Florida Gators: Dante Fowler

Can you believe it? We're already into the final month of the SEC regular season.

If you're just now jumping on board our little road trip, we at the SEC Blog have been getting you ready for the coming season by plotting out our top destinations for each week of the season. So far we've been to some of the usual spots (Athens, Auburn, College Station, Tuscaloosa), and a few outside of the SEC footprint in locales such as Houston and Oklahoma.

We've knocked out nine weeks of trips in all, which means we've got only five more to go. The conference title game in Atlanta is right around the corner.

So without further pause, let's take a look at the best options for Week 10:

Nov. 1
Arkansas at Mississippi State
Auburn at Ole Miss
Georgia vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)
Kentucky at Missouri
Tennessee at South Carolina
Louisiana-Monroe at Texas A&M
Old Dominion at Vanderbilt

Alex Scarborough's pick: Georgia vs. Florida

Man, it sure was tough passing up those high-profile nonconference games featuring Old Dominion and Louisiana-Monroe.

(Pardon me while I try not refer to the Warhawks as being from La-Monroe. Apparently they don't care for the abbreviation.)

Yes, we're steadily seeing better out-of-conference scheduling. Georgia's agreement to play Notre Dame is a huge step in the right direction. Even though Mississippi State-Arizona won't happen until the polar ice caps finally melt, it's a welcomed sight. But the league's athletic directors and head coaches are nothing if not calculated, which means that the late cupcake nonconference games we'll see this November aren't going away. Teams will risk tough games early in the season, but never late. It's all about protecting your standing in the College Football Playoff.

Oh well.

I'll step off my soapbox at some point and hopefully find myself in Jacksonville on Nov. 1 for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Or whatever they want to call it these days.

If you care about SEC football, this is a game you have to get to at least once in your life. Most neutral site games lack that certain festive college atmosphere, but this one is different. Huge crowds show up and there's plenty of tailgating. The pregame atmosphere definitely lives up to the series nickname.

Then there's the game itself -- and it's seemingly mandatory instances of trash talk, cheap shots and excessive celebration. Who can forget Mark Richt sending his entire team on the field to celebrate Georgia's first touchdown in 2007? Brandon Spikes' attempted eye-gouge in 2009? What about Todd Gurley and Dante Fowler getting into it last year? These two teams just don't seem to care for each other.

It all makes for appointment viewing.

Greg Ostendorf's pick: Auburn at Ole Miss

Before you say anything, I know. The ultimate SEC road trip saw both Auburn and Ole Miss last week and though it would be nice to check out some different teams and venues, how do you pass up a game like this? Two teams jockeying for position in the West, two offenses engineered to go fast and put up points, and a tailgating atmosphere that will rival even the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. What's not to love?

For Ole Miss, it's not a stretch to say that this is the most important game on the schedule. We're at the point in the season where we'll already know whether the Rebels are legitimate contenders or not, but either way, this is the type of signature win they need if they want to take that next step as a program.

Auburn has already taken that step -- as evidenced by last year's run to the BCS title game-- but this game is just as important for the Tigers if they want to get back to the top. It's sandwiched in between home games against South Carolina and Texas A&M, and waiting for them on the other side are road trips to Georgia and Alabama. Let's just say they can't afford to lose this one.

For those still questioning my pick, consider seeing stars such as Nick Marshall, Laquon Treadwell and Sammie Coates running up and down the field and making plays. And don't forget about sophomores Robert Nkemdiche and Carl Lawson (if healthy), the nation's top two recruits in 2013.

The rivalry pales in comparison to Florida-Georgia, but the game should be just as good if not better, and the party on the Grove will do more than hold its own.

Ranking the SEC defensive ends

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
5:20
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It's Defensive Line Day on the SEC blog.

We ranked the top defensive line groups earlier today along with the top 10 tackles in the league. Now, we rank the top 10 ends in the SEC heading into the 2014 season.

1. Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida: Technically he plays the "buck" position in the Gators' defense, which is part end and part outside linebacker. He's versatile enough that he's a force against the run and also a dynamic pass-rusher. Florida has produced its share of big-play performers on defense. Look for the 6-foot-3, 266-pound Fowler to explode this season after racking up a team-high 10.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore.

[+] EnlargeTrey Flowers
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesArkansas' Trey Flowers is back for his senior season.
2. Trey Flowers, Sr., Arkansas: His partner on the other side, Chris Smith, is gone, but the 6-4, 267-pound Flowers has already proven that he's a difference-maker regardless of who lines up around him or who he's going against. Flowers had five sacks and three forced fumbles a season ago and decided to come back for his senior season after considering a jump to the NFL.

3. Markus Golden, R-Sr., Missouri: Last season, it was Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Two years ago, it was Sheldon Richardson. Missouri just keeps cranking out the talented defensive linemen. The 6-3, 260-pound Golden only played about 40 percent of the snaps last season, but still managed to lead the Mizzou ends with 55 total tackles and was third to Sam and Ealy with 13 tackles for loss.

4. Alvin “Bud” Dupree, Sr., Kentucky: Having successfully made the transition from outside linebacker to end last season when Mark Stoops and his staff arrived, the 6-4, 267-pound Dupree has finished in the top 10 in the SEC in sacks each of the past two seasons. He's the essence of consistency and has made at least three tackles in each of the 26 games he's started in his college career.

5. Carl Lawson, So. Auburn: The 6-2, 261-pound Lawson was the toughest of the ends to rank because he recently underwent knee surgery. There's a chance he could miss some time to open the season. But when fully healthy, there's no question that Lawson ranks up there with any of the defensive ends in this league. He was a Freshman All-American last season and racked up 7.5 tackles for loss.

6. Shane Ray, R-Jr., Missouri: Similar to Golden, Ray was also a reserve on that talented Missouri defensive line a year ago, but was still plenty productive. He finished second on the team with 11 quarterback pressures and also collected nine tackles for loss. The 6-3, 245-pound Ray is a a super athlete and has blazing speed off the edge as a pass-rusher.

7. Danielle Hunter, Jr., LSU: His enormous wing span makes him a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks when he's bearing down on them. At 6-6 and 241 pounds, Hunter came into his own last season with eight tackles for loss, including three sacks. Look for those numbers to soar in 2014, as Hunter is poised to be the Tigers' next star defensive end.

8. C.J. Johnson, R-Jr., Ole Miss: The 6-2, 237-pound Johnson was on his way to an All-SEC season a year ago until an ankle injury sidelined him for the season. He had four tackles for loss in his first four games and, as a sophomore in 2012, led the team with 6.5 sacks. The biggest hurdle for Johnson has been avoiding injuries. But if he stays healthy, he'll make a ton of big plays for the Rebels this season.

9. Jonathan Allen, So., Alabama: Yep, yet another one of those talented sophomore defensive linemen. The 6-3, 264-pound Allen has "star" written all over him and should help bolster the Crimson Tide's pass rush this season after playing in a reserve role last season. He has all the physical tools and instincts to be that finisher off the edge that Alabama has lacked the last couple of seasons.

10. Za’Darius Smith, Sr., Kentucky: The other half of Kentucky's talented end tandem, the 6-6, 264-pound Smith made a big impact a year ago after coming over from junior college. He finished with six sacks and had a sack or tackle for loss in six games. Junior college players typically make a big jump in their second year in the program, which means Smith could really take off in 2014.
Some around the SEC suggested that the defensive line talent in the league might have been down last season.

Only five SEC defensive linemen went in the top four rounds of the 2014 NFL draft, and only two of those were tackles.

But as we look ahead to the 2014 season, there’s a promising crop of young defensive linemen in the SEC, particularly the sophomore class.

Today, we kick off our defensive position rankings with the defensive line. We’ll come back later in the day and rank the top 10 tackles in the league and the top 10 ends.

Here goes:

1. Alabama: The defensive line should be the strength of an Alabama defense that will again be rock-solid. The Crimson Tide are big, physical and deep with some talented players joining the mix. Sophomore A'Shawn Robinson is an absolute beast. Jonathan Allen played in every game last season as true freshman, and D.J. Pettway is back at end after a year at junior college. Brandon Ivory and Darren Lake return at nose guard, and look for Dalvin Tomlinson and Dee Liner to make big impacts as well along with incoming five-star freshman end Da'Shawn Hand. There’s no such thing as being too deep in the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeMontravius Adams
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsSophomore defensive tackle Montravius Adams is one of several talented, young Auburn defensive linemen.
2. Auburn: There’s a bit of an asterisk associated with Auburn’s ranking. Sophomore Carl Lawson would have easily been one of the top defensive ends in the league, but he recently underwent knee surgery, and his status for the season is unclear. But even without Lawson, the Tigers are still extremely talented. Sophomore tackle Montravius Adams is ready to explode after having a big spring. Sophomore end Elijah Daniel also has gobs of talent, while seniors Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson and Jeff Whitaker are back at tackle.

3. Missouri: The Tigers just seem to keep reloading up front defensively despite losing Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and Sheldon Richardson the last couple of years. That shouldn’t change in 2014. Markus Golden and Shane Ray form an imposing defensive end tandem. They combined for 11 sacks last season, and the Tigers also have experience in the middle of that line with Matt Hoch, Lucas Vincent and Harold Brantley returning.

4. Ole Miss: As Hugh Freeze moves into his third season on the job, the hope in Oxford is that the Rebels can make some noise in the West race. They have the depth, talent and experience in the defensive line to make a move. Sophomore tackle Robert Nkemdiche is the most talented of the bunch and primed for a huge season, but there’s also depth inside. If C.J. Johnson stays healthy at end, defensive line should be the Rebels’ strongest position in 2014.

5. Florida: The Gators breed athletic defensive linemen, and junior Dante Fowler Jr. is the next star in the making. He plays the hybrid “buck” position, but will wind up rushing from an end position much of the time. Fellow junior Jonathan Bullard started eight games at end last season and is another guy ready to take off in this defense. Senior Leon Orr is back at tackle, but there’s not much proven depth inside. True freshman Gerald Willis III has a chance to be special and will play immediately.

6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs return three senior starters in their defensive line -- tackles Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones and end Preston Smith. That’s not to mention sophomore Chris Jones, the kind of player who makes everybody around him better. The 6-5, 300-pound sophomore will line up both inside and outside and has star potential. Second-year defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has plenty of pieces to work with up front in what should be Dan Mullen’s best defense yet.

7. LSU: The Tigers are set at end with senior Jermauria Rasco and junior Danielle Hunter, although Rasco missed the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. Sophomore Tashawn Bower should also prosper as a pass rusher in John Chavis’ system. The big question is at tackle, where redshirt freshmen Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain will be counted on to step in and fill the void. Sophomore Christian LaCouture also returns at tackle and had a solid spring. LSU has recruited well up front defensively, and similar to previous years, new playmakers will emerge for the Tigers.

8. South Carolina: Even though he didn’t put up huge numbers last season, Jadeveon Clowney was the cog that made that defense go. Kelcy Quarles will also be a big loss inside, but senior tackle J.T. Surratt is underrated. The Dixon brothers -- tackle Gerald Dixon Jr. and end Gerald Dixon -- are also poised to make big moves this season. Junior college transfer Abu Lamin went through spring practice and will add muscle in the middle. Finding another pass-rusher will be critical. Third-year sophomore Darius English, who’s bulked up to 245 pounds, will be one to watch.

[+] EnlargeSterling Bailey
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesGeorgia needs big things from defensive end Sterling Bailey to help make up for the loss of Garrison Smith.
9. Georgia: The only loss up front for the Bulldogs was senior end Garrison Smith, which was a big one. First-year defensive line coach Tracy Rocker looked at several different combinations this spring. Sterling Bailey and Ray Drew are both back at end, although Rocker demoted Drew this spring for a few practices. It looks like John Taylor and James DeLoach will avoid suspensions after their off-the-field trouble, and both are good enough to push for starting jobs. Chris Mayes, Mike Thornton and Toby Johnson are all nose guard types in the 3-4. Johnson was dominant this spring.

10. Kentucky: It all starts for the Wildcats defensively with their combo on the outside of Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. They combined for 13 sacks last season and complement each other well. Smith, in particular, should be even better in his second season after coming over from junior college. The issue is inside. The top three tackles from a year ago are gone. Junior college transfer Cory Johnson will be key, and it helps that he enrolled early and went through spring practice.

11. Vanderbilt: The Commodores are shifting to a base 3-4 and have stocked up over the last few years with the kind of big, physical defensive linemen you’re accustomed to seeing in the SEC. Sophomore Adam Butler could be one of the breakout players in the league after moving over to defense from offense last season as a redshirt freshman and playing extremely well. Seniors Vince Taylor and Barron Dixon are both 300-pounders with experience, while redshirt freshman Jay Woods has a huge upside.

12. Arkansas: Senior defensive end Trey Flowers is the centerpiece and one of the more accomplished pass-rushers in the league. Third-year sophomore Darius Philon is the Hogs’ best interior lineman after leading all Arkansas tackles a year ago with 46 total tackles. The Hogs need big seasons out of third-year sophomore ends Deatrich Wise Jr., JaMichael Winston and Brandon Lewis. Wise had five sacks in the spring game.

13. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost one of their most promising defensive linemen when sophomore tackle Isaiah Golden was dismissed from the team earlier this month. They were forced to play several younger players last season and took their lumps in what was a forgettable season on the defensive side of the ball. Still, some of those younger players such as sophomore end Daeshon Hall gained valuable experience. They need a big year out of senior end Gavin Stansbury and are hopeful prized freshman signee Myles Garrett can add some pop to the pass rush.

14. Tennessee: The Vols lost six seniors, including all four starters, on their defensive line, which means there will be a lot of new faces playing heavy minutes in 2014. That’s never a good thing in the SEC, especially when you’re particularly thin at tackle. Sophomore end Corey Vereen came on last season after injuring his knee in preseason camp, and Curt Maggitt could end up playing as much end as linebacker. The Vols like the defensive linemen they signed in this class, but having to play so many freshmen so soon up front has a way of catching up to you.
The past two NFL drafts have come and gone without a running back being selected in the first round, which had never happened in the common draft era, which dates to the NFL-AFL merger in 1967.

Teams are waiting until later in the draft to get their running backs, or maybe there simply haven't been any running backs special enough the past two years for a team to feel like it warranted using a first-round pick.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
AP Photo/John RaouxGeorgia RB Todd Gurley has 33 touchdowns in two seasons.
Nonetheless, the fans on the SEC blog have made their choice for next year, and Georgia running back Todd Gurley has been tabbed as the SEC's top pick in the 2015 draft. With more than 8,400 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, Gurley received 32 percent of the vote.

Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi was a close second with 28 percent of the vote. It's getting to the point that we can't have a draft without a Texas A&M offensive tackle going in the first round. Ogbuehi is moving over from right tackle to left tackle to replace Jake Matthews, who was the sixth overall pick this year. Matthews made the same move a year ago to take over for Luke Joeckel, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Alabama receiver Amari Cooper finished third in the poll with 17 percent of the vote followed by Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. with 15 percent and Alabama safety Landon Collins with 8 percent.

Cooper, if he stays healthy, could easily shoot up into top-10 status, especially if he flashes the same kind of production he did as a true freshman. He will be working with a new quarterback, though, as Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is expected to win the job.

The big question with Gurley also is injuries. He was banged up for much of last season. But his size and breakaway speed make him the kind of back NFL teams are looking for.

It's worth noting, though, that LSU's Jeremy Hill has that same kind of size and also showed the ability to break long runs in college and didn't go until the 23rd pick of the second round this year. So we'll just have to see.

Much like Cooper, Gurley was a force as a true freshman. For both players, this is their "money" season.
In the last two NFL drafts, the SEC has produced a staggering 23 first-round selections. This past draft, 10 of the first 23 picks were SEC players.

Already, we're seeing mock drafts for 2015, and the SEC is sure to be well represented again.

SportsNation

Who will be the SEC's highest draft pick in 2015?

  •  
    8%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    32%
  •  
    28%

Discuss (Total votes: 9,203)

Who will be the top SEC player selected next year?

That's your job, so go vote in our SportsNation poll and tell us who will emerge in 2015 as the SEC's highest-drafted player.

That can be a tricky assignment at this point in the year and with so much that can happen between now and the next draft. Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio was thought to be one of the SEC's marquee draft prospects heading into last season and didn't even go in the first round. By contrast, did anybody have Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson going with the No. 2 overall pick this time a year ago? I'm not even sure that thought crept into Robinson's mind last May.

The five candidates we've come up with all made Todd McShay's first mock draft for 2015, and I'm sure there are a handful of players we didn't consider putting on this list who will emerge as legitimate first-round picks.

The five we went with are all poised to have huge 2014 seasons.

Two of them are from Alabama -- safety Landon Collins and receiver Amari Cooper. If Collins does indeed go in the first round, that would mark the fifth time in the last six years that an Alabama defensive back will have gone in the first round. Cooper was slowed by injuries a year ago, but here's betting he returns to his freshman form that made him one of the most dangerous receivers in college football.

If healthy, Georgia's Todd Gurley is the total package at running back, even if running backs don't seem to be going in the first round a whole lot anymore.

Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi has a chance to be the third straight top-10 pick at offensive tackle for the Aggies, while Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. returns as one of the top big-play defensive threats in the league.

Go cast your vote, and we'll go over the results in the coming days.
Here are five matchups to watch when Georgia has the ball in Saturday's game in Jacksonville:

Todd Gurley's impact
[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsDespite an injury-plagued season, Todd Gurley still rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. He also improved as a receiver and had six TD receptions.
How important is All-SEC tailback Gurley to Georgia's offense? He hasn't played in nearly 15 quarters -- since spraining his ankle in the Sept. 28 win against LSU -- and he's still Georgia's leading rusher by more than 100 yards. Gurley (71-450) will return to the backfield against Florida's stout defense, but will he be the same player he was before the injury? He was averaging 112.5 rushing yards per game but has missed three-and-a-half games, and it's only reasonable to expect some rust on Saturday, particularly when the Gators are allowing just 3.7 yards per carry and 100.7 rushing yards per game (second in the SEC).

Thanks in part to injuries up front, they weren't as dominant in their last two games, both losses, allowing 175 rushing yards to LSU and 205 to Missouri. But with a few key faces returning up front -- including defensive tackle Damien Jacobs and possibly outside linebacker Ronald Powell -- Florida should pose a major test to Gurley and Georgia's rushing attack.

Georgia's depleted receiving corps vs. Florida secondary
By this point, anybody who follows Georgia football with even a passing interest knows about the debilitating injuries that struck the Bulldogs' offense over the last month. They have been especially debilitating for a once-explosive receiving corps, which lost Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley to season-ending knee injuries and Michael Bennett and Chris Conley to shorter-term ailments.

Conley is still out, but Bennett should be back from a two-game absence on Saturday, possibly bringing some productivity to a group that has struggled mightily in recent weeks. The Bulldogs passed for just 114 yards in a loss to Vanderbilt, with senior quarterback Aaron Murray failing to complete a pass of at least 20 yards for the first time in his career.

Facing Florida's aggressive secondary is no treat for the Bulldogs' passing game. The Gators surrendered an uncharacteristic 295 passing yards to Missouri in their last game, but with ball hawks like Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and freshman Vernon Hargreaves III leading the charge, Florida leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally in pass defense at 172.4 ypg.

Murray's composure vs. Gators
Murray largely put to rest questions about whether he was a big-game player in nearly flawless performances against South Carolina and LSU earlier this season. A composed performance against Florida on Saturday would place an additional nail in that particular coffin. The Florida native has never gotten off to a great start against the Gators, starting with his very first play as a freshman in 2010 -- when he threw an interception to Florida's Janoris Jenkins. Murray led a comeback to force overtime in that game but threw a back-breaking interception that helped Florida win 34-31 in the extra session. Georgia won each of the last two meetings against the Gators, but Murray was fairly shaky in both, going a combined 27-for-58 for 319 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. Georgia has a chance to build its first three-game winning streak against Florida since 1987-89, but it likely will need Murray to play his best game yet against the Gators for the streak to remain intact.

Will Mike Bobo "let it rip?"
[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
AP Photo/Wade PayneWith a few more weapons to work with, perhaps Aaron Murray and Georgia can open up their offense.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Tuesday that Georgia needs to "let it rip" against Florida's impressive defense. After calling perhaps the most conservative game of his career in the Bulldogs' loss against Vanderbilt, that philosophy might apply to Bobo more than anyone else. The Bulldogs attempted only two passes of 15 yards or more in the loss to the Commodores and played it as close to the vest as possible -- a strategy that blew up in their face when turnovers and a bogus targeting call helped Vandy rally for a late victory.

With Gurley and Bennett back in the lineup, Georgia's offense should have some more punch on Saturday, and that will be necessary against Florida's tough defense. Bobo likely must break out of the conservatism that set in with multiple offensive weapons sidelined and show some aggressiveness if Georgia is to break through against the Gators.

Florida's pass rushers vs. Georgia offensive line
If Powell is able to play on Saturday, that would provide a huge shot in the arm for Florida's pass rush. Powell has Jarvis Jones-like ability, but injuries have been a regular problem for the junior. Even if he doesn't play, Georgia's offensive line -- which has dealt with consistency issues for much of the season -- will have its hands full with buck Dante Fowler Jr., who almost single-handedly kept the Gators afloat against Missouri even when the offense was performing pitifully.

Fowler leads the team with three sacks, eight tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles. He hasn't gotten a ton of help from his comrades up front -- Florida is tied for 10th in the league with 11 sacks -- but getting some line depth back should help. Georgia's line has struggled against speedy edge rushers, particularly in the Clemson and Missouri losses, so keep an eye on the edges Saturday.

SEC players of the week

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
12:35
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The SEC league office announced its top performers for Week 4:

Offense: Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
  • Rushed for career-highs of 184 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries in a 35-21 win over Auburn. He scored touchdowns the first two times he touched the ball – going 49 yards on the first score and then followed that with a 12-yard run on his next carry – both coming in the first five minutes of the game.
  • Scored his third touchdown on a 6-yard run in the third quarter to stretch the LSU lead to 28-7. Added a 54-yard run down to the Auburn 1-yard line early in the second quarter that led to another LSU score and a 21-0 advantage.
  • Averaged 7.4 yards per carry. Hill’s 184 rushing yards were the most by an LSU player since Alley Broussard set the school record with 250 yards against Ole Miss in 2004.
Defense: Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida
  • Forced two fumbles against Tennessee and recovered one.
  • Recorded three tackles (for a total loss of 15 yards) and was the only Gators player to claim a sack on the day.
  • Helped lead the Gators defense as they held Tennessee to just 66 rushing yards.
  • Helped force the Vols to consecutive three-and-outs in the first half.
Special teams: Alan D'Appollonio, LS, Arkansas
  • Made first career reception on fake punt in first quarter at Rutgers.
  • Catch was for 24 yards on fourth-and-6 from Arkansas 49-yard line, extending drive that ended with an Arkansas field goal.
  • Has been perfect on PAT, field goal and punt snaps in 2013.
Freshman: Reggie Davis, WR, Georgia
  • Davis caught the first two passes of his career and finished with 134 yards receiving and a touchdown in the 45-21 victory over North Texas.
  • His first reception was a 98-yard touchdown catch from Aaron Murray. It was the longest offensive play in school history and tied for the third-longest receiving touchdown in SEC history.
  • Davis helped the Bulldogs generate 641 yards on offense against the Mean Green and 35 points or more for the third consecutive game.
Offensive lineman: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
  • Jackson was instrumental in the Bulldogs amassing 551 yards, 235 on the ground, in a 62-7 victory over Troy.
  • The senior guard didn't have a missed assignment and was credited with five pancake blocks.
  • The 551 yards was the 14th-most in school history, and the 45 first-half points were the most in the modern era.
Defensive lineman: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
  • Ealy had perhaps the single biggest individual play of Saturday’s win over Indiana, when with the Hoosiers driving for a potential tying score right before halftime, he jumped to knock down a pass on a third-and-3 at the Missouri 46 with two minutes left. Instead of just knocking the ball down, however, Ealy got the ball to stick in his mitts, and he raced the other way for a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown. That staked the Tigers to a 28-14 lead, and they never looked back.
  • The pickoff was the first of Ealy’s career, and he finished with two total pass break-ups. He also had a solo tackle as the Tigers held the Indiana offense to well below its season averages.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jon Halapio knew Florida was playing host to junior college offensive lineman Trenton Brown on a recruiting visit and he was looking forward to meeting a potential teammate.

He did find it weird, though, that the coaches brought him over to meet Brown’s father.

Then he realized that was Trenton Brown -- all 6-foot-8 and 363 pounds of him.

Trenton Brown
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comHuge offensive tackle Trenton Brown, once committed to archrival Georgia, now figures heavily in Florida's depth chart.
"I thought he was a grown man," Halapio said. "I didn’t think he was a recruit. I thought he was a dad. Seriously. We all thought that. When he walked into the room we were like, ‘Where’s the recruit at?’

"Tallest dude I’ve ever seen in person. I was looking up at him the whole time I was talking to him."

Halapio isn’t exactly tiny, either, but he’s 5 inches shorter and 48 pounds lighter than Brown. But then again, Brown dwarfs everybody else on the roster, too. The Gators’ second-biggest player is freshman offensive lineman Rod Johnson, who is nearly as tall at 6-6 -- but he’s 47 pounds lighter.

Brown, who played the past two seasons at Georgia Military College, might be the biggest player in UF history. He’s certainly the biggest since Max Starks, a 6-8, 345-pound offensive lineman from 2000-03. And everybody, it seems, has a "whoa, this dude is big" moment to share.

"It took us all back," said Tyler Moore, a 6-6, 312-pound offensive tackle. "We all felt like we were in third grade again looking up at a high schooler.

"I’m not used to looking up at guys. I’m used to looking at guys or looking down. I haven’t looked up at somebody in a while."

Said 6-3, 263-pound sophomore buck Dante Fowler: "Trenton Brown is the biggest person I ever saw in my life."

Fowler has spent a lot of time lining up against Brown during practice. He said he has been able to get past Brown with a speed rush – although he said Brown is quicker than most people would think -- but hasn’t had any success with a bull rush.

"Since he’s so big, people kind of [think he’ll have bad] footwork," Fowler said. "He can get off the ball as quick as we can get off the ball. When you see that big body around you, you don’t know what to do. Next thing you know you run into him, and that’s not a good thing to do."

That could lead to one of the worst things Fowler could imagine on the football field.

"I never want Trenton to fall on me," Fowler said. "If he does, I’m pretty sure my body will be imprinted in the grass. I don’t want that to happen."

Brown -- whom a school spokesman said is not allowed to talk to the media until after he plays in a game -- is working exclusively at right tackle. Moore or Chaz Green will be the starter at right tackle, and whichever one doesn’t start will back up D.J. Humphries at left tackle.

Brown is behind the other linemen in terms of fundamentals because he has only been playing football for four years. UF coach Will Muschamp said Brown was a basketball player at Albany (Georgia) Westover and didn’t play football until his junior season.

"He thought he was going to be a basketball player until he started weighing 360 pounds," Muschamp said. "He found out very quickly he might be an offensive lineman."

Muschamp said Brown will play in the Gators’ jumbo package, which uses extra offensive linemen as tight ends, and possibly on the field goal and field goal block teams. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Brown will be a formidable blocker once he has an understanding of the offense.

"He’s got a lot of ability," Pease said. "He’s done a good job. The whole thing’s not thrown at him yet. The recognition of repetition of the same things over and over and over is not totally there. He’s kind of in that same sense a lot of the kids were last year [in the first year of the offense]: ‘Oh, gosh, there’s a new call. This one’s a new call.’

"But he’s getting it, you know, within the lineman’s world. He’s understanding it. When he’s in a one-on-one situation, he’s very talented. He’s big, he’s strong and he can move, so he’s going to be a real good football player."

Maybe even a big-time one.

Muschamp: Bigger is better at UF

August, 16, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida fans better get a good look at senior wide receiver Solomon Patton this season because guys like him are going to be hard to find around here from now on.

Small guys.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Patton doesn’t really fit into coach Will Muschamp’s philosophy that bigger is better. Not just on the line of scrimmage, either. Big receivers. Big defensive backs. Big linebackers.

[+] EnlargeJon Halapio
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackGuard Jon Halapio, at 6 feet 3 and 321 pounds, meets Will Muschamp's size criteria to compete in the SEC.
Size does matter at Florida now. Muschamp believes it’s the best way to have success in the Southeastern Conference.

"This is a big man’s league," he said. "When you go pay to watch a boxing match, you don’t go watch the featherweights fight. You go watch heavyweights fight. This is a heavyweight league.

"So we need have a big, physical team. You can still be really fast, but you better be big and physical if you want to win in this league right now."

Muschamp is in his third season and working on his fourth signing class, and he has certainly made the Gators a bigger, more physical team in that short period of time. To see the difference, look at UF’s roster from 2009. The Gators had five starters or key contributors who were 5-9 or shorter: Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Ahmad Black, Markihe Anderson and Brandon James.

This year’s team has only one starter that small: 5-9 safety Cody Riggs. Patton is a role player (he’s the jet sweep guy) and the shortest player on scholarship is 5-7 freshman running back Adam Lane -- who weighs 222 pounds.

Muschamp’s philosophy goes further than just the size of the players. He wants the bulk of his 85-man roster to be comprised of what he calls big-skill positions: offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends. He wants 50. Right now he has 42 (see breakdown below).

Muschamp wants 15-17 offensive linemen, and the Gators are close to that number. They have five scholarship tight ends, too. The defensive line is where the problem is. The Gators are short on ends, especially speed rushers. There are eight scholarship defensive tackles, but only three have played in a game (Dominique Easley, Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs), and just two bucks (hybrid defensive end/linebacker).

It’ll take at least a couple more signing classes for the Gators to be as stocked along the defensive line as Muschamp would like. Muschamp believes long-term success at Florida -- and therefore the SEC -- depends on beefing up those defensive numbers.

And not just to compete with Alabama and Nick Saban, either.

"When big guys run out of gas, they’re done," Muschamp said. "We don’t ever want our big guys up front to play more than six or eight snaps in a row and have the intensity you’ve got to play with to be successful in this league. So you can’t ever have enough defensive linemen or pass rushers, especially the way the game’s going.

"You look in our league at Missouri and Kentucky and Tennessee, a lot of schools are going to a little bit of a Big 12 model, like Texas A&M, where they’re spreading the field, and you can’t ever have enough guys that can play in space and rush the passer. The most exerting thing in football is rushing the passer. Those guys are battling against a 315-pound guy and trying to push the pocket, so you can’t ever have enough of those guys."

Here’s the breakdown of what Muschamp calls the big-skill players:

Offensive line

Ideal number: 15-17

Number on the roster: 14. Tyler Moore, Quinteze Williams, Rod Johnson, Octavius Jackson, Cameron Dillard, Trip Thurman, Jon Halapio, D.J. Humphries, Jonotthan Harrison, Chaz Green, Max Garcia, Trenton Brown, Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne.

Comment: The Gators will lose four players to graduation but have four offensive line commits for 2014, three of whom weigh more than 300 pounds. The line has gotten bigger, stronger and more physical since Muschamp called them soft at the end of his first season.

Defensive tackle

Ideal number: 8-10

Number on the roster: 8. Damien Jacobs, Joey Ivie, Leon Orr, Darious Cummings, Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley, Antonio Riles, Dominique Easley.

Comment: Not a lot of experience here, but the four freshmen (Ivie, Bostwick, Brantley and Riles) will gain valuable experience as part of the rotation this season.

Defensive ends

Ideal number: 6-8

Number on roster: 4. Alex McCalister, Jonathan Bullard, Jordan Sherit, Bryan Cox.

Comment: Easley also can play end. This is perhaps the most flexible position, with several players having the ability to play inside on passing downs to get the best pass rushers on the field.

Bucks

Ideal number: 4-6

Number on roster: 2. Dante Fowler, Ronald Powell.

Comment: This position also needs to be beefed up quickly, with Powell likely leaving after this year if he has a good season. Some flexibility here, too, because Cox and McCalister could spend time here.

Linebackers

Ideal number: 9-12

Number on roster: 9. Michael Taylor, Matt Rolin, Jeremi Powell, Jarrad Davis, Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens, Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, Antonio Morrison.

Comment: UF has one bona fide stud (Morrison) and a mix of veteran role players and freshmen. McMillian is a player to watch. He could become a starter by midseason. This is an important position group because it produces a lot of special teams players.

Tight ends

Ideal number: 3-5

Number on roster: 5. Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson, Trevon Young.

Comment: A lot of players, but little production so far. Burton, Westbrook and Thompson are mainly blockers, but there’s optimism that Thompson can develop into someone who can work the middle of the field.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- D.J. Durkin enjoys being able to roam.

During his first three seasons at Florida, Durkin coached the Gators’ linebackers. All day. Every day. Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins, Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens, Antonio Morrison. The same faces every day in meetings and on the field.

He was happy doing it, though. Loved it, in fact.

But now that he’s Florida’s defensive coordinator, he’s finding out that he likes moving around the practice field and spending some time with each position group just as much.

"It has been an adjustment," Durkin said. "As a position coach you’re always so locked into your position. Sometimes you have blinders on because you have your concerns about what you need to get corrected and work on in practice.

"I’m really enjoying it. It’s great."

[+] EnlargeD.J. Durkin
Kim Klement/US PresswireNew defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is enjoying his expanded responsibilities.
Durkin is making his debut as a defensive coordinator after being promoted in January when Dan Quinn left for the Seattle Seahawks. Being able to wander the practice field and spend time with defensive linemen and defensive backs is way for the other players to get to know him better, but also for him to become familiar with the players, too.

It’s also allowing Durkin to get a better feel for the defense. As the linebackers coach, he knew the strengths and weaknesses of each of his players. He knew what they could do, how to motivate them, and the roles they could play. Now he’s finding that out about guys such as cornerback Marcus Roberson, defensive end Jonathan Bullard and defensive tackle Leon Orr.

"We’ll do individual drills and we’ll be broken up and I can move a little bit and see some different things," Durkin said. "I’ll see it on tape later but it’s always good to see it on the field and coach guys while we’re out there."

Durkin has been handed a defense that lost five key players in Bostic, Jenkins, safeties Matt Elam and Josh Evans, and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd from a unit that finished fifth nationally in scoring and total defense and fourth in rushing defense. Add in a first-year defensive coordinator and there’s certainly some doubt if the Gators will be able to have similar success in 2013.

"Our biggest thing, our focus, is you start camp right now and you’re a new team," Durkin said. "It’s not about what we did last year or how we did it. It’s what are we going to do and how are we going to do it? I feel really good about the guys we have that are replacing those spots. Although those might be starting positions that are gone, we have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football here. We’re not an inexperienced unit.

"We have guys that played a lot of football that we believe in and I feel really good about how we’ve recruited here the past couple years. Some guys get their chance now."

UF does have one of the country’s better secondaries -- led by projected first-round NFL draft picks Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy -- and should have an improved pass rush thanks to the return of buck Ronald Powell from a torn ACL. Powell was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2010.

That’s a good base upon which to build. But it comes back on the linebackers -- the position that Durkin coaches -- to make significant improvements or the defense could struggle. The Gators won’t have Morrison (suspension) for the first two games UF has only three other true linebackers who have appeared in a game: Ball, Michael Taylor and Kitchens. Powell and Dante Fowler Jr. are hybrid ends/linebackers and will line up at strongside linebacker.

But the group isn’t hurt by Durkin taking the time to roam the field to work with the rest of the defense. Special teams coordinator Jeff Choate also works with the outside linebackers and former Gators and NFL linebacker Mike Peterson is working as an undergraduate student assistant.

"Jeff Choate, who is a great addition for us as a special teams coordinator, also is a great addition for us defensively," Durkin said. "He has a great knowledge of defense and coaching linebackers so at times we can break off the linebackers and he can work with them and that allows me to do other things. That’s been huge for me personally and for our defense I think it’ll make us better."

Florida season preview

August, 14, 2013
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Today we're looking at Florida as the Gators try to follow up a surprising 11-2 season in 2012.

Florida

Coach: Will Muschamp (18-8)

2012 record: 11-2

Key losses: RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, DT Sharrif Floyd, LB Jon Bostic, LB Jelani Jenkins, S Matt Elam, K Caleb Sturgis

Key returnees: QB Jeff Driskel, RB Matt Jones, DT Dominique Easley, buck Dante Fowler, DE Jonathan Bullard, buck Ronald Powell, CB Marcus Roberson, CB Loucheiz Purifoy

Newcomer to watch: LB Daniel McMillian

Biggest games in 2013: at Miami (Sept. 7), at LSU (Oct. 12), vs. Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. (Nov. 2), at South Carolina (Nov. 16), vs. Florida State (Nov. 30)

[+] EnlargeMatt Jones
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesWith a passing offense that ranked near the bottom nationally last season, RB Matt Jones will be a key for Florida in 2013.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: As it has been the past three seasons, the team’s biggest issue is the production from the receivers. The position has woefully underperformed and last year the passing offense ranked 114th nationally. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar has supposedly had a good camp and senior Trey Burton has found a home in the slot, but the key will be the development of the five freshmen. So far, Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood have been impressive and they give the Gators something they haven’t had in a while: the ability to make big plays down the field.

Forecast: Florida is coming off a surprising 11-2 season that was made possible by elite defense and special teams. That will have to be the formula again in 2013 because there are still too many questions about the offense -- and not just at receiver.

Even though they lost three elite players up the middle of the defense in Floyd, Bostic and Elam, the Gators have the potential to be just as good on defense this season as they were in 2012 (fifth nationally in total and scoring defense; fourth in rushing; 17th in passing). An improved pass rush and a secondary that is one of the nation’s best are the top two reasons.

Sophomores Bullard and Fowler played well as freshmen and now have a full season in the weight program behind them. The return of Powell from a torn ACL gives the Gators probably their best pass-rusher back (he led UF with 6.0 sacks in 2011).

But can the defense again carry an offense that lost the two best players from a unit that finished 114th nationally in passing and 103rd overall? The lack of playmakers at receiver has been an issue for the past three seasons and the Gators will need help from several freshmen in 2013. The offensive line is significantly better, especially on the left side with the addition of guard Max Garcia and tackle D.J. Humphries.

The biggest key will be how much Driskel has improved in his second season as a starter and how quickly Jones can recover from a viral infection.

The Gators are struggling to replace Sturgis, the school’s third all-time leading scorer. Not having the luxury of a reliable kicker on a team that struggles to move the ball consistently is an overlooked issue that may cost the Gators games.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive line coach Brad Lawing couldn’t bring Jadeveon Clowney with him when Florida coach Will Muschamp hired him away from South Carolina in January.

But Lawing did bring one of the things that helped Clowney become one of the country’s most feared pass rushers.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesWill Muschamp and his defensive staff are tinkering with the rabbits package, in hopes of improving the Gators' D-line pressure.
It’s called the rabbits package, so named because it was designed to get as many speed rushers on the field as possible. Lawing and South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward developed it during spring 2012 and the Gamecocks used it successfully, racking up 40 sacks during the regular season.

Now Lawing, Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin are tinkering with it as the Gators continue their preseason practices.

"Who will that package be?" Muschamp said. "We’re searching for the right guys. We think we have a pretty good handle on who they may be, but you never know. We’ve got to continue to search through those guys and find your best four rushers, and then who’s five, who’s six, who’s seven?"

Even though Florida’s pass rush was better last season than it had been the previous two (the Gators recorded 30 sacks in 2012, the most since it had 40 in 2009), there’s plenty of room to improve. The Gators appear to have the personnel to be better, especially with the return of redshirt junior buck Ronald Powell, and adding the rabbits package will certainly help.

It’s easy to identify UF’s top four pass rushers: Powell, sophomore Dante Fowler Jr., sophomore Jonathan Bullard and senior Dominique Easley. Powell and Fowler are hybrid defensive ends/strongside linebackers. Bullard is an end and Easley can play both end and tackle. The group, which has a combined 16.5 career sacks, are all starters but also will likely comprise the rabbits package, with Easley moving over to nose tackle.

Bullard and Fowler played key roles as freshmen last season, helping pick up the slack in the rush that was created when Powell (seven career sacks) suffered a torn ACL in the spring game and missed the entire season. Bullard led the team with seven quarterback hurries, while Fowler had 2.5 sacks.

Muschamp said Powell has looked very good in camp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said the pass rush has given the offense trouble.

"They’re very athletic," Pease said. "When you have Easley and Bullard and then you throw in Dante. Now Dante, depending how they use him, he’s such a weapon because he’s a down guy, pass rusher, pass coverage guy, very physical, he’s so heavy-handed. He’s a tough kid to block.

"And then when you throw Ronald in there ..."

Muschamp isn’t sure how much he’s going to use the rabbits package. He said the Gators did a solid job with the pass rush last season and the addition of Powell and the maturation and improvement of Fowler and Bullard should automatically make them better.

Plus, Florida plays mostly man coverage and offenses counter that with six- and seven-man protections to give quarterbacks extra time to throw the ball.

"I think we gave up less explosive plays in the passing game than anybody in the country [last season]," Muschamp said. "I think we gave up less touchdowns than [all but four] teams in the country. So I think we were very efficient in the passing game. And that's not just from a coverage standpoint, that's from a rush standpoint."

But it’s nice to have the package available, especially if it allows the Gators to begin to develop younger players like redshirt freshmen Bryan Cox Jr. and Alex McCalister.

Gator Breakdown: Alex McCalister 

July, 30, 2013
7/30/13
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During the summer, GatorNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Florida roster -- excluding the Gators’ 2013 recruiting class -- in our Gator Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Quinton Dunbar, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 97 Brad Phillips.

No. 95 Alex McCalister
Redshirt freshman buck

Gator Breakdown: Jonathan Bullard 

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
10:00
AM ET
During the summer, GatorNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Florida roster -- excluding the Gators’ 2013 recruiting class -- in our Gator Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Quinton Dunbar, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 97 Brad Phillips.

No. 90 Jonathan Bullard
Sophomore defensive end


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It’s probably hard for Florida fans to admit, but there are players on Florida State’s roster that are better than ones on the Gators roster.

And vice versa, too.

So what if trades could happen in college football? What if UF coach Will Muschamp and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, because of their long-standing friendship, could work something out? You know, during an afternoon at their shared beach house in the Florida panhandle they hammered out a couple of deals to exchange players.

Here are two we think they could work out, and the ramifications for each team:


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