The State of the Swamp – 6/3/13

A look at the past week in the land of the Florida Gators.

The coverage of the Florida Gators’ baseball team has been nothing better than nonexistent this season. Not from the many other sites out there that update you with a frequency that rivals the releases of new The Fast and the Furious movies, but from the staff here at The Bull Gator. We went hard one season ago when it came to baseball coverage, but couldn’t find our footing just one year later. The season wasn’t missed, it just wasn’t covered. So it’s sad to take a dive into orange and blue baseball at a time when the season is over.

Florida Gators Baseball Season Ends

On Saturday, the Gators were eliminated from the NCAA Regionals after a 5-4 loss to Valparaiso. Florida gave up a 4-1 lead and with it their season. With such roster turnover from last season to this (and a number of injuries), it was hard to imagine the Gators truly being in the hunt for the championship, but we like to dream. This isn’t how we wanted the dream to end, but one we must accept. Go Gators. Until next season.

Leron Black is one of the most sought after recruits in the 2014 basketball class, and the Gators want him. Black still has a number of teams on his list of possibilities, but Florida is among those pushing the hardest for him at the moment. Some think the recent commitment of point guard Chris Chiozza has given the Gators the edge, but that may not be the case. Black and Chiozza play together on the same AAU squad and Black only has good things to say about Chiozza, but his decision won’t be swayed. Black wants to take visits to his top choices and go wherever his heart and his faith lead him. If it is Gainesville, Black would fit into Billy Donovan’s system as a combo forward that likes to run.

I didn’t know you could be named a “Great Floridian,” but count Steve Spurrier among them. The former Gator great–as both a player and coach–was presented with the honor last week in The Swamp. To put myself even further out of touch, Tim Tebow, Derrick Brooks and Tony Dungy have all been named Great Floridians as well. In fact, Spurrier was the 71st individual to receive the designation. I suppose this is to be expected when I spend more time reading about Serie A than I do about my own area. Anyway, Spurrier is well deserving of the honor for all he accomplished during his various football-related times in the state.

Hey look, it’s Bam Hardmon. On Thursday, Hardmon joined the Idaho coaching staff, being named the Vandals’ defensive line coach. The former Gators’ linebacker is trying to make a name for himself among the coaching ranks. After spending three seasons under Ron Zook at Illinois, Hardmon moved on to Charleston Southern to coordinate special team and coach the outside linebackers. Hardmon and Idaho head coach Paul Petrino spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons at Illinois together. Best of luck to Hardmon as he continues to further his career in football.

I smiled when Jeff Demps was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even if it meant the former Gators’ star would never suit up for my NFL team of choice. Demps continues to pursue his track career first and foremost, even with the Bucs hoping he’ll one day join the team. Tampa Bay is supportive of what Demps does on the track though and seems fine with the speedster pursuing that dream. We don’t know if we’ll ever see Demps in a Bucs’ uniform–or any other NFL uniform for that matter–but we should be seeing him in some of the world’s largest track events in the coming years. One way or another, news about Demps succeeding in one of the sports he excels at will keep coming.

And finally, the story I couldn’t leave off the list. The Tim Tebow train was kickstarted once again when this piece came out last week. There are those that believe Tebow’s NFL career has come to an end, those that won’t ever go as far as to speak such blasphemy, and those that honestly don’t care at this point. Take any side and you’re sure to find yourself in a debate with those that have taken the others. Regardless, one fact remains: Tebow is currently a free agent and there is more than one reason why. Among them is the belief among those inside the NFL coaching and scouting ranks that he can’t succeed as a quarterback at the professional level. Then there’s also the media storm that comes with Tebow wherever he goes. Tebow–through no fault of his own–was considered a distraction during the 2012 as a member of the New York Jets. Although I would argue the Jets as a whole were the distraction. There’s still a chance Tebow ends up somewhere. A team out there may invite him to camp and it’s hard to imagine he’s given up the dream just yet, but we are unlikely to see Tebow as a 16-game starter in the league. With each passing day, we may not even see him on a roster. Wherever Tebow ends up–in the NFL or not–we’ll always have the orange and blue days and moments like this to remember.

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!

Jeff Demps Signs With New England Patriots

The trend of Bill Belichick picking up Florida Gators is continuing Friday. Jeff Demps – the Gators’ former speedster – decided to sign with the Patriots after much interest in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Demps will join his former teammates Jermaine Cunningham, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Spikes in New England. The Patriots look to be Super Bowl contenders again after losing to the New York Giants last year. Demps should be used in many ways by the offensive mastermind that is Belichick and his speed will fit well on an already quick roster.

It’s unlikely that Demps has been chosen to replace Wes Welker at the slot position obviously because of the wide skill gap, but Demps should play some roles in the receiving game.

Bill Belichick should find some ways to use Demps that we never had imagined, and it will be interesting to watch Demps in his transition back from track to football.

Jeff Demps Likely To Sign With NFL Team Today

Former Florida Gators running back Jeff Demps is about to resume his playing career, according to the agency that represents Demps.

The former speedster Demps had quite an off-season this year, as he won a Silver medal in the London Olympics for the Stars and Stripes as a reserve. After the Gators’ football season last year, reports were that Demps was going to pursue a track career. Now, that objective seems to have shifted back to football.

It isn’t yet clear as to which team Demps is going to sign with. Some say the in-state Tampa Bay Bucs are interested. Others say a possible reunion with his Gators teammate Tim Tebow may be in order with the New York Jets.

Demps played his entire Gators career as a running back, but that’s not necessarily his NFL position. His speed could translate into being a slot receiver, especially because he may be too injury prone to handle the wear and tear of the NFL running back.

Demps’ decision should come out soon, and his decision should first be announced on this Twitter account.

Jeff Demps, Jaye Howard And Chris Rainey Invited To NFL Combine

Jeff Demps, Jaye Howard and Chris Rainey have been invited to participate in the NFL Combine in preparation for the 2012 NFL Draft. The former Florida Gators have a chance to improve their draft stock by participating in the various drills offered at the combine. For all three, it presents a good opportunity to be seen in front of a number of NFL scouts, and that’s where it gets interesting.

It would seem like it’s a no-brainier for Howard and Rainey to accept their invitations. The defensive lineman and running back/returner are both looking to continue their playing careers, but have some work to do before the draft. Participating gives them the opportunity to potentially move up the draft boards of some teams. “All three” is a different story though.

During January, Demps announced that he was done with football and would not be persuing a career in the sport. Instead, he was shifting his efforts toward track and focusing on his future there. It was thought of as a wise decision at the time as many believe track presents him with the best career opportunity. With the invite to the combine, might he be reconsidering? It’s doubtful, but it’s hard to imagine it hasn’t at least crossed his mind.

Jeff Demps To Pursue Track Career; NFL Not In Former RB’s Plans

Jeff Demps was one of the Florida Gators most dynamic and dangerous weapons during his football career. His top speed was unmatched and he gave fans show after show with multiple big runs. When his orange and blue football career came to an end, many wondered what would become of Demps in that particular sport. A star for sure, his size and durability were questioned. There was also the matter of track, where Demps also excelled.
We now have our answer. Demps has decided not to pursue a career in the NFL and will instead focus on track. He will be a member of the Florida track and field team this spring and hopes to go pro in the sport and qualify to be a member of the United States’ Olympic squad.
For those that focus most of their sports time on football, this may seem like an odd decision at first. It isn’t though. It’s possible that Demps could make it in the NFL. It would be an uphill battle and it’s hard to imagine him going earlier than the later rounds of the draft, but with determination he would have a reasonable shot and would be sure to get some looks at the very least. However, in track he has a chance to be something special. Demps has been one of the world’s fastest at his age going back to his high school days. With dedicated training, he could become one of the current greats. While we’d love to see him put on a football uniform again someday, best wishes go out to him as he heads down his chosen path.

The Gator Bowl: Confidence Is…

I awoke this morning from my holiday coma and realized I really don’t know what to think about the Gator Bowl. I know John Brantley’s final game as the Florida Gators’ quarterback won’t reach the must-see levels of Tim Tebow’s. I know the Jeff Demps/Chris Rainey Acceleration Hour is about to air its final episode. I know Urban Meyer isn’t yet the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Basically, I know the facts. But I don’t know what to think about Florida’s chances to finish the 2011 season with a winning record. Just as equally, I have no idea whether Ohio State will be able to do the same.

The holiday season has treated me well so far. I hope it has done the same for the Gators. There was no offensive coordinator under the Christmas tree, which leads us down the continued path of patience. We already know to wait until after the Gator Bowl before the identity of the new play caller will be revealed. Names thrown out there have been less than impressive with many fans hoping to see Brian White remain in the position he is temporarily holding. Others hope Kerwin Bell can find his way back to Gainesville. Both seem like viable candidates and worthy choices, but are we hyping those because we’ve heard the others? Mike Shula? Greg Davis?
One present that was delivered and placed nicely on the doorstep was Jeff Dillman. Dillman comes by way of IMG’s Performance Institute and before that Appalachian State and LSU. He’ll replace Mickey Marotti as the new strength and conditioning coach. For those concerned or merely wondering whether Dillman can cut it, I’ve heard good things about his intensity and focus. He’s liked and respected among the lifting-heavy-things community and should be a good addition. We’ll see his impact in the fourth quarter of games when players would typically start to gasp for breaths of air. Rainey, for instance, did many great things in a Gators’ uniform, but “winded” could have been an accurate description at many times.
As for the Gator Bowl, my confidence is non-existent. Not in the way that I can’t foresee any possible chance of a Florida victory, but in the way that I need to spend the next few days and really, truly think about the game ahead. Florida is favored by two, which means about as much as me declaring the odds of a Gators’ receiver catching a touchdown pass at five-to-one. Without Charlie Weis, we don’t know what we’ll see from the offense. With him, we didn’t either. Will Muschamp surely doesn’t want to be the first coach since Charley Pell went 0-10-1 the year yours truly came into the world to have a losing record, but no one can guarantee 7-6.
We’ll watch the game and at times we’ll cheer and at times we’ll yell. Regardless of the outcome, we’ll still be Florida fans when we wake up on January 3. For now, I’ll be comforted in the fact that there’s plenty of college football to still be played even though the offseason is fast approaching. One more chance to see the seniors and an opportunity to beat a rapidly growing rival.

The Gators Need For Running Backs Increases With Mike Davis’s Decommitment

On Sunday, Mike Davis announced he was no longer committed to the Florida Gators. The announcement wasn’t a surprise as rumors had been brewing for weeks regarding Davis’s displeasure with the coaching staff’s pursuit of other running backs. While Davis’s loss specifically may be tough to swallow, the loss of a committed running back makes it impossible to keep down.

The Gators experienced numerous injuries to their running backs over the course of 2011. Add that to the fact the Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey will be gone and you have a heightened need for depth. It now starts with Matt Jones, but must continue with at least one more commitment at the position.

For more on Davis’s decommitment and Florida’s need at the position during the current recruiting cycle, check out my piece on the matter at Alligator Army.

First Thoughts: Auburn Tigers 17 – Florida Gators 6

I’ll go ahead an keep this short because weekends are supposed to be enjoyable and the last thing you need is more frustration.

Florida’s defensive play improved. Tackles were made and pressure was put on the Auburn quarterbacks. It wasn’t a great performance or anything to use as a model game, but it was good enough. Actually more so when giving the Gators a chance to win the game. The offense, however, couldn’t take advantage of an improved defense.

It’s hard to determine exactly what Charlie Weis is doing on offense because, well, we don’t know and there have been injuries. John Brantley was obviously out. Jeff Demps didn’t dress. Andre Debose went out early. Mike Gillislee didn’t get the carries he was expected to receive and we saw him getting taped up on the sidelines at one point. So more than enough frustration sets in with those right there. Then there are the other issues…

Whether a quarterback isn’t putting points on the board or not, by removing one for the other and either for the option guy in between, no one is getting into any kind of rhythm. Jacoby Brissett didn’t light the world on fire, but removing him in the second half put in a cold Jeff Driskel who couldn’t get into a flow either didn’t make a difference. In the end, the Gators managed two field goals and nothing more. That’s a total of 27 points and only two touchdowns in the last three games – all losses.

I’ll have more tomorrow, but for now we mourn. We mourn a chance to turn things in the right direction, a chance to stay in the SEC East race, and a chance to win. Florida falls to 4-3 and we just fall. Goodnight, as good as it can be.

Offense: LSU Tigers 41 – Florida Gators 11

First thoughts can be found here.

213 yards of total offense. If that number – or at least the ballpark that number resides in – looks familiar, it’s because it is nine yards lower than last week’s output – 222. Against LSU, Florida was expected to struggle. Against the Tigers, the Gators did. In the 41-11 thrashing at the hands of one of the nation’s best, Florida totaled 100 yards in the air and 113 on the ground. LSU’s defense was actually better than it had been against the pass and in points allowed. Not surprising, but a punch to the gut all the same.

It all started and ended with ankle injuries. One week ago, Alabama had the better team, but if John Brantley hadn’t gone down near the end of the first half, I have a hard time believing a 28-point loss was in the Gators’ future. The passing game was beginning to come together and surely could have kept Florida in the game longer. Against LSU, that would have been the case as well. Both the Tide and the Tigers possess all-world defenses and losses wouldn’t have been shocking, but the Gators would have been able to move the ball more effectively. But the ankle injury happened and Jeff Driskel was thrust into action. Then another ankle injury would haunt Florida. Driskel was rendered unavailable for the matchup with LSU and another true freshman – Jacoby Brissett – was named the starter.

Let me start this section by saying no one blames Driskel or Brissett for what happened against Alabama or LSU; or at least no one should. There may not be two tougher defenses for the true freshmen to have faced in their first significant minutes. Driskel was handed the reins in a split second after a fifth-year senior went down. Brissett was then given them when he was clearly on a path to a redshirt season. Both are extremely talented, but extremely inexperienced. It doesn’t help that the defending national champions are next on the schedule (it does that Auburn doesn’t possess defensive talent even in the same room as Alabama and LSU). In the last five seasons, three programs have won the national championship not named Florida. The Gators play those three in succession this season and for 150 of 180 possible minutes, Driskel and Brissett will be the primary quarterbacks. The phrase baptism by fire comes to mind, but that’s putting it far too mildly.

Brissett wasn’t bad in his debut. Yes, I just said that. He wasn’t. He was inexperienced. 8-for-14 for 94 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions isn’t a good stat line, but what did we really expect? In addition to being one of the most fundamental sound defenses in the nation, LSU’s is one of the fastest. Against an offensive line still trying to find consistency (AND THE ABILITY TO WORK AS A UNIT!), the Tigers’ front was able to apply pressure on Brissett forcing him to make quick decisions. I’d imagine a lot runs through the mind of a quarterback during a play. I’d also imagine double the typical number of thoughts were going through Brissett’s on Saturday.

If anything, it was a learning experience for the freshman. He learned how quickly you have to make decisions in the SEC and just how fast the college game is compared to the high school one. We learned that he sure does love the deep ball and he may be the best rollout quarterback on the roster. If there was a shining moment for me as a fan, it was watching Brissett use his feet to avoid the rush on several plays and get outside the pocket to give himself more time. It didn’t always result in a positive play for the Gators, but that escapability is something that can come in handy for him as his continues his development.

The running game wasn’t as dynamic as it had been over the first four games of the season, but again that all goes back to the defenses the Gators’ offense has gone up against in the last two weeks. Perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel though: against Alabama – 29 carries for 15 yards; against LSU – 32 carries for 113 yards. That isn’t a great output against the Tigers and it results in only 3.5 yards per carry, but it’s an improvement. Florida won’t face a defense like either of those two for the remainder of the regular season so we hope the run game returns.

What can’t come back are the penalties. Despite a devastating loss to the Tide, the Gators only committed four penalties for 20 yards. Against the Tigers, those numbers rose to 12 for 90 and many were momentum killers. The offensive line needs to come together as I’ve mentioned numerous times this season, but they also need to play smart. There is talent there, but there is also intelligence. They need to get back to the fundamentals of football and just play hard and play smart. Chris Rainey can be one of the most dangerous weapons in the nation, but he can’t do it alone. He’s not a bruiser. He needs lanes, but he also needs to be able to break runs without the worry of them being called back. Line play – on both sides of the ball – will be the key going forward. So will getting Jeff Demps back and giving Mike Gillislee the ball more.

This was another one of those games where the receivers were practically invisible, but they also can’t really be blamed for that. While Brissett was trying his best to avoid the rush and find anyone he could to get the ball too, the receivers weren’t always the primary option. Andre Debose is clearly the deep threat and proved for the second week that he will get a homerun shot at least once or twice each game, but his 65-yard touchdown catch was one of only two receptions by wide receivers. Six games into the season and the Gators don’t have a single wide receiver with more than nine receptions. Think about that for a second, Florida is on pace to not have a receiver reach the 20-catch mark during the regular season. By comparison, USC’s Ronald Woods has 55 receptions in five games this season, hasn’t had a game in which he had less than eight, and has a 14-catch and a 17-catch game. The receivers need to step up, but Charlie Weis needs to ensure the quarterbacks are able to run the right plays to get them the ball.

The offense has left a lot to be desired over the last 120 minutes of football. Injuries, offensive line play, and an inability to consistently sustain drives have caused the Gators to flounder. There’s time to right the ship, but not much. Auburn’s defense gives Florida the opportunity to get back to the basics and revitalize the run game, but the Gators have to do exactly that. Florida scored 7 points in the first 19 seconds against Alabama. In 119:41 since then, the Gators have put 14 on the scoreboard. That’s a far cry from the 40.3 Florida averaged over the first four games of the season. Time for the offense to get back on track.

Coming up next: the defense.