2013 NFL Draft Good to Former Florida Gators; Floyd, Elam Selected in First Round

The 2013 NFL Draft was good to the Florida Gators. Good to the tune of eight former Gators selected in the first six rounds. And Florida wasn’t the only school celebrating its draft accomplishments. The SEC set a new record with 63 total players selected. Those of us that consider ourselves fans of the conference still chuckle when outsiders question the SEC’s dominance.

Sharrif Floyd - Minnesota Vikings

Kicking things off for the Gators–albeit later than expected–was defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd. Floyd–an early entrant–was once considered one of the few with a legitimate shot at being selected first overall. He wasn’t that high on every team’s board though and fell into the welcoming lap of the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23. A similar situation occurred just three years ago when Percy Harvin fell to the Vikings. Harvin was recently traded to the Seattle Seahawks, but had enjoyed a successful stint in Minnesota up to that point.

Sneaking into the first round with Floyd was another early entrant, safety Matt Elam. Elam couldn’t have fallen into a better situation; the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens selected him at No. 32. A first round talent, Elam could have been selected anywhere between picks No. 20 and No. 40 and no one would have been entirely surprised. As it stands, the Ravens feel they have found the perfect fit to fill the void left by Ed Reed who signed with the Houston Texans this offseason.

In the second round, the Chicago Bears selected linebacker Jon Bostic with the 50th overall pick. Bostic upped his game during his final season and pushed himself into a position where the Bears thought he was worthy of a second-round pick. With an NFL-ready body and superb on-the-field speed, Bostic could be the heir-apparent to former Chicago middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Those are large shoes to fill, but the Bears will give him every opportunity.

The third round saw the selection of another early entrant. With the No. 85 pick, the Washington Redskins selected tight end Jordan Reed. There was some debate over Reed. While some thought he could improve his stock with another season at Florida, others believe he was selected where he would have been regardless of it being this year or next. Reed may be looked to early to bail out Robert Griffin III when the dynamic quarterback is pushed out of the pocket.

The Miami Dolphins made quite the splash beginning in the fourth round. The new-look Phins may have become many an orange and blue fan’s favorite team after they selected three former Florida Gators. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins was selected by Miami in the fourth round and was followed by running back Mike Gillislee and kicker Caleb Sturgis in the fifth.

The Gators’s run would come to an end in the sixth round when the Jacksonville Jaguars selected safety Josh Evans No. 169 overall. Evans ended a run of three Gators selected in six slots from picks 164 to 169.

Having eight players selected is nothing new for the Gators–just as recently as 2007 and 2010, Florida saw nine players picked–but it’s a great accomplishment all the same. Consistently putting players in the NFL–or at least preparing them to be drafted into the league–is something recruits notice. Not that Will Muschamp and the Gators need help in the recruiting department, but this is just one of many things that leads to top classes.

With the draft coming to an end, we closed the book on another season for the Florida Gators. The overall picture proves it to be a successful one. We can think of two very clear down moments that resulted in the ‘2’ in the 11-2 record, but the past season was one to build on. With that, we wish the newest NFL employees luck and remind them that once a Gator, always a Gator.

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.

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…


“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.


Florida’s D.J. Durkin Named Rivals Recruiter Of The Year

I’ve been hard on D.J. Durkin during his two seasons with the Florida Gators. During the 2010 season, the linebackers struggled and during 2011, special teams left more than just something to be desired at times. But I can swallow my pride and give the man credit where credit it due. On Monday, Durkin was named Recruiter of the Year by Rivals.

Durkin’s unit started to show life as the 2011 season progressed and definitely had their moments. I’m sure we’re all hoping 2012 is the season players like Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins reach All-American levels of play. Durkin’s biggest impact, though, may be happening off the field.

Durkin was credited for seven commitments in the 2012 recruiting class, including five-star offensive lineman D.J. Humphries and five-star defensive end Johnathan Bullard. He played a major role in kicking the door to North Carolina wide open. Durkin was also instrumental in keeping cornerback Brian Poole committed to Florida and following up with linebacker Jeremi Powell to ensure he would become a Gator.

Defense: LSU Tigers 41 – Florida Gators 11

First thoughts here. Offense here.

Once again, the run game did in the Gators. LSU decided early it would pound the rock against Florida and did so to the tune of 49 times for 238 yards and three touchdowns. It wasn’t as explosive as what Alabama did to the Gators, but it was effective time and time again.

Spencer Ware led the way for the Tigers with 109 yards on 24 carries. His long of the day was only 18 yards, but he was able to consistently gain yards and make would-be tacklers look ridiculous. When relieved by Alfred Blue, it was much of the same. Neither went down at first contact and both were able to drag defenders for additional yards. That could be a testament to their ability as power runners, but more often than not it was due to a glaring problem in the Gators’ defense – tackling.

For the second-straight game, Florida defenders weren’t able to make tackles. They would meet Ware or Blue, attempt to stand them up, and ultimately get run over. This isn’t a coaching problem, it’s a fundamentals problem. These players know how to tackle, but aren’t using proper technique or are just getting overpowered. That can’t happen. Far too often, Matt Elam was coming up to help make a stop because the LSU running backs were bowling over the defender that got to them first. Amazingly, Jon Bostic had 13 tackles, Sharrif Floyd had 11, Dominique Easley had nine, and Jelani Jenkins added eight. Elam was second on the team with 12, but it seemed like his total was closer to 30 or 40. In a game dominated by the run, Bostic and Jenkins need step up. They two may have totaled 21 tackles, but how many ended with Ware or Blue falling forward? The answer is most of them.

A quick side note related to linebacker talk: Michael Taylor is going to be one heck of a defender. He should be on the field more. That is all.

In the passing game, Jarrett Lee didn’t end up being a hero, but only because LSU didn’t ask him to be. Lee only attempted 10 passes, but completed seven for 154 yards. He looked comfortable dropping back when he needed to and if asked to do more, could have had much better numbers. Even Jordan Jefferson got in on the passing action including a…gasp…jump pass! I can’t blame Les Miles for giving the Gators a taste of their own medicine, but I also hope next year in Gainesville Will Muschamp goes for it on every fourth down and calls a fake on every kick and punt.

If there was a glaring weakness in the passing game it was allowing the big gain. Rueben Randle totaled 127 yards on four catches including a touchdown during which he just ran by Cody Riggs. Russell Shepard averaged 20.5 yards on two catches. And even though Deangelo Peterson and Kadron Boone only had one catch each, they both went for over 20 yards. The secondary gave too much room to LSU’s receivers and was beaten deep on more than one occasion. During one-on-one coverage situations, Gators’ defenders looked lost being either too focused on the quarterback or too focused on the receiver, but never a good balance of both. Bostic had a sure interception that he never turned around to catch. He was covering the receiver perfectly on the play, but had he been aware of the ball, it would have been a definite turnover.

Speaking of turnovers, the Gators were unable to force any for the second-straight game. In each of the last two matchups, there were points late when Florida wasn’t that far out of it. Against Alabama, the Gators entered the fourth quarter down 24-10, but the defense was unable to force a turnover or stop the Tide in the fourth and the game got out of hand. Against LSU, it was much of the same. Down 27-11 entering the fourth, Florida had a chance to make a move. Again the defense was unable to stop the Tigers and the game got more out of hand than it had already been.

The defense screams potential and Muschamp probably screams a lot more at them. There is experienced talent and inexperienced talent as well. Against elite opponents, that talent has been on hold. Florida clearly has a lot to learn and improve upon before the program returns to that level, but what’s frustrating is what’s holding them back: a lack of pressure, tackling problems, and coverage mishaps. Can they be fixed? We don’t know, but the SEC schedule doesn’t stop to give the Gators time to do so. A week off after Auburn will be welcome, but then it’s right back to work.

Up next: special teams.

Defense: Alabama Crimson Tide 38 – Florida Gators 10

First thoughts here. Offense here.

We knew the Alabama rushing offense would be a test for Florida. It was talked about all week. Actually, it was discussed much earlier than that. This was something debated since the schedule was first announced. The first real test for the Gators; one of the nation’s top teams coming to The Swamp to take on a team in transition. It could get ugly, but it was just the test Florida needed. Well, it did get ugly. Ugly in the form of Trent Richardson.

Everyone is aware of exactly how good Richardson can be, but with good, but not great numbers so far in his career, no one had really seen greatness. There were plenty of great moments, but being a backup to a Heisman Trophy winner created an environment in which Richardson wasn’t going to be the primary option…until now.

The Tide running back started the season modestly enough. Three touchdowns against Kent State got people talking, but so did his average of 2.8 yards per carry. He went over 100 yards against Penn State, but still didn’t explode like many expected. Three weeks later and Richardson is the Heisman candidate everyone has drooled over. After five games (all Alabama wins of course), Richardson is only 129 yards away from matching his yardage total from his freshman year. He has already set a career-high with 10 touchdowns in 2011. Against Florida, he set a few milestones as well. 29 carries, a career best. 181 yards, also a career high. The numbers were great, but what impressed the most was the way he ran the ball.

The Gators’ defense knew what they had to do: meet Richardson at the line and take him down on first contact. Every member of the defense knew that was the key. Sure there would be plays where the Tide offensive line would open up holes and allow Richardson to get his yards, but on those the defense sniffed out, they had to bring the star running back down immediately. And there you have the problem. Richardson is a classic “fall forward” back. It’s almost impossible to hit him and knock him back. Falling forward is a great ability to have, but Richardson takes it one step further. Against the Gators, he wasn’t falling forward for an extra yard or two; he was doing so for an extra four or five. Richardson was shaking off first contact and getting to the second level of the defense. It was hard not to be impressed. Sure the Florida defense struggled to make tackles, but how much of it had to do with Richardson’s ability to keep plays going? This was an eye opener for the Gators on many levels, but also a display of just how good Alabama’s go-to back is.

Throughout the night, the Gators could do nothing to stop the Tide rushing attack. There were very few big plays, but enough consistency in the Tide moving the ball that the defense looked worn-out in the second quarter.

Florida held Alabama to a field goal on their first drive, but Richardson started his work early with carries of five, seven, nine, 11, and three in that series. Only three points for the Tide, but five carries for 35 yards for Richardson. Drive number two resulted in a score for no. 3 and five more carries for another 25 yards. When you saw his first quarter numbers flash on the screen – 10 carries, 60 yards, one touchdown – you knew it was going to be a long night for the Gators…and it was.

The second quarter started well enough for the Florida defense. Down 17-10, the defense needed a stop to avoid letting the game get out of hand. Bama managed a first down on the first play of their first drive of the quarter, but couldn’t get another and were forced to punt. It was a victory for the defense, but one that would be short lived.

The next drive was a mix of Richardson in the run game and the pass game and the Gators just didn’t have an answer. They couldn’t tackle and started to come undone. On consecutive plays, Florida was flagged for roughing the passer and a personal foul (we’re guessing Jon Bostic doesn’t swing at anyone ever again; Will Muschamp had just a little to say to the linebacker when he came off of the field). With the defense looking lost, Alabama was able to make it 24-10 before the half.

Things brightened up for the Gators in the second half briefly. Florida’s defense seemed to tighten and forced Alabama to punt on three-straight drives, including two three-and-outs. While the defense did it’s best to keep the Gators in the game, the offense couldn’t move the ball. The teams combined for six-straight drives under 3:36 in length. With the defenses coming on and off the field rapidly, you could sense signs on Florida slowing down.

The defensive improvement in the third quarter quickly came to an end in the fourth. On consecutive drives, Richardson and Eddie Lacy ran in scores from 36 and 20 yards out. Alabama would run on their last 11 offensive plays. The Gators’ defense was worn down and couldn’t do anything to stop the Alabama backs. Get pressure in the backfield and the running back already seemed to be past the line. Meet the back at the line and he drug defenders for another four yards. A rough night for Florida and a test with many questions still to be answered.

On the bright side, the Gators didn’t allow A.J. McCarron to look like anything more than an average quarterback. He made a nice throw or two, but was kept in check for most of the night. There was a fairly serious problem though and one that Muschamp harped on consistently during practice before the season: communication. On several plays, an Alabama receiver would go in motion and you would see a Florida defensive back jumping up and down waving his arms trying to capture the attention of the DB on the other side of the field. That DB – more often than not Marcus Roberson – never saw the signals. Muschamp said as much talent as the secondary has, it’s young and has trouble communicating with each other. Five games into the season, that problem came to the forefront and looks like it could be a serious issue. Roberson plays on an island and has shown moments of how good he will be one day. He has also shown moments proving that he’s only a true freshman and has a lot to learn. Saturday night was one of those moments. He needs to be aware of the entire field and not just the receiver he’s covering. That will come with time, but with the schedule Florida has ahead of it, that time is now.

If you want a silver lining, it’s that Florida knows exactly what it needs to work on after that game. Just a few items are: tackling, linebackers filling the gaps, tackling, composure, tackling, communication in the secondary, and tackling. This team has talent, but that talent broke down in situations against one of the nation’s best. It’s not necessarily a surprising loss, but with Florida facing teams of that caliber consistently through the season, it’s something that can’t continue to happen.

Coming next: special teams.

By The Numbers: Florida Gators vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

Yes, I’m giving you the rundown again. Quick look. An Alabama hero. A Florida hero. A past recruiting moment. The full preview. Now on to By the Numbers. I’m not sure if this will become a regular piece (after all, how many really are?), but the Gators and Crimson Tide has a surprising amount of similarities in the numbers department, so for at this one week, you get this column.

On paper doesn’t mean much. It may actually not mean anything. On paper are the numbers we look at before and after a game. We can immediately point to one statistic and declare that’s why one team beat the other when in reality it may have been one play shifting momentum or one mistake dooming a team. On paper is fun to look at and mull over though, especially when in that respect two teams look so evenly matched.

Many would tell you Alabama has the heavy advantage over Florida in Saturday’s matchup. They may be right, but we really won’t know that until the game is played. What we do know is that by the numbers these two teams are more similar than you’d think. Here’s a rundown:

The Gators average 461.8 offensive yards per game. The Tide average 456.1. Florida scores at a slightly higher clip – 40.3 – but Alabama isn’t far behind at 38.5. The teams are back-to-back at 13th and 14th in the nation in yards per play. The Tide average 6.883 and the Gators average 6.815.

Bama is 2nd in the nation in total defense while Florida comes in at 5th. The two also hold those same spots in terms of rushing yards allowed. When it comes to points, the Tide allow the nation’s 2nd best total at 8.0 per game, while the Gators rank 4th at 9.0. Each has grabbed 4 interceptions.

Many will be quick to criticize Florida quarterback John Brantley. On the season, he’s 55-for-86 (64.0%) for 752 yards (8.74 per attempt) with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions to land at a rating of 148.1. Alabama QB A.J. McCarron’s numbers: 63-for-95 (66.3%), 779 yards (8.20 per attempt), 4 TDs, 2 INTs, 144.9 rating. Well then.

Although not exactly a similarity you want to point out, the backups – Jeff Driskel and Phillip Sims – also have something in common: 2 interceptions thrown a piece.

Trent Richardson is the Heisman candidate and his 8 touchdowns help that campaign along. He has 441 rushing yards and is averaging 6.6 per carry. Chris Rainey only has 2 scores on the ground this season, but has 411 yards and 6.5 per carry. While Richardson’s individual rushing touchdowns are higher, Bama is only one up on Florida as a team – 13-12.

And then there are the “backups.” Jeff Demps and Mike Gillislee have combined to carry the ball 56 times for 502 yards (an amazing 9.0 per carry) and 6 touchdowns. Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler have totaled 52 carries for 465 yards (only 8.9 per carry) and 5 scores.

Caleb Sturgis is more accurate than Jeremy Shelley in terms of field goals, but the two kickers are right on target with each other on extra points – 18-19.

On the defensive side of the ball, Jon Bostic leads the Gators with 26 tackles. Dont’a Hightower leads the Tide with 25. The solo tackle lead goes to Bostic over Mark Barron 19-16. Bostic also leads Florida with 4.0 tackles for loss. Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are tied for the Bama lead 4.5.

Sacks haven’t been a strong part of either team’s play so far this season, but with leaders totaling 2.0 (Florida’s Bostic again and Ronald Powell) and 1.5 (Alabama’s Nick Gentry) there’s yet another similarity.

And finally, the Gators have hit opposing quarterbacks 14 times. The Tide have done so 15 times.

As I said above, on paper doesn’t win you games, but it does give you something to look at and mull over leading up to matchups. On paper, Florida looks more evenly matched than many of the “experts” would have you think. On paper may be a Gator fan’s best friend this week. It may not determine the outcome, but more than one of these numbers will have some impact on it.

Defense: Florida Gators 48 – Kentucky Wildcats 10

Part two of what plans to be a four-part series. Check out the offense here.

The first item that has to be mentioned is the difference from one week to the next is the number of penalties committed by the Florida defense. The Gators only had five penalties for 45 yards total against Kentucky, and not all of those five were on the defense. Let’s hope the improvement from the last game to this one wasn’t a fluke and we’ll continue to see an increase in discipline by Florida on the field.

I watch games in a variety of ways and take notes throughout using numerous methods. When with friends, those notes are usually mental and then remembered during replays of the games the following day. When watching at home, they are either kept via Twitter or my trusty yellow legal pad. Saturday night was one of those legal pad nights and a note that I kept making was something to the effect of “good pressure from the defensive line.” We can say Sharrif Floyd was the missing piece and we may be right. Since Floyd’s return against Tennessee, the Gators have gotten into their opponents’ backfields much more often. The pressure provided by the front four has allowed the linebackers to roam almost freely and not provide as much blitz support because it’s needed. They can now do so as an added dimension to the defense. This time around it wasn’t just the four we’ve been mentioning since early in the offseason. Against the Wildcats, we also saw Omar Hunter provide plenty of push from the middle of the line. It may have been Hunter’s best game in quite some time.

It wouldn’t be a complete, or any sort of linebacker play, recap for that matter without mentioning Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, but for just a moment let’s look at the player who is quickly, and no longer all that quietly, making a name for himself. During the 2006 season, Brandon Siler played his heart out and was the leader of the defense both on and off the field. Behind him, a player wearing no. 51 was “learning the business.” It was an apprenticeship of sorts as Brandon Spikes was able to learn the college game from a great and then turn himself into one of the best to play the position at Florida. This season, Bostic has made himself the defensive leader. With every game, he seems more sure of his ability and is becoming another in a great line of Gator linebackers. Both he and Jenkins are providing examples of what the young linebackers can grow into. Much like five seasons ago, behind them, a player wearing no. 51 is “learning the business.” That player is Michael Taylor and Saturday may have signaled his coming out party. Bostic led the Gators with 10 tackles and also added a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, and a sack. Taylor wasn’t far behind, finishing with six tackles, two tackles for loss, and an interception which showed very quick reaction time from the young linebacker. We may have another star in the making.

Some statistics jump out at you and make you think “wow.” This is one of them. Kentucky completed 22 passes on 44 attempts. Numbers like that would make you think a team totaled more than 165 passing yards. The Wildcats did not. The Gators’ secondary – which has been questionable at times – held the Wildcats to an average of 3.8 yards. They may have given up 22 completions – although that’s not a bad number considering the 44 attempts – but they didn’t allow many yards. The long of the night only went for 29 yards. The secondary is still trying to find which two individuals will round out the top four consistently, but they aren’t giving up the big play. Some of the younger players are giving up a lot of room off the line when in a cover zone defense, but the big play isn’t happening. Even on the 19-yard touchdown pass from Morgan Newton to La’Rod King, you could argue that King gave Moses Jenkins a shove before making the catch. The secondary has room to improve, but are actually playing better than many may believe. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a while before they play another quarterback any would consider in the upper echelon of NCAA passers.

Causing turnovers is always a good thing and Matt Elam was in on the party with an interception in a second consecutive game. Taylor added his pick and the Gators recovered two fumbles, including one resulting in a Jaye Howard touchdown. Florida also turned over the ball three times, but when you’re on the positive side of that statistics, it’s usually a very good thing.

Four games into the season the defense is allowing nine points per game. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take it. We all knew what the Gators were getting when Will Muschamp was named the new head coach and now we’re seeing it in action.

Next up: special teams.

The Defense: Florida Gators 33 – Tennessee Volunteers 23

The offense has been covered; moving on to the defense.
23 points isn’t three and it definitely isn’t zero, but even with Tennessee’s scoring explosion, Florida is allowing less than nine points per game on the season. We knew the Vols would be the biggest test the Gators’ defense had faced all season, but overall Florida played well and got the win. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray got his yards and his touchdowns, but the defense also intercepted him twice and pressured him throughout the game. It definitely didn’t hurt to watch the Gators completely shut down the Vols’ running game either. Good win; solid play by the defense. Plenty to like and some improvement to be had. We’ll take it and take 3-0 (1-0).
The defensive line was having trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks consistently during wins over FAU and UAB. With plenty of star power across the line, it was hard to understand why pressure was few and far between. You could have asked the question if Sharrif Floyd’s absence contributed, but it was difficult to imagine one player making that much of a difference. Then again, maybe it was the cohesiveness of the unit that was thrown off with Floyd watching from the sidelines. Against Tennessee, the pressure was back. The line only accounted for one sack – a split by Jaye Howard and Ronald Powell – but also helped spring linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins who each had sacks themselves. In addition, Floyd and Powell each had two hits on Bray and Dominique Easley had two tackles for loss. It was a start and needs to continue against Kentucky. Good to see Floyd back in action and hopefully a spring in Powell’s step.
Bostic and Jenkins were number one and two in tackles against the Vols and that’s the way it should be every game. They’re getting to ball carriers and finishing tackles. This is exactly what we all wanted to see last season and it’s something that makes us smile now. These are two of the more talented players on a roster full of ability and potential. In the new defense, they’re able to make plays and are doing so. Now if we can just get Jenkins to catch sure interceptions, the Gators will be golden! Other than that, these two are improving week after week and have become the leaders of the defense.
16 penalties for 150 yards. I’m sure real journalists would shy away from saying juvenile words in all caps. Luckily for you, I’m not a real journalist. Here’s my reaction to 16 and 150: YIKES! The fact that Tennessee had 10 penalties for 94 yards lessens the impact a little, but not much. At the heart of the Gators’ numbers were more pass interference penalties than you should have in a month of games. There were questionable calls for sure, but for the most part they were reasonable. That’s the nature of a young secondary and something that will improve, but right now it’s an issue. They’ll learn that when the receiver turns his head, they might want to as well because the ball may be coming. They’ll get there, if only because giving up 150 yards a game won’t be acceptable to Will Muschamp. I don’t know about the rest of you, but after watching Muschamp on Saturday, I would never want to come even close to doing something that he might deem unacceptable. The man has just a little bit of fire to him. You know, just a tiny, little bit.
Other than the penalties, the secondary passed its test against Bray. Because of a non-existent run game – the Vols netted a loss of nine yards – and having to play from behind the entire game, Bray did total 288 yards and threw three touchdown passes. He attempted 48 passes though. Brantley’s average per completion was actually higher. The secondary didn’t give up the long play and played well enough to not let him be a star. That’s good on a number of levels, but mostly because Bray may be one of the best quarterbacks the Gators face this season. They intercepted him twice and never broke. They may have bent, but they didn’t break. It wasn’t an A performance, but it also wasn’t a C. Despite the yards and touchdowns, I hope the confidence of the secondary continues to grow.
Allowing 279 yards to one of your chief rivals in a divisional conference game is acceptable. Allowing 23 points may be a little much though. If the penalty issue is diminished and the pressure on opposing quarterbacks continues, it’ll improve. This wasn’t a bad game for the defense and shouldn’t be seen as one. It was a test and, again, they didn’t break. This should be a team to be excited about.
Next up: special teams.