Preview: Florida Gators Vs. Kentucky Wildcats; Gators Look To Replicate Magic Of Seasons Past

The Florida Gators play host to the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday afternoon in an SEC game that has had a very familiar outcome of the years. For the last 25 seasons, the Gators have won this contest and the last four haven’t been close.

2008 marked the second-straight season during which the teams would meet in October instead of September. It confused those of us that don’t do well with change, but the result wouldn’t deviate from what we were used to. The Gators scored 63 points on only 446 yards of offense. Not that 446 yards is a small number, but 63 points is usually accompanied by much more. The first half was good to the Gators. Florida was up 28-0 at the end of the first 15 and headed to the locker room with a 42-3 advantage. A redshirt freshman quarterback that went by the name John Brantley even got into the action, finding David Nelson for a 38-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

The game would return to September in 2009 and the Gators would get out of the gate on fire yet again. 31-0 after the first quarter had us believing we could see records set on that day. Urban Meyer called off the dogs though and Florida would only add 10 more throughout the final 45 minutes to win 41-7. Senior quarterback Tim Tebow would only attempt 10 passes during the game, but would rush for 123 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Gators to victory. Brantley, now a redshirt sophomore, would come in late once again and add another fourth quarter touchdown pass, this time to Riley Cooper. This was the famous Tebow concussion game. For many long minutes, as Tebow lay motionless on the field, we thought the season and even his Florida career may be over. We all know now, it wasn’t.

Before the game in 2010, Florida and Kentucky came to an agreement that touchdowns would only count if scored by players wearing the number eight. 60 minutes and nine touchdowns later, both teams had lived up to the bargain. Fortunately for the Gators, their No. 8s were just a tad better. Freshman Trey Burton was introduced to the nation, scoring six times. Burton ran for five touchdowns and caught another (from Brantley; for those keeping track at home, that’s touchdown passes in three consecutive Kentucky games for the quarterback). Jeremy Brown – wearing No. 8 on defense – even got into the action with a 52-yard interception return for a score. The Wildcats had a solid No. 8 of their own – Chris Matthews – but could only get him into the end zone twice as the Gators prevailed 48-14.

2011 would be the game to rival all rushing games. The Gators would put up 405 yards on the ground in the 48-10 victory. Jeff Demps would lead the way with 157 rushing yards. He was followed by Chris Rainey who also went over 100 with 105. The current starter – Mike Gillislee – came close to joining the club with 84. Overall, seven non-quarterbacks would get carries. Brantley would only need to attempt 14 passes, but he would again get his one touchdown, a first quarter toss to Gerald Christian.

This time around should be no different. I hate saying “should be” because that generally means it will be different. The Gators need a victory and seem poised to delivery one. The Wildcats aren’t expected to make much noise this season and shouldn’t pose much of a threat; however, we’ve all seen games before where Florida has won, but in far from spectacular fashion. This is that game where spectacular fashion would go oh so far. Bye week ahead followed by LSU. A big win will carry momentum into the coming weeks.

We’ve seen a team improving right before our eyes and are excited for the future. Today isn’t about the future, it’s about the Kentucky Wildcats. Another Saturday, another win on the horizon. Go Gators!

Confidence Could Be Loucheiz Purifoy’s Biggest Asset

The position battle at cornerback may be one of the most open on the Florida Gators roster. There’s experience, youth and youth with experience, but anyone could steal playing time at any moment.

Here’s the rundown of the returning cornerbacks that were on the roster in 2011:

Jeremy Brown, RJR, 0 games, 0 starts*
Loucheiz Purifoy, FR, 13 games, 0 starts
Cody Riggs, SO, 13 games, 10 starts
Marcus Roberson, FR, 10 games, 10 starts
Jaylen Watkins, SO, 13 games, 8 starts

*Brown received a medical redshirt in 2011 and will be a redshirt junior again in 2012. He appeared in 11 games and started 10 in 2010.

You can ask just about anyone and they will tell you Roberson will occupy one side during the 2012 season. Although his play was shaky at times during his freshman season in 2011, he is the most talented corner on the roster and should excel in 2012 with a better grasp of the defense.

The other side is up for grabs. The Gators aren’t sure what they have in Brown. Injured for much of his career, Brown is a talented player that just can’t stay healthy. Both Riggs and Watkins have gained experience while playing plenty, but neither is seen as a lock opposite Roberson and both may be better suited for the nickel back role. Then you have Purifoy.

A special teams standout in 2011, Purifoy was held back by a hamstring injury and didn’t get a chance to earn playing time in the secondary early. As the season progressed, opportunities increased and now he finds himself with a great chance to earn a starting nod. Of all the talents Purifoy possesses – speed being a big one – his confidence may be the most important.

A cornerback has to be cocky to a certain extent. Let’s be honest, all athletes have to be, but Purifoy plays one of those positions where you specifically are targeted. Not only is a quarterback throwing to a wide receiver, he’s throwing at you. He’s daring you to make a play. That doesn’t faze Purifoy and could be one of the key reasons why he could be lined up on the field for the opening snap of the 2012 season.

Florida needs help at a number of positions and cornerback is one. Purifoy has pushed Riggs and Watkins and will get pushed by incoming freshman Brian Poole. Anyone could come out on top, but the new No. 15 is making his case and doing it well.

Florida Gators Defensive Backs – 2010 vs. 2011

The Bull Gator and I finish up the defense. To read past installments, click each position: quarterbacks, running backs and fullbacks, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers.
2010: Ahmad Black – SR, Moses Jenkins – RJR, Will Hill – JR, Janoris Jenkins – JR, Jeremy Brown – RSO, Josh Evans – SO, Matt Elam – FR, Cody Riggs – FR, Josh Shaw – FR, Jaylen Watkins – FR
Preseason Rating: B
Postseason Rating: C
Although I believe that the potential was there for them to be an above-average group, when looking back on the defensive backfield for the Gators in 2010, I decided to give the unit an overall grade of C. But really you could look at this unit as a tale of two stories with one half of the unit being outstanding and the other half being downright pitiful.
First, let’s start with the good, namely safety Ahmad Black and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. To say that these two guys deserve a grade of A would be an understatement as to how good they really were. Black had the most tackles on the team (108), the most interceptions (5), the most forced fumbles (3) and the most fumble recoveries (2). He also had twice as many unassisted tackles (73) than all but one other Gator (Jelani Jenkins – 41). Not to mention the leadership that he provided both on the field and in the locker room truly was immeasurable.
In 2008, the Gators won the national championship thanks in part to a freshman CB who found his way into the starting lineup on day 1 of the season and never looked back. By doing so, Janoris Jenkins became just the second true freshman in school history to start at CB on opening day. The stats for Janoris in 2010 may not be that overwhelming: 44 tackles, 8 pass breakups, 3 interceptions and 1 sack, but his presence on the field made the entire defense better. Opposing quarterbacks were hesitant to go to his side of the field, and more often than not, when they did he was there to make a big play.
Then you have the other guys. The combination of Will Hill and Josh Evans at the other safety position left much to be desired. I could go on-and-on about just how disappointing of a season/career Hill had, but I think we have all been down that road before. And the revolving door of Moses Jenkins, Jeremy Brown and Cody Riggs at the cornerback position opposite of Janoris (for the most part) was, to be nice, less than stellar.
With that said, we did see glimpses of hope in 2010, including Brown, Riggs and Matt Elam showing that they have the potential to be stars for the Gators somewhere down the line, but for the most part, when one half of your defensive backfield fails to live up to the hype while the other half struggles to make up for their teammates’ mistakes, you know you are in for a rough year.
2011: Moses Jenkins – RSR, Jeremy Brown – RJR, Josh Evans – JR, Matt Elam – SO, Cody Riggs – SO, Jaylen Watkins – SO, Josh Shaw – RFR, Jabari Gorman – FR, Chris Johnson – FR, Loucheiz Purifoy – FR, Marcus Roberson – FR, De’Ante Saunders – FR, Valdez Showers – FR
Preseason Rating: C
If you would of told me a few months/years ago that starting in 2011, the defensive backfield of UF would be Janoris Jenkins, Will Hill, Matt Elam and a second cornerback of your choosing, I probably would have said, “sign me up!” Unfortunately that won’t be the case for two major reasons. First, Hill thought he was going to get drafted into the NFL. Well, he didn’t. But this actually might be a positive for the Gators given Hill’s lack of production on the field. And second, Jenkins really liked to smoke pot. I mean really liked to! Therefore, he will have to finish his college career in the beautiful city of Florence. No, not that Florence, but the one in northern Alabama.
So what are we left with? Well, if you ask me (which you didn’t), I say we are left with a group of guys who have yet to prove themselves on the collegiate level, but who have all the talent in the world to be great players.
At the safety position, Elam is the only guy at this point that I can say is definitely a starter. I think Elam will have a great season, but I am really basing that more on hearsay and hopes than on actual on-the-field production. The other safety position is up for grabs right now. Some think that it’s Evans’ spot to lose. Others believe that Josh Shaw or Jaylen Watkins may sneak up and take the position. And recently, there have been discussions of De’Ante “Pop” Saunders moving from cornerback to safety in order to lock down that spot. Unfortunately all of these guys have fairly limited (or no) playing time at the college level and therefore the second safety spot could be a significant point of weakness for the Gators’ defense in 2011.
As far as cornerback is concerned, I have been shouting from the rooftops one name these past couple of months and I’m not going to stop now: Marcus Roberson!!! Look for Roberson to join Joe Haden and the aforementioned Janoris Jenkins as freshmen starters at the cornerback position for the Gators. Roberson may struggle in the beginning, but he will be very good, very soon. The second CB position has the chance to be reminiscent of last year in which there are a couple of guys rotating in and out at that position. Guys like Brown, Riggs, Moses Jenkins and freshman Loucheiz Puriofy all have a chance to play at that spot and could be called on periodically throughout the season to step up.
To grade the defensive backfield going into this season is almost impossible to do. There are too many variables, too many open spots still, and too many guys with talent but no experience. I truly think that we could look back a few months from now and easily give this unit an A and just as easily give this unit a F. But with the former defensive back Will Muschamp at the helm teaching these guys on a day-in and day-out basis, I think we might all be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

Florida Gators 48 – Kentucky Wildcats 14

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Trey Burton  of the Florida Gators scores a touchdown as he is brought down by safety Winston Guy Jr.  of the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida. Florida defeated Kentucky 48-14 for head coach Urban Meyer
Florida beat Kentucky 48-14 on Saturday night.  But you could also say Trey Burton beat Kentucky 36-14.  Or that the Florida eights defeated the Kentucky eights by a score of 7-2.  Whichever way you look at it, the Gators beat the Wildcats by a good enough margin to get fans excited about the offense for at least a few days.
The world has now been introduced to Burton, who switched his jersey number before the game, got some sort of supernatural power out of the #8, and the proceeded to set a Gator record by crossing the goal line six times.  That’s one more than Tim Tebow’s previous school record.  Burton almost passed for a touchdown as well, but Omarius Hines mysteriously tripped on his way down the field.
Or was it all that mysterious?  The game saw nine touchdowns.  All nine were scored by players wearing the #8 on their jerseys.  Hines wears #82.  If he had kept his balance, he would have caught it from a #8, but clearly that wasn’t good enough for the football gods.  They had made their decision on exactly who could score TDs earlier that night and it just wasn’t in the cards for Hines.
Burton’s final stat line was something of legend.  10 total carries and receptions, six touchdowns, and that 42-yard completion to Hines for good measure.  His five rushing touchdowns came on only five carries, almost like you were controlling him in a video game trying to prove you could score on each and every carry.  Have to believe the Gators have a good red zone option for the next three or four seasons.
And Burton wasn’t the only bright spot.  John Brantley finally broke the 200-yard passing barrier and ended the night with 248.  Jeff Demps proved that maybe 26 carries in one game isn’t the best way to use him.  Emmanuel Moody looked like he could be the power runner.  Carl Moore was great and could be becoming the go-to receiver.  And Andre Debose finally got touches, something fans have been desperately waiting for.
On the defensive side of the ball, Duke Lemmens and Justin Trattou continued to overachieve.  Jaye Howard is proving to many that he could be the best player along the line.  There’s not enough to say about Jon Bostic.  And Jeremy Brown made sure the #8 was well represented on the defensive side of the ball as well.
It was a definite step forward for the Gators.  After three games there were plenty of question marks and there still are, but it’s a step.  A step right toward the #1 team in the nation and Alabama.  One that brings along a renewed hope heading into the next game.  The defense continued to impress and the offense seemed to stabilize.  Hopefully it wasn’t an aberration and was what will become more of the norm.
Florida did a lot right against Kentucky and could have some carried over momentum heading into that matchup with the Crimson Tide.  The first quarter of the regular season is over and the Gators are 4-0.  Now Florida heads to the proving ground.  Bama, LSU, Mississippi State, Georgia.  There’s still a long road ahead, but the victory over the Wildcats was reflective of what a top 10 team should be doing.  Again, a step forward.

The Long Snapper (5/14/10)

The battle to start at cornerback opposite Janoris Jenkins lost a combatant.  Adrian Bushell will transfer from Florida.  At one point it looked like Bushell had the lead in the race, but off-the-field issues kept him out during most of the spring and caused him to plummet.  The coaching staff tried to help Bushell get back on track, but it doesn’t look like anything worked.  Jeremy Brown took the lead for the starting position with Moses Jenkins, Joshua Shaw, and Jaylen Watkins not far behind him.  Bushell looked like he had a rough climb to even get playing time in the fall.  Now he’ll look for it somewhere else.  And he may not be the last to leave before the fall.  There are some rumors floating around regarding linebacker Brendan Beal as well.  Of course, there were rumors about Beal’s departure last year as well.
Although he isn’t exactly saying it, FSU athletic director Randy Spetman sounds like, behind the scenes, he’s excited about the possibility of jumping to the SEC.  Spetman says the Seminoles are happy in the ACC and he hopes the conference maintains its current structure, but he also seems uncertain that will happen.  There are a number of speculations regarding why FSU never joined the SEC years ago, but this time the dollar will rule all.  The Noles would get a whole mess of them if they were to accept an invitation.  Assuming an invitation comes.  FSU has to be on the short list, but it all goes back to which direction the SEC goes: ACC or Big 12.  Oklahoma and Texas may seem like a no-brainer given their recent success, but don’t write off the fan bases FSU and Miami bring.  The others (Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Clemson, Georgia Tech) would just be happy to be along for the ride if the SEC heads their way.
While Spetman sounds cautiously excited at the thought of expansion, T. Boone Pickens doesn’t think anyone should get overly eager.  Pickens believes Oklahoma State should stick with the Big 12 until the time comes when they absolutely have to make a move.  The Big 12 is a power conference and the Cowboys may be more attractive to others.  More so than just being included in a package with Oklahoma and Texas.  Oklahoma State may have some offers of their own.  But Pickens thinks they should play wait and see.  Don’t jump the gun and miss out on a bigger opportunity.
Randy Shannon’s progress at Miami has been rewarded.  The head coach has been given a four-year extension to remain with the Hurricanes.  I’ll freely admit I’ve never been a huge fan of Shannon the coach.  I do believe he’s doing the right thing at Miami in other areas such as academics and what goes on off of the football field, but I was never on board with his coaching abilities.  I’m not ready to give up on that just yet, but he does have the Canes headed in the right direction.  From five wins to seven wins to nine wins, Miami appears ready to take the next step and return to the top half of the polls consistently.  Another jump in 2010 and I’ll admit I was on the wrong side of the Shannon fence.  And even though I’m obviously not a Miami fan by any means, it’ll be nice to have another state power back.
The Friday Fifth: And because it’s Friday…MORE EXPANSION TALK!!!  YEAH!!!  Brian Kelly is the latest to announce Notre Dame likes its independence and always will.  Something about tradition and history and blah, blah, blah.  We get it, the Irish like being on their own when it comes to football.
The List: Schedule time.  I fear this is a short-lived segment given we’re only a few weeks away from baseball being the only option among the major sports.  At that point, I might have to take a different approach for Friday’s version of The List.
1. Philadelphia Flyers @ Boston Bruins – Game 7 (Tied 3-3) – Friday, 7:00
2. Chicago Blackhawks @ San Jose Sharks – Game 1 – Sunday, 3:00
The Sixth Man: One thing very few people seem to be talking about in terms of possible conference expansions is the effect it could have on basketball.  ACC or Big 12, the SEC would add some interesting pieces on the court if they were to expand.  Texas would probably be the big dog in terms of basketball, but you Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, FSU, and Miami are all nice additions as well.  The ACC would actually still remain a strong basketball conference with the likes of Duke, Maryland, and UNC sticking around, but the Big 12 would take a hit.  Sure Kansas would still be in the mix, but in basketball terms, the Big 12 would suffer a huge blow if it were raided.  Of course, if raided to the scale we’re discussing here, there may not be a Big 12 after the dust settles.  At least not one that compares to today’s offering.

The Long Snapper (5/7/10)

USF added another piece to the 2010 recruiting class.  A big piece.  A 6’8” piece.  T.J. Knowles comes to the Bulls from Saddleback College where he had 49 catches for 924 yards and seven touchdowns last season.  The 245-pound receiver who has three years of eligibility left chose USF over Oregon State and Washington.  Knowles is said to be a good route runner, but his size is obviously his biggest asset.  With the loss of A.J. Love for possibly the season, any additions at wide receiver are welcome.  A target like Knowles should be extremely valuable to B.J. Daniels, especially in the red zone.
NationalChamps.net has selected three Florida players to its preseason All-American teams.  New center/former guard Mike Pouncey – a second team All-American last season – was named to the first team.  Punter Chas Henry was named to the third (which really is a travesty considering Henry has been the best punter in the nation for the past few seasons).  And safety Ahmad Black was an honorable mention.  With a young team in terms of age and experience heading into the 2010 season, the three seniors will be looked at to lead.  Their performances on the field should be the first step they take in becoming the next leaders for the Gators.
Who will end up claiming the other cornerback spot for the Gators remains a questionJanoris Jenkins has one spot locked up and will hold onto it until he decides it’s time for him to head to the NFL, but the other side has plenty of competitors.  Many believe Jeremy Brown currently has the edge.  Brown, you may remember, actually outperformed Jenkins after their first few practices as freshman.  Since then, injuries have plagued Brown, but he may finally be back at full strength.  True freshman Joshua Shaw and Jaylen Watkins have also been impressive and both are expected to see plenty of time even if neither earns the starting spot.  Moses Jenkins is a consideration, but he’s probably a long-shot.  And finally, there’s Adrian Bushell.  Bushell may have had a chance to claim the position, but troubles pushed him down the depth chart.
Could Derek Dooley be any more different than Lane Kiffin?  Probably not.  Dooley is saying all the rights things.  He mentions hard work, discipline, and building a problem.  Nothing about other coaches, recruiting violations, pumping gas, or small towns in Florida.  While Kiffin wanted the spotlight, Dooley seems to be most concerned about cleaning up the state of the program both on and off the field.  And Tennessee fans seem excited.  Of course that could be just because he isn’t Kiffin.  But fans are ready for the next step of the program.  Good, bad, or ugly, the last few years are behind them and they are ready to move on.  Regardless of what Dooley says and does now though, he will ultimately be remembered for what the Vols do on the field during his tenure.
The Friday Fifth: Dont’a Hightower is already a good college football player.  When he’s done with his career at Alabama, he may even be considered great.  But is he the most exciting defensive player in the nation?  I have a lot of trouble naming someone who missed more than half of last season the most or best anything, but then again I don’t have a list of those I think are more exciting.  What other defenders out there vie for the title?
The List: A little of what you should be watching this weekend.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers @ Boston Celtics – Game 3 (Tied 1-1) – Friday, 8:00
2. Chicago Blackhawks @ Vancouver Canucks – Game 4 (Blackhawks lead 2-1) – Friday, 9:30
3. Orlando Magic @ Atlanta Hawks – Game 3 (Magic lead 2-0) – Saturday, 5:00
4. Montreal Canadiens @ Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 5 (Tied 2-2) – Saturday, 8:00
5. Saturday Night Live – Betty White, that’s right! – Saturday, 11:30
6. Cleveland Cavaliers @ Boston Celtics – Game 4 (Tied 1-1) – Sunday, 3:30
7. Vancouver Canucks @ Chicago Blackhawks – Game 5 (Blackhawks lead 2-1) – Sunday, 8:00
8. And the New York Yankees visit the Boston Red Sox this weekend.
The Sixth Man: I’m a fan of Kenny Kadji.  I have been since he first signed with Florida.  Unfortunately, his career didn’t start out exactly like a fan would have liked it to.  He had some flashes during his freshman year, but struggled mightily as well.  Then the injury came.  Problems with his back caused Kadji to miss his entire sophomore season and led many to question whether he would ever live up to his promise.  He’ll have at least one more year to try to prove himself.  The NCAA granted Kadji a medical redshirt for last season.  He’ll enter the 2010-2011 season as a redshirt sophomore and have three full years left of eligibility.  Hopefully he’ll use them all because I still believe he can be an important part of the Gator basketball team.