Jordan Reed To Forgo Senior Season; Florida Gators Tight End Will Enter NFL Draft

Florida Gators’ tight end Jordan Reed has joined safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd in declaring his intentions to enter the 2013 NFL Draft. Reed–the Gators’ leading pass catcher in 2012–will forgo his senior season for a chance to play at the next level.

Jordan Reed - Florida Gators

Reed led the Gators with 45 catches for 559 yards and 3 touchdowns during his junior season. Despite being the most reliable receiver on the roster, his orange and blue career ended with a quiet 7 yards on 1 reception in the Sugar Bowl loss to the Louisville Cardinals.

Looking back on Reed’s career will always be enjoyable to say the least. He came to Florida as a quarterback and–though minimal–got his chance to play the position during the 2010 season. Reed’s most memorable performance as a QB came that season in a 55-14 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores. Reed was 11-for-19 for 120 yards, 1 passing touchdown and 1 interception while also rushing 16 times for 84 yards and another score.

Reed would only attempt one more pass after the 2010 season as the Florida coaches converted him to tight end full time in 2011. Over his final two seasons, he developed into a dangerous weapon with good speed and surprising power. Reed turned himself into an All-SEC TE and a possible future professional at the position. We should see Reed go in the first half of the 2013 NFL Draft.

The Gators have been building depth at tight end, but will miss Reed in 2013. This team has struggled to find go-to receivers in recent years and Reed clearly would have been the top choice next season.

Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd Head To NFL; Florida Gators Say Goodbye To Two Stars

Even if we did see this coming, the sting is still real. Florida Gators’ junior safety Matt Elam and junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd have both announced they will forgo their senior seasons and enter the 2013 NFL Draft.

Matt Elam - Florida Gators

Eventually, there will be many things to smile about when looking back at the Florida Gators’ season. For the immediate future, we’ll only remember the Sugar Bowl loss, but when we come around and are ready to celebrate the 2012 season for it’s high points, Elam and Floyd will be among them.

Both came to Florida with great expectations and both left fulfilling them, using the hire of head coach Will Muschamp to springboard their success. Elam was an All-American as a junior and Floyd collected All-SEC honors. They both would have surely liked to have ended their Gator careers better, but neither can be blamed for testing the NFL waters either. Both are potential first-round draft picks and it’s hard to imagine either falling past the second round.

Elam was the spark to the defense in both 2012 and 2011. When there was little to celebrate during the 7-6 2011 season, Elam played like he was on fire. He was a vocal leader on the field and, although frustration could be seen rising from time to time, he played as an example to others. Elam’s reckless style earned him some unwanted penalties on occasion, but it also made him the player he was. Just take a look at the 2012 victory over the LSU Tigers as an example.

Floyd could be described as a little bit of a slow starter, but most defensive linemen are (ignore that Jadeveon Clowney character at South Carolina). Playing at one of the most difficult adjustment positions when it comes to learning the game at the college level, Floyd was moved from inside to outside and back again. He improved tremendously over the course of his career and was a dominate player wherever he lined up. We should be watching Floyd for years to come at the next level.

As Elam and Floyd make the next step in their football careers, we wish them the best of luck. Once a Gator…

Darrin Kitchens, Gator Nation Salutes You

The picture to the right is of Florida Gators’ linebacker Darrin Kitchens. But that’s not the picture of Kitchens you want to see. The picture of Kitchens you should be looking at is here. Go ahead and click that link; you won’t regret it.

Darrin Kitchens - Florida Gators

On Wednesday night, after the Gators suffered a shocking and embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals, Kitchens stood alone. The reserve LB stood and sung the alma mater with the Florida band. He didn’t have to–it’s usually a celebratory moment after victories–but he did anyway.

So today, one day after we watched 60 minutes of ugly, we salute something wonderful. Something profoundly orange and blue. And something–I’ve been told–Kitchens has done before.

There was a lot not to like about the final Gators’ game of the 2012 college football season, but I’ll choose to enjoy this for a long time. It’s hard to find anything wrong with that image and we shouldn’t be trying to. Darrin Kitchens, Gator Nation salutes you.

Louisville Cardinals 33 – Florida Gators 23: Gators Out-Coached, Out-Classed In Sugar Bowl

It ended 33-23, but that score doesn’t indicate what really happened on Wednesday night in the Sugar Bowl. Closing the door on the 2012 season, the Florida Gators were out-coached and out-classed by the Louisville Cardinals. A few years ago, Gator Nation laid claim to the Ohio State Buckeyes after both football and basketball national championships. Now, it’s the Cardinals that own the Gators. First, the elite eight victory and now the Sugar Bowl.

Charlie Strong - Louisville Cardinals

There aren’t many worse ways a game can start than they way the Sugar Bowl did for the Florida Gators. For a moment, you might think “okay good, receiving the kick, let’s just get the offense out there and get the jitters out of the way, we don’t need a score on the first drive, but at least get them on the field.” Then a few seconds later, you find yourself banging your head against the wall wondering how what just happened really did happened. If you blinked you would have missed it and suddenly it was 7-0 Louisville.

It did get worse though. The offense sputtered, but we almost expected that much. This Gators’ team didn’t get where it was this season due to an explosive offense. It got to the Sugar Bowl thanks to an elite defense and an offense that came on when it needed to. It was still very much a work in progress. Unfortunately, the defense looked like it was only at that point too on Wednesday night. To say the Gators got out-coached would be a massive understatement. It looked like the Cardinals coaching staff had spent 24 hours a day every day studying the Florida defense and finding every possible way to exploit it. And exploit it they did.

Leading up to the game, several Gators commented that Teddy Bridgewater was the best quarterback they would face all season. That looked to be true. Not only did Bridgewater look like a legitimate future Heisman candidate, the plays called for him were nearly flawless. He picked apart the Gators’ defense even when facing pressure from the defensive line. Bridgewater was a model quarterback in the victory. His stats won’t jump off off the page at you–20-of-32, 266 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception–but there was an efficiency to his play that almost had you believing early that there was no way the Cardinals would lose. 9-of-14 on third down didn’t hurt their chances either.

In the end, this wasn’t a 33-23 game. It looked more like a 33-10 game–the score was exactly that after Louisville kicked a field goal with 7:54 remaining. Florida did what it does and scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to edge closer, but it never appeared to be that close at all. One team didn’t convert on third downs; one team did. One team was plagued by stupid penalties and even an ejection; the other team wasn’t. One team looked lost and confused early; the other team appeared to be as prepared as you could possibly be. One team is 11-2 even though, at the moment, it doesn’t feel as such; the other team is 11-2 and feels as if they are on top of the world.

There will be more highs and lows for the Gators under Will Muschamp. 11-2 is something to celebrate, but the sting of this final, flat, disappointing loss makes any record good or bad tough to swallow. On the other sideline, we saw an elated and deserving victorious Charlie Strong and for a second we smiled (or smirked, or grinned, or even laughed). Two up-and-coming head coaches faced off and one flat out defeated the other.

Florida Gators Vs. Louisville Cardinals: Five Final Sugary Thoughts

In less than five hours, the Florida Gators will hit the field one final time to close out the 2012 season. Their opponent–the Louisville Cardinals–is an unfamiliar one, and the place–the Sugar Bowl–hasn’t been as known to the Gators as one would have hoped in recent years. The two teams face off with that pride thing on the line, but also much more. For the Gators, it’s a chance at an unlikely 12-1 season and a BCS bowl game victory one season before many thought it was possible.

Jeff Driskel - Florida Gators

As we head into tonight’s game and the Time That Forgot College Football beyond it, here are five final thoughts on the Sugar Bowl.

1. Charlie Strong being a former Florida Gators’ assistant coach does not give Louisville an advantage. Okay, so having Strong as a head coach period might–the man is very good at what he does–but he didn’t leave Gainesville a year ago. He left long before the current staff and system was in place. This is his third season with the Cardinals. Do the math. Will Muschamp is in his second with the Gators and it feels like offensive coordinator Brent Pease only just got here. Strong gives his team many advantages, but familiarity with what the Gators do today isn’t one of them. Sure, he’s familiar with some of the older players and even had a large part in bringing some of them to the University of Florida, but that is vastly different than someone that may have left just one season ago.

2. Yes, Teddy Bridgewater is that good. In only his sophomore season, Bridgewater is already one of the better quarterbacks in the country. He ranked seventh in the nation is passer rating–161.6–and sixth in completion percentage–60.0%. The sophomore is constantly improving. Even in Louisville’s two losses, Bridgewater’s touchdown-to-interception ratio was 5-to-2. The Gators’ secondary will be on alert. This kid can throw the ball.

3. The Gators’ sophomore quarterback–Jeff Driskel–hasn’t climbed as high as Bridgewater as quickly, but he has rather efficiently led Florida to an 11-1 record. Driskel may not wow you for 59 minutes, but then suddenly he does. He wasn’t asked to throw nearly as much as Bridgewater–216 to 387–but he showed signs of improvement over time. The passing yards aren’t there, but neither are the interceptions; Driskel only threw three all season. As the offense evolves, so does Driskel. He may never be a 3,000-yard passer, but in 11 starts in 2012 (come on, let’s just go ahead and give him the start for the Bowling Green game), he went 10-1. I’ll take it.

4. On that note, many of you will say “well, it was the defense, not the offense.” For the most part I won’t argue with you and because of that I’ll give a shout of to that side of the ball right here. Jon Bostic, gone. Sharrif Floyd, probably gone. Omar Hunter, gone. Matt Elam, probably gone. Those are just a few names. Just a few of the standouts on this year’s defense. Some of the stars will return, but others won’t. For some, this is it. This is their final game in a Gators’ uniform. Play for whatever you want to play for tonight, but make it count. Do it one final time and prove to the nation again just how good you can be.

5. And finally, enjoy it all. This isn’t just to the players, but also to us–the fans. This isn’t the Outback Bowl or Capital One Bowl or Gator Bowl. This is the Sugar Bowl. It’s one of the big ones. It’s one of the ones many Florida fans feel the Gators belong in. We want this every year, so don’t look over it when it comes as a surprise. This is what we want to see from our Gators. We want 10+ wins, we want to beat Florida State, we want to be in the top five and we want bowl games. When a national championship isn’t in the picture, this is what we want. Enjoy tonight, because tomorrow starts the long, cold, dead period.

Florida Gators Vs. Louisville Cardinals: Surprise Sugar Bowl Appearance Couldn’t Be Sweeter

Ah, the familiar feel of the Sugar Bowl. Wednesday night will mark the Florida Gators ninth appearance in the New Orleans-based bowl game. Their record in it is far from spectacular, but it doesn’t make another appearance any less sweet.

Will Muschamp - Florida Gators

During the 1990s and the rise of now legendary head coach Steve Spurrier, the Gators and the Sugar Bowl practically went hand-in-hand. From 1992 to 1997, Florida went to New Orleans four times, compiling a record of 2-2. None of those appearances was as sweet as the 1997 edition, which resulted in the Gators’ first national championship. It didn’t hurt that it came after a thrashing of the rival Florida State Seminoles.

Since that wonderfully amazing day in 1997, Florida only made two more appearances in the Sugar Bowl. The Ron Zook years and some struggling times at the end of the Urban Meyer era and the beginning of the Will Muschamp one contributed to that. In 2001, it was a loss to the Miami Hurricanes in New Orleans that put an end to the season. In 2010, it was a beat down of the Cincinnati Bearcats and the end of Tim Tebow’s Florida career. Just three seasons later, the Gators are back and surprisingly so.

The 11-1 Gators will face an unfamiliar foe–the 10-2 Louisville Cardinals–with a familiar head coach–former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Strong has done exactly what Louisville hired him to–win. After back-to-back 7-6 seasons, he led the Cardinals to the Big East title and a BCS bowl game appearance in his third year. Strong will coach the Cardinals in their first-ever Sugar Bowl appearance not long after turning down a job opportunity with the Tennessee Volunteers to stay at Louisville and continue to build on the success he is now realizing.

Muschamp has also done exactly what his employer hired him to do. After a disappointing 7-6 season in 2011 during which Muschamp was given an incomplete roster and not a lot to work with, he has risen the Gators back to prominence in the SEC and across the country. The fact that Florida is playing in the Sugar Bowl in only his second season is a testament to that. He’s led the Gators there despite a new offensive coordinator–Brent Pease–and struggles on that side of the ball. Much of the thanks can go to what is becoming an elite defense and a team with more endurance than any of its opponents.

On Wednesday, two fairly inexperienced, but quickly successful head coaches face off in one of the biggest games of the bowl season. One has a chance to win its 11th game of the season, while the other has a legitimate shot at finishing as the nation’s No. 2 team. Not surprising for one, but downright shocking for the other. We’re over most of that shock now. After all, we’ve been through 12 games with this Florida Gators’ team. We’ve seen the highs and the lows. We’ve experienced the good and the bad. With one game remaining, we hope for the glory of a Sugar Bowl victory and a 12th win.

Wednesday night marks the end to the 2012 season of the Gators. After the final second ticks away, we go into hibernation for the long haul, so cheer loud, get behind the orange and blue and, as always, Go Gators!