Gator Chomp: Coach Mac and Company Doing Work, Pick Up Two More 2016 Commitments



The Florida Gators new coaching staff hosted their first junior day of the 2016 recruiting cycle on Saturday and it has already paid dividends. The Gators picked up two commitments, first from Jacksonville (FL) Raines DE Jaquan Bailey and then followed by Cocoa (FL) CB Chauncey Gardner.

Bailey, rated a three star player by 247sports, is an under the radar type player at this point. He’s raw but athletic and is very versatile equally adept at playing with his hands down at defensive end or dropping into coverage as an outside linebacker.

 At 6-2 235 he’s somewhat undersized but has a good frame to add weight. Despite his smallish stature he projects more as a weak side defensive end at Florida. 

He’s a high school teammate of current Gator wide receiver commit Rick Wells who was also visiting this weekend and certainly that had to help the Gators.

Bailey came to Florida this weekend without a Gators offer but committed once he received news of the offer.

http://youtu.be/vQR4wDplcUg

Gardner (6-0 194) is a former Gator commit who backed off his pledge just before signing day for the 2015 cycle. He cited the lack of knowledge of the new staff as his reason for opening up his commitment at the time.

The new staff has done a great job getting back in on his recruitment and after securing a visit this weekend they were able to coax him into recommitting to the Gators. 

With #1 corner Vernon Hargreaves expected to leave for the NFL draft after next season, it’s important the Gators sign 2-3 top corner prospects this cycle. Gardner fits that bill as he is a Rivals Top 100 player and a consensus four star prospect. 

http://youtu.be/3JVtQKdF0a8

With the two today, the Gators now have five commitments overall for the 2016 class. The Gators, who start spring practice next week, will be hosting a large contingent of top prospects over the next couple weeks so expect to see a few more commitments coming in soon.




Advertisements

Gator Chomps: Coaching Rumor Mill, Randy Shannon to UF?

IMG_0999.JPG

For new Florida Gators head football coach Jim McElwain, the process of filling out his staff has been slow and methodical. His first hire was defensive coordinator Geoff Collins who held the same position at Mississippi State. Next came the all important offensive coordinator filled by former Alabama and Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

Outside of those two positions, the next most important coaching hire is the recruiting coordinator. For this job you want a guy who has proven recruiting skills and connections in key recruiting areas.

For McElwain and the Gators, that guy appears to be former Miami head coach Randy Shannon. Shannon spent the last two seasons coaching linebackers at Arkansas. Now he is expected to accept a position on Coach Mac’s staff as linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.

Shannon was a starting linebacker for the 1987 national champion Hurricanes and spent his entire coaching career there before stepping down as head coach after the 2011 season. He is considered to be a strong position coach and should help mentor young talented linebacker corps.

Perhaps more important for the Gators, however, is his recruiting prowess and his significant ties to the recruiting hotbed of south Florida, particularly in Dade and Broward counties. The Gators have fallen significantly behind the other state schools, FSU in particular, as far as recruiting top in-state talent and bringing Shannon in should help reverse that trend.

To this point, nothing official has come from the university but we will update that as soon as it does.

The biggest question with Shannon coming in as recruiting coordinator is what does that mean for Travaris Robinson? T-Rob, as he is known by fans, was reportedly mulling competing offers from Auburn and Florida. With him coaching defensive backs he could very well stay on staff along with Shannon which would be an even bigger coup for the Gators. T-Rob also is considered an ace recruiter with significant south Florida ties. The two together might create a recruiting juggernaut for the Gators.

The hiring of Shannon, however, may very well indicate that T-Rob had already informed Coach Mac he intends to leave for Auburn as was previously reported by Booger McFarland.

Stay tuned to Swamp Music for more Gator Chomps and the latest on the UF coaching rumor mill.

Gator Chomps: Two-Quarterback System, Will Muschamp’s Hot Seat, Brandon Powell Shows Out, Taylor’s Brouhaha

True freshman quarterback Treon Harris will see playing time vs MIssouri along with Jeff Driskel.

True freshman quarterback Treon Harris will see playing time vs MIssouri along with Jeff Driskel.

The Florida Gators suffered a tough loss to LSU in the Swamp on Saturday night on a last second 50 yard field goal. In a game where the Gators had every opportunity to win, once again they found a way to lose with quarterback Jeff Driskel throwing a horrible interception as the Gators were driving in an attempt to break a 27 all tie with under a minute to play.

With the loss, embattled head coach Will Muschamp’s coaching seat only got hotter, especially with disgruntled fans who are tired of seeing the team make the same old mistakes.

Similarly, the cries from those same fans for starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to be benched in favor of true freshman Treon Harris only got louder in the aftermath of Saturday night.

On the Muschamp front, fans have taken to Twitter and sports message boards to not only vent their frustration but also to discuss possible replacements. While the usual names get bandied about, the fan favorite at this point comes from an unlikely place: Mississippi State.

That’s right, Bulldogs head coach and former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen is the guy that would likely top a fan poll of a replacement coach were Muschamp to be fired. While it may not seem too out there considering he did win two national titles as OC under Urban Meyer at Florida, his career record at MSU coming into this season was only 36-28 and he was considered to be on the hot seat himself.

One fan has even gone so far as to start a website called wewantdan.com dedicated to giving all the reasons why Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley should hire Dan Mullen.

For those longing to see Dan Mullen or anybody else coaching the Gators next season, it’s time to come back down to earth. For one, Mullen likely will parlay the Bulldogs’ great season and rise to a number one national ranking into a lucrative contract extension. The days of the Gators stealing coaches from schools like MSU are over. Over bloated fan expectations and short leashes certainly do not help. Besides, Gator fans weren’t exactly heaping high praise on Mullen when he was here the first time.

Secondly, and more importantly, to paraphrase an old saying, the news of coach Muschamp’s demise are greatly exaggerated. In other words, Will isn’t going anywhere, this season or next. That is short of a total collapse.

According to Zach Abolverdi, the Gators recruiting beat writer for the Gainesville Sun, Foley confided in a Gator commit that there are no plans to can Muschamp.

As far as those calling for true freshman Treon Harris to take over as starting quarterback in place of Jeff Driskel, the news is more mixed. During Muschamp’s Monday media session, he announced that the Gators will work with a two-quarterback system moving forward.

For this week’s home game versus SEC East division foe Missouri, Jeff Driskel will once again start, to many fans dismay, but Treon will definitely play.

“They both will play this week, and we’ll work through the week, and we’ll see how things go and we’ll see how it goes from there,” Muschamp said, “Right now, Jeff [Driskel] will probably start, but they’re both going to play.”

It remains to be seen, however, exactly how this platoon system will actually work. Will they alternate series? Will Treon have specific number of series. What if Jeff gets off to a good start, will Treon actually get some time or will they stick with Driskel? If he struggles once again, how quickly will the staff make the change? Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper admitted on Tuesday that they haven’t yet decided how to implement the dual qb system.

“We haven’t decided on how it’s exactly going to go yet.”

Even Driskel himself is unsure of exactly how it will work.

“I’m not sure how it’s going to shake out but if it’s best for the team then I’m for it,” Driskel said on Monday.

For his part, this is uncharted waters for Jeff but he’s confident it will work.

“No, I never have [played in a two quarterback system],” Driskel said. “But it’s worked for a lot of people so there’s nothing to say that it won’t work for us.”

The purpose of going to a two quarterback scheme at this point is simple. The staff wants to find a spark to jump start a struggling offense that has shown some signs of life at times but has been erratic and inconsistent.

“I think the goal is to score points, to win games,” Roper said. “So it’s simply decisions being made to find a way to put points on the board.”

What does Jeff think about the plan to split playing time with Harris?

“Treon and I are both going to work hard this week,” Driskel said. “We’re both going to work for each other. We’re both going to hope that the other person does well when they’re in. Obviously that’s something that we think that can help the team so if it’s going to help the team I’m all for it.”

“Believe it or not I’m not worried about me, I’m worried about the team. I want the team to play well, and if it’s [two quarterback system] going to help the team play well, I’m all for it.”

Despite his erratic play this season and very vocal opposition from the fan base, Jeff remains confident in his ability to lead the team.

“Just because I haven’t made all the plays I would have liked to this year doesn’t mean I’m not confident,” he said. “I’m still confident in my ability, confident in what I can do and what I can do for this team. I don’t think my confidence has ever been shaken.”

Although Treon Harris is only a true freshman, Muschamp has expressed confidence in his abilities.

“[Treon’s] a guy that has shown the ability to make some plays,” he said. “You take the ball in the right spots, accurate with his passes, has a certain confidence about him.”

“In practice, that’s something that really jumps out at you. It’s his playmaking ability to be able to make those things happen.”

Roper was very succinct in his appraisal of what Harris offers.

“The best way I can say it is he finds a way to make plays. He seems to be a playmaker.”

“He is a guy that can run the football and is good in space and you saw that in the Tennessee game,” Roper added.

And it was very apparent during the Tennessee game where Harris came on in relief of an ineffective Driskel to lead the team to a come from behind victory that he provided an emotional spark to the stagnant offense. Perhaps the bigger question is what effect a two quarterback system might have on the team and it’s psyche. Will it cause dissension among the players similar to what happened two years ago when Jacoby Brissett was battling with Driskel for the starting spot? Jeff doesn’t think so.

“We’re confident in Treon but I think the guys are confident in me as well,” Driskel said. “So it’s not going to be something that’s going to divide the team or anything like that. We have mature guys that can handle it.”

With Harris missing all of last week due to a suspension while he was being investigated for a sexual battery accusation before the accuser withdrew the complaint, will that set him back any as far as being ready to play this week against Missouri?

“It’s tough,” Driskel said. “But in college football there’s so much game plan[ning] that’s specific for one team, so I think that he’ll be fine with a full week of preparation for Missouri.”

Roper made it clear he understands the challenge of preparing Harris for game action despite missing a week of practice.

“We’ve got to make up some ground obviously but I think we’ve got time to do that,” Roper said. “We got him back really yesterday. He did some good things, did some bad things. It wasn’t his best day of practice that he’s had. He’s a guy I enjoy coaching because he goes out there to get better every day. Works hard and great effort.”

“The challenge is what is he capable of being successful with and try to put him in those situations as much as we can.”

Muschamp believes Harris will be ready to play and thinks his teammates have confidence in him as well.

“He’s got a certain persona about himself. That’s why in his last two years at Booker T. he was 30-0. That tells you something about him. He’s a winner. He certainly has a persona about him.”

True Freshman Brandon Powell continues to impress the Gators coaching staff.

True Freshman Brandon Powell continues to impress the Gators coaching staff.

Another true freshman that Muschamp has a lot of confidence in is running back Brandon Powell. He got a lot of touches last Saturday against LSU in both the running game and passing game and is expected to see more against Missouri.

“Brandon Powell obviously is a playmaker,” Muschamp said. “He plays extremely well in space,” He’s very reliable in protection. He catches the ball extremely well. He’s a very smart football player.”

With nine total touches (3 rushes, 6 receptions) for 72 total yards, Powell was featured in the LSU game more than any other player not named Jeff Driskel. It was by design and the results were undeniable.

“I thought Brandon made a lot of plays as the game went on,” Roper said.

He was even head scratchingly utilized on an inside zone run down on the goal line despite his smallish stature (listed as 5-9 177) leaving much bigger backs Kelvin Taylor,  Mack Brown, and Hunter Joyer on the bench.

“We ran inside zone,” Roper explained when asked about why they ran Powell on the goal line rather than putting some bigger backs into the lineup. “Brandon Powell is a little lighter physical guy, tough guy. We felt really good with the ball in his hand. He had been playing a lot of football. He had been in on that series and made some plays so that was the decision that we made at that point to put it in his hands. So we felt pretty confident we knew what we were going to get schematically and it was what we felt was our best thought was at that point.”

Jeff Driskel is very impressed with Powell’s ability despite being a true freshman and Gators fans can certainly expect to see more and more of him as the staff looks for ways to continue getting him the ball in space.

“He’s a really smart football player,” according to Jeff Driskel. “Understands what we’re doing. He has great hands out of the backfield. He’s always going to be in the right position. He’s a good player, obviously he needs to develop more, but he’s somebody that we’re confident in when he’s back there.”

While Powell was featured in the offense against LSU, another player, sophomore Kelvin Taylor, spent much of the game sitting on the bench despite starting the game at running back, much to the dismay of many Gator fans. He finished the game with 2 carries and zero yards.

Taylor himself appeared to be a little upset about his lack of playing time. Shortly after the game a firestorm was started on Twitter after Taylor retweeted a couple of fan tweets about lack of playing time and possibly transferring as a result. Those have since been removed but can be seen on a screenshot Tweeted by Zach Abolverdi.

Roper explained on Tuesday why Taylor saw limited action.

“We had a protection issue early in the game, in those situations it affects thought process through the game.”

The protection issue referred to was a third down play on the Gators opening drive when Taylor was slow reacting to an edge blitzer to his right and he ended up running into Driskel as he was throwing the ball to an open receiver in the blitzer’s vacated zone. The ball fell incomplete and stopped a promising drive.

“Kelvin’s got to do a better job of recognizing the SAM’s coming and get over there faster and manage that,” Roper commented. “We felt like we had a good chance to convert a third down right there.”

The issue was actually discussed in this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback Post on Swamp Music.

While Taylor has been a favorite since committing to the Gators two years ago and may very well be the Gators best pure running back, he continues to have issues with protection that make it difficult for the staff to have confidence in him.

“He is really good with the ball in his hand,” Roper said. “There’s no doubt about that. He’s a guy that when you hand it to him he does a good job but you’ve got to be able to manage the rest of the package.”

“It’s not just about carrying the ball,” Muschamp reiterated. “There’s protection and there’s a lot of things that are involved with being a running back and those are things to me.”

And oddly it’s the other “things” that have given the true freshman Powell a leg up over sophomore Taylor in terms of playing time of late.

“[We are] utilizing the running back as a pass catcher in a lot of situations, and Brandon’s a guy that’s got really good hands and he’s a guy that we trust a little bit more in the passing game, which he showed you he’s very good at that end in space.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gator Chomps: Florida Circles the Wagons, Driskel Gets Reprieve, Defense Shows Improvement

A new weekly series highlighting news, notes, and tidbits on Florida Gator football.

With Treon Harris suspended, quarterback Jeff Driskel holds the starting spot by default. (USATSI)

With Treon Harris suspended, quarterback Jeff Driskel holds the starting spot by default. (USATSI)

In the wake of the Treon Harris suspension, one person stands to benefit: quarterback Jeff Driskel. While it’s unlikely that he would have been benched prior to the suspension, he was likely looking at splitting time with true freshman Harris. Many fans felt he was headed towards losing his spot altogether.

Now he has a reprieve.

“Well, Jeff [Driskel] will start the game,” head coach Will Muschamp said on Wednesday. “Jeff was going to [start], no question. We had not made a decision off the last game about who would start the game. Jeff was going to play in the game, I do know that.”

The biggest question now for Gator Nation is how will he respond to the new lease on life?

“Jeff’s a tough young man,” Muschamp said. “He’s resilient. I met with him Sunday and I talked to him after the game and talked to him Monday. He understands the situation. He needs to play better. He takes full responsibility to be the quarterback at the University of Florida. The way he has handled this has been outstanding.”

While receiving the brunt of fan criticism, Driskel still appears to have the confidence of the coaching staff. They feel like they just need to get his confidence up to perform at the level they feel he’s capable.

“I think we’ve taken a lot of the positive things we’ve done within his career here at the University of Florida, which there’s been a lot,” Muschamp said of Driskel. “Played in some big games. Played in a big game against LSU here two years ago and won and made some plays in that game that helped us. Those are all things that we’ve tried to accentuate at this time, and that’s what we’re doing.”

So now rather than opening up a competition for the starting job, the battle will be for the back up slot.

“As we continue to practice today and tomorrow, right now Skyler [Mornhinweg] and Will [Grier] are swapping the reps with the second group,” according to Muschamp. “We’ll make the decision game time.”

With Treon Harris suspended, Will Grier's redshirt will be burned and he will be the Gators back up qb moving forward.

With Treon Harris suspended, Will Grier’s redshirt will be burned and he will be the Gators back up qb moving forward.

Grier, for his part, appeared headed for a redshirt season but now that appears to be off the table.

“We hadn’t really made a decision [concerning a redshirt for Grier] considering the length we still had to go in the season,” Muschamp said. “So, you know, we had not had that discussion as far as a redshirt at that time. Given the situation of having two guys that had played to that point in the season, that’s probably where we were headed. Certainly given the situation right now, obviously not.”

Mornhinweg was pressed into action at the end of last season after losing both Driskel and backup Tyler Murphy and it wasn’t very pretty. Considering that and the fact that Skyler’s skill set isn’t exactly suited for this offense, expect Grier to be the backup and expect to see him get some game reps in spots as well moving forward.

While most of fan criticism this season has focused on Jeff Driskel’s apparent struggles, Muschamp has been quick to note the poor play from his receivers as well.

“Yeah, fifteen drops at the position…” Muschamp quickly pointed out when asked about the receiver’s struggles thus far.

“It’s amazing what confidence can do for you as an athlete. I look at the situation with the receivers, we’re trying to get some things going in the throwing game. We drop a slant on the first drive. It’s like the air comes out of you a little bit. We’ve got to overcome those situations. We’ve got to finish on some plays. We’ve got to be able to place the ball on 3rd and 6 to an out route, to a tight end on the money. There’s a lot of things involved in it, but I think from a standpoint of us making some plays, creating some confidence for our guys right now, it’s critical.”

Other than in the Kentucky game where Demarcus Robinson had 15 catches for over 200 yards, Gator receivers have been fairly pedestrian. They’ve been plagued by inopportune drops, poor route running, and mental mistakes which have killed drives and magnified Driskel’s struggles. This unit must play better if the Gators hope to have any shot of winning the SEC east.

“We took about 15 plays from the [Tennessee] game and illustrated that to our players, and not to defend Jeff, but to defend the quarterback position,” Muschamp said about the receiving corps. “People around him need to execute better and take ownership in what they need to do better. You’ve got 15 drops at the receiver position in four games. That’s a bunch. You want to talk about confidence and timing, and getting things going. Those are things we’ve addressed within the ownership in the position. Take ownership in your play and how you play and how you perform instead of pointing a finger at somebody else, which is the easiest thing to do and what we do in our society in most situations.”

The offense does get a shot in the arm this week with the return of two true freshmen, slot receiver C.J. Worton, an active playmaker with great hands, and running back/B position/slot receiver Brandon Powell who’s quickness and athleticism make him a match up problem for linebackers, nickel backs, and safeties.

“C.J. [Worton] will be more involved in the slot this week,” according to Muschamp. “He’ll play in the slot. Absolutely. He’s a good football player and it’s good to get him back. He will play Saturday.”

Muschamp added, “Brandon Powell, getting him back and using him in some different roles will be very good for us. We wanted to expand his role in the off week, and we were unable to when he pulled his hamstring. But he looks great.”

Matt Jones has played very well for the Gators this season and is firmly entrenched as the starting running back. (media.naplesnews.com)

Matt Jones has played very well for the Gators this season and is firmly entrenched as the starting running back. (media.naplesnews.com)

One player who hasn’t struggled this season is junior running back Matt Jones who had another 100 yard game against Tennessee and has continued to separate himself from Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown. He’s played very strong in his return from a season ending knee injury last year. He appears to get stronger as the game goes on and that helps get the play action and zone read going as well.

“I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone in that ballgame Matt Jones gets heavy as the game goes and he ran extremely well,” Muschamp said.

However, Jones has been dealing with some knee swelling this week and is listed as a game time decision. Muschamp feels good about depth at the position with Taylor, Brown, redshirt freshman Adam Lane, and Powell.

“I’ve got confidence in Kelvin [Taylor}. I’ve got confidence in Mack Brown,” Muschamp said.

“And they’re both competitive guys and they both want to play, but there’s one ball.”

“Adam Lane has been over repping with our guys the last couple of days just in case, a guy that I have tremendous confidence in as well. Talk about a hard guy to tackle, a low center of gravity, a strong, tough back who catches the ball well out of the backfield. And then you add Brandon Powell to the mix, a guy who’s going to get some snaps Saturday in some different roles. So we’re excited about that position.”

Another unit that has played well, perhaps somewhat surprisingly considering depth and injury issues, is the offensive line. A unit that has been much maligned the last few seasons it has quietly become a strength as the season has progressed.

While they haven’t been mistake free, particularly in blitz pick up at times, they have been fairly solid especially in the run game. Max Garcia has really stepped up and played well moving over to center this season and redshirt freshman Rod Johnson has impressed stepping into the lineup at right guard. Starting left guard D.J. Humphries struggled a little in his return from injury against Tennessee but that appears to be more rust than anything which should cause alarm for fans.

“I’ve been pleased with his [Humphries’] practice so far this week,” Muschamp said. “Chaz [Green] played well at right tackle. Rod [Johnson] gave up one thing on an inside stunt that was a critical play for us there in the game, but continues to improve and get better. He’s going to continue to take steps forward and be a very valuable member of our offensive line. David Sharpe continues to improve, so we feel pretty comfortable where we are as we move forward this season, especially when you get in this run in the season where there are going to be some injuries and things that happen. Right now Trip [Thurman] has done some nice things, Tyler [Moore]. Trenton [Brown] played his best game Saturday and Max [Garcia] is playing extremely well for us at center.”

Outside of Jones, the Gators are as healthy offensively as they’ve been all season. Perhaps a return home to the Swamp against a young, reeling LSU team will be cathartic for these Gators and help to jump start the offense.

Defensively, the Gators improved dramatically against Tennessee from how they played against Kentucky and Alabama. The defense, without starting defensive tackle Leon Orr and linebacker Michael Taylor, held the Tennessee rushing game in check (28 total yards rushing including sacks), kept constant pressure on quarterback Justin Worley sacking him 5 times, forcing two awful interceptions, and a game changing fumble, and held the Vols to only 3 field goals total allowing the struggling Gators offense to make a late game charge to victory.

“Defensively, it was a total team effort,” Muschamp said of the win over Tennessee. “We had eight red zone snaps, had negative 11 yards, three incompletions, an interception and a sack, so I think our guys played extremely well. We made it a one-dimensional game, we were able to get pressure on the quarterback with four guys rushing, three guys at times. We picked our spots to pressure and I thought D.J. [Durkin] did a good job and our defensive staff.”

Junior starting Buck end Dante Fowler was his usual disruptive self, but it was a youth movement that really stood out on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore Bryan Cox, Jr. got his first start at defensive end in place of Jonathan Bullard, who slid inside to replace injured Leon Orr, and had a monster game with three sacks and five solo tackles. He stayed in the Tennessee backfield all day and helped the Gators finally generate a consistent pass rush with their three and four down lineman.

“Bryan Cox had a great day,” Muschamp said of his performance against Tennessee. “Bryan went through a very tough time with his grandfather last week and managing that situation.”

True freshman corner Jalen Tabor had a monster game in his first start opposite Vernon Hargreaves III.

True freshman corner Jalen Tabor had a monster game in his first start opposite Vernon Hargreaves III.

Not to be outdone, true freshman Jalen Tabor got his first start at corner opposite All American Vernon Hargreaves III and had a monster game as well with five tackles (4 solo), 1 tackle for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, and a pass break up. The staff has been looking for someone to step up at corner since losing three of their top four after last season. Looks like Tabor may have won the job. For now that is.

“Jalen Tabor, for a freshman, had an outstanding, for any player, had an outstanding game,” Muschamp said of his performance against the Vols.

Adding, “I hope he’s that productive [against LSU]. That would be nice, but not many times are you going to come off the edge on a blitz and nobody blocks you. He played the deep ball well. We outnumbered them in the box and they took a shot at the end zone in the red zone. I thought he made a really nice play against a very good player and a very good throw. He had a couple opportunities to defend balls. The first third down I thought was a very good play, outstanding coverage. I think he’s a guy who just continues to improve. That’s the natural progression of a young player. I want to see improvement week to week, really day to day. And that’s where I think I see him headed.”

Another true freshman who’s playing well has been Duke Dawson who has been splitting time at safety, nickel, and dime so far this season.

“One of the hardest things for a young player to understand is the importance of practice,” Muschamp responded when asked specifically about Dawson and Tabor. “They’ve been better than anyone they’ve ever played against, so they didn’t have to work hard in practice and they can show up for the game and flip it on and everything works and goes well for them. That’s not the way it works at this level.”

” In Duke’s case especially, he has practiced better. He has come out and has had consistently good practices to build confidence to put himself in that situation too, and I thought he played well. He did some nice things. There are some things we need to clean up, but for a first start on the road in that environment against a pretty good throwing football team, I was proud of him.”

Longtime Gator sports announcer Larry Vettel was impressed enough by the play of Dawson and Tabor to tweet the following:

Redshirt freshman safety Keanu Neal also continues to impress in his first season as a starter consistently making big hits and big plays including the game sealing interception against Tennessee as they were driving late with the Gators clinging to a 10-9 lead.

In his media session on Wednesday Muschamp singled out Neal as a Ball Hawk Award winner, calling him a guy

“who continues to play outstanding football. The interception at the end was a big time play,” Muschamp said.

One player who has struggled much so far this season has been junior safety/nickle back Marcus Maye. He’s had numerous issues and breakdowns covering the slot receivers. His poor play continued into the first half against Tennessee leading ESPN recruiting analyst Derek Tyson to tweet:

“Marcus Maye has no business covering slot receivers. Ever”.

The tweet has since been deleted.

Maye did recover, however, to have a much better second half against Tennessee even being credited by coach Muschamp on Wednesday.

“Well I think in four games [Marcus Maye] did play his best ballgame [against Tennessee],” Muschamp said. “We lost our eyes in a situation where we always tell our players in an injury situation, stay down. We had a substitution deal on the wheel route on their sideline and that wasn’t all Marcus’ fault. We had two situations where we should’ve slid the defender underneath and forced the ball high. And two of them were pretty good throws.”

“Now the interception to end the game, Keanu Neal is going to get the credit for it but [Marcus] is in underneath coverage in what we call a trail position, which elevates the ball and Keanu has an opportunity to intercept it and that’s what I call a caused interception. We need to continue to work on eye control. That’s the biggest issue we have right now. In man coverage, unfortunately, some players like to stare at the quarterback, and they’re going to stare at the quarterback and watch him complete passes. In man coverage, you have to cover the man and what I talk about is working in phase with the receiver in order to play the ball. I’ve seen tremendous improvement from him and we’re expecting tremendous improvement to continue.”

The defense indeed played well, perhaps their best performance of the season, against Tennessee. It remains to be seen if that was merely an aberration against a young Vol offense or if they’ve turned the corner after giving up numerous explosive plays in the passing game in successive weeks against Kentucky and Alabama. Offensively, they still have a ways to go with Jeff Driskel as the quarterback. Gator Nation is optimistically hoping that the new lease on life will prompt him to focus better and play with more of a sense of urgency.

Either way the team is circling the wagons around Jeff and is confident that the offense will play better at home against LSU this Saturday. For Jeff’s sake and for Coach Muschamp’s sake, they had certainly better.