Florida Gators: Mike Gillislee

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.

Countdown to SEC kickoff: 37 days

July, 23, 2013
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We're in the second day of our countdown to the start of the 2013 season and we turn our attention from Alabama to Florida.

The Gators look to take another step under third-year coach Will Muschamp after winning 11 games a year ago. One of the key numbers in doing so: 1,000.
Replacing running back Mike Gillislee won’t be easy for the Gators. He became the first Florida player to rush for 1,000 yards last season since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. The Gators have never produced 1,000-yard rushers in back-to-back seasons. Not even the great Emmitt Smith accomplished that feat. But if Muschamp has his way, that’s about to change. He’s eager to see what sophomore Matt Jones has to offer this season. Jones is 230 pounds and fast, and he also showed this spring that he can be physical. Muschamp said committing to running the football will be a staple of the Florida program as long as he’s running the show. “Mike Gillislee had a fantastic senior season, the first time since 2004 that we’ve had a 1,000-yard rusher at the University of Florida,” Muschamp said. “We don’t want that to be the exception. We want that to be the norm. That’s what we’re gunning for. We’re going to be more of a running back-oriented offense. That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last two years, coming back and changing philosophically what we’ve been before.”

Video: Florida Gators' X factor

June, 28, 2013
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Running back Matt Jones is Florida's X factor for the 2013 season.

GatorNation week in review 

May, 4, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- We are firmly into the college football offseason, but there's still plenty of Gators news ....

Florida nearly tied the school record for most players drafted in a seven-round format. The Gators had eight players selected -- including DTSharrif Floyd (Minnesota) and S Matt Elam (Baltimore) in the first round -- in last weekend's NFL draft. Miami selected three former Gators: LB Jelani Jenkins, RB Mike Gillislee and K Caleb Sturgis. You can find GatorNation's breakdown of UF's draftees here.

Having eight players drafted is more than a confirmation of last season's 11-2 record. It's also a big recruiting tool, and UF coach Will Muschamp hopes to use it to his advantage.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida came close, but the Gators fell one player short of tying the school record for most players taken in a seven-round NFL draft.

It was still an impressive showing. Eight UF players were drafted, the most since nine were taken in the 2010 draft. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam were taken in the first round, giving the Gators multiple first-round picks for the first time since 2010.

Florida’s eight selections was one shy of LSU and Alabama, which led the Southeastern Conference with nine. Georgia also had eight players picked.

Here’s a breakdown of the Gators who were drafted:

DT Sharrif Floyd
First round: No. 23 overall by Minnesota

DT Kevin Williams and NT Letroy Guion are the Vikings’ starters, but Floyd should figure prominently in the rotation. He said he’s eager to learn all he can from Williams, a 10-year vet with 434 tackles and 56.5 sacks. The knock on Floyd is that he doesn’t have long arms, but he does have a quick first step and good speed for a 300-pounder.

S Matt Elam
First round: No. 32 overall by Baltimore

Elam couldn’t step into a better situation. The Ravens lost both starting safeties from their Super Bowl championship team. They released Bernard Pollard (he later signed with Tennessee) and Ed Reed signed a free-agent contract with Houston. Despite not having ideal size (5-foot-10, 208 pounds), Elam is more similar to Pollard than Reed. Elam is physical enough to play the run but also is good enough to cover slot receivers man-to-man.

LB Jonathan Bostic

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Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 13, 2013
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Schedule: The Gators open spring practice today at 4:30 p.m. ET and will conclude the spring with their annual Orange & Blue Debut on April 6 at 1 p.m. ET inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

What's new: Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn left to become the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. Will Muschamp then promoted D.J. Durkin from linebackers/special teams coach to defensive coordinator. Brad Lawing was hired away from South Carolina to help coach Florida's defensive line and was given the title of assistant head coach. Interim wide receivers coach Bush Hamdan was replaced by former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips.

On the mend: Redshirt junior offensive lineman Chaz Green will miss all of spring after undergoing ankle surgery following Florida's bowl game. Redshirt junior defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell will also miss the spring while he continues to rehab his ACL injury that he suffered last spring. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Ian Silberman is out for the spring, as he recovers from shoulder surgery that he had before the bowl game. Freshman linebacker Matt Rolin is also out, recovering from ACL surgery. Senior offensive lineman Jon Halapio (knee scope), senior wide receiver Solomon Patton (broken arm), redshirt junior linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) and punter Kyle Christy (shoulder) will all be limited this spring.

On the move: Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy will start the first seven practices at the "Z" receiver spot. Redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams moved from defensive tackle to offensive tackle. Sophomore Antonio Morrison moved from Will to Mike linebacker, while redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor has moved from Mike to Will. Redshirt freshman Rhaheim Ledbetter moved from safety to fullback. Redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe also moved from linebacker to fullback. Redshirt junior Cody Riggs has moved from cornerback to safety, where he's listed as a starter.

Question marks: Heading into the spring, the biggest questions remain on offense, where the Gators were incredibly inconsistent last year. Workhorse running back Mike Gillislee is gone, and while the Gators should feature a stable of running backs this fall, throwing the ball has to improve or this offense will go in reverse. Quarterback Jeff Driskel says he's more confident and offensive coordinator Brent Pease expects to open things up more in the passing game, but the Gators also have to get better protection up front and develop some more reliable receivers and replace top target, tight end Jordan Reed. Florida's defense has a lot of experienced youngsters, but it won't be easy to replace the production that guys like Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam and Jon Bostic had last year. Florida is also looking for someone to replace kicker Caleb Sturgis. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin and senior Brad Phillips will compete for that spot.

New faces: Rolin, running back Kelvin Taylor, linebackers Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian, defensive lineman Joey Ivie, and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson all enrolled early as true freshmen. Florida also welcomed Nebraska offensive lineman transfer Tyler Moore (sophomore) and junior college transfer Darius Cummings (DT). Offensive lineman Max Garica also transferred from Maryland and sat out last season.

Key battle: Florida has to find a reliable receiving target at either tight end or receiver. The athletic Kent Taylor figures to be the favorite at tight end, but he'll have to compete with Colin Thompson, Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook. At receiver, it's a free-for-all, and there isn't a ton of experience. Purifoy will certainly get his shot, but vets Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose have to make significant strides. So does rising sophomore Latroy Pittman, who fell off last year after a successful spring. Sophomore Raphael Andrades will be back and forth between football and baseball, while Patton will be limited. Keep an eye on Robinson, who was the top receiver in the Gators' 2013 class and is a downfield threat and someone who can be elusive through the middle of the field.

Breaking out: Florida needs to replace Gillislee, and sophomore Matt Jones has already had a solid offseason, according to coaches. He progressed as last season went on and has both speed and strength to work with. The plan is for him to be a 20-plus-carry player this fall. Morrison's role now expands, and after having a very solid freshman year, even more is expected from him now that he's at the Mike. If he improves his coverage ability, he could be a big-time player for the Gators. Also, keep an eye on junior safety Jabari Gorman. He covers a lot of ground and isn't afraid to play in the box.

Don't forget about: Ball and Riggs have dealt with injuries in the past, but as they get healthy, Florida's coaches are excited about what they could do in 2013. Ball will play some Buck and provides Florida with another solid third-down pass-rusher and should help the Gators put more pressure on opposing backfields this fall. Riggs played in just two games last year before fracturing his foot, but he's a very physical defensive back. With his speed, moving to safety should provide him a chance to make more plays in Florida's secondary. He was also the starter at safety when Elam went to nickel last year.
As part of our spring practice preview, each day this week GatorNation will address the five biggest questions facing the Gators. Today we’ll look at whether the offense can make a jump in the second year under Brent Pease similar to what the defense did last season in its second year under Dan Quinn. On Friday we’ll look at the tight ends.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida’s defense was much better in its second season under coordinator Dan Quinn than it was in its first.

The Gators are hoping the offense can make similar improvements in the second year under coordinator Brent Pease. Spring practice will be the first chance to find out.

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Impact early enrollees in the SEC

February, 21, 2013
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Enrolling into college has become a growing trend in college football. Missing prom and Senior Skip Day has become a regular for a lot of high schoolers these days.

In the SEC, getting a high number of early enrollees is becoming more and more of a priority for coaches. This year, all 14 SEC teams had players from their 2013 classes enroll in school early. Georgia leads the SEC with 13, Alabama has nine, and Florida and Texas A&M both have eight. In fact, 73 players from this year's recruiting class enrolled early at SEC schools in this year.

ESPN colleague Travis Haney unveiled his top impact early enrollees Insider from around the country Wednesday, and of his five players who made the cut, three came from the SEC. Well, four, because he said defensive backs Tray Matthews and Reggie Wilkerson would make immediate impacts at Georgia.

Florida running back Kelvin Taylor, who was the nation's No. 1 running back, and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was an ESPN 150 member, also made the list.

Those all make sense. Georgia is basically replacing its entire secondary outside of cornerback Damian Swann, so the Bulldogs will need all the help they can get in the secondary. Florida proved that it could survive -- for the most part -- on a very strong running game last fall, but workhorse Mike Gillislee is gone, so the Gators will need help for Matt Jones and Mack Brown. Taylor is an elusive, physical back who could find himself getting a boatload of carries this fall. And Howard is a real difference-maker at tight end. The Alabama coaches are very excited about his big-play ability and his ability to create a lot of mismatches for defenders.

Haney also gave Tennessee wide receiver Paul Harris the honorable mention nod. Harris comes in at a position of great need, and it will only benefit, well, everyone, having him on campus early.

But what other players who decided to trade in their prom tuxes for shoulder pads could make immediate impacts in the SEC? Glad you asked, because here are some other guys I think you should all keep an eye on:

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SEC sends several RBs to NFL combine

February, 19, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis. Today: Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.

LSU Tigers


Perhaps it says something about LSU's offense in 2012 that among a record 13 players invited to the NFL combine from the Tigers, only two are offensive skill players who are generally considered, at this point, marginal talents. Running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford are the only skill players invited to Indianapolis, which is understandable when one considers LSU was 10th in the SEC in total offense. It's also a sign of youth. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger, fullback J.C. Copeland, running back Jeremy Hill and all of LSU's primary threats at wide receiver will return in 2013.

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We checked on the SEC's 3,000-yard passers from 2012 on Thursday, so we're taking a look at the running backs who hit the coveted 1,000-yard mark last fall.

Last summer, we looked at 10 running backs we thought could eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark. The SEC had four players reach 1,000 yards on the ground in 2011, and had nine, including Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, in 2012. I thought it was supposed to be the Year of the Quarterback?

Here's how the 10 running backs we looked at last year did in 2012:

1. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia: Well, maybe if he actually played a down for the Bulldogs this year he might have had a chance to reach 1,000 yards. Instead, Crowell was dismissed before the season and spent 2012 rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns at Alabama State.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas: Davis said he was 100 percent after missing all of 2011 with an ankle injury, but he never displayed the explosiveness and strength that made him a star in 2010. Davis was still hesitant at times and carried the ball only 112 times for 377 yards and two touchdowns.

3. James Franklin, Missouri: His laundry list of injuries and a banged-up offensive line didn't really help the dual-threat quarterback when it came to running the ball. A year removed from almost getting to 1,000 yards, Franklin rushed for just 122 yards and averaged 1.4 yards per carry in the process.

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Florida Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There is very little middle ground when it comes to evaluating Florida’s 2009 17-member signing class.

Eight became starters, seven turned into busts and two others are role players -- including one who has driven two separate coaching staffs crazy. Seven of those starters have done so for multiple seasons.

That’s not a bad ratio. Most coaches would be ecstatic if 50 percent of every signing class developed into starters, even if it also meant half weren’t going to make much impact, if any, on the program.

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Signing day primer: Florida 

January, 23, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There are just a couple of short weeks remaining until national signing day, and the Florida Gators have met a majority of their recruiting needs. With graduation, transfers and players leaving for the NFL draft, there are a few areas Florida head coach Will Muschamp would still like to shore up.

Key holes to fill

The Gators lost key personnel along the offensive line, wide receiver, linebacker, running back and secondary and are hoping to replenish their talent with junior college transfers and incoming freshmen.

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Jimbo Fisher, Will Muschamp USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesCoaches Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp led their respective teams to double-digit wins in 2012.
The good ol' days returned to the Sunshine State in 2012, as both Florida and Florida State were nationally relevant again. Both teams finished ranked in the AP Top 10 for the first time since the 2000 season as Florida State won 12 games, and Florida won 11.

But who had the better season? Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi asked that question earlier this week. Now, SEC blogger Edward Aschoff and I are here to settle the debate once and for all.

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It's now or never for Jeff Driskel

January, 10, 2013
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If Jeff Driskel is really going to lead the Florida Gators, the time officially is now.

With Jacoby Brissett deciding to transfer, Driskel can now call this his team. There's no more looking over his shoulder, and his teammates can stop wondering if there will ever be a quarterback controversy. This is Driskel's team, and if he's going to actually lead this group, he has to step up now and take control this spring.

All season, you never really knew what to expect from Florida's offense because you never really knew what Driskel would do. Would he look like the razor-sharp passer who picked apart Tennessee's secondary? Or would he look like the wide-eyed piñata from the Georgia game?

But it's hard to get into much of a rhythm when your line is inconsistent in pass protection and you have one real receiving threat in the form of tight end Jordan Reed. That line will look a lot different in 2013, Reed is gone, and neither A.J. Green nor Julio Jones is walking through that orange-and-blue door.

The departure of Brissett could actually help Driskel and this offense almost immediately. Yes, his absence leaves the Gators with no real experience behind Driskel, but for the first time in a long time, Florida's receivers will be able to develop some real chemistry with Driskel. They couldn't do that during the spring, summer or fall with Driskel competing with Brissett. The team didn't even know who its starting quarterback would be until Week 2, and after Driskel's struggles, chances are that they still weren't sure who would be the guy.

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What we learned in the SEC bowls

January, 9, 2013
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Now that the bowl season is over, it's time to take a look back at what we learned in the SEC during the postseason:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesNick Saban and Alabama will be among the favorites to win the national title again next season.
1. It really is Alabama's world: For the second straight year and for the third time in four years, Alabama took home college football's crystal hardware. After the first 15 minutes of the Discover BCS National Championship, it didn't even look like No. 1 Notre Dame deserved to be on the same field as the Crimson Tide. Alabama wore down the Irish defense in the first half, and its defense tormented Notre Dame's offense for about 90 percent of Monday night's game. Nick Saban didn't have his most talented team, but he had his squad way more prepared than Brian Kelly did. Saban's way of making sure his players approach every game the same way proved to be excellent again. Notre Dame was completely overmatched, and with the talent coming back in 2013, Alabama should again be the favorite to win it all. Three-peat?

2. The SEC's dominance is still being challenged: Even though Alabama brought home the SEC's seventh straight BCS title, the SEC's perception is still being challenged. Social media has been buzzing with chants of "overrated" directed toward the SEC because Mississippi State, LSU and Florida all fell flat in their bowl games. Mississippi State lost by 14 to Northwestern, LSU lost to Clemson on a last-second field goal and Florida was run ragged by Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Heading into bowl season, Florida and LSU weren't expected to lose, but they got away from their ground games and paid for it dearly. Still, the SEC went 6-3 (.667) in bowl games, including Texas A&M's 41-13 rout of Oklahoma in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and Georgia and South Carolina downing Big Ten teams. Only the WAC (2-0) and C-USA (4-1) had better winning percentages, and neither had nearly as many bowl teams. So is the SEC down? Well, while the SEC took a couple of bad losses in bowl season, seven teams finished the year in the Associated Press Top 25, including five in the top 10. The Big Ten and Big 12 had losing bowl records, the Pac-12 went 4-4 and the ACC was 4-2. So, if the SEC is overrated, what are the other conferences?

3. Florida's offensive issues are still a major problem: All season, we wondered what we'd see from Florida's offense. However, for 11 games, even if the offense came up short, the Gators found ways to win. Against Louisville, the Gators went in reverse and never got right again. Jeff Driskel threw a pick-six on the first possession, and the offense imploded from there. Mike Gillislee, who was easily Florida's best offensive weapon, carried the ball just nine times. The Gators panicked, but when they had to pass, they couldn't.

This has to be a major concern for the Gators going forward, because Gillislee is graduating and tight end Jordan Reed declared for the NFL draft. Driskel has to find some major help in the passing game this spring/summer, or Florida's offense will get pummeled again. Driskel's health is now a major concern because backup Jacoby Brissett is transferring, leaving the Gators with no experience behind Driskel.

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