in his last two games. But those defenses he's faced, Kentucky and Arkansas, don't have the talent of LSU's. On the road, the challenge will be even greater.

4. But who will he throw the football to?: The Gators' lack of playmakers at wide receiver has been well documented. And if Florida is hoping to change that narrative, it will have to come today against an LSU secondary that has shown some vulnerability. Trey Burton has seen time at almost every position on offense, yet he still leads the team with 22 catches. But he'll need help from speedsters such as Solomon Patton, who has a team-high 348 yards and four touchdowns receiving.

5. Will LSU's defense finally arrive?: LSU coach Les Miles can hang his hat on a three-point second half against Mississippi State all he wants, but it's impossible to ignore the nearly 500 yards of offense the Bulldogs picked up on his defense. While nobody is questioning the talent of LSU's defense, led by tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, the unit as a whole is showing too many of the tell-tale signs of youth. Missed assignments and poor execution have plagued the Tigers, who are allowing an average of 367 yards and 24.7 points per game.

It's all about offense for the Gators

September, 21, 2013
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It's sounds like a broken record, but if Florida is going to make a run to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, it has to figure out a way to get into the end zone more.

If this offense can't score, it'll be sitting at home in early December.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel has been more productive throwing the ball but needs to avoid red zone turnovers.
No. 19-ranked Florida (1-1) has actually moved the ball down the field better through two game this season (averaging 414 yards per game) than it did for most of the 2012 season. The Gators had 399 yards outside of the red zone in their Week 2 loss to Miami and averaged more than six yards a play. But inside the red zone, Florida mustered just 14 yards, one touchdown and turned the ball over three times.

Saturday's matchup with Tennessee (2-1) is flying under the radar nationally, but it's a crucial game for the Gators. They can't afford to make the same mistakes -- like going 2-for-6 in the red zone -- that cost them a win against the Hurricanes. They can't afford to complicate things close to the end zone, as Tennessee leads the SEC in red zone defense and takeaways.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel has to protect the ball better and has to have more confidence near the end zone. He's throwing the ball down field more, but he has to play bigger the closer he gets to the end zone. He might be averaging more than 200 yards per game passing (after throwing for just 137 per game last season), but both of his interceptions have come in the red zone.

Guys such as Solomon Patton, Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton have stepped up as reliable receiving targets, combining to catch 19 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown against Miami, so Driskel has options. And the running game will be better with the return of a fully healthy Matt Jones.

Florida won't be perfect, but it has to make strides offensively against a Tennessee team that gave up nearly 700 yards and 59 points to Oregon last week. The Gators aren't Oregon, but they have the pieces to generate points. A good showing by the offense -- and more points -- could go a long way in the confidence department for a team looking to be much more consistent with the ball in its hands.

Clutch gene missing from UF's offense

September, 10, 2013
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As Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel trudged off the field inside Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, he couldn't help but hang his head. Looking at the ground had to feel better than looking up at the scoreboard or at his teammates.

For most of the 60 minutes of actual football action, the junior who many felt coming into the season could be the SEC's most improved player left a lot to be desired with his play in the clutch.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxJeff Driskel is helping Florida move the ball, but he can't lead the Gators into the end zone.
The 21-16 loss to Miami showed so many different things about Florida, but the main area of concern was the red zone. Six times the Gators entered Miami's 20-yard line, four times they failed to come away with points. Three times they turned it over -- two by way of a Driskel interception.

If Florida is going to make any sort of charge in the SEC East, the mental errors, turnovers and ugly mistakes that plagued the Gators Saturday have to get corrected, like yesterday, and it all starts with Driskel.

Last year, Driskel was in his second season at Florida with his second different offensive coordinator. This year, he and everyone around him have talked about increased confidence. They've insisted that there's more chemistry with receivers. Driskel is more comfortable in the offense.

In all honesty, you've seen all of that through two games. Driskel was 12th in the SEC in passing last year, averaging 137.2 yards per game and threw 12 touchdowns to five interceptions. Two weeks into the 2013 season, he's averaging 222 yards per game and has two touchdowns to two interceptions.

Driskel even threw for a career-high 291 yards in the loss to Miami, which was lost in his three turnovers.

Florida's offense is in a weird position. It can move the ball, but can't score points. Through two games, the Gators are averaging an SEC-low 20 points per game.

Driskel looked like a deer in headlights when the Gators got inside the red zone Saturday, but for the most part, he played pretty well inside the other 80 yards. He had command of the huddle, wasn't afraid to take a few shots down field (though he missed a few that were wide open) and is still owning the read-option. But his decision-making the closer Florida got to the end zone has to be concerning. And when the running game, which averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, shut down between the tackles, Driskel became too inconsistent with the ball.

The Gators are still searching for a consistent offensive playmaker, but Solomon Patton, Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton combined to catch 19 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown Saturday. Patton caught six passes for 118 yards and a touchdown and wowed fans with his awkward, over-the-shoulder 46-yard catch in the first quarter.

But when it was time to put the ball in the end zone during crucial moments, Florida couldn't deliver. Burton fumbled. The coaching staff called a bizarre two-point conversion (that failed) in the first quarter. The Gators went for it on a fourth-and-1, leaving three valuable points on the board early. Oh, and there were two interceptions.

It had to be extremely frustrating inside that locker room knowing how close, yet how far this team was from pulling off a comfortable victory. However, you can't go 2-for-6 in the red zone, turn the ball over five times, and expect to win.

How were the Gators outside the red zone? Well, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Florida ran 65 plays for 399 yards there. That's an average of 6.1 yards per play. Inside the red zone, Florida ran 12 plays for 14 yards (1.2 yards per play).

Florida gave the ball to Miami three times in the red zone after having just three red zone turnovers last season (two interceptions and a fumble).

It might be hard to grasp, but the offense has moved the ball better for the most part. The Gators went back-to-back games with 400-plus yards of offense for the first time since the first two games of the 2011 season.

The problem is the inconsistency at crucial times. The Gators just aren't scoring points. Penalties cost them in Week 1, and turnovers killed them in Week 2. In two games, Florida has scored on six of 12 red zone visits.

The clutch factor isn't there for Florida, yet, and neither are the points. It hasn't hurt the Gators in SEC play, but Florida can't afford another Miami-like performance if it wants to return to Atlanta.

Expect excitement from the SEC East

September, 7, 2013
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Georgia's thrilling 41-30 win over No. 6 South Carolina inside Sanford Stadium Saturday night set a familiar tone for the SEC Eastern Division: No lead or team is safe.

The 12th-ranked Bulldogs (1-1) went from being outmuscled a week prior in their heartbreaking loss to ACC foe Clemson, to doing most of the pushing around, as the Bulldogs catapulted themselves to the top of the East standings.

[+] EnlargeKeith Marshall, Aaron Murray, Kolton Houston
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia had plenty to celebrate in its win over South Carolina, but there's a long way to go before the Dawgs can think about celebrating an SEC East title.
"The team that loses this game is waiting for the other's bus to break down," Georgia coach Mark Richt said Saturday. "We've been chasing them the last three years. South Carolina has a very good team, and this year, we get a chance to sit in the driver's seat. … We haven't been 1-0 in the league in a while because South Carolina's been getting us. Today, we got them, and I'm so thankful."

The road to Atlanta for the SEC championship game yet again has to go through Athens, but the Bulldogs are far from perfect ... just like the top contenders looking up at the Dawgs.

While Georgia's defense has given up 68 points and allowed an average of 460.5 yards to opposing offenses in the first two games of the season, South Carolina's defense struggled mightily on Saturday after Florida's offense developed a fear of the red zone in its unsettling 21-16 loss to Miami.

Georgia is in the driver's seat for its third consecutive SEC East title, but the East certainly hasn't been won two weeks into the season. If anyone should know that, it's Georgia.

The Bulldogs have a lot of flaws on defense. Things cleaned up against South Carolina, but the Gamecocks (1-1) still churned out 454 yards of offense, including 226 rushing yards, Saturday night. South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw continues to show that he's a true gamer and he's helping those receivers grow more and more.

On the flip side, the Bulldogs showed that they can hang with anyone in any SEC shootout. Georgia piled up 538 total yards, watched Aaron Murray throw four touchdowns, and have a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Todd Gurley (132 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries). Scoring points won't be a problem for the Bulldogs, but stopping them could be.

That's the opposite predicament No. 12 Florida (1-1) finds itself in after a bad loss to the Hurricanes. There's no question that the Gators have an elite defense, but even it couldn't save the offense like it did so many times last season. The offense, which registered 413 yards of offense (the most by Florida since gaining 403 yards against Vanderbilt on Oct. 13 last year), was totally inept inside the red zone.

The Gators took six trips inside Miami's 20-yard line and came away with just nine points and four turnovers. Two were Jeff Driskel interceptions, one was a Trey Burton fumble and another was a turnover on downs on a very questionable fourth-and-1 call.

Adding more salt to the Gators' wound, they missed a puzzling two-point conversion after their first touchdown.

"We moved the ball. We had more than 400 yards, mixed the run and pass well, did some good things at times,'' Florida coach Will Muschamp told reporters after Saturday's loss. "Bottom line, you can't continue to shoot yourself in the foot and give another team an opportunity, especially on the road."

Those shots came in the form of three lost fumbles, two interceptions and red zone failures. While Florida rediscovered the art of actually moving the ball down the field (and might have found capable receiving targets in Quinton Dunbar, Solomon Patton and Burton), mistakes and poor play calling ruined the Gators' chances of beating a less-talented Miami team.

But fear not Gators fans! The East is still in reach. A Miami loss means nothing in conference standings and that defense is only going to get better. By the looks of what Georgia and South Carolina did defensively, the Gators have a chance to squeak out some points against them.

For now, the attention is on Georgia and South Carolina because they have offenses that don't shrink near the goal line (well, minus that failed fourth-and-1 by the Gamecocks late Saturday). They have capable quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. We still don't know if the Gators do. But without a loss in conference play, Florida actually has the advantage over South Carolina, which now has to root for two Georgia losses.

However, the trio at the top still has some other hurdles to conquer. You have to wonder if Vanderbilt or even Missouri or Tennessee can help derail their trains to Atlanta. Nonconference cupcakes aside, Missouri and Tennessee are the only unbeaten teams in the East.

We know Vandy will challenge everyone going forward, but Mizzou and Tennessee still remain relative enigmas this early in the season. With far from perfect teams at the top, any one of these three could serve as a pesky pothole on the road to Atlanta. South Carolina gets its first taste of the rest of the East next week with a visit from Vandy.

Then there's the obstacle that is LSU that Florida and Georgia both face. The Tigers look like they could challenge for the Western Division title and should pose threats both offensively and defensively for the Gators and Dawgs.

Georgia is ahead of the pack, but if we've learned anything from the past few years, the East race to Atlanta is far from being paved in red and black.

Five questions: Florida-Toledo

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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On Saturday, No. 10 Florida will host a Toledo team that went went 9-4 last season and knows how to move the ball at a fast pace.

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:

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Kevin Liles/US PRESSWIREAs usual, the biggest question mark for Florida's offense is centered on Jeff Driskel and the passing game.
1. Life in the passing lane? There's no denying that the biggest question resides in Florida's passing game. The Gators were last in the SEC in passing (146.3 yards per game) last season, and no one outside of Florida's football facility really knows what to expect from this unit again. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is a year older, maturing and more confident, but just how comfortable is he with his receivers? Who will be the guy(s) out wide? Well, Quinton Dunbar could be the best deep-play option to start the year, and it sounds like he's been more consistent in practice. Solomon Patton will be used more all over the field and has the speed to break off a few big plays. And Trey Burton proved to be a consistent weapon during fall camp. Keep an eye on freshman Demarcus Robinson, who has the talent to be a special player this year. Regardless, if this passing game wants to generate some confidence, Saturday would be a good time to start.

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.

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