65 Reasons to Be Happy, If Even for a Moment

65-0 should be enough. For me, it is.

I woke up Sunday morning—one day after our beloved Florida Gators dismantled Eastern Michigan—and took to Twitter. There was plenty of positivity in Gator Nation and, for the most part, fans were happy. But there were still the few. Those that have to find the flaw in the win. Those that may finally be happy at an undefeated season and a national championship. Those that may never be pleased.

Kelvin Taylor - Florida Gators

That’s their right. Every fan has that right. Cheer when you want; critique when you feel the need. The type of fan a person chooses to be is a choice they stand by and I’m not here to tell them they’re wrong. All I’m here to do is to say that I’m happy and that happiness will last for more than just one moment.

EMU was far from an SEC opponent. They were not a world-class team. The Gators should have beaten them 65-0. But here’s the thing: one season ago, Florida didn’t beat the teams they were supposed to beat. The Gators lost to Georgia Southern at home. Go back one season further and you find a narrow win over Louisiana. Lately, Florida hasn’t been taking care of business against the teams they’re heavily favored against. Saturday was different; be happy.

To start, we saw football. The game wasn’t delayed. There wasn’t one play hours after the scheduled kickoff. There wasn’t a postponement that turned into a cancellation. Instead, there was football. Good football at that. For 60 minutes, it felt like the orange and blue channeled the teams of old. 65 points, 655 yards, and big plays. Oh those big plays. I grew up in the PlayStation generation. Video game offenses didn’t exist in real life, but they could get close. Steve Spurrier kept scoring. The brakes were never applied. That was Saturday. When your backup quarterback—a true freshman making his first appearance in The Swamp at that—goes deep on his first pass attempt (AND COMPLETES IT FOR A 70-YARD TOUCHDOWN!!!) you aren’t letting up.

Let’s stop there for a second and look at Treon Harris’s line:

2 completions, 2 pass attempts, 148 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 1,051.6 rating.

Read that last stat again. The highest rating a college quarterback can possibly achieve is 1,261.6. To do so, he would have to have every pass attempt result in a 99-yard touchdown completion. Harris was darn close.

Yes, I know it was against a team without a great defense and he was doing so late in a blowout, but those facts do little to diminish what was a great first showing by the freshman. We may have ourselves quite the backup quarterback.

There were plenty of more good performances in the win. Jeff Driskel was solid and looked calm in Kurt Roper’s offense. The running game accounted for 259 yards on the ground and the trio of Kelvin Taylor, Matt Jones, and Mack Brown averaged 8.7 yards per carry. Demarcus Robinson had 5 catches for 23 yards his freshman season; he had 6 for 123 and a touchdown on Saturday. Clay Burton led the team with 7 catches, more than doubling his career total of 3 going into the game. Andre Debose looked like the player we thought he could be all those years ago. Duke Dawson had quite the debut. Brian Poole was everywhere on defense. And the entire defense was smothering. Like I said, I’m happy.

Many will call this a warm-up game, and they would be correct in doing so. The Gators were supposed to get two warm-up games. Lightning wiped that plan away. Now, Florida will head to SEC play with one game and a big win under its belt. Kentucky has not looked like the Kentucky of old and could present a challenge, but I will gladly accept that challenge after Saturday’s showing. There are many worse ways to go into your first SEC game.

The Gators will be favored, and rightfully so, but we may not completely know what we have just yet. An explosive offense, check. A shutdown defense, check. Capable special teams, check. All looked good on Saturday and that’s enough to keep me positive, so for now I will be.

In one game, the Gators answered as many questions as a team could in only 60 minutes. There are 10 games to go, though, and Florida will be questioned going into every one. That’s fine and perfectly acceptable, but all I ask is that you try to keep that positive outlook. I’m not sure if cheering for a team is all that much fun if you go into a game seeking gloom and doom. Call it naiveté, but I enjoy hope and I’ll keep that hope going a little longer after the 65-0 win.

As for Kentucky, there’s a win streak to keep alive. We’ve seen some of those fall recently and would like the bleeding to stop. Let’s keep the Kentucky streak alive and in a few weeks extend the Tennessee streak. The Gators may not be a championship-caliber team yet, but they need to win the ones they should. Fall against the Wildcats and progress may be a dream at the moment. Handle their business against Kentucky and go into the Alabama game with two impressive wins and we’re headed in the right direction. All in all, just win. Win more then you lose. Don’t go 4-8. Becoming the orange and blue we all know they can be.

It’s hard to imagine that after just another 60 minutes, we’ll be a quarter of the way through the season. AH! MAKE IT SLOW DOWN! We were shorted a game and now that the season has started, it’s going ahead full force. 10 games to go, each one counts, blah, blah, blah. I could hype it up one hundred different ways. You don’t need me to get you hyped for the first SEC game. You know the importance. Go Gators! And again, Just Win!

Trey And Clay Can’t Wait For The Day When Together They Can Play

Sorry, but if you’re siblings and have names that rhyme, this is what happens.*

Junior Trey Burton and his younger brother sophomore Clay Burton are lining up on the same side of the ball this season and are looking forward to it. Not only may they see the field at the same time, they may actually line up next to each other. The Florida Gators have run out some looks with Trey at slot receiver and Clay a few feet away at tight end. This all became possible when Clay moved from defensive end to the offensive side of the ball.

While Trey will see the field much more than his little brother, there is a chance we’ll see them together – especially around the goal line.

*True story, I knew twins when I was growing up – Shawn and Shauna.

Injury Report: Freshman Tight End Colin Thompson Out 2 Months After Second Surgery

Florida Gators freshman tight end Colin Thompson will miss at least two months after having a second surgery to repair a fractured bone in his right foot. The time missed may lead to a redshirt season for the incoming TE. Missing that much time early in your first season puts you behind the learning curve and Thompson will miss plenty of practice experience during those two months. If not needed, he may be held out throughout 2012, leaving us waiting until 2013 to see him on the field.

Thompson’s absense leaves the Gators with three healthy tight ends currently participating in practice – Clay Burton, Kent Taylor and Tevin Westbrook. This may actually give fellow freshman Taylor a chance to earn more reps and put himself in a good position to see the field this fall. Both Burton and Westbrook were converted from the defensive side of the ball and starter Jordan Reed is being held out with an MCL spain. This is Taylor’s chance to prove his worth as the nation’s top high school tight end a year ago.

Thompson will undergo surgery on Wednesday during which a screw will be inserted in order to stabilize his foot. Because it’s the second surgery, recovery time could be more than the typical six weeks.

Gators Lose A.C. Leonard For 6-8 Weeks

On August 2, I composed a piece on this very website comparing the Florida’s 2010 tight ends with this year’s group and made predictions as to how I thought the 2011 unit would fair. In the conclusion of my piece, I gave the unit as a whole a B grade for the upcoming season but noted that depth could become an issue. Well guess what…depth has become an issue!
The rumors that A.C. Leonard had suffered an injury that would sideline him for some time started to pop up earlier this week. That injury was confirmed by Will Muschamp this morning. Coach Muschamp stated that A.C. tore his meniscus in a non-contact drill earlier this week and will subsequently miss the next 6 to 8 weeks. If my math is correct, that would mean that A.C. will probably not be returning to action until the end of September.
Some may not view this as a very big injury considering that the best team we play in the month of September is Tennessee and besides them we play three teams that we should beat fairly easily (fingers crossed!). But I think this could be a bigger blow for a couple of reasons.
First, by all accounts, A.C. was becoming the #1B tight end to #1A Jordan Reed. And with new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis almost certainly going with several two tight end sets in his offense, having two formidable bookends for the offensive line would have been a great weapon. Also, being a true freshman, the more playing time that A.C. could have received in the first few games, the more prepared mentally and physically he would have been when we hit the meat of our schedule in October.
The ripple-down effect could hurt the Gators. It is believed now that Gerald Christian will move back over to the offensive side of the ball to take over some of the tight end responsibilities that A.C. leaves behind. That in itself is fine with me as I think Christian could be one hell of a tight end in his own right, but I never like it when guys are constantly switched from one position to the other (in this case, from linebacker to tight end). It seems to me like these guys start to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.
In addition, Clay Burton will likely move from his defensive end position to a full-time tight end, at least at the start of the season. My biggest fear with this move is taking a freshman away from the position he will most likely be playing at going forward and therefore taking away his chances of increasing his skills at that position. There was a chance, albeit maybe a small one, that Clay would have redshirted this year. That chance probably goes out the window with A.C.’s injury.
Finally, there is also some thoughts that Omarius Hines could pick up some of the slack at tight end in A.C.’s absence. Again, on the surface this looks fine as Hines has the hands and the size (well, maybe he is a little small but that’s ok) to be a very serviceable tight end. But it’s not like the Gators have a closet full of good wide receivers right now that they can open up and pluck one out when need be. Our WR unit is one of the thinnest unit’s on the team and if Omarius is playing tight end that means one of our best WRs isn’t lining up at his normal position.
In the end, the old adage that injuries are part of the game is certainly true. I just hate to see one like this so early in fall practice and at a position which the Gators are already fairly thin. On the other side of the coin, I guess it’s better to happen now than in the third week of the season.

Florida Gators Defensive Line – 2010 vs. 2011

Part six in a series where The Bull Gator and I go over the Florida roster differences from this season to last and what to expect in 2011. To read past installments, click each position: quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line.

2010: Gary Beemer – RSR, Terron Sanders – RSR, Duke Lemmens – SR, Justin Trattou – SR, Jaye Howard – RJR, William Green – JR, Omar Hunter – RSO, Lerentee McCray – RSO, Earl Okine – RSO, Kendric Johnson – RFR, Dominique Easley – FR, Shariff Floyd – FR, Leon Orr – FR, Ronald Powell – FR, Lynden Trail – FR
Preseason Rating: C
Postseason Rating: D
First and foremost, you know I had to include Gary Beemer in my list, even though typically we try to include only the scholarship players on the roster who have (or had) a significant chance of playing. But everybody loves Beemer!
When initially looking at the 2010 defensive line, I think a lot of fans and analysts would have given UF a preseason grade of B. But I personally did not have very high hopes for the 2010 defensive line…and they certainly didn’t disappoint me.
My reasons for doubt were mainly two-fold. First, half of the defensive linemen were players who had been at UF for a while, but had yet to really step up and become consistent producers. Players like Terron Sanders, Duke Lemmens, Justin Trattou, Jaye Howard and William Green could all fit this billing at the start of last season. This wasn’t necessarily their fault entirely, as some of the defensive linemen that we had in the years prior to 2010 were pretty darn good, so cracking the starting lineup was not an easy task. But nonetheless, leaning on these unproven commodities is something that I personally was not very comfortable doing.
My second concern was that we were putting the other half of our eggs in the “this freshman is going to be a beast” basket. Many were thinking that the fabulous threesome of Dominique Easley, Shariff Floyd and Ronald Powell would be all-world the second they walked onto Florida Field. Realistically, this just wasn’t possible, especially at the defensive lineman position, which is a position where few underclassmen excel.
At the end of the season, the defensive line stats were fairly abysmal. This unit accounted for only 12 sacks the entire season, two fumble recoveries (against USF and Vanderbilt) and one forced fumble (Vandy). Of the 12 sacks, only two came in what I like to term as “important games.” In the last four games of the season, this group registered only one sack and in the five losses they accounted for only two. Of the top 10 leading tacklers on the team, only three were defensive lineman (Trattou 57, Lemmens 43, and Howard 29). The only two defensive linemen that had double-digit tackles for loss were Trattou and Howard, both with 12 each.
In a nutshell, the defensive line was poor. Piss poor.
2011: Jaye Howard – RSR, William Green – SR, Omar Hunter – RJR, Lerentee McCray – RJR, Earl Okine – RJR, Kendric Johnson – RSO, Dominique Easley – SO, Shariff Floyd – SO, Leon Orr – RFR, Lynden Trail – RFR, Clay Burton – FR, Tevin Westbrook – FR
Preseason Rating: A
Wait a second One Eyed Willy, didn’t you just get finished calling the defensive line poor? Piss poor? And now you are giving them an A grade heading into the 2011 season?
That’s right kids…I am!
Although the lack of depth for the 2011 defensive line is certainly a concern – so much so that Will Muschamp seems to bring it up during every single interview he does – the guys that will play are going to be good. Scary good.
The middle of the line should be just about the best in the nation. With Howard leading the way, the likes of Floyd, Easley and Omar Hunter (and maybe Leon Orr as well) should have much more success than they did last year disrupting run plays and hassling the quarterback of the opposing team. With 12 more months of playing time under their belts, I especially expect Floyd and Easley to be leaps-and-bounds ahead of where they were to start the 2010 season. And if everything we have been hearing over the past few months is true, no one has been able to stop our defensive tackles from getting in the backfield. Let’s hope that trend continues.
The defensive end position will probably look better during the season mainly because opposing teams will have to key against the “big nasties” in the middle. Powell, who will technically play the Buck linebacker position, will line up a lot at defensive end and should be able to use his size and incredible speed to torment opposing QBs. If veterans like Green or Lerentee McCray or youngsters like Lynden Trail or Clay Burton can step up and be relied upon to play important minutes this season, they will round up an already impressive group of talent. Finally, don’t be surprised if some of the defensive tackles line up at the end position. Howard is one player in particularly who can play both positions and could be a force on the outside edge, especially during running situations.
In the end, I truly believe that the defense, and ultimately the 2011 team will live-and-die by the defensive line. If this unit is as good as I think (and hope) they can be, I truly believe this team can surprise a lot of people this year and make a run at the SEC Championship. If, on the other hand, this unit plays like it did last season, you may want to take the under 7.5 wins that Vegas just released!

Recruit Report: Dante Phillips, DT, Venice

We continue to go through the committed recruits over at Alligator Army. This time around, I profile Venice (Venice, FL) defensive tackle Dante Phillips.
Phillips is a powerful, but slim defensive tackle who despite his commitment to Florida has mentioned that he will take additional visits. Schools involved include Alabama, Auburn, LSU, USC, and USF. Although he remains solid to the Gators, he will look around.
At 6’6″, 268 pounds, Phillips needs to add bulk (who doesn’t?) to compete successfully at the next level. In high school, he uses his strength to push opposing blockers into the backfield. While this works for him now, he’ll have a difficult road ahead at his current size. Regardless, Phillips is quick off the snap and has good recognition skills when it comes to knowing where the play is headed.
Expect former Venice players and current Gators Trey Burton and little brother Clay Burton to remain in Phillips’ ear right up until national signing day.

Mike Blakely Commits to Florida; Bright News for the Gators

After three straight losses, there was little to make Florida happy. Blame flying from every direction and hitting whatever or whoever it landed on. You would be hard-pressed to find a Gator fan looking forward to the rest of the season. And with questions about how the slide would affect recruiting, future seasons as well. Then Florida got good news which was followed up with great news.

The good news came with the commitment of Clay Burton, who just happens to be the younger brother of fan favorite Trey Burton. (Why? WHY do parents insist on giving their children rhyming names???) The younger Burton also comes way of Venice (Venice, FL), but looks to excel on the other side of the ball. He is an outside linebacker who could be considered a pass rush threat.

Burton was originally committed to Notre Dame, but made the switch to Florida only a day after the Gators presented him with a scholarship offer. He always wanted to end up playing in orange and blue, but wasn’t sure that would happen as the offers continued to roll in except for that one he most coveted. Once the linebacker – who has totaled 14 sacks in his two most recent high school seasons – got the offer, the choice was easy. Head elsewhere or follow his brother to Gainesville?

The great news was delivered only a day later on Tuesday when Rivals100 member Mike Blakely became the latest piece of the Gators’ 2011 recruiting class. Florida has long wanted Blakely and his commitment was more than welcome. With a heavy running back rotation, talented newcomers are always on the desired list.

Blakely – from Manatee (Bradenton, FL) – is the nation’s #7 RB and #34 player overall according to Rivals.com. He chose the Gators over Auburn. The 5’9”, 195-pound back had numerous other offers, but many thought Florida to always be the favorite. As the Gators struggled, many got nervous, but Blakely ended up making the choice experts originally thought he would.

The agile back has surprising strength and has put together highlight after highlight during his senior season. He was one of the backs the Gators had at the top of their list and most likely the one they wanted the most. Fans shouldn’t have to wait long to find out how solid Blakely’s commitment is, he’s scheduled to enroll in January.

The news will only get better with a win over Georgia on Saturday. Although the Gators are on a mini-roll when it comes to recruiting, Florida needs to get out of the funk of the last few weeks. Recruits will continue to come and those already committed will stick around if they see the product the Gators put on the field is one they want to be a part of. Burton and Blakely are huge additions. Wins will bring more.

There are plenty of high-ranked, big-name prospects that have expressed their interest in Florida. Some will come regardless of the 2010 win-loss record. Some won’t. What the Gators do in the final five regular season games could be a major determining factor.