Florida Gators Land Another Commitment

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Just one week after offering Deiondre Porter, a three star athlete from Tampa Jefferson high school, the Florida Gators secured his commitment.

Porter, who was previously committed to the University of South Florida, chose the Gators after taking an official visit this past weekend to Florida.

The staff laid out their plan for him which was to utilize him in multiple ways. A high school quarterback, the Gators coaching staff recruited him as an athlete which means he doesn’t have a specific position but rather would be tried out at receiver, defensive back, and special teams.

The staff has been working hard to bring in some playmakers to jump start an anemic offense and Porter could very well fit the bill. At 6’1 185, he’s tall and athletic but very raw.

As a senior, Porter threw for over 3,000 yards and 33 td’s. He also rushed for 1500 yards and 20 td’s.

His commitment brings the Gators total to 21 in the 2014 class. Stay tuned to Swamp Music for the latest in FREE Gator recruiting and athletic news, opinion, and analysis as we Countdown to Signing Day.

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Prather Returns To Carry The Gators Over Auburn 68-61

Casey Prather drives to the basket while leading Florida to a road victory over the Auburn Tigers. Photo credit to Jay Sailors/Associated Press

Casey Prather drives to the basket while leading Florida to a road victory over the Auburn Tigers. Photo credit to Jay Sailors/Associated Press

On Friday morning, Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan announced that leading scorer Casey Prather, who missed the previous two games due to a bruised knee, was cleared for contact and would be available to play against Auburn. How much Donovan wasn’t sure of because Prather hadn’t yet faced any contact. Donovan hinted that Prather would likely be limited in the game. That plan went right out the window as Prather, showing no ill effects of his almost two week layoff, carried the Gators with 21 points including 16 in the first half, leading them to victory over the Tigers 68-61.

In a game where the SEC’s leading three point shooter, Michael Frazier, was held scoreless, the Gators struggled to find offense against a surprisingly tough, and inspired Auburn defense. Thank goodness for Prather who picked up right where he left off before the injury. The Gators certainly couldn’t have won this one without him.

“I’m not sure if he (Prather) was hurt again this game if this was a game we could pull out,” Donovan said in the post-game press conference. “We didn’t play well in my opinion. I felt Auburn had a lot to do with that.”

It was clear from the start that Auburn’s plan defensively was to smother Frazier who killed them from beyond the arc in last season’s meeting. Objective met. Frazier was repeatedly frustrated by Auburn’s suffocating defense which limited his touches in the game. The Tigers played very tight defense and through much of the game kept the Gators from getting into any kind of offensive rhythm.

However, the game didn’t quite start out that way. Utilizing a 14-1 run the Gators jumped out to a 23-10 lead midway through the first half.  They forced numerous Auburn turnovers and kept the Tigers from scoring for over a seven minute stretch which led to some fast break opportunities and clutch shooting. Other than the 3-3 three point shooting effort to open the game, Auburn was struggling and it appeared the Gators might run away with this one. Auburn then turned the tables on the Gators as they went on a 14-0 run of their own to claw their way back into the game and finished the first half down by only one at 33-32.

It was a tight game the rest of the way as the Gators repeatedly allowed Chris Denson to get easy looks in the lane off the pick and roll and K.T. Harrell some open looks from three point range. The Gators repeatedly appeared to be a step slow defensively which allowed Auburn to get high percentage looks keeping them in the game. After the game, coach Donovan admitted that he was disappointed with the Gators defensive effort.

“You know where (Chris) Denson and where (K.T.) Harrell are going to get their shots from,” Donovan said. “The things that we knew were coming we just did a very, very poor job. Especially our bigs in the game. We had situations in pick and roll coverage that our bigs constantly let them turn the corner and got down the lane, and then we had situations in the middle of the floor where Denson and those guys took us straight off the dribble right to the basket. and we have to do a better job there defensively than we did.”

Quite possibly that could have been an understatement. A normally strong pick and roll defense, a staple of Billy Donovan coached teams, just didn’t have it against Auburn. Whether they let their guard down because they thought they had an overmatched opponent and could just mail it in, or the lagging effects of travel for a road game, or just an inspired crowd, either way it allowed the Tigers to do what they wanted on far too many possessions. And it kept Auburn in the game. It very well could have lost the game for them if not for some clutch shots by seniors Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young, particularly down the stretch, and a strong defensive effort by Will Yeguete.

Scottie Wilbekin hit some clutch shots to secure a victory over Auburn. Photo credit to  foxsports.com

Scottie Wilbekin hit some clutch shots to secure a victory over Auburn. Photo credit to foxsports.com

While Prather carried the Gators in this one, Scottie Wilbekin saved them. No bigger shot was more clutch than a back step, falling backwards jump shot in the lane by Scottie with 1:24 remaining and the Gators clinging to a one point lead. The home crowd was loud and the Tigers had the momentum after Tahj Shamshid-Deen closed the Tigers to within one following a Kasey Hill turnover. Auburn had forced the Gators late into the shot clock when Wilbekin took the off balance jumper which took some of the life out of the home crowd.

“He made a tough shot in the lane and I think that put us up by three,” Donovan said of the clutch jumper. “Scottie obviously made a big shot for us that always helps.”

From there the Gators got a couple of stops with Patric Young grabbing a couple of clutch rebounds while Wilbekin and Kasey Hill made some free throws to hold on for the victory.

For his part, Donovan said afterwards he really didn’t know what to expect out of Prather coming in.

“I said yesterday and I meant it, I didn’t really know what to expect out of him,” Donovan said. “He looked just ok at best on Thursday, didn’t do any contact. For me to play him here today, he was going to have to do some contact or least show me he can play. I think the difficult situation you get into as a coach is when you’ve got a guy that’s been cleared to play and you haven’t seen him practice. You don’t know what to expect, your teammates don’t know what to expect. so yesterday he got out there and he looked pretty good. I told the team before the game, with him being back, we’re not going to put pressure on him for him to come back to the form he was at a week or two ago. Because just his rhythm or those types of things. but that all went out the window at the end of the first half when he had sixteen.”

Prather returned and picked up right where he left off and the Gators walked away with their ninth straight victory and moved to 4-0 and sole possession of first place in the SEC after Texas A&M lost to Mississippi State. Next up for the Gators is a road trip to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide on Thursday evening. Tip off is set for 7 pm eastern and will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Florida Gators Recruiting: Dead Period Ends, Let the Games Begin

Myles Autry a running back from Norcross, Georgia is a new name on the Gators recruiting board. Photo credit to varsitypreps.com

Myles Autry a running back from Norcross, Georgia is a new name on the Gators recruiting board. Photo credit to varsitypreps.com

The recruiting cycle stretch run has begun with the end of the in-person contact dead period and only three weeks left to national signing day. What does this mean for the Gators? For the staff, it means they will be on the road like a truck driver.

The Gators are currently sitting on 21 commitments with 25 scholarships to give. However, one commit, offensive guard Dontae Angus likely will not qualify and will probably end up in prep school or JUCO. A couple of others are kind of up in the air right now.

Defensive back J.C. Jackson, who previously flipped from FSU has long been considered a soft commit. The cousin of Ermon Lane he reportedly was overheard after the Under Armour game making a statement to the effect that he’s going to FSU with Lane. Lane, who recently decommitted from Florida, for his part has yet to commit to FSU but is widely expected to sign with them in the end. Jackson’s uncle recently made a statement saying that Jackson has shut down his recruitment and is for sure headed to Gainesville. We’ll just have to wait and see what he decides to do.

Then there’s the curious case of tight end Cyontai Lewis, a teammate of Alabama running back commit Bo Scarborough whom the staff has been recruiting for a couple of years and are still working on. Many felt that taking Lewis’ commitment was a reach for the Gators. While they are desperately in need of production at the tight end slot, there’s been some rumbling that Lewis wasn’t a good fit talent-wise. It seemed odd that the staff allowed him to commit so early and many felt it was a ploy to secure Scarborough’s commitment. If so, it didn’t work. While the staff is still recruiting Scarborough hard and are expected to visit him again in the next few days, there’s been no evidence that he is either slipping in his commitment to the Tide or interested in the Gators. So where does that leave Lewis? With three tight ends committed, an odd number despite the loss of Kent Taylor to transfer, will the staff honor Lewis’ commitment or will he be an odd man out? We should know sooner rather than later I would think.

So, of the 21 committed at least one is most likely gone leaving room for five more with a maximum of seven. A lot of names are being bandied about for those final spots as the staff tries to lock down some top targets and scurries to find some playmakers to close out the 2014 class. With the final five/seven spots, the staff is looking for some mix of a corner, a defensive end, an offensive tackle, two receivers or one and a running back/receiver hybrid, and a second quarterback.

At defensive end, it’s pretty much Lorenzo Carter or bust. The staff is pretty happy with the line class they have committed at this point and getting Carter would be the icing on a top rated defensive line class. The Gators are literally in a dog fight with the Georgia Bulldogs for his services. They appeared to lead coming out of the summer, but then seemed to lose ground over the season as he made multiple visits to Athens. A quick trip to Gainesville after the Under Armour game gave Gator fans a glimmer of hope as he and his family came away impressed with the trip. After Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left for the same position with Louisville many thought that might tip the hand in the Gators favor but then Jeremy Pruitt left FSU to take over the DC job with the Bulldogs. Oddly, Carter had been developing a good relationship with Pruitt and FSU had actually been getting in the picture with his recruitment. Many feel that bringing Pruitt in will seal the deal with Carter and his family. He’s basically a signing day decision so it’s a wait and see situation but rest assured the Gator staff won’t quit until the LOI is signed. The staff is expected to visit with him on Thursday as is the Georgia staff.

At corner, the staff is pushing to get Adoree Jackson’s signature. Jackson, from Junipero Serra high school in Gardena, California would be a major coup for the Gator staff and would add to what is already considered the top defensive back class in the country. Jackson is a two way and multi-sport superstar. He’s made it known he wants to play corner and receiver in college and loves what the staff did with Loucheiz Purifoy. He’s also a budding track star and wants to run track in college. It doesn’t hurt that the Gators have the top men’s track program in the country. Most analysts consider the Gators the front runner to gain his commitment on signing day although he still lists six schools as his finalists.

Damien Prince is a top rated offensive tackle from Maryland and is seriously considering the Gators. Photo credit to the washingtonpost.com

Damien Prince is a top rated offensive tackle from Maryland and is seriously considering the Gators. Photo credit to the washingtonpost.com

At offensive tackle, two names top the Gators list. First and foremost is the top guy on their board and that’s Damien Prince from Bishop McNamara high school in Forestville, Maryland. He’s the top guy on their board and while the Gators have been recruiting him for a while, they were thought to be down on the list and most expected him to sign with the home state Terrapins. However, with the staff picking up the pace of his recruitment, with them bringing in offensive line coach Mike Summers, and with good friend Jalen Tabor enrolling at Florida at the last minute, the Gators have picked up some steam in his recruitment. Prince reportedly has a good relationship with Summers who recruited him while at USC but wasn’t going to get him there as distance was too much of a factor. Florida is much closer and Tabor is working hard to recruit him to the Gators. Those factors plus a new offensive coordinator who brings some pizazz to the table may just be enough to lure him to Gainesville. Originally, the plan was he was going to wait for a week or two after signing day to decide but last week he announced he moved up his signing date to NSD.

The other name at tackle that the Gators recently extended an offer to and are trying to secure a visit from is Andrew Mike from Sabino high school in Tucson, Arizona. This is a guy that Summers is high on and was recruiting to USC and might be a nice plan b if things go south with Prince. He’s still a longshot at this point with the Gators getting in on his recruitment so late, but if they get him on campus and considering the staff’s track record at flipping recruits late, anything can happen between now and signing day. Would they take both? Not likely, unless things fall through at other spots.

Assuming they get the top three guys listed above, that leaves two to four slots left to fill. This is where the fun begins. While the need at receiver and running back is small numbers-wise this cycle, there is a HUGE need for playmakers. Originally the staff planned for one running back and two to three receiver’s in this cycle. Coming out of summer they had their top two guys committed, Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane. However, as we all know now, both of those guys recently decommitted from the Gators. The staff wasted little time extending offers to Jeff Jones, a Minnesota commit, Derrell Scott who is uncommitted, and Brandon Powell, a former Miami commitment. Both Jones (1/24) and Scott (1/17) scheduled visits to UF. Powell, who was scheduled to enroll early at Miami, did them one better. He committed on the spot and enrolled at Florida two days later.

The staff isn’t done, however, as they are still recruiting Jones and Scott and are reportedly interested in speaking with Myles Autry a running back from Norcross, Georgia and a teammate of Lorenzo Carter. Autry is a long-striding speedster with great balance and good footwork. He famously tweeted during the Army All American game about wanting to play with Gator quarterback commit Will Grier in college.

“Man Just Working Hard With @willgrier_. He Really Got Me Considering University Of Florida Now! They Moved To My Top Now! #GatorNation

and

“I’ll Love @willgrier_ To Be My Quarterback In College #GoGators

He may well have that chance as the staff reportedly may try to see him in person when they visit Carter tomorrow and could very well extend an offer. Will they take another running back in this class particularly with next year’s class loaded in state? Certainly if it’s one of the above. Right now they are looking for playmaker’s period. They need guys that can make plays in space with them switching to an up-tempo spread offense and as such the staff has really widened their board to find a couple of more guys that fit that bill. Autry is talented enough to line up at receiver, as a punt/kick returner, and as a wildcat qb as well. He reminds me a lot of Percy Harvin with his quick first step, playstation moves, and ability to simply run away from people.

At receiver, the staff has one guy committed, former FSU commit Ryan Sousa, and are looking to take at least two more possibly three guys depending upon how things shake out. Junior college receiver Eric Lauderdale is their top choice and he still maintains that the Gators lead for his services. After him, it gets murky.

The staff recently offered  Isaiah McKenzie from American Heritage high school in Plantation, Florida. McKenzie, nicknamed “the human joystick”, is small at only 5’8 165 but has similar skills to Solomon Patton. He can lineup in different spots, in the backfield, in the slot, and at wideout and he has the speed and elusiveness that the staff is seeking. He’s reportedly considering a visit this weekend to the Gators and is also looking at Tennessee and Ole Miss.

Another guy the Gators are looking to visit with is Jamil Kamara from Virginia Beach, Virginia who is currently committed to the University of Virginia. There were reports that the staff was in contact with Jamil and were trying to secure a visit. He reportedly made statements to the effect that with Ermon Lane decommitting he might reconsider the Gators as they are in need of some playmakers. However, to this point no visit has been scheduled and it’s unlikely one will be and he has publicly stated he’s comfortable with his commitment to Virginia. Another wait and see if he indeed does take a visit.

FSU soft verbal commit C.J. Worton is looking around and has a visit scheduled to Florida among other schools. He’s a tall possession receiver that’s not going to blow you away with speed but he makes catches. He has a really good vertical leap which allows him to play taller than his 6’0 stature and he catches everything. The staff recently extended an offer and are considered a strong player to flip him from the Noles. While not a lock for the Gators at this point, he is the most likely of the above to sign with the Gators.

It should be noted here that if the Gators do sign Adoree Jackson that will account for a receiver spot as he is a standout receiver as well as a standout corner. In fact, with the Gators getting Jalen Tabor in and enrolled early, that may allow the staff to utilize Jackson more at receiver.

Finally, the staff would certainly like to add one more quarterback in this class for depth purposes. With the surprise transfer of Tyler Murphy and Max Staver and Skylar Mornhinweg not being a realistic option, there’s a real need to bring in another guy. With the shift to the spread the staff would certainly like to bring in a dual threat guy who they can utilize in other ways rather than just have him sitting on the bench.

The main guy here is Treon Harris an athletic dual threat qb from Miami. An FSU commit, the staff recently extended an offer and he is expected to take a visit to Gainesville. He reportedly is intrigued with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and the word is that Harris is the main guy they’re going after for the second qb slot. With his lack of size, some analysts think he projects better as a receiver or defensive back but he definitely wants a shot at qb and that’s where the stafff is recruiting him. Whether they can flip him from the Noles remains to be seen but I think the Gators have a realistic shot here.

Another name I’ve been hearing is USF commit Deiondre Porter, whom the staff recently offered, but it’s unclear how they intend to utilize him. He’s a high school quarterback with solid numbers but many analysts have him projected at either wide out or defensive back.

With signing day only three weeks away and the dead period over expect things to move rather quickly and a lot of new names coming and going as the staff seeks a few playmakers to close out this recruiting cycle.

And as always stay tuned to Swamp Music for the latest FREE updates on Gator recruiting and athletics.

Florida Gators Football 2013 Preview: Let The Games Begin!

will muschampThe long college football offseason is nearing an end as the countdown to the 2013 season reaches it’s final week. The first gameweek of the season begins tomorrow as the Gators can finally focus on an opponent, MAC member Toledo.

The Gators begin the 2013 season short of a ton of talent, mostly on defense, that led the Gators to an 11-2 record and a #9 final AP ranking. What they left behind is a ton of talent, albeit somewhat less experienced, and a hopefully much improved offense.

loucheiz purifoyOn defense, the strength is a corner back rotation that may arguably be the best in the nation with Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, considered by many draft analysts to be a first round draft pick should he leave after this season, as well as three year starter Jaylen Watkins and top rated true freshman Vernon Hargreaves III. The defensive line will be anchored by senior Dominique Easley a versatile inside-outside guy who will likely see more time inside this season, returning true sophomore bookends Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler and Buck End/outside linebacker Ronald Powell. Depth will be provided from junior college transfers Darious Cummings and Damien Jacobs, redshirt freshman Bryan Cox, Jr. and Alex McCallister, and junior Leon Orr.

The question marks coming into the season are at safety, where the Gators lost both starters, and linebacker where they lost both starting inside linebackers. At safety the Gators are very green but talented and deep with Cody Riggs, an undersized athletic former corner taking over the free safety spot and redshirt freshman Marcus Maye a rangy hard hitter filling in for Matt Elam at the strong safety spot. Depth will be provided by junior Jabari Gorman, sophomore Brian Poole, and true freshman Keanu Neal, who may be the hardest hitter in the secondary.

At linebacker, hard hitting sophomore Antonio Morrison takes over for Jon Bostic at middle linebacker. The other starting spots will likely go to Neiron Ball, who appears to finally be fully recovered from the medical condition that sidelined him for his first couple of seasons, Darrin Kitchens, and Ronald Powell who moves to outside linebacker from his usual defensive end position. Michael Taylor will fill in for Morrison during his start of the season suspension and will provide depth at both inside linebacker positions. Behind them will be a trio of talented true freshman Daniel McMillan, Jarrad Davis, and Alex Anzalone. Those three along with Matt Rolin who is out for the season, may represent the strongest true freshman linebacker class in Gator history. That’s a strong statement considering the talent that has come through Gainesville over the years.

jeff driskelOffensively, the Gators are looking for a huge leap from quarterback Jeff Driskel. In his second full season as the starter and after losing backup Jacoby Brisset, Driskel is the unqualified leader of the Gator offense. Behind him are highly inexperienced backups Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg.

At running back, Matt Jones, last season’s backup to Mike Gillislee, returns to anchor the downhill running game that Muschamp likes to run. He starts the season on the bench however, due to a viral infection that sidelined him the whole of preseason camp. His return is indefinite. In his place, former top rated high school back but career bench sitter Mack Brown steps in hoping to show the promise many fans had for him when he signed with the Gators. Depth is provided by former walk-on Mark Herndon who was caught by surprise at the end of preseason camp by the coaching staff and awarded a scholarship for this season, and Valdez Showers, a former defensive back who was switched to running back during preseason camp. Showers was a high school running back and represents a change of pace style for the Gators and will primarily fill the role that Omarious Hines played last season. At fullback, Hunter Joyer returns to provide outstanding lead blocking for the Gator running backs. All everything Trey Burton returns as well to provide solid backup at fullback as well as his usual wildcat/H back/ wide receiver roles. Two top rated true freshman Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane showed great promise in camp but had issues with fumbling that likely will keep them on the bench. The staff was mum on whether they would play or be redshirted this season.

The strength of the offense this season will be the offensive line, with returning starters Jon Halapio at right guard, jonathan Harrison at center, Chaz Green at right tackle, and D.J. Humphries at left tackle. The Gators picked up a ton of depth along the line with the additions of transfers Tyler Moore, a right tackle who will open at right guard filling in for Halapio who is out with a torn pectoral muscle until at least the Tennessee game, and Max Garcia a left guard who is flexible enough to slide over to left tackle as well. One of the more interesting additions will be mammoth junior college transfer tackle Trenton Brown who at 6’9″ and 365 lbs. may well be the largest player in the history of the Florida Gators. The Gators have a lot of versatility as well in backup centers Kyle Koehne and Trip Thurman who can play any positions along the line and can be counted on to provide solid depth this season.

The biggest question mark on the team overall coming into this season would certainly have to be the wide receivers. Last season’s squad provided the least production at the position since 1989, the year before Steve Spurrier brought the fun n gun to Gainesville. In fact, the main production in the passing game came from tight end Jordan Reed who left after his junior season for the NFL. Don’t look for history to repeat itself here as the tight end position is very green this season with Clay Burton having the edge coming into the season. Two sophomores, Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson the top tight ends coming out of high school two seasons ago, should see plenty of time as well with Taylor being more of a receiver and Thompson being more of a blocker. Converted defensive end Tevin Westbrook may see some action as well. Overall, the Gators lose a ton of playmaking ability at the position, but gain depth and in-line blocking ability which is important in the running game.

demarcus robinsnAt wideout, the Gators should be improved if not vastly improved. Quinton Dunbar, last season’s top wideout producer, returns to lead the Gators. The word out of camp is he has improved dramatically and should have a breakout season. Fifth year senior Andre Debose was said to be set to finally show his potential at more than just returner when he was injured in camp and out for the season. The Gators are seeking a medical redshirt for Debose. Another returning receiver that is said to be poised to step up his level of production is Soloman Patton who previously had been limited to running the jet sweep but is being counted on to be a down field playmaker this season and really showed out in camp. Sophomores Raph Andrades and Latroy Pittman are a year older and should provide some production beyond downfield blocking this season. Trey Burton, who fills many roles on offense, is said to be vastly improved as a receiver this season and should be able to provide solid production in the slot.

The wild card will be starting corner Louichez Purifoy who spent some time at wide receiver and whom the staff had said would see increased time at the position this season as they look for downfield playmakers. However, with what the staff saw during preseason camp from returning players and a couple of true freshman, it appears Purifoy’s role on offense may be downplayed. The two freshman are Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood. Robinson, the star of the five man receiver recruiting haul for the Gators, has been everything that the staff was hoping for when they signed him. A big, rangy receiver with speed, he possesses natural receiving ability able to fight for jump balls and snag balls out away from his body. The staff is really confident in his ability to provide the downfield threat the Gators have lacked in previous seasons. Fulwood, at 6’4″ is the tall receiver they’ve lacked and also has the strength to fight for balls in the air as well as fight his way through press coverage. The staff has heaped a load of praise on both freshman through preseason camp and, while neither will be starters to start the season, expect them to play a ton and likely move into starting spots as the season progresses. Two other freshman who will likely see some time are speedster Chris Thompson, who will be active in the return game as well as running the jet sweep, and Ahmad Bailey, a shifty slot receiver who has playmaker written all over him but is green as a receiver after playing quarterback in high school.

Overall, the Gators lost a ton of talent and experience after last season, but gained a ton of talent and depth this season. Defensively, they may lose a step from the top five ranking they posted last season, but don’t expect them to drop far if the youth plays up to their potential. A new defensive coordinator in former special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin could potentially be problematic as well. Offensively, the Gators should be much improved if the running game steps up and the receivers can produce as well as the staff thinks they will. The line with improved depth, talent, and help at tight end should be the team strength and can be counted on to open up holes in the downhill running game for the stable of backs as well as provide improved protection for Jeff Driskel who’s play should be vastly better this season in his second season in Brent Pease’s offense.

The Gators open the season ranked #10 nationally in the AP poll but still only third best in the SEC East behind Georgia and South Carolina. The ranking may be a little high considering the amount of talent that left Gainesville after last season and the inexperience of the returning players. However, if the returning players and talented true freshman class can gel and step up at key spots, it’s not unlikely that this Gator team could make a serious run at the East title and possibly an SEC championship. The schedule is tough with Miami in game two and their usual LSU and FSU games as well as Georgia and South Carolina but it is a schedule that lends itself to a high ranking if they can make it through successfully.

The season begins at 11:30 am Saturday 8/31 at home in the Swamp versus MAC foe Toledo.

Gators Begin at #10

Will Muschamp leads the Gators out on the field before the Orange and Blue debut

Will Muschamp leads the Gators out on the field before the Orange and Blue debu

It’s less than two weeks from the start of the 2013 football season for the Florida Gators who come in at #10 in the AP preseason poll. Preseason camp broke last weekend and now begins the arduous task for the coaching staff of deciding who will be the guys they go into battle with. Not only starting jobs, but backups, the entire depth chart including special teams.

The Gators lost a lot of experience after last season to graduation and a few talented juniors who made an early start on their NFL careers, notably safety Matt Elam who went to the Baltimore Ravens with the 32nd pick of the first round of last season’s draft as the replacement for long time all pro Ed Reed, and defensive tackle Shariff Floyd who went to the Minnesota Vikings with the 23rd pick of the first round. The most notable losses to graduation were all time Gator leading placekicker Caleb Sturgis who replaces Dan Carpenter in Miami and Jon Bostic the heir apparent to long time Chicago Bear linebacker Brian Urlacher.

In all the Gators lost both starting safeties, both starting inside linebackers, both starting defensive ends, and Driskell’s main target tight end Jordan Reed. However, while they lost a ton of experience they seemingly gained a lot of depth with a number of true freshman who gained valuable experience last season returning, the return of injured Buck linebacker Ronald Powell from injury, and the addition of key true and redshirt freshman ready to step in as well as a couple of offensive linemen transfers in Tyler Moore, from Nebraska by way of St. Petersburg College and Max Garcia who sat out last season after transferring from Maryland.

keanu neal ua

Keanu Neal Under Armour All American. Photo credit to Orlando Sentinel

Arguably the two biggest question marks coming into preseason camp were at safety and placekicker. At safety the concern was so great that they had moved two year starting corner Jaylen Watkins to safety during spring practice. After preseason camp however, it looks as though Watkins will likely stay at corner. The reason is the emergence of former corner Cody Riggs, redshirt freshman Marcus Maye, Jabari Gorman, and true freshman Keanu Neal. Riggs is a little smallish but has the speed and hips to take over for Josh Evans at free safety or play the nickel spot. The coaching staff has raved all summer about the emergence of Maye who has always shown the talent but simply needed to learn the defense and Neal who is a hard-hitting headhunter and poised to fill the shoes of Matt Elam admirably. The four man rotation plus Jaylen Watkins gives them amazing depth for a position that was a question mark going into spring practice.

The kicker position is another story entirely. As big of a pair of shoes the safeties must fill after the departure of first round draft pick Matt Elam, the kicker position might even be bigger shoes after losing all-world kicker Caleb Sturgis who left as the all time leading placekicker and who also set a record for most field goals in excess of 50 yards with 8. The battle throughout spring and preseason camp has been between former walk-on Brad Phillips and redshirt freshman Austen Harden, the nation’s number one ranked placekicker coming out of high school two seasons ago. Both guys have kicked well thus far but lack the consistency that the staff had come to expect from Sturgis. Of the two, Harden appears to have the stronger leg, while Phillips appears to be more consistently accurate. Don’t be surprised if we see both kickers used situationally throughout the season as the staff looks for some measure of consistency out of the position.

Overall, there were more questions than answers coming into summer camp and now it’s time for the staff to put the pieces together of the 2013 version of the Florida Gators. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at a few more positions as we seek to establish a depth chart before the season opener against Toledo. Stay tuned for Swamp Music for the latest in Gator news, analysis, and opinion.

Go Gators!

New Digs

After less than a month at the helm of Swamp Music I’m happy to announce I have taken an opportunity to occupy some new digs.  I have decided to take over editorship of the Florida Gators Fansided network site HailFloridaHail.  You can still find my work, just at a new location.

This opportunity not only allows me an opportunity to showcase my opinions and analysis in a much nicer setting with more back-end support, it will also allow you the reader a one-stop shop for Gator news and analysis as well as links to major news and opinion sources across the spectrum.

Please check out my site http://hailfloridahail.com/ and by all means share with your friends.  You can follow us on facebook at HailFloridaHail or on twitter @HailFloridaHail.

And as always, Go Gators!

 

After Further Review…

The Trap Game that wasn’t.  Or was it.  Perhaps Vanderbilt is just plain better than anyone wishes to give them credit for.  Were the Gators flat, or did Vanderbilt play over their heads?  Going in everyone, their momma, cousins, and uncles had this pegged as the “classic trap game”.  Watching and  rewatching the game it sure had the feel of a trap game.  The Gators looked flat, uninspired, predictable and allowed the Commodores to hang around til the end.  Vanderbilt playing at home with much confidence and enthusiasm played toe to toe with the Gators all evening and had a chance late to pull the upset.  While there were many reasons for the Gators less than stellar performance, realistically Vanderbilt is just a good solid team.  Not Alabama good mind you, but good enough to beat you.

Jordan Rogers, a poor man’s version of his brother Aaron, played well getting knocked around all evening by the Gator defense but he continued to get up and complete passes downfield.  He finished the evening 17-31 for 237 yards and a td pass.  Jordan Matthews the Vanderbilt wide receiver was as good as advertised continually making plays against the talented Gator defensive backs finishing with 8 catches for 131 yards and a td.    Zac Stacy the Vandy running back, while not flashy, was effective at times particularly in the second half.  the Vanderbilt coaches called a great game continually keeping the Gators defense on their heels and out of synch and they definitely had their guys prepared and playing with confidence almost pulling out the upset.  Defensively, they played with heart and emotion and had a great gameplan centered around stopping the Gators main threat Mike Gillislee.

Jeff Driskel outruns the Vanderbilt defense in the second half (Matt Stamey/Gainesville Sun staff photographer)

So with the Gator defense giving up yardage, long drives, and 4th quarter points for the first time all season what was the difference in the game for the Gators? Two things:  Jeff Driskel and “special” teams.   In the haste to shut down Gilly, they lost containment on Jeff Driskel who burned them all evening on the zone read play running for 177 yards and 3 touchdowns setting a school single game record for rushing by a quarterback.  On top of that the Commodore special teams play was utterly atrocious. Vanderbilt came out inspired on the opening drive of the second half where they drove down the field finally settling for a field goal try which was blocked by the Gators Earl Okine and recovered by corner back Loucheiz Purifoy.  On the subsequent Gator drive Vanderbilt held them to a seeming three and out regaining momentum after the blocked kick.  However, on fourth down the Gators faked the punt with Trey Burton receiving the snap and tossing to Solomon Patton on the jet sweep where he rumbled 54 yards to the three yard line which led to a Gator td.  Later in the second half after Vanderbilt scored to again get within seven, Andre Debose returned the kickoff 60 yards to set up a field goal and make it a two score game once again.  Special teams were indeed special for the Gators, not so much for Vanderbilt.

Earl Okine blocks a field goal attempt against Vanderbilt (Matt Stamey/Gainesville Sun staff photographer)

So why did this game feel like a gut punch to Gator fans all night?   Injuries to key starters, dropped passes, conservative play-calling particularly in the redzone, and probably a little let down after last week’s big game.  As anyone who has ever played the game will attest it’s hard to get up every week.  Three starting offensive lineman missed some or all of the game as did starting defensive end Dominique Easley.  Freshman receiver Latroy Pittman went down during the game while Quinton Dunbar didn’t start and didn’t play much due to an unexplained disciplinary issue.  Certainly that was disruptive to continuity and execution.  Dropped passes are drive killers particularly on 3rd down and the Gators had several on the night.  They not only shut down the offense but they kept the defense on the field.  For whatever reason, perhaps due to injuries, the coaches got extremely conservative in the red zone settling for field goals allowing Vanderbilt to hang around longer than fans were comfortable with.

Overall, however, the Gators hung in there in the face of adversity, never got down on themselves or each other and pulled out a great SEC road victory keeping the dream of an SEC East championship alive and kicking.  It wasn’t pretty, none have been this year, but they did what they came to do and that’s win the game.  Many of the players that missed the game this week are expected back for the big game in the Swamp against Carolina.

Go Gators!