Mike Gillislee Caps Off Florida Gators Career With Magical Season

Okay, so I admit using the word “magical” is a little much, but do you expect any less from me? First of all, it’s 6:00 in the morning as I write this. Second, I have a five-month-old child, which is basically the equivalent of having a drunk person that has lost the ability to speak in your house at all times. And finally, we all really do want to believe it was magical.

Mike Gillislee - Florida Gators

Mike Gillislee set lofty goals for himself entering the 2012 college football season–1,500 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns–and while the Florida Gators’ senior didn’t reach those goals, he did hit a milestone we’re all proud of. Gillislee capped off the regular season with 140 yards on the ground and two touchdowns against the Florida State Seminoles to give him 1,104 yards and 10 TDs on the season. Not only did he become the first true Gators’ running back to break the 1,000-yard mark since Ciatrick Fason did in 2004, but he also became the first to carry the ball 200 times or more and rush for 10 or more touchdowns since Fason. Tim Tebow did both and Trey Burton and Percy Harvin found the end zone 10 or more times, but Gillislee is the first running back to do it since Ron Zook patrolled the Gators’ sidelines. And now is as good a time as any to quickly move on from Zook and forget I even mentioned him.

Back to the wonders of the Gators’ rediscovered running game. Gillislee was a bright spot in a season that was about as odd as odd can be. But, as we saw against Florida State, he wasn’t alone. Overall, there weren’t many wow moments to the running game outside of Gillislee, but that’s also because Florida decided early on that he would be the go-to back as long as he remained healthy. Sure, Jeff Driskel has his moments and Burton had a few of those plays that made you believe in his aura once again, but the running game belonged to Gillislee. Although, we did see glimpses of the future and it made us smile.

For Gillislee though, we don’t know what that future is. He has one game remaining as a Florida Gator. It’s easy to imagine him getting plenty of carries against the Louisville Cardinals in the Sugar Bowl. He was the workhorse all season for an 11-1 Gators’ squad and both Will Muschamp and Brent Pease will want him to go out with a bang. Maybe not a Tebow-sized exit, but a good one all the same.

That game will bring an end to a career we hoped for more from, but got all we ever wanted during one final season. Years prior, we imagined a final season during which Gillislee would finally become the number one running back. Saying he didn’t disappoint would be an understatement. When the offensive line stepped up its play, Gillislee was great. When they were average, he was above it. When they were down, he was still the shining spot. Yes, he had better games than others and some that were nothing to praise, but we’re looking at the overall picture here.

We congratulate the Florida Gators on their successful 2012 season, but we single out Mike Gillislee. There are many reasons we’re looking forward to the Sugar Bowl, but watching Gillislee one final time is very high on the list.

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.

Monday Morning Driskel: Florida Gators Thoughts After Win Over The LSU Tigers

Another win, another new Florida Gators feature at The Bull Gator. The name is inspired by our quarterback Jeff Driskel and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback, which discusses a plethora of topics concerning the week’s NFL games. We hope to do something similar, but on a minor, more pertinent-to-us level. Don’t worry, it won’t be nearly as long.

And another happy week in Gatorland.

Apologies for the fact that its Tuesday. Pink eye is the culprit.

If I were to tell you that six weeks into the season, Florida would be sitting undefeated at 5-0, AND Florida State would already have one loss despite beating Clemson, I doubt you would believe me.

But that’s just where we are. It’s almost funny. The Florida Gators, whose fans thought the Gators were facing a sure-loss against LSU and could be sporting a losing-record right now, is undefeated. The Florida State Seminoles, whose fans seriously thought of the year as “Championship or bust,” has suffered another tremendous setback in its loss to North Carolina State.

Oh, and as a pleasant bonus on the side, Georgia was blown out by a South Carolina team that looks increasingly-ferocious every week. Of course we have to play the Gamecocks, but we’ll enjoy the Georgia loss for the moment.

Back to our game. Many may have thought the game was ugly–and it would have been three years ago in the Urban Meyer-era–but Florida’s win Saturday over the then No. 4 LSU Tigers was a thing of beauty. It was a testament to the new era, one of down-hill running and stifling defense that Will Muschamp is bringing about as the new style of Gators Football.

What Happened

The defense gave us the chance to win the game: Enough credit cannot be given to the defense this week, as they truly and completely man-handled an LSU offense that is usually not one to laugh at. The defense made the Tigers’ offense look so bad that it looked like what the opening game’s Bowling Green’s offense should have looked like. The Tigers only had 200 yards of total offense, and the Gators made one of the most-feared running backs, Spencer Ware, look pedestrian, as they held him to only 21 yards. Florida wouldn’t have had a chance to win this game without the defense performing the way it did.

Mike Gillislee is a work-horse running back: Gillislee, who carried a career-high 34 times and added 146 yards, showed us something that perhaps we didn’t know before: Gillislee can carry the Florida offense by himself. And that’s just what he did. He scored the only two touchdowns of the game for either team.

Florida proved that it is a much better team than we thought: I doubt most of us thought Florida would be this successful to this point in the season. It’s actually a very refreshing surprise. It’s almost like Auburn and the magic of Cam Newton.

The game was taken from LSU: After trailing 6-0 at halftime, the Gators continued their trend of comebacks that are looking more and more impressive every week.

The receivers didn’t do much: But they didn’t need to. Jordan Reed led the Gators with 30 yards, which pretty much sums up that the Gators didn’t do much passing on Saturday. Luckily, they didn’t need to. The running attack led the charge.

The offensive line continued to show that it’s much better than last year: The O-line gave up a lot of sacks in the first half, but they recovered nicely. The line had their way with an injury-depleted Tigers’ line in the second half, and were responsible for Florida’s success on the ground. Also new was the new formation, “God’s play”.

Jeff Driskel’s participation: Driskel didn’t do much to win the game, but he did have a first down-earning play to allow the Gators to run out a good portion of the clock. Driskel was responsible for a few of his sacks in the first half and showed some qualities of a first-year starter, but he didn’t lose the game for the Gators. And that is something that I think we can live with, knowing that Driskel is continuing to improve.

Offensive Most Valuable Player

Running back Mike Gillislee: Gillislee couldn’t have been much better. He dominated the game and none of his carries resulted in a loss.

Defensive Most Valuable Player

Safety Matt Elam: Elam showed proved his case as the best safety in the NCAA. He led the Gators with seven tackles and looked like the strongest player on the field, despite the fact that he is an undersized safety.

Special Teams Most Valuable Player:

Punter Kyle Christy: Christy’s booming punts were the main reason the Gators won the field-position battle.

Play Of The Day

Matt Elam tackles anything in sight: Louichez Purifoy was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Florida Gators 14 – LSU Tigers 6; Mike Gillislee, Defense Lead Gators To Victory

Normally, putting your first points on the scoreboard with only 5:15 remaining in the third quarter of a game would mean doom…unless, you’re the Florida Gators. The Gators wouldn’t score until late in the third, but that first touchdown would give them the lead for good against the LSU Tigers. With the 14-6 win, Florida moved to No. 4 in the AP Poll and No. 6 in the Coaches’ (but more on that later).

Mike Gillislee - Florida Gators

Like any good Florida fan, I was nervous heading into the game. Sure, I had my glass-half-full attitude with me, but I was internally nervous all the same. After all, this was October and this was LSU. Despite the Tigers’ apparent regression over the last couple of weeks, it was still a big team with a lot of wins in the past few seasons – something that can’t be said about the Gators. So nerves battled hope and that war would wage on throughout most of the game. I won’t say the entire 60 minutes because second-half Florida lifted my confidence with each passing minute, but it was close.

I won’t say I was happy with the offensive performance, but I was pleased with what the Gators did late in the game when they had to do it. Remember, this was a good/great LSU defense that Florida was facing. This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill defense the Gators were up against; this was one that has been considered among the best the past few seasons. Despite an average of 3.0 yards per carry (remember, that includes sacks), the run game held it’s own against the Tigers. When Florida needed drives late in the game, it got them. It wasn’t picture perfect, but it fell right in line with the just win philosophy we live by here at The Bull Gator. It doesn’t always have to look good and style points will only get you so far. In the end, you just need to do whatever you can to win. That was Saturday for the Gators. Only 237 total yards on offense. Only 14 points score. A win all the same.

Despite a relative lack of offensive fireworks, there was a star among the unit. One you would expect, but a star nonetheless. It was, of course, senior running back Mike Gillislee. If one player has put this team on his back this season, it’s Gillislee. Lofty predictions will only take you so far, but Gillislee seems determined to get close to his while leading the Gators to victory after victory. He carried the ball 34 times (10 more than his previous career-high) for 146 yards and found the end zone twice. It was a workhorse performance and put Gillislee at 548 rushing yards, 5.3 yards per carry and seven touchdowns on the season. As goes the senior, so go the Gators.

It all came together on the defensive side of the ball. We heard a lot this offseason about how good the Florida Gators’ defense would be. Some even threw out “best defensive line in the nation.” Other would praise the talent in the secondary. Although linebacker play has been inconsistent over the past few seasons, the experience of leaders Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins would shine. Overall, the Gators’ defense was going to win them games and keep them in others. The offense’s job was to limit mistakes, while the defense carried the team. Basically, exactly what we witnessed in the win over LSU.

There are plenty of defensive players to be mentioned here, but let’s go with one for the moment. Matt Elam, Matt Elam, Matt Elam. Elam was determined to knock someone into Sunday. Friend or foe, Elam was out to lay hit after hit. After nearly taking teammate Loucheiz Purifoy out of the game, Elam set his sites on LSU players (a good decision on his part after Purifoy gave him a bit of a death stare). Despite flying all over the field throwing his entire body at Tiger after Tiger, it wasn’t a big hit that will be remembered. Elam’s strip on Odell Beckham was a game-changer. Had LSU maintained the ball, they could be the ones celebrating now. Instead, Elam made a heads up play and one that was more important than we may remember one day. Game ball one goes to Gillislee; game balls two, three, four, and five to Elam.

A hard-fought victory for sure, and one we’ll remember for a long time. While the Florida Gators are still improving and have much to work on, with each week we see a team on the rise. One that does more right than it does wrong, and one that is now more than worthy of that top-10 ranking.

Monday Morning Driskel: Florida Gators Thoughts After Win Over The Kentucky Wildcats

Another win, another new Florida Gators feature at The Bull Gator. The name is inspired by our quarterback Jeff Driskel and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback, which discusses a plethora of topics concerning the week’s NFL games. We hope to do something similar, but on a minor, more pertinent-to-us level. Don’t worry, it won’t be nearly as long.

And another happy week in Gatorland.

This week, the Florida Gators continued their football domination of the Kentucky Wildcats, shutting them out. Will Muschamp’s squad rose to No. 11/12 in the AP and Coaches Polls. The big story was the extension of the Gators’ 26-and-counting win streak over the Wildcats, a probable reason for the Kentucky fans to continue to revert their focus back to the basketball season, which is quite a while from now.

What Happened

Jeff Driskel continued his balling: Sir Driskel could eventually be one of the best Gators to play at Florida by the time he graduates. As a true sophomore, JD looks better in Brent Pease’s system than Brantley looked in Charlie Weis’. Part of that has to be because of Driskel’s mobility. His ability to avoid the pass-rush and make plays deep down the field thus far has been Roethlisberger-esque, and right now, he is leading our football team.

The defense was, for the most part, dominant: Led by a surprise Jaylen Watkins pick six, the Gators’ defense forced three turnovers, all interceptions. All could pretty much be attributed to Morgan Newton’s erratic inaccuracy, which was really terrible, but we’ll still claim those turnovers. On a similar note, there were a lot of open Wildcats that Newton completely missed, which needs to be worked on. Other than that and some success for Kentucky in the run game, Florida’s defense did indeed look pretty dominant.

Kentucky as, same-old Kentucky: There’s a reason none of the players on Kentucky have been alive since the last Wildcat win over the Gators. Kentucky is back this year with their usual football mediocrity, and their cause wasn’t helped much by starting quarterback Maxwell Smith’s unavailability.

The game was secured early: The Gators led 24-0 at the half, and Jeff Driskel and other key starters started their rests in the fourth quarter. Mike Gillislee got his rest early, not playing after the first series in the second half.

Receivers are getting open: This can be largely attributed to Driskel’s ability to extend the play and give the receivers more time to get open, but there’s no doubt that this team is better than last year’s in the receiving corps. Sure, no player is averaging 100 yards-per-game, but a good number of the Florida receivers are chipping in with a few catches in each game. With 10 players targeted in Saturday’s game, speedster Andre Debose, who was largely nonexistent in all areas of the game, was the notable exception.

The defense is great in the fourth quarter: I put this up last week, and nothing changed this week, so I figured I’d put this up again.

More raving for Jeff Driskel: Driskel threw his first interception of the year on a terrible throw up into double-coverage in the end-zone, but give him loads of credit. He followed up his mistake with another game that showed his improvement. Another game note: his accuracy is amazing.

Ouch Video Of The Day

• Tight end Jordan Reed sandwiched: I really don’t know how Reed got up after this play, let alone held onto the ball. He came out of the play with a shoulder injury, but he appears to be fine.

This is also the play of the game, simply because I can’t find video of Jaylen Watkins’ interception and touchdown return.

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!

Monday Morning Driskel: Florida Gators Thoughts After The Win Over The Tennessee Volunteers

Another win, another new Florida Gators feature at The Bull Gator. The name is inspired by our quarterback Jeff Driskel and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback, which discusses a plethora of topics concerning the week’s NFL games. We hope to do something similar–but on a minor, more pertinent-to-us level. Don’t worry, it won’t be nearly as long. Let me know how you think this goes.

Also to take note: I AM NOT CRAZY. I know it’s Tuesday. Sadly, the idea came to me Monday night, so I figured why let a week go to waste?

Let me start this off by saying this was a fantastic college football week. The Florida Gators defeated the Tennessee Volunteers in stunning fourth quarter-shutout fashion, and Florida moved up to No. 14 in the polls, just behind Lane Kiffin and USC, who, to top it all off, lost to Stanford 14-21. And if there’s one thing Tennessee and Florida fans can agree on, I think it’s the happiness brought by seeing Lane Kiffin fail.

Beyond that, there’s not a great deal the Volunteers would be willing to agree with us about, after our 37-20 win in the hostile Rocky Top-land. For the Gators, it was a tale of two halves. The first half was slightly ugly, which featured Mr. Muschamp screaming at the top of his lungs at a referee, and the second half was, as TBG said, “glorious.”

What We Learned

Jeff Driskel is improving, quickly: I don’t think we could ask for much more than what Driskel has given us so far, and he looks like he can be so much better. He was extremely accurate, and his touchdown pass to Jordan Reed with defenders surrounding him was a thing of beauty. I feel bad for Jacoby Brissett, but Team Driskel all the way!

Driskel, calm and composed: The knock on Driskel coming into this year was his composure level. After showing he can effectively control the football game, accurately facilitate the football to his receivers, and thankfully handle the football without coughing it up, Driskel would appear to have better composure tenfold. Seriously, you couldn’t ask for much more from a sophomore quarterback who was starting in only his second game.

Against the run, Tennessee is tough inside, extremely flawed on the outside: If you noticed a trend in Florida’s results from different run plays, you weren’t alone. The Gators busted out long runs, including an 80-yard run by Trey Burton by avoiding the middle of the Tennessee defense, which was stuffing Florida at the line all night. The Vols have a few kinks to sort out on the corners of their defense.

Trey Burton can be a factor running the Wildcat: Burton was potently effective Saturday, running for 91 yards and two touchdowns on only three carries. We knew Burton had a chance to make an impact from the Wildcat, but it’s been a while since he has made much of a difference.

Frankie Hammond Jr. looks like Percy Harvin: Hammond Jr. is nowhere near the athletic level that Harvin is, or was, but Hammond sure has looked explosive and surprisingly smart in the open field.

The defense is great in the fourth quarter: Not so great in the first half, but I think preventing opposing teams from reaching the end-zone in the fourth is somewhat impressive, especially against a couple pretty good offensive teams. Jeff Dillman’s conditioning probably has a lot to do with this.

The safeties are all over the field: Josh Evans was everywhere at once during the first two games, despite getting knocked out of the second. Matt Elam also seemed to be picking up the slack during the last game by leading the team with 10 tackles.

Our defense, Marcus Roberson can’t catch: Very disappointed by Roberson’s hands. He’s always there for an interception, only to find it just beyond his grasp.

Things We Already Knew That Proved To Remain True

Will Muschamp is somewhat of a hothead: Haha, TBG seems to be unhappy about this.

Gilly’s good: Mike Gillislee is continuing to live up to his role as the probable best player on offense.

The Vols would be very sad when they lost: I wish I could have found a picture of the fans crying when they realized there was no chance of a burnt orange win, but if you watched the game on ESPN, you know what I’m talking about.

Surprise Of The Day

Derek Dooley may also be a hothead: Spiking the ball down is not an appropriate reaction after his quarterback Tyler Bray delivered a perfect pass to the disgruntled coach.

Play Of The Day

Trey Burton’s 80-yard touchdown run: This was just great. The Tennessee guy took an awful angle, though.

Florida Gators Rise To No. 14 In Both Polls; We Just Might Have Something Here

The Florida Gators have moved up to No. 14 in both major polls. The Gators can attribute the move to a second half against the Tennessee Volunteers that was a thing of beauty. Starting the season at No. 23, the Gators have showed enough improvement over the first three games to warrant a top-15 ranking by the voters. Is this rise a sign of things to come? Or simply a matter of an early schedule that doesn’t scare many?

This time around, let’s plant ourselves firmly in the glass-half-full camp. Over the first three games, the Florida Gators have shown the world enough to lead us to believe this train is headed in the right direction. Jeff Driskel’s passer efficiency rating is 30 points higher than John Brantley’s was last season. Mike Gillislee has lived up to his lofty goals. Jordan Reed is starting to look like he could be an NFL tight end. And the defense is playing the final 30 minutes of games like it’s the last time they’ll ever set foot on a field. Things aren’t perfect, otherwise we wouldn’t have to marvel at halftime adjustments, but they may just be better than we thought they would be two weeks ago.

Take Driskel for example. Heading into the season opener against Bowling Green, the Gators were a joke to many because they hadn’t chosen a starting quarterback. Driskel got the nod (sort of, there was that whole first play thing) in the first quarter and came out for the second half as the Gators’ quarterback. He was named the starter for game two and there are few out there now questioning that decision. We’ll play the numbers game quickly:

143.0 – 166.3 – 195.0

That’s the progression of Driskel’s efficiency rating over the first three games. Even that 143.0 against Bowling Green is higher than Brantley’s 2011 (140.8). Driskel currently settles in at 170.2 on the season. He’s completing 71.2% of his passes and has yet to throw an interception. Sure, he’s been sacked nine times, but one of those three games was against the team that lead the nation in sacks in 2011 – Texas A&M. Even in that aspect, he’s improving. Driskel appeared much more aware of the defense, the sidelines, of everything against Tennessee.

The Gators need more than a solid to good to great quarterback to lead them to more wins; they need an entire team. There are improvements to be made and penalties to disappear. There are coverages to improve and penalties to disappear. There are blocking schemes to get down to a science and penalties to disappear. There are crucial third downs to stop and penalties to disappear. And then there are the penalties that need to disappear.

It’s easy to get overly positive after a quick string of victories early in the season. Let’s not kid ourselves though, we aren’t thinking national championship or even SEC title at this point. We’re thinking of Kentucky and for a few days at least smiling about the future. There’s promise in this team and hope of renewed fire. The second half against Tennessee was one that allowed those of us fans to sit back and enjoy Florida football. The tile in front of my television thanked me as, for even just a few minutes, the pacing stopped. There’s plenty of season left, but, for now, there’s a little more excitement back in the air.

Football Recap: Florida Gators 37 – Tennessee Volunteers 20

The Florida Gators defeated the Tennessee Volunteers 37-20 on Saturday night after putting together a near perfect second half. I’ll get into the game as a whole, but first, a new feature I call What I Wrote at the Half. (Everything in italics was written at the half without any knowledge of the final 30 minutes. No, I can’t predict the future.)

The offense might not destroy the Florida Gators chances of success. The defense not reaching the highest levels of greatness that everyone expected might not either. What could, and probably will, ultimately kill any chance of the Gators competing throughout the entire 2012 college football season will be penalties. Against Bowling Green, it was infuriatingly comical. Against Texas A&M, it was like a different team was out there…in a good way. In the first half against Tennessee, stupid took on a whole new meaning. Luckily, the Vols had their own problems with penalties too.

This is a team with heaps of talent in the defensive backfield. So much talent that I used the word heaps for probably the first time ever (and hopefully the last). But there is pass interference and holding and pass interference and holding. There are occasions where those penalties are okay. If you’re just flat out beat and the receiver is going to make a big play, take the penalty. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than a big play or a touchdown. But when you’re in coverage and you have position and don’t need the hold, well, don’t hold.

And then there was the removal of a helmet on the field. Xavier Nixon, you’re better than that. Or at least, you know better than that. You got dug into by Will Muschamp when you came to the sideline and rightfully so. That wasn’t smart football by any means of the term. That’s just not something you do. You knew where you were on the field and you let your emotions get to you. It was a moment of stupidity. We’re sure you’ll learn from it, but it can’t happen. Not again, and not even once in the first place.

Since I mentioned Muschamp, I might as well express my feelings toward him as well. Yelling, screaming, crazy, red-faced Muschamp used to be funny. Then it became a disturbing sideshow act. Now it has reached the point that I’m about one more profanity-laced tirade away from being disgusted. Get in the face of a player that commits a dumb penalty. Get excited when something goes right. But cut out whatever it is you think you’re doing when you go after the referees. There are bad calls; every game has them. There are also calls that were right on even if they negatively impact the Gators. You screaming and yelling at a ref does nothing and it makes you look like a joke. 16 games into you’re head coaching career at Florida, I’m sick of it and I’m not the only one. You’re the head coach at the University of Florida. It’s a job desired by many. Quit the antics and coach your team.

I now go back to the game and the second half. The Gators are down 14-10. There’s been good and bad, but that’s common of Florida teams of late. I’m surprisingly calm overall, but that’s because I may just be used to this. I’ll throw out another JUST WIN and head back to the television.

That was the first half. The second half was oh so wonderfully glorious, I don’t know what to cover first. Let’s start with the arrogant fan route…

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Football Preview: Florida Gators @ Tennessee Volunteers – September 14, 2012 – 6:00PM ET

The Florida Gators travel to Knoxville, TN to face the Tennessee Volunteers in a rivalry game with few equals for either on the schedule. It’s hate week for both; the first week of the college football season in which the beautiful and the ugly come out from both fanbases. Sure, the Gators and Vols have both played two games early in the 2012 college football season, but take a look at the opponents – Bowling Green, Texas A&M, North Carolina State, Georgia State. Those names mean nothing now.* The season starts in week three for both of these teams. Weeks one and two were glorious times in which our favorite sport returned; now, it’s time to hate.

*These asterisked things usually come at the end of whatever long- or short-winded rant I’ve gone on, but for these special moments, I’m throwing them in wherever. Those games don’t actually mean nothing. They’re important for one of many reasons. You see young pupils, for the 2012 college football season, the Southeastern Conference (also known as the SEC) expanded to 14 teams. The Florida Gators were lucky enough to have both of the new conference members put on their schedule. In week two, the mighty Gators traveled to a foreign land known as College Station, TX. Stories of the vaunted 12th man were legendary, but the Gators would not show fear. No children, the great orange and blue machine road into Texas A&M and came out victorious. SEC record: 1-0.

So those games are actually relevant and important and everything else, but some more so than others. They don’t compare to today though. Today is a new world, but one we’re very familiar with. Florida fans hate everything about Tennessee. Vols’ fans despise the Gators and rightfully so. Rivalries magnify everything. Not much is expected of these two programs this season. They’re both growing and improving, but they aren’t expected to be anywhere near the national championship picture at the end of the year (or even the middle). That doesn’t diminish the rivalry feel and it definitely doesn’t extinguish the hatred. It’s ever present. Playing for a crystal ball does not a rivalry make.

For me, Tennessee is the most hated rival. I’ve mentioned that before and every time I do, people find it hard to understand. For most Gators’ fans, Tennessee falls into the third spot behind Florida State and Georgia. I won’t argue with that. Those top three are the top three and you can put them in any order you wish. But I have my reasons and the Vols are number one. It could be because I don’t know a single person that went there. I didn’t grow up with delusional friends that were Tennessee fans. Then again, I didn’t grow up with friends that cheered for Georgia either, but the Gators beat the Bulldogs fairly consistently during my college football formative years. And this is where my worry sets in about the latest generation.

Let’s say you’re in high school right now. You may not remember the last time the Vols beat the Gators. This was me growing with with the Georgia rivalry. The Dawgs won so few during that huge span that the rivalry didn’t reach its highest levels for me until years later. It’s there, but the battle with Tennessee was a bigger one. I can see that happening in reverse for those growing up now. As horrible as it sounds, a Vols’ victory may be needed to reignite the rivalry for the youngins. Now before you go postal on me, I don’t want Tennessee to ever win. Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. I’m fine with seven in a row becoming eight or nine or ten or twenty. I simply want those in their teens to know and understand the history and hate accordingly. Today could have a great outcome or an awful one, but it has the potential to bring that rivalry to the forefront for those of the next generation.

And if that doesn’t make you hate the Vols, than this surely will…

Whiteboy Swag Tattoo

That’s Tennessee starting quarterback Tyler Bray. Huh? What’s that? That’s not a picture of Bray’s tattoo? Oh sorry, this is…

Tyler Bray Tattoo

Nice ink bro.

Now that your hatred for Tennessee has reached epic levels, let’s talk about the game…

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