Matt Jones Undergoes Surgery; Running Back Out for Spring

On Wednesday, Florida running back Matt Jones underwent another surgery on his left knee. While Jones is actually ahead of the recovery timetable, the surgery will keep him out of Spring practice.

Matt Jones, Florida Gators

Jones was in the midst of a promising, although frustrating, sophomore campaign when he went down with the injury. He only appeared in five games during the 2013 season, with his yards per carry average going up and down.

The duo of Jones and freshman Kelvin Taylor was expected to be a good one, but we only saw the two carry the ball in the same game twice. There was no two-headed monster, much to the dismay of Gators’ fans.

In Wednesday’s press conference, head coach Will Muschamp mentioned that Jones’s knee was 90 percent healed. Jones is progressing nicely and should be ready to go in time for Fall practice.

Also missing the Spring sessions are linebackers sophomore Alex Anzalone, redshirt sophomore Jeremi Powell, and redshirt freshman Matt Rolin.

Florida Gators Search for Offense with Another Ranked Opponent on the Horizon

Raise your hand if you are pleased with what Will Muschamp has done with the Florida Gators’ defense. If your hand isn’t raised, it should be. The Gators have a head coach that has lost defensive talent to the NFL and injury, but has still produced once of the best units in the nation. It’s Muschamp’s specialty; he made a name for himself as a defensive coordinator before he became the successor to the man we so wish we could never name again. Unfortunately, for Muschamp’s legacy, he is also making a name for himself as a head coach that can’t fit all the pieces together on the other side of the ball.

Will Muschamp and Brent Pease, Florida Gators

First the good (or, at the very least, the acceptable). Against LSU, the Gators managed 17 first downs (not an awful number), converted three of their four fourth-down attempts, didn’t turn over the ball, and saw extended action from freshman phenom running back Kelvin Taylor, who finished with 52 yards on 10 carries.

Now to the bad, or ugly. The Gators converted only six of 17 third-down attempts, managed just 240 yards of total offense, didn’t have a play go for more than 20 yards, gained 4.6 yards per pass and 2.8 per rush, lost starting running back Matt Jones for the season, and scored only six points despite winning the time of possession battle by more than eight minutes.

What has become somewhat of a pattern with the Gators of late, brings up two questions: 1) Will Muschamp ever be able to truly lead a team on both sides of the ball?, and 2) Should Brent Pease be the offensive coordinator?

(more…)

We’ve Made It to August; College Football (and Hope) Commence

We wait far too long for college football to begin. The fan starts to wait the moment the national championship game comes to a conclusion. There are other sports to fill our time, but they don’t fill the void. They are stopgaps and as much as we love them, we always come back to college football. (Unless you’re a college basketball fan first, but then I can’t explain your existence.)

Jeff Driskel Florida Gators

There are countdowns upon countdowns–100 days, 50 days, 1 month. The real one begins in August. Fall camps have started and games are on the horizon. It’s truly the most wonderful time of the year. Or it would be if it weren’t for this infernal heat. I love Florida and all it has to offer (even its copious amounts of crazy), but even I have my limits when having to walk outside in a button-down and khakis. My Canadian blood curses me every time. (Insert obligatory Jesse Palmer mention here.)

So here we are–August. It’s full of practice reports, predictions, trash talk, and apparently appendectomies. You don’t want to enter August with the news that one of your players will miss a few weeks of practice due to the removal of his appendix. You don’t want that player to be your starting quarterback. You don’t want the quarterback to be the only one on the roster with experience because that other guy now calls one of the Carolinas home.

It’s an entirely different article in itself, but this is the year of Jeff Driskel. Not in a year of Chris Leak sort of way, as Leak had on his way to a national championship in his final season. But in the way that Driskel could be made or broken during this, his junior season. Driskel could be on his way to that Chris Leak year. He could also go the way of a, let’s say, Terry Dean. For those keeping score at home, 2006 Leak > 1993 Dean. So maybe just maybe it is in a year of Chris Leak sort of way, or maybe Driskel is one season away from that 2006-type run. On the other side of the coin, maybe there is a youngster in the wings waiting to pounce and take over.

(To be clear, Dean was not a bad quarterback by any stretch of the imagination. However, there was someone else on the depth chart that became the legend Dean did not. Driskel could end up with a historical significance very close to that of Dean’s–a serviceable QB on teams with heaps of talent. That’s not an awful thing, but it’s also not what we want and most likely not what Driskel wants. While the Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow spots are reserved for, well, Wuerffel and Tebow, Driskel has a shot at putting himself alongside someone like a Leak. It’ll take a leap of sorts and even more than the heaps of talent the Florida Gators may already possess, but let’s be clear that 2013 Driskel would much rather resemble 2006 Leak than 1993, or even 1994, Dean. It’s more than just the individual numbers, it’s the end result of the season.)

There will be others to watch on offense, and defense as well. The Gators are sure to produce a star or two or ten, but there is also the opportunity for disappointment. We don’t take disappointment well here in Gator Nation. We never have, but we used to be better at it. Actually, that’s not true at all. The truth is that we used to be quieter about it. All fanbases did. Before the Internet explosion and message boards and Facebook and Twitter, we complained to our close personal circle of family, friends, etc. Today, we live in a world in which we complain to everyone. Disappoint came against Georgia and again against Louisville last season, and we let the world know about it.

It could come again this season. While an undefeated season is a possibility, it’s not likely. I would venture a guess that no one out there fully expects an unblemished record. As much as we all may hope for it, we are realistic and think 11-2 is entirely possible again. If those two at the end of that record come, you’ll be sure we’ll talk about them. There’s nothing wrong with that–every fanbase does it (even if at times it feels like we may do it more)–but for now we ignore the possible disappointment. We ignore it because it’s August and we have hope.

Hope is a dangerous thing in sports, but it’s also what makes a fan a fan. Every season I have hope; some seasons more than others, but hope all the same. But look at it this way for a moment: I was 33 years old at the end of the 2012 season. In those 33 years, the Gators won three national championships. Not a bad percentage at all (unless you’re Alabama of recent years), but three ultimate prizes in 33 years. In that same time, FSU took home only two trophies and Tennessee managed only one. Yet, we fans have hope.

Hope despite a quarterback with a future that could go in either direction. Hope despite a largely new running game (although, let’s be honest, we’re all pretty excited about it). Hope despite a group of receivers that need to step up possibly more than any other unit on the entire squad. Hope despite plenty of new starters and faces on defense. Hope despite a talented kick returner lost for the season.

I, personally, hope for Driskel’s progression. I hope for big things from Matt Jones and an explosive rookie campaign from Kelvin Taylor. I hope for a go-to receiver or two. I hope for a dependable offensive line. I hope for a frightening defensive line. I hope for consistent tackling from the linebackers. I hope for All-American seasons from Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. I hope to finally be able to spell Loucheiz correctly on the first try. I hope for 10 wins, at least. I hope for an SEC Championship Game appearance. I hope for a season to be proud of. I hope. We all do.

Orange and Blue Debut Becomes Glorified Practice; Are the Days of a Spring ‘Game’ Gone?

The Orange and Blue Debut was more spring practice and less spring game this time around, and it may be a sign of things to come.

Jeff Driskel - Florida Gators

Under former head coach Urban Meyer, the Florida Gators’ annual spring game took on a differing look depending on the whim of the coach. In mid-game, if Meyer wanted the field goal unit to keep kicking and kicking and kicking, they did just that. Under current head coach Will Muschamp, not much has changed. Gone may be the days of a true game and here to stay may be a glorified practice designed to end the spring in front of Florida fans in The Swamp.

There were reasons for the altered format and it had mostly to do with injuries. A depleted offensive line only allowed the Gators a practice environment. Without the ability to run out two full units, Florida turned the spring game into a scrimmage at times and a practice session at others. It came down to whatever works and whatever you can do with what you have.

There’s little to take from the Gators’ spring game, and even less so if it truly becomes a practice session like it did on Saturday. For every spring star that doesn’t bring that talent with him to the fall, there is a player that is relatively quiet during the spring semester only to break out when the games that count begin. Feel free to be disappointed now or overly excited at the prospect of a breakout star, but keep most of whatever it is you are thinking bottled up until August 31.

It’s hard to gauge exactly how much quarterback Jeff Driskel has improved. The passing game has to develop; that much we know. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease may find himself looking for work elsewhere if it doesn’t. It starts and ends with Driskel as he will enter the 2013 season as the undisputed leader of the offense. That wasn’t the case before the 2012 season. An 11-2 record may have given the soon-to-be junior some confidence heading into 2013, but now he needs to make the plays to go with it. Driskel can use his running ability to his advantage, but with a talented stable of running backs, he may not need to. He needs to develop as a passer and stretch the field. We’re all waiting for the fireworks to come back to Florida’s offense. And we’re long past waiting patiently.

Speaking of the running backs, the starting job belongs to Matt Jones and that’s a good thing. Jones came on strong in limited action as a freshman, ending the 2012 regular season with his coming out party in the victory over instate rival Florida State. Jones has distanced himself from the pack during spring practice, but there’s still talent behind him. Mack Brown has stuck around and hopes to earn carries and then there’s the player we’ve all been waiting for years to see in a Gators’ uniform. Kelvin Taylor didn’t disappoint on Saturday and we all hope he has many more successful Saturdays in his future.

Like Taylor, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson enrolled early and was able to participate in spring practice. Unfortunately for Robinson, he missed eight practices due to a high-ankle sprain. Despite not being entirely healthy, the freshman was still able to show what he can bring to offense on Saturday. And fans weren’t the only ones impressed by Robinson. Muschamp is ready for Robinson to step in right away and cornerback Jaylen Watkins had the following to say:

“He got an injury and instead of backing down, he took on the challenge to go into the training room and get better and pushed out there while he was hurting. Today he was limping and still making great catches. When you see a guy like that, you know he has something great.” – Jaylen Watkins, Cornerback, Florida Gators

The spring has ended for the Gators and now the true wait begins. We have more than four months before we see the orange and blue in action again and all we have until then are the memories of the spring game that wasn’t a game at all. That leaves us plenty of time to discuss debate the good and the bad we expect to see from the Gators in the fall. It may be premature, but it feels mildly appropriate to break out the first one of these for the 2013 season now–just win.

Florida Gators 37 – Florida State Seminoles 26; Gators Finish Regular Season In Spectacular Fashion

It’s funny how things work out. Not 30 minutes before the Florida Gators rivalry matchup with the Florida State Seminoles kicked off, I posted a clip of Fred Taylor dominating the FSU defense. In that clip, the announcers mention the ‘Noles elite run defense only to watch Taylor finish off a long touchdown run at that very moment. This Saturday would end in a very similar fashion.

Mike Gillislee - Florida Gators

FSU entered the game with the nation’s best defense statistically. It left with a 37-26 loss in which is gave up 394 yards (244 on the ground) to a team that…well, let’s just say struggled…has struggled on offense for much of the season. 140 of those rushing yards came from senior running back Mike Gillislee who would not only pass 1,000 yards for the season, but also 1,100. You would think it had been decades since the Gators had had a 1,000-yard rusher, but in reality it was only since 2004. Regardless, it’s a great accomplishment for a deserving player that has worked just as hard as anyone this season. Happy to see Gillislee end the regular season on a high note and think about this for just a moment–he rushed for 140 or more yards three times this season with two of those occurrences coming against LSU and FSU. Not too shabby for the senior.

Then there was the true freshman—Matt Jones. When Gillislee went down in the fourth, head coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease decided the best thing to do was to keep him on the sideline as the game looked to be in the bag anyway. They turned to Jones to close it out for the Gators, and close it out he did. Jones responded with a season-high 81 rushing yards. Yes, it was against a very tired Florida State defense (a good defense all the same), but the Gators truly put the game away with Jones’s hard running. The freshman finished the regular season with a modest 259 yards, but the future looks bright for Jones and the Gators’ run game.

This game was about so much more than what the Gators were able to do on the ground (and we didn’t even mention the offensive line; applause gentlemen!). It was about beating FSU in Tallahassee and an offense that was better than expected. There were still noticeable improvements to be made, but the end result of the game erased much of that from our minds. Our Florida Gators beat the Florida State Seminoles on the road to finish the regular season 11-1. Yes, really.

There’s a wow factor with that 11-1 record. The Florida Gators weren’t an 11-1 team heading into the 2012 college football season. They were a team coming off a 7-6 season that should have been improved. We could definitely see a one-win improvement. Two was even a possibility. Running through the schedule and looking at individual matchups, there was also a 10-win feel in the air. 11-1 with wins over four of the current top 13 and a loss only to No. 3, well, here comes that maniacal laughter again.

It all came to a glorious end on Saturday night when the Gators beat the ‘Noles. There are wins and then there are near perfect endings. 24 points in the fourth quarter after giving up a 13-0 lead that should have been bigger. Entering the final frame, FSU was up 20-13. Florida would win by 11, which really was 17. It made for a joyous end to a truly odd regular season. But if odd regular seasons produce 11-1 Gators’ teams, keep coming at us with the weirdness.

It’s been a few days since the victory and I’ve had some time to come down off of my cloud. That doesn’t mean the taste of beating a hated rival is gone, but things have calmed. I now await the future and a BCS bowl. I wanted the Gators to win 10 games this season—that was my goal. Florida is now staring down 12. There is no trip to Atlanta and no chance to play for the National Championship, but this season was a pleasant surprise in the “just win” arena. As hard as things were to watch at times, they were equally wonderful at others. It went by at the breakneck speed of a quick three-and-out, but we still stand here at 11-1 wondering what the 2013 season will bring and how things could get even better.

2013 Football Recruiting: Alvin Bailey Commits To Florida; Gators Add 4-Star Wide Receiver

While basking in the glory (?) of the Florida Gators season opening win, good news was delivered to Gainesville. 2013 Seffner, FL (Armwood) wide receiver Alvin Bailey has made his choice and it’s the orange and blue. The 5’10″, 170-pound four-star WR committed to the Gators over UCF and Notre Dame.

Bailey joins a Gators class that now has four wide receivers and they couldn’t come at a better time. The Gators need playmakers to make Brent Pease’s offense go. Bailey will bring speed and talent to the position immediately and should make an impact from day one.

His commitment comes as no surprise. Bailey has been a fan of the Gators for what seems like forever. Once the offer was extended, it was only a matter of time before he would commit. (Although I did hear one recruiting analyst on the radio this past week say he thought Bailey was a lock for the Fighting Irish. Oops.) Bailey joins high school teammate Matt Jones, who didn’t look too bad in his Gators’ debut.

Pease still has his sites set on a few other receivers in the 2013 class, but it will be hard for the Gators to add a fifth or sixth at this point. The position may be considered full by uncommitted prospects.

Both 247Sports and Rivals give Bailey four stars. 247 put him in their top 247 at No. 212 overall and at No. 24 among wide receivers. Rivals has him in their Rivals100 at No. 93 and puts him at No. 13 at his position.

Florida Gators Will Play Freshmen Early And Often During 2012 Football Season

The Florida Gators will play a number of true freshmen during the 2012 football season and that trend will start during Saturday’s opener against Bowling Green. It’s not surprising* as it’s become quite the frequent occurrence not only at Florida, but around the nation.

Among those expected to contribute and even see time in the first game are running back Matt Jones, wide receivers Raphael Andrades and Latroy Pittman, tight end Kent Taylor, offensive linemen Jessamen Dunker and D.J. Humphries, defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard, linebackers Dante Fowler Jr. and Antonio Morrison, and defensive back Brian Poole.

We’re far past the days where a redshirt season was the norm. In today’s college football world, you redshirt if you’re hurt or you’re really, truly not ready to see the field. Otherwise, game experience is a desire of coaching staffs across the nation. The Florida freshman will earn valuable playing time in 2012 and (hopefully) be more prepared for 2013 and beyond.

*We should just go ahead and add a new category to the mix – Things That Don’t Surprise Anyone But Are Still Considered “Newsworthy.”

Defining Season Begins On Saturday For Florida Gators Running Back Mack Brown

Mike Gillislee is the Florida Gators starting running back. We know this, and we’re also aware of his lofty expectations for the 2012 season. Behind him is a group of backs with very little game experience. There’s a true freshman, a converted defensive back/linebacker, and Mack Brown.

Brown came to Florida with the hype that surrounds most four-star recruits. In the two seasons since, he has 65 yards rushing on only 15 carries. Three of those carries came during a true freshman season that he was fortunate enough to get a redshirt out of. As a redshirt freshman in 2011, more was expected. The result was 12 total carries, 10 of which came in one game. To say Brown’s career hasn’t gone as expected thus far is an understatement. BUT…he has three years of eligibility left.

Gillislee is a senior, so the role of his backup is a coveted one. The Gators haven’t had a primary go-to back in…let’s not even bother to count how long…so the backups will get work. Add that to the fact that in 2013, Florida will be looking for a starter and you have quite the desirable position to be in if your Brown. He’ll compete for carries in 2012, but if he plays well enough when called upon, he may earn more in 2013.

This season could define Brown’s career as a Gator. Play well and earn more for the future. Underachieve and we’ll hear even more about Matt Jones, Chris Johnson, Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. There’s plenty of talent at the position and more coming. One misstep and anyone of those names could find themselves buried deep down the depth chart. Brown has to prove, on the field, that he’s worthy of that No. 2 spot.

2013 Football Recruiting: Alvin Bailey Rethinks Interest In Florida Gators After Not Receiving Offer

One day after the Florida Gators added wide receiver Marqui Hawkins to their 2013 recruiting class, another pass catcher said his interest in the orange and blue is waning. Seffner, FL (Armwood) WR Alvin Bailey would have committed to Florida at one time, but now he’s not nearly as sure. Without an offer from the Gators, Bailey seems close to eliminating them from his list of possibilities.

Bailey was hoping to join Armwood teammate Matt Jones – his best friend – on the Gators offense one day. His dream was to receive an offer and commit on the spot. Bailey even went as far as saying that commitment would have been it and the recruiting process would have ended there for him.

Fast forward to Tuesday and those feelings have almost entirely vanished. While Florida hasn’t been eliminated yet, Bailey plans to trim his list after spring football is over and if the Gators still haven’t offered, they’ll be out of the running.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why Florida hasn’t extended an offer to the four-star receiver. One of the nation’s better WRs, Bailey would be a welcome addition to a number of programs. However, if you take a look at what the Gators already have at the position – or at least what they’ve picked up recently – you may find your answer.

Florida has three wide receivers that are already a part of the 2013 recruiting class. Not one of those three is listed under 6’1″. Look at the 2012 class and you’ll find two more WRs both listed 6’0″ or taller. You can even look ahead to 2014 and see the Gators just extended an offer to the 6’2″ Austin Roberts ($). Bailey, on the other hand, is listed at 5’11″. While clearly talented, there’s a reason Florida hasn’t offered the Seffner receiver. One has to wonder if his size has anything to do with it.

“10 Things I Want Out Of The 2012 Florida Gators Football Season” – One Eyed Willy

We spend so much time discussing what’s best for the Florida Gators; what will help the sports teams both on and off the field. From time to time, we decide to be selfish though and discuss what’s best for us. These thoughts could help the football team or they could help us as fans. We may want a certain player to succeed because he’s a vital part of the roster or just because we like his jersey number. Whatever the case, these are the things we want out of the Gators’ 2012 football season. Up first, One Eyed Willy.

10. Less trouble off the field. Let’s be honest…ultimately it’s what happens on the field that we all care about. If we were going 12-0 and in the BCS Championship game, few fans would have a problem with the recent “misfortunes” of our players off the field. But, being a graduate of the University of Florida, I would hope that at some point the players can start realizing that any trouble they get into will be on the cover of the next day’s sports section and will be a black eye not only on themselves, but the entire football team and the university. At some point the double-digit arrests per year have to stop – or at least slow down.

9. A big time punt returner. I still remember sitting in the stands chanting “Lito, Lito, Lito!” before #3 would take one to the house. And while our punt block team was superb last year, I am still waiting for the next Brandon James or Keiwan Ratliff to step back there are take a couple punts the distance. We have tried several different punt returners over the last few years, but none have been very impressive in my eyes and some have been downright awful. So maybe 2012 is the year someone surprises me and becomes another weapon to compliment those 10 guys up front who have certainly been holding their own.

8. Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. As a self-proclaimed recuitnik, I realize that recruiting is a 365-day process. The 2013 recruiting class is off to a great start – probably the best start that we have ever had – but we are to the point now where we don’t just need great recruits, we need great recruits to fill some great big holes we have in the roster. Priority #1A and #1B is to find several highly rated wide receivers and offensive lineman. With our defensive line being stacked as much as I remember it being in the recent past, it’s time to focus on the offensive side of the ball and attract some guys that can not only play right away, but help this team win sooner rather than later.

7. More Matt Elam. I don’t care where he is on the field or what he is doing…I want to see more Matt Elam! Even though Elam is only a junior next year, there is a good chance that this could be our last time seeing him wear the Gator orange and blue. Elam is the heart and soul of this defense and we live or die by how much he gets involved in the game. So let Elam throw a couple of passes. Let him play running back some. Hell, let the guy punt or placekick. I really don’t care. Just put Matt Elam in a position to make plays and let’s see what happens.

6. Beat Texas A&M in Week 2. I talk more about wins in general further down my list, but I truly believe that this is a big game for the Gators. Not only are we playing a good team in week 2 (something we don’t often do), but we are playing at their stadium (one of the tougher places to play in the country) and against a team that will be playing in their very first SEC game. The Aggies would like nothing more than to send a message to the entire league that they have arrived by knocking one of the big boys off the first chance they get. We cannot let that happen. In order for the 2012 season not to be over before it really even starts, we must take care of business in College Station.

(more…)