Florida Gators: Charlie Strong

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Steve Sarkisian and USC landed a major building block for their future this past weekend when a blue-chip 2015 quarterback committed; a longtime Texas commit flipped to rival Texas A&M on Sunday; and a five-star cornerback said he will narrow his list to four schools early this week.


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SEC's lunch links

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
12:00
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Let's take a look at what's happening around the SEC.

Florida assistant and former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips is reportedly among the finalists to join Charlie Strong's new staff at Texas.

Kurt Roper left a secure situation at Duke to take over as offensive coordinator at Florida, and he needs to quickly construct an attack that can move up and down the field more effectively.

With the return of defensive line coach Bo Davis, Alabama welcomes back an excellent recruiter.

Former Auburn quarterback and receiver Kodi Burns plays an important role as a graduate assistant on Gus Malzahn's staff.

LSU grapples with massive losses from its offense to early entry into the NFL draft.

Freshman receiver De'Runnya Wilson could contribute on Mississippi State's basketball team.

Tennessee announced on Monday that it will play its spring game on April 12.

Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams is hitting the road in search of a new football coach.

Speaking of which, Athlon lists 10 candidates to replace James Franklin as the Commodores' coach.

Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham's drug arrest from last week is still under investigation and has not yet been submitted to a prosecutor.

Florida running back Matt Jones will miss spring practice after he undergoes a second knee surgery in the next few weeks.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Texas’ hire of Charlie Strong could help the Longhorns open up new recruiting territories, but it will also be important for him to hire assistants who have ties to the Lone Star State. Louisville’s top 25 class is very much in flux after Strong’s departure.

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NEW ORLEANS -- The moment Charlie Strong decided he wasn't taking his talents to Knoxville, Tenn., many people around the college football world were stunned by his decision to spurn the SEC and remain at Louisville.

He'd be making more money and would have a heck of a better chance at competing for a national championship in the sport's best conference.

But Strong, who has now completed three seasons as the Cardinals' head coach, chose a different path.

Loyalties aside, Strong wanted to win big games and take Louisville on a special journey. Part of him stayed for moments like Wednesday, when he was showered with red and black confetti before hoisting the Allstate Sugar Bowl trophy over his head and roaring like a lion toward a throng of Louisville fans after defeating No. 3 Florida, 33-23.

But he also did it because he wanted to go the distance for his players, who pushed him just as much as he pushed them. "It's not so much me. … I told our players I love them so much and I respect them so much and the reason why I did not go take that job, because I know I have a football team that is behind me 100 percent," Strong said.

"I'm in the position I'm in right now because of what they did, and I told them that. I said, 'Guys, people are calling me just because of what you've done -- nothing I've done.'"

For Edward Aschoff's full column, click here.

 


Reaction to Louisville's 33-23 win over Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl:

It was over when: Louisville cornerback Andrew Johnson intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone and returned it 22 yards early in the fourth quarter. Florida was close to scoring a touchdown and cutting Louisville’s lead to 30-17, but Jeff Driskel threw a bit behind receiver Quinton Dunbar and the ball bounced off Dunbar’s hands. The Cardinals converted that turnover into a 33-yard field goal and a 33-10 lead. That lead turned out to be insurmountable.

Game ball goes to: Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater shredded Florida’s defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency. The sophomore from Miami, Fla., completed 20 of 32 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Bridgewater was rarely pressured and pretty much had his pick of open receivers all night.

Stat of the game: Louisville was fantastic on third down and Florida wasn’t. The Cardinals went 9-for-14. Florida went 3-for-10 and the Gators didn’t get their first third-down conversion until the fourth quarter. Florida had entered the game fourth nationally in third-down defense (28 percent).

Unsung hero: Kick returner Andre Debose gave the Gators a glimmer of hope in the fourth quarter when he took a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to cut Louisville’s lead to 33-17.

Best call: It turned out to be meaningless in the final outcome, but the Gators scored their lone touchdown on a fake field goal late in the first half. Florida split several linemen out wide left but had fullback Trey Burton, running back Matt Jones and kicker Caleb Sturgis lined up behind the center. Burton took the snap and gave the ball to Jones on an option play and he scored from 1 yard out.

Second guessing: Florida coach Will Muschamp called for an onside kick to begin the second half trailing 24-10. It turned out to be disastrous. Not only did Louisville recover the ball, there was a skirmish after the play. Special teams standout Chris Johnson was ejected for throwing a punch, Loucheiz Purifoy was also penalized for a personal foul, and the Cardinals took possession at the UF 19-yard line. They scored a touchdown on the following play for a 30-10 lead.

What Louisville learned: The Cardinals program is in good hands with coach Charlie Strong and appears ready for its move to the ACC in 2014. Louisville is loaded with young talent -- 26 of the players on the two-deep depth charts on offense and defense are freshmen or sophomores -- and most importantly has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Bridgewater. The Cardinals gained a huge measure of momentum for next season with Wednesday night’s rout and will almost certainly be a preseason top 10 selection.

What Florida learned: The Gators didn’t learn anything new about their offense. The offensive line needs work, Driskel needs to improve, and there is a dearth of playmakers at receiver. However, it appears the Gators may not be as set on defense as they may have thought. Especially in the secondary, which was supposed to have been the team’s strength. The Gators were unable to slow down Louisville’s passing attack and the loss of Purifoy to an injury in the first half showed that the Gators don’t have much depth at corner.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 3 Florida plays No. 21 Louisville on Wednesday in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. It’s just the third meeting between the schools (the Gators have won the previous meetings in 1980 and 1992).

Here are five storylines for the game:

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesContaining Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater will be key for Florida.
1. Contain Teddy Bridgewater: The Louisville quarterback doesn’t have big rushing numbers (43 yards, one touchdown), but he’s a mobile threat who is pretty good at avoiding pressure and scrambling out of trouble. Bridgewater has been successful in and out of the pocket. However, the Gators have had good success against mobile quarterbacks this season. They’ve limited South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, Florida State’s EJ Manuel, and they also shut down eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in the second half. They key will be a disciplined pass rush to keep Bridgewater in the pocket. That’s still rolling the dice a bit, though, because he’s fifth nationally in completion percentage (69.0 percent) and passer efficiency rating (161.22).

2. Get Mike Gillislee going: The Gators’ senior running back is the first UF player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. The offense feeds off of his success, and he’s coming off perhaps his best performance of the season: 140 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State and the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense. Louisville’s rush defense is allowing 151.1 yards per game. The Cardinals held Rutgers to 54 yards rushing, but four of their previous five opponents rushed for at least 197 yards. Louisville gave up 255 yards to Temple and 278 yards to Syracuse in back-to-back games.

3. Win the turnover battle: Turnovers are one of the main reasons the Gators went from 7-6 last season to 11-1 in 2012. UF was minus-12 last season and is plus-14 this season. UF forced only 14 turnovers in 2011 but has forced 26 this season, including 19 interceptions. The only game in which the Gators had a negative turnover margin was the only game they lost. They were minus-3 against Georgia. Louisville has done a very good job of not turning the ball over (five fumbles, seven interceptions) and never turned the ball over more than twice in any game. Both quarterbacks have done a good job of protecting the ball, too. Bridgewater has thrown seven interceptions, while UF’s Jeff Driskel has thrown just three.

4. Keep emotions in check: There are numerous Gators players who were on the team in Louisville coach Charlie Strong’s last season as Florida's defensive coordinator (2009). He was one a very popular coach and someone the players could talk to about anything. Even the offensive players gravitated toward Strong. They don’t keep in regular contact with Strong, but there are still some fond feelings about their time with him. In addition to the seniors, there are several other players who also could be playing their final game with the Gators: S Matt Elam, DT Sharrif Floyd, DE Dominique Easley and TE Jordan Reed. How will they handle themselves? Sometimes players in that situation play tentatively or too conservatively, because they’re afraid of getting hurt.

5. Get something from a young player on offense: Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said WRs Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades, who have combined for just four catches, have improved during the bowl practices in Gainesville. The coaching staff is hoping they can do something similar to what CB Loucheiz Purifoy did last December. He was impressive during the bowl practices, played well in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl and became a starter and key part of this year’s defense. There is no other position on the team that needs someone to emerge more than receiver. If Pittman or Andrades can come up with a couple plays, that will be a boost for the offense against Louisville -- and also deliver some momentum for the offense heading into the offseason.

Ranking the SEC's bowls

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
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The bowl season is getting closer and closer, and as we all prepare for what truly is the most wonderful time of year, it's time to rank the nine bowl games that involve SEC teams.

This month, ESPN colleague Mark Schlabach took the time to rank all 35 bowl games. We only have nine to discuss here, but some are very intriguing matchups.

Here's how the SEC's slate of bowls ranks from top to bottom:

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesAJ McCarron and Alabama are one win away from another national title.
1. Discover BCS National Championship: No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama (Jan. 7: ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET, Sun Life Stadium, Miami) -- Two quintessential blue-collar football teams will smash into each other for the national championship. This game also features two of the most respected/hated football programs of all-time. People from all over will be disgusted with themselves for having to root for either squad in a game where some big hits and bruises will be given out.

2. AT&T Cotton Bowl: No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (Jan. 4: Fox, 8 p.m. ET, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas) -- The scoreboard inside Jerry's World better have brand new bulbs, because there are going to be a lot of points in this one. The Aggies will be without offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who accepted the head-coaching job at Texas Tech, but Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and his group of playmakers will be ready -- and rested. Both teams are averaging more than 500 yards and 40 points a game.

3. Chick-fil-A Bowl: No. 8 LSU vs. No. 14 Clemson (Dec. 31: ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET, Georgia Dome, Atlanta) -- One stout defense takes on one of the nation's flashiest offenses. The only thing is that LSU currently has some real bite on offense, so that Clemson defense better make adjustments after giving up 444 yards and 27 points in a home loss to South Carolina. Oh, and if Tajh Boyd thought Jadeveon Clowney was a handful, he now has to face Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo coming at him from the outside.

4. Allstate Sugar Bowl: No. 21 Louisville vs. No. 3 Florida (Jan. 2: ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans) -- Some people are turning their noses up at this game, but there are a lot of fun storylines. This is a huge bowl for the Cardinals, and coach Charlie Strong was once the Gators' defensive coordinator. Teddy Bridgewater was also recruited by Florida. We've also learned that Florida's offense can be pretty tough when healthy, and a month off should have the Gators in proper form.

(Read full post)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida’s return to a BCS bowl comes against some familiar faces.

When No. 3 UF (11-1) plays Louisville (10-2) in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, the Gators will be facing three former coaches and three former players -- including former defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who is finishing his third season as head coach of the Cardinals.

Florida will be making its ninth appearance in the Sugar Bowl and first since 2010. The Gators are 3-5 in their previous appearances, with victories over West Virginia (1994), Florida State (1997) and Cincinnati (2010).

The Gators have reached a bowl game in 22 consecutive seasons, which is the longest active streak in the SEC.

UF is 2-0 against Louisville, winning 13-0 in 1980 and 31-17 in 1992.

Strong was UF’s defensive coordinator twice, from 2003-09 and from 1991-94, and he had two other stints in Gainesville (1988-89 and 1983-84). Strong was a huge part of UF’s two national titles under coach Urban Meyer. UF smothered Ohio State in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, holding the Buckeyes to just 82 yards in a 41-14 victory. In the 2008 title game, Strong’s defense held Oklahoma, which averaged 54.0 points per game and had scored a Football Bowl Subdivision record 702 points, to just 14 points.

In addition, two other former UF coaches are members of Strong’s staff: running backs coach/special teams coordinator Kenny Carter and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. Both were members of Meyer’s staff in 2008-09.

The Cardinals also have three former UF players on the roster. WR Robert Clark and TE Gerald Christian left UF in October 2011 before transferring to Louisville. CB Adrian Bushell left for Cedar Valley junior college following the 2009 season and transferred to Louisville in 2011.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jaye Howard finally played with the consistency his coaches wanted, and it got him drafted higher than many projected.

The Seattle Seahawks selected the former Florida defensive tackle in the fourth round (114th pick overall) on Saturday, making Howard the first Gators player taken in the NFL draft. It is the latest round in which the first UF player has been drafted since 1993, when defensive back Lawrence Hatch was selected in the sixth round by New England.

"Congrats to Jaye," UF coach Will Muschamp said on Twitter. "He worked very hard this year to put himself in this position."

(Read full post)

Jon Bostic has made the short walk from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium over to Florida’s practice fields hundreds of times. But, as the rising senior linebacker takes his final spring hikes back and forth, he can’t help but feel as if those first steps out there happened yesterday.

The old man on Florida’s defense isn’t looking to get nostalgic, but, as he enters his fourth season in Gainesville, he admits that his Gators career has flown by.

He went from immediately moving from safety to linebacker his first spring to becoming one of the captains and leaders of Florida’s defense. From wide-eyed to highly regarded, Bostic will enter the 2012 season as one of the SEC’s top middle linebackers.

[+] EnlargeJon Bostic
Courtesy of UF CommunicationsSenior Jon Bostic led the Gators in tackles with 94 last season.
But he wouldn’t be where he is without help from one of the best to line up for Florida.

From the beginning, Bostic’s first defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong, made sure Bostic clung to former star Brandon Spikes. Bostic was to be a sponge when around him.

One of the toughest activities with Spikes was watching film because of how meticulous he was.

“If there’s one thing about him, he sits in the film room and, when I say he finds the little things, he finds the little things,” Bostic said about Spikes’ scrupulous film time.

Spikes was hard on Bostic at times when it came to dissecting film or just learning how to be the defense’s quarterback, but it was something Bostic needed. The thing Spikes wanted to get across to his understudy was that he had to be the leader in his actions and his words, meaning laziness wasn’t an option. Spikes didn’t want his position to take a dip after he left.

So, for three years, Bostic has tried to emulate Spikes while trying to come into his own. He has gone through three defensive coordinators, taking little things from each to enhance his game. He has learned to gain weight the right way, and he enters his final spring wanting to get Florida’s defense back to its ferocious ways.

Bostic knows he can’t play every position at once, so he has taken it upon himself to monitor everyone. Bostic has grown from a shy, 225-pound hybrid player three years ago to a 245-pound outspoken superior. He is reaching out to younger players, getting onto older players and communicating his ideas more to coaches.

Florida returns 10 of 11 starters from the nation’s eighth-ranked defense, but, Bostic said, if Florida’s defense wants to progress in 2012, depth has to be stronger. Immediate help arrived in the form of three early enrollees -- juco defensive tackle Damien Jacobs and freshmen Antonio Morrison (linebacker) and Willie Bailey (defensive back) -- but Bostic said those who sat last year have to be more prepared this time.

“We’re going to need all the depth we can get this year,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t have as much depth at any position like we would have liked it.”

That led to a lot of bending in Florida’s defense and even some breaking against tougher running teams such as Alabama and LSU. If the Gators want to dig themselves out of their two-year rut, Bostic said, the defense has to continue to improve. The lack of discipline from a year ago has to be changed. Consistency has to take hold. No longer can players get away with deciding when they’ll go full speed, Bostic said; it has to be every day.

Bostic started to see an attitude change almost immediately after Florida’s bowl win over Ohio State, as the seven-win season didn’t sit well with players. In postseason drills, Bostic saw more fire and desire from players. The competition was intense as players looked to separate themselves before spring started.

A couple of days into spring practice, and Bostic said he still sees that tenacity from youngsters and vets.

“They figure it’s either now or never, and that’s a good thing,” Bostic said.

“It’s creating competition all over the place and making everybody better.”

It’s not just the defense that has impressed Bostic. The offense, which yet again is searching for its identity, has made strides. With help from a defense that refuses to let it get very comfortable, the offense has generated more confidence.

But it won’t be an overnight transformation, Bostic said. There has been a gradual push in the right direction, but there’s plenty of work to be done.

He knows the perception of Florida football isn’t exactly flattering right now, but, if everyone comes together this time, Bostic expects the Gators to turn a head or two this fall.

“We’ve had a lot of things happen, but the talent is still there,” he said. “The talent hasn’t gone anywhere.”

The AggreGator: Links and bites

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's a cloudy but bright and warm Friday here in North Central Florida, the kind of day we Floridians brag about to our friends up north (I'm lookin' at you, Bristol, Conn.). Let's kick off this edition of The AggreGator with a quick bite and then some Gator Links.

Here's one of the most amusing features of college football's bowl season -- the booty. Every year, the bowls shower the players with a gift bag full of swag. Because college kids already have iPods and headphones (duh!), much of this stuff ends up on CraigsList and eBay, but that's beside the point. Sports Business Journal does a great job of compiling the definitive list.

This year's Gator Bowl participants will walk away with a Fossil watch, Gator Gear performance headwear (think the Buckeyes want that?), a rolling luggage bag, a Jostens ring and a commemorative football. Compare that to what the Gators got in the 2008 BCS Championship Game: their choice of up to $300 worth of Sony electronics, customized luggage tags, a watch, a duffel bag and BCS Championship Game customized Crocs.

The lesson? It pays (literally) to win championships.

GATOR LINKS
• Morning-after reaction from a Kansas City Star columnist on Kansas' new coaching hire isn't pretty. He says Charlie Weis has name recognition and little else: KU hiring Charlie Weis looks like a desperate move

• A former UF defensive coordinator denies he's talking to Texas A&M or Penn State about their head-coaching vacancies: Louisville football coach Charlie Strong emphatic: He's going nowhere

• Signing forward Shane Battier allows the Miami Heat to roll out a formidable second unit with former Gators Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, who the writer speculates will be kept now and not amnestied: Picking up Shane Battier a bigger deal for the Heat than it might seem

• The Denver Post reveals Chicago's shocking plan to contain Tim Tebow on Sunday -- tackle him: Bears have secret, 'different' plan to stop Bronco's Tebow

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