SEC: Florida Gators

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 16, 2014
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As always, there was a ton of recruiting news from around the SEC this past weekend. Ole Miss picked up a commitment, while the Rebels, Gators and Gamecocks all had big visitors for their games Saturday. Here’s a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.

Nothing like a little fun in the middle of a stressful football season -- especially if you are a coach who is under a lot of pressure to win this year.

With Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley sitting in for head football coach Will Muschamp on a weekly radio spot called the "Gator Hotline," Muschamp called into the show under the name "Bill from Gainesville."

Muschamp proceeded to talk about how much better Foley was than Muschamp on the air, suggesting he replace the Florida coach for the rest of the season on the show. Muschamp also took jabs at Foley's favorite baseball team, the last-place Boston Red Sox.

You can listen to the full audio here.





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The SEC has 77 committed prospects in the updated ESPN 300 rankings. The league continues to dominate on the recruiting front and there are no signs of the momentum slowing down. Here’s a closer look at five things to know in the SEC from the new recruiting rankings.


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The Florida Gators received a commitment from three-star offensive tackle George Brown Jr. on Friday afternoon -- but it was how he made that commitment that has made waves nationally.

Brown announced his decision by pulling out what everyone -- including almost all of Twitter -- thought was a baby gator.



Only one small problem: It is illegal to possess a gator in Brown's home state of Ohio. So what was thought to have been a baby gator was actually a dwarf caiman.

The small caiman is possessed by a company called Coolcrittersoutreach.com, which is an outreach program that displays wild animals to children for various events.

Position U: Kicker

June, 18, 2014
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Who really deserves to claim the title of “Kicker U” for the 2000s?

1. Ohio State (80 points): The Buckeyes placed first among place-kickers and tied for ninth at punter thanks to an award winner in each category. The high-point man who helped Ohio State win the “Kicker U” label was Mike Nugent, who won the Lou Groza Award, was a two-time All-American and All-Big Ten pick and was picked in the second round of the 2005 draft. Punter B.J. Sander won the Ray Guy Award and was drafted in the third round before enjoying a short career with the Green Bay Packers.

Award winners: B.J. Sander, Guy (2003); Mike Nugent, Groza (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Mike Nugent (2002, 2004).
First-team all-conference: Dan Stultz (2000), Adam Groom (2002), Mike Nugent (2002, 2004), B.J. Sander (2003), Josh Huston (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: B.J. Sander (Round 3, 2004), Mike Nugent (Round 2, 2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

2. UCLA (72 points): A pair of consensus All-Americans (Justin Medlock and Kai Forbath) and a Lou Groza Award (which Forbath won in 2009) helped UCLA push toward the top of the rankings. Medlock was also drafted in 2007 and has spent portions of several seasons on NFL rosters, while also kicking at times in the CFL.

Award winners: Kai Forbath, Groza (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Justin Medlock (2006), Kai Forbath (2009).
First-team all-conference: Nate Fikse (2001, 2002), Justin Medlock (2004, 2006), Aaron Perez (2008), Kai Forbath (2009), Jeff Locke (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Justin Medlock (Round 5, 2007), Jeff Locke (Round 5, 2013).

3. Colorado (64 points): Three-time all-conference pick Mason Crosby -- also a consensus All-American in 2005 -- accounted for nearly all of Colorado’s point production at place-kicker. He went on to become a sixth-round draft pick and has set several franchise records as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Mark Mariscal also added some points by winning the Ray Guy Award and becoming an All-American and all-conference selection in 2002.

Award winners: Mark Mariscal, Guy (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Mark Mariscal (2002), Mason Crosby (2005).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Flores (2001), Mark Mariscal (2002), Mason Crosby (2004, 2005, 2006), John Torp (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mason Crosby (Round 6, 2007).

4. Michigan State (62 points): With six first-team All-Big Ten selections -- including three-time honoree Brandon Fields, who was also a consensus All-American in 2004 -- Michigan State takes the No. 3 spot. The Spartans have also had two punters drafted since 2001, which is a rare feat for a college program, as well as kickers Dave Rayner and Craig Jarrett.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Brandon Fields (2004).
First-team all-conference: Brandon Fields (2003, 2004, 2006), Brett Swenson (2009), Aaron Bates (2010), Dan Conroy (2010), Mike Sadler (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Craig Jarrett (Round 6, 2002), Dave Rayner (Round 6, 2005), Brandon Fields (Round 7, 2007).

T-5. Baylor (56 points): Baylor places almost solely because of one player: mid-2000s standout Daniel Sepulveda. The two-time Ray Guy Award winner scored 44 points by himself, which is greater than the score for every other program in the punter rankings except one (No. 2 Michigan State, which had 48).

Award winners: Daniel Sepulveda, Guy (2004, 2006).
Consensus All-Americans: Daniel Sepulveda (2006).
First-team all-conference: Daniel Sepulveda (2004, 2006), Derek Epperson (2009), Spencer Roth (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Daniel Sepulveda (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

T-5. Oklahoma State (56 points): Between Quinn Sharp’s three all-conference selections at punter and two at place-kicker, Dan Bailey's 2010 Groza Award and Matt Fodge’s 2008 Guy Award, Oklahoma State fared well at both kicking positions.

Award winners: Matt Fodge, Guy (2008); Dan Bailey, Groza (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Dan Bailey (2010), Quinn Sharp (2010, 2011, 2012 at punter; 2011, 2012 at place-kicker).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

7. Florida State (54 points): A pair of Groza Award wins (by Graham Gano and last season by Roberto Aguayo) helped Florida State place third solely among place-kickers and sixth overall. Aguayo helped extend the Seminoles’ streak of first-team All-ACC place-kickers to three consecutive years after Dustin Hopkins earned the honor in 2011 and 2012. Since Aguayo was only a redshirt freshman last fall, there is a good chance the streak will continue. Punter Shawn Powell was the Seminoles' only All-American during this stretch.

Award winners: Graham Gano, Groza (2008); Roberto Aguayo, Groza (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Shawn Powell (2011).
First-team all-conference: Dustin Hopkins (2011, 2012), Shawn Powell (2011), Roberto Aguayo (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dustin Hopkins (Round 6, 2013).

8. Georgia (52 points): Give Mark Richt credit: In his 13-plus seasons as Georgia’s coach, he has rarely been without a consistent place-kicker. Players like Blair Walsh, Brandon Coutu, Billy Bennett and most recently Marshall Morgan have given Georgia a consistent scoring threat in the kicking game. And Drew Butler had one of the best seasons by any punter in SEC history when he won the Ray Guy Award in 2009.

Award winners: Drew Butler, Guy (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Drew Butler (2009).
First-team all-conference: Billy Bennett (2002), Brandon Coutu (2005), Drew Butler (2009), Blair Walsh (2010), Marshall Morgan (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Brandon Coutu (Round 7, 2008), Blair Walsh (Round 6, 2012).

8. Miami (52 points): Another program with two punters who were drafted (Matt Bosher and Pat O’Donnell, both in the sixth round), Miami hasn’t had a punter win the Ray Guy Award or earn an All-America nod, but the Hurricanes do boast four all-conference punters since the turn of the century. Bosher was also an all-conference place-kicker in 2010.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Freddie Capshaw (2000, 2001), Todd Sievers (2001, 2002), Jon Peattie (2003), Matt Bosher (2009 at place-kicker, 2010 at punter), Pat O’Donnell (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Matt Bosher (Round 6, 2011), Pat O’Donnell (Round 6, 2014).

10. Florida (48 points): Chas Henry, who won the Ray Guy Award and was a consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC pick in 2010, accounted for 24 of Florida’s 30 points at punter. The Gators also had a pair of place-kickers (Jeff Chandler and Caleb Sturgis, a two-time all-conference pick) drafted.

Award winners: Chas Henry, Guy (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Chas Henry (2010).
First-team all-conference: Chas Henry (2010), Caleb Sturgis (2011, 2012), Kyle Christy (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jeff Chandler (Round 4, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Caleb Sturgis (Round 5, 2013).

REST OF “KICKER U” RANKINGS
46 – California; 44 – Auburn, Nebraska, Utah, Wake Forest; 42 – Georgia Tech; 40 – Purdue; 38 – Pittsburgh, Tennessee; 34 – Iowa, Louisville, Maryland; 32 – BYU, Texas A&M, TCU, Wisconsin; 28 – LSU, Michigan, Oregon State; 26 – USC, Virginia Tech; 22 – Arizona State; 16 – Ole Miss; 14 – Arizona, Penn State, Texas; 12 – Alabama, Duke, Illinois, Kansas State, Kentucky, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Washington State; 8 – Virginia, West Virginia, Boston College; 6 – Indiana, Oregon, Rutgers, Stanford; 2 – Arkansas, South Carolina, Vanderbilt; 0 – Clemson, Iowa State, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi State, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Washington.

How Taylor can help run over Bulldogs

November, 1, 2013
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AP Photo/Gerald HerbertKelvin Taylor can be a high-impact runner for Florida beginning on Saturday.

Florida’s offense has statistically been the worst in the SEC, averaging the fewest yards per game (337) and yards per play (4.9). While its quarterback play has been inconsistent, perhaps the most alarming part of Florida’s offense has been the decline of its running game.

Florida averages 4.4 yards per carry on designed rushes, worst in the SEC. Last season it was fourth in the SEC, averaging 5.5 yards per designed rush.

With running back Mack Brown struggling in place of the injured Matt Jones, Will Muschamp will turn to highly touted true freshman Kelvin Taylor to make his first career start Saturday. If the Gators use Taylor outside the tackle box, it might find success against a Georgia defense that has allowed multiple rushing touchdowns in four straight weeks.

Where Florida has struggled
The Gators have had little running room for most of this season. They average an SEC-low 2.8 yards before contact per rush on designed runs.

Florida has especially struggled between the tackles, averaging just 3.0 yards per designed run, second-worst among automatic-qualifying schools.

In their last game against Missouri on Oct. 19, Florida ran the ball eight times between the tackles, gaining a total of nine yards. Only once was a Florida back able to gain more than one yard up the middle before being hit by a defender (a nine-yard run by Taylor).

Georgia may feature the best interior run defense Florida has faced all season. The Bulldogs allow 3.1 yards per carry on designed runs between the tackles, best in the SEC.

One reason why is that they have missed only 44 tackles this season, second-fewest in the SEC.

How Kelvin Taylor can help
As good as Georgia has been on inside runs, it has been equally vulnerable outside the tackle box. Georgia allows the most yards per carry outside the tackles in the SEC (6.3)

Taylor should be a big upgrade on Brown in this area for Florida.

Of Taylor’s 27 carries, 21 have come outside the tackle box, where he averages 7.0 yards per rush. Brown averages only 3.3 yards per rush on such runs, worst in the SEC (minimum 20 carries).

Taylor’s outside running has been a rare bright spot for Florida’s offense.

Over the last two weeks, Taylor has 105 rushing yards on 6.6 yards per carry outside the tackles. Florida’s other offensive plays average just 2.6 yards per play.

Taylor has been especially good running to the left side. He averages 7.1 yards per carry over left tackle, and his 20-yard touchdown run against Missouri came over left end.

Unfortunately for Florida, starting left tackle D.J. Humphries will miss Saturday’s game with a knee injury.

The Gators will have to find a way to run to have a chance to snap their two-game losing streak. Under Will Muschamp, Florida is 2-10 when it rushes for 122 or fewer yards, including losing all three such games this season.

LSU poses challenge for Murphy

October, 11, 2013
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Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsTyler Murphy has been a heads-up QB since taking over the starting job.

New quarterback Tyler Murphy has helped lead an offensive turnaround in Gainesville. While Florida has still been heavily reliant on the run, Murphy’s ability to protect the football and convert in key situations has been a huge upgrade over Jeff Driskel. This week Murphy faces his toughest test as Florida travels to face LSU (Saturday, 3:30 ET).

Preventing Negative Plays
One key area in which Murphy represents an improvement over Driskel is in preventing turnovers and sacks. Florida turned the ball over on 25 percent of the drives that Driskel quarterbacked this season while Murphy has just one turnover since taking over the job against Tennessee.

Driskel’s turnovers had a direct impact on Florida’s fortunes. In the Gators’ only two losses over the past two seasons, he turned the ball over seven times.

Before his injury this season, 17 of the 34 points Florida had allowed came off Driskel turnovers, including a pick-six on his final play against Tennessee. Since Murphy took over, Florida has not allowed any points off turnovers.

Over the last two seasons, LSU has scored the second-most points off turnovers in the SEC. The Tigers have been even more efficient this year in converting miscues into scores, increasing their points per turnover forced from 4.1 in 2012 to 5.0 this year.

Driskel has also been very sack-prone, with sacks on nearly 12 percent of dropbacks in his career, the third-worst rate in FBS in that span. Murphy has been sacked on only five percent of dropbacks this year and has not fumbled the ball once.

Converting in Key Situations
Florida has also improved its red zone and third-down production under Murphy. Florida averaged 2.8 points per red zone drive with Driskel this season compared to 5.2 with Murphy. In Florida’s loss to Miami, the Gators managed one touchdown and one field goal in six drives that reached the red zone, as Driskel had more turnovers (3) than completions (2).

LSU has the ability to give Florida trouble inside the 20-yard line. The Tigers have allowed opponents to score a touchdown on only 48 percent of drives reaching the red zone this season, the second-best rate in the SEC.

Murphy has also been more effective on third downs. His third-down conversion rate on passes is 53 percent, 24 percentage points higher than Driskel. Murphy has also converted 11 first downs on the ground, including seven on third down. Driskel ran for just five first downs this year, with none coming on third down.

Murphy’s ability to use his legs goes beyond third downs. He is averaging 5.6 yards per rush, third-best among SEC quarterbacks (min. 10 rushes), and has the highest rate of rushes gaining at least five yards in that group.

While Murphy has been very efficient in a limited sample size, he has not had to face much adversity. Florida has only thrown the ball on 28 percent of its plays since Murphy took over, and it has not trailed in the second half. Against an LSU team that scores over 45 points per game, Murphy may have to handle an increased workload for the Gators to win Saturday.

Arkansas a team on the run

October, 4, 2013
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Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Alex Collins leads the SEC with 527 rush yards this season.
Bret Bielema’s arrival from Wisconsin has signaled a change in Arkansas football. Gone are the pass-happy offenses of the past several years. This year no SEC team has rushed more times and for more yards than Arkansas. Arkansas’ run game faces its toughest test of the season Saturday against Florida (7 ET on ESPN2).

Arkansas Taking On Bielema’s Personality
Over the last four years, no SEC team ran the ball less than Arkansas. However, this year Arkansas has run the ball 65 percent of the time, ranking second in the SEC.

Bielema has taken his ground-and-pound approach from his Wisconsin days, when the Badgers had the fifth-highest rush percentage in the nation, and brought it to Fayetteville this year – with a few wrinkles.

One key difference between this Arkansas team’s rushing attack from Bielema’s offenses at Wisconsin is play direction. From 2010-12 Wisconsin accumulated 48 percent of its yards on runs up the middle.

This year Arkansas has accumulated just 26 percent of its runs up the middle. The Razorbacks’ 874 rushing yards outside the hash marks lead the conference and are already more than their total from last season.

Inside the Razorbacks Rushing Attack
One key part of the Arkansas rushing attack is the big-play ability of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. Collins leads the SEC with 17 rushes of 10-or-more yards, and no SEC player has a longer run this year than Williams’ 75-yard touchdown scamper in the season opener.

The offensive line has been instrumental in opening up big holes for the running backs, with Collins and Williams both ranking in the top 10 in yards before contact among BCS-AQ rushers.

Opponents have been prepared for Arkansas’ run-reliant gameplan this season. The Razorbacks are seeing an average of 7.3 defenders in the box, the second-highest mark among SEC teams.

Williams and Collins have both excelled facing the extra traffic. Williams leads the SEC with 10 broken tackles and Collins is fifth among BCS-AQ running backs with 229 yards after contact.

The running game has also helped set up play action for the Razorbacks. Seven of Arkansas’ ten touchdown passes have come off a run fake, and another came on a Williams halfback option pass. Only Oregon State, Ohio State and Washington have more TD passes via play action than Arkansas.

Can Florida Stop Arkansas?
Florida’s defense leads the nation in run defense, allowing just 54 yards per game. Florida doesn’t stack the line to stop the run either, averaging only 6.5 men in the box per run play.

Florida did lose one of its best run stoppers - defensive lineman Dominique Easley - for the season last week in practice, but still has the ability to stop Arkansas’ high-powered run game.

The key to Florida’s rush defense is penetrating the backfield. The Gators have hit opposing rushers behind the line of scrimmage on an FBS-best 42 percent of their carries, and they have stopped opposing ball carriers for zero or negative yards 44 percent of the time, the highest rate in FBS.

Best SEC classes by position 

September, 10, 2013
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Top to bottom, the Southeastern Conference is recruiting better than any conference in the country. Thirteen of 14 SEC schools are ranked in the top 40 of the recruiting rankings, including six schools ranked in the top 10. Here's a closer look at which SEC school has the top recruiting classes at each position.

Quarterback
Strongest class: Alabama
This is the hardest position to determine who has the strongest class. Four of the top-five quarterbacks in the final Elite 11 rankings -- Sean White (Auburn), Kyle Allen (Texas A&M), Will Grier (Florida) and Jacob Park (Georgia) -- are committed to SEC schools. Alabama, however has the top-ranked quarterback, David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) in the ESPN 300. The Under Armour All-American is the 32nd-ranked player in the nation. At 6-foot-5, 241-pounds, Cornwell has a big-time arm and ideal size for the position.

Running back

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LSU coach Les Miles doesn't have a problem playing eight SEC opponents every season.

Miles also realizes the Tigers could play nine SEC games in the very near future.

Miles just doesn't think it's fair that LSU has to play Florida every season, while other teams in the SEC West don't.

[+] EnlargeLes Miles
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireUnder the current SEC scheduling format, Les Miles and LSU play Florida every season.
As SEC presidents, athletics directors and coaches convene this week for the league's annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla., long-term scheduling has become the hot-button issue.

The league is expected to vote whether to change its current 6-1-1 format, in which teams play each opponent from their respective division, along with one rotating foe and one permanent opponent from the opposite division. SEC officials could vote this week to add a ninth conference game or at least eliminate permanent crossover opponents.

The SEC adopted its current scheduling format to ensure that longstanding rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee and Georgia-Auburn would survive expansion.

By drawing the Gators as a permanent crossover opponent, Miles believes the Tigers drew the short end of the stick.

Miles won't complain about the scheduling format publicly, but he knows LSU is at a disadvantage.

And Miles is probably right.

"When they give us our schedule, I'm looking forward to having a great competition," Miles said.

Since 2000, LSU has played Florida and Georgia -- two of the SEC East's best programs -- a total of 17 times. Auburn is the only SEC West team which has faced those teams more often, playing them 19 times. Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss have faced them a total of 10 times each, while Alabama has played them only eight times.

While it's not fair that LSU has faced the Bulldogs and Gators nearly twice as often as Alabama has played them since 2000, Miles' argument might fall on deaf ears. Auburn and Georgia aren't going to surrender the longtime series -- the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry has been played 116 times since 1892. Likewise, Alabama and Tennessee have played 95 times since 1901, a game so revered it's named for its traditional place on the calendar, the Third Saturday in October.

And Ole Miss would probably rather play Vanderbilt every season instead of Florida, Georgia or South Carolina, and Mississippi State isn't going pass up a chance to play Kentucky every year.

"There's never going to be a fair way," said Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, whose Aggies drew Missouri as a permanent crossover opponent. "If you look back seven or eight years ago, you would have said the SEC East was the strongest division. You can't say what's fair, because things change in this league. You can't look at tradition. Ten years ago, you might have wanted to play South Carolina. Now you don't want anything to do with them. You don't know what Tennessee is going to do with a new coach. I know Butch Jones is going to do a great job."

Florida-LSU has become one of the league's most anticipated games every season. They've been two of the league's most dominant teams over the past decade. They've combined to appear in seven SEC championship games since 2003, and they've combined to play in nine BCS bowl games, including five BCS national championship games. In their past 10 meetings, LSU and Florida were both ranked in the top 25 of the coaches' poll nine times. Conversely, Alabama and Tennessee were both ranked only once in their past 10 meetings.

The loser of the Florida-LSU regular-season game has paid dearly over the past 10 seasons. LSU's 23-10 loss at Florida in 2006 knocked the Tigers out of the SEC championship game (the Gators defeated Arkansas 38-28 and then blasted Ohio State 41-14 to win the BCS title). Last year, LSU's 14-6 loss at Florida probably cost it a spot in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, if not another trip to a BCS bowl game.

Florida's losses to LSU in 2002, '05 and '07 kept them out of the SEC championship game and potentially BCS bowl games.


Reaction to Louisville's 33-23 win over Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl:

It was over when: Louisville cornerback Andrew Johnson intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone and returned it 22 yards early in the fourth quarter. Florida was close to scoring a touchdown and cutting Louisville’s lead to 30-17, but Jeff Driskel threw a bit behind receiver Quinton Dunbar and the ball bounced off Dunbar’s hands. The Cardinals converted that turnover into a 33-yard field goal and a 33-10 lead. That lead turned out to be insurmountable.

Game ball goes to: Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater shredded Florida’s defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation in pass efficiency. The sophomore from Miami, Fla., completed 20 of 32 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Bridgewater was rarely pressured and pretty much had his pick of open receivers all night.

Stat of the game: Louisville was fantastic on third down and Florida wasn’t. The Cardinals went 9-for-14. Florida went 3-for-10 and the Gators didn’t get their first third-down conversion until the fourth quarter. Florida had entered the game fourth nationally in third-down defense (28 percent).

Unsung hero: Kick returner Andre Debose gave the Gators a glimmer of hope in the fourth quarter when he took a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to cut Louisville’s lead to 33-17.

Best call: It turned out to be meaningless in the final outcome, but the Gators scored their lone touchdown on a fake field goal late in the first half. Florida split several linemen out wide left but had fullback Trey Burton, running back Matt Jones and kicker Caleb Sturgis lined up behind the center. Burton took the snap and gave the ball to Jones on an option play and he scored from 1 yard out.

Second guessing: Florida coach Will Muschamp called for an onside kick to begin the second half trailing 24-10. It turned out to be disastrous. Not only did Louisville recover the ball, there was a skirmish after the play. Special teams standout Chris Johnson was ejected for throwing a punch, Loucheiz Purifoy was also penalized for a personal foul, and the Cardinals took possession at the UF 19-yard line. They scored a touchdown on the following play for a 30-10 lead.

What Louisville learned: The Cardinals program is in good hands with coach Charlie Strong and appears ready for its move to the ACC in 2014. Louisville is loaded with young talent -- 26 of the players on the two-deep depth charts on offense and defense are freshmen or sophomores -- and most importantly has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Bridgewater. The Cardinals gained a huge measure of momentum for next season with Wednesday night’s rout and will almost certainly be a preseason top 10 selection.

What Florida learned: The Gators didn’t learn anything new about their offense. The offensive line needs work, Driskel needs to improve, and there is a dearth of playmakers at receiver. However, it appears the Gators may not be as set on defense as they may have thought. Especially in the secondary, which was supposed to have been the team’s strength. The Gators were unable to slow down Louisville’s passing attack and the loss of Purifoy to an injury in the first half showed that the Gators don’t have much depth at corner.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

December, 2, 2012
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Louisville Cardinals (10-2) vs. Florida Gators (11-1)

Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET, New Orleans (ESPN)

Louisville take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: The Cardinals were the overwhelming preseason choice to win the Big East because they returned just about everybody off a team that won a share of the league title last season. The star among the bunch lived up to his top billing, as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater knocked just about everybody’s socks off with his performance in 2012. He is the biggest reason why Louisville is headed to the BCS and not a second-tier bowl game.

But this team had major adversity to overcome. Louisville survived one close call after another en route to a school-record 9-0 start. Then came loss No. 1 on the season, a stunning 45-26 blowout on the road to Syracuse in which the Orange outplayed the Cardinals in every single phase of the game. Then came loss No. 2, an inexplicable triple-overtime home defeat to UConn -- a team with one of the worst offenses in the nation. In that game, Bridgewater broke his wrist and sprained his ankle, yet nearly led a comeback win.

Louisville went into its regular-season finale at Rutgers without many people giving the Cards much of a shot to win. Rutgers jumped out to a 14-3 lead. But Bridgewater refused to be denied. Playing through his injuries, he led Louisville to a 20-17 comeback win to clinch the BCS spot. Bridgewater ended up throwing for 3,452 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season and was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the entire nation. He may have been an unknown outside the Big East before the season began; that is no longer the case.

Bridgewater allowed his team to survive the loss of leading rusher Senorise Perry, who tore his ACL against Syracuse and is out for the season. He allowed his team to win games it struggled in for a large chunk of time. And he allowed his team to survive some pretty shaky play on defense. It’s safe to say that many expected Louisville to be better than it was defensively this season, particularly up front. But for a majority of the season, the Cardinals had a hard time consistently stopping the run or consistently getting a pass rush going.

And yet, Louisville found a way to win 10 games and get back to a BCS game. In Teddy, Louisville trusts.




Florida take from GatorNation's Michael DiRocco: The Gators were one of the nation’s biggest surprises this season.

They followed up a 7-6 mark in coach Will Muschamp’s debut season with an 11-1 record in 2012, highlighted by victories over Texas A&M, South Carolina, LSU and Florida State. And if USC had upset Notre Dame, Florida could possibly be playing for the national title.

Florida’s turnaround was led by a smothering defense, which isn’t surprising considering Muschamp’s background. The Gators rank in the top six nationally in total defense, rush defense and scoring defense and have allowed opponents to throw just five touchdown passes. Safeties Matt Elam and Josh Evans, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and linebacker Jon Bostic have had career years.

But the biggest change is how good the Gators have been at forcing turnovers this season. UF forced just 14 in 2011, which was the lowest single-season total in school history since the school began compiling fumble stats in 1950. This year, UF has forced 29, which includes 19 interceptions (four by Elam), and the Gators have a plus-17 turnover margin.

UF’s offense hasn’t been pretty, but coordinator Brent Pease did a good job of compensating for a lack of playmakers at receiver and injuries along the offensive line. Running back Mike Gillislee finally got his chance to be the feature back, and he responded with 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns to become the first UF player to surpass 1,000 yards since Ciatrick Fason in 2004.

After finally settling on Jeff Driskel as the starter, Pease put together game plans that took advantage of Driskel’s mobility and didn’t ask the sophomore to do too much. Manage the game and stay away from mistakes were the goals, and Driskel did that this season with one exception (Georgia). He ended up throwing for 1,471 yards and 11 TDs -- many of those yards to tight end Jordan Reed (44 catches for 552 yards) -- with only three interceptions while running for 409 yards and four touchdowns.

The Gators could play conservatively on offense because of their outstanding defense, but also because of punter Kyle Christy and kicker Caleb Sturgis. Christy, a Ray Guy Award finalist, was a field-position weapon with a 46.1-yard average (fifth nationally) and 25 punts of 50 or more yards. Sturgis, a Lou Groza Award finalist, made 23 of 27 field goal attempts and is the school’s all-time leader in field goals (69) and field goals of 50 or more yards (eight).

Instant analysis: Florida 14, LSU 6

October, 6, 2012
10/06/12
7:18
PM ET

It had to be surreal for LSU coach Les Miles to see the events that unfolded Saturday in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. That No. 10 Florida upset Miles' No. 4 Tigers, 14-6, wasn't a huge surprise. What was shocking was the way the Gators did it: They beat the Tigers at their own game.

Florida attempted a measly 12 passes for 61 yards and scored only 14 points, forgoing the high-flying offense that has long defined Gators football for a smashmouth, powerful running game and a hard-hitting, opportunistic defense. The Gators looked overwhelmed by LSU for much of the early going but overcame a 6-0 first-half deficit to roar back and make a statement in the SEC pecking order.

Here's how it played out in front of a sold-out Swamp:

It was over when: Just like in the Sept. 8 win against Texas A&M, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel rolled out on third-and-3 and picked up a crucial first down with his feet in the game's dying minutes. Driskel managed just six yards as opposed to his 21-yard run against the Aggies, but it was enough to kill three minutes off the clock and end LSU's chances of a game-winning drive.

Game ball: Florida running back Mike Gillislee. Stop if this sounds familiar: The senior got stronger as the game went on, tallying an absurd 34 carries for 146 yards and both Gators touchdowns. Gillislee had a hard time running against a stout LSU defensive front in the first half, but he kept pounding and wore the Tigers down. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry.

Game ball, part II: LSU linebacker Kevin Minter. The junior was a one-man wrecking crew on the Tigers' defense, smashing his way to 20 total tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. It's not a coincidence that Florida pounded its way to its first touchdown of the game while Minter was briefly out injured.

Key stat: Take your pick from several telling ones. LSU notched just eight first downs -- three of which were earned via a Florida penalty. A big reason for that was the Tigers' atrocious performance on third down, a horrendous 1-for-13. Meanwhile, the Gators' halftime adjustments were almost breathtaking in comparison. Florida went into the break with 49 yards of total offense and finished the game with 237 yards -- 176 of those coming on the ground. Florida won the possession battle 37:17 to 22:43.

Perhaps the craziest stat of all: After shutting out the Tigers after halftime, Florida has outscored its six opponents 78-13 in the second half this season.

Key play: It looked as if the Tigers had grabbed hold of the momentum when, trailing 7-6 in the third quarter, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger found wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. open for a 56-yard gain to the Florida 23-yard line. What looked like a huge gain for LSU quickly turned into a momentum swing for Florida, though, as safety Matt Elam stripped the ball and recovered it at the Florida 21. What followed was an 11-play, 77-yard Gators touchdown drive to grab the game-winning 14-6 margin.

What it means: With either Georgia or South Carolina guaranteed to lose tonight, Florida controls its destiny in the SEC East. The Gators leave Florida only one more time this season, which has to make them a contender for the division championship. The Tigers' offensive struggles were concerning while they were still winning games, but the ineptitude on display in Gainesville has to be sounding some panic alarms. LSU still has games against South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi State -- all of which boast equally stout defenses. That said, one loss won't sink the Tigers if they can handle their business the rest of the way.

In Mark Schlabach's Upset Special of the Week, he picks Florida to defeat LSU.

Texas A&M didn't get a win, but it certainly didn't disappoint in its first outing as an SEC member. The Aggies gave No. 24 Florida all it could handle but ultimately succumbed in a 20-17 loss. Here's how it played out Saturday from Kyle Field.

It was over when: Clinging to a 20-17 lead with 1:30 remaining, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel raced for 21 yards on a bootleg to ensure the Gators would not have to give the ball back to the Aggies. Florida took over at its own 14 with 3:12 remaining and managed to grind down the clock on a seven-play drive consisting of all run plays.

Game ball goes to: Driskel. He was far from spectacular, but the quarterback was mistake-free in his first start for the Gators. Driskel was absolutely drilled to the tune of eight -- repeat, eight -- sacks. But he hung in to complete 13 of 16 passes for 162 yards, and while the Florida offense was far from fun to watch, Driskel took care of the ball and made clutch plays when he had to. In addition to the game-sealing run, Driskel connected with tight end Omarius Hines on a beautiful 39-yard throw to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Game ball, Part 2: That go-ahead touchdown came thanks to some inspired running from Florida running back Mike Gillislee. Racing around the right corner in the A&M red zone, Gillislee shook off a tackler and danced along the sideline into the end zone to put the Gators ahead. He was the only consistent part of the Florida offense for the second straight week, totaling 83 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.

Rising star: He didn't come out on top, but Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel had a heck of a debut in a raucous, SEC-worthy environment. Manziel completed 23 of 30 passes for 173 yards, and he led the Aggies in rushing with 60 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. What's more impressive, the freshman didn't have a turnover against a speedy, hard-hitting SEC defense.

What it means: A lot of people will point to the 17-7 lead Texas A&M held in the first half of this game and laugh. But this Aggies team looked far more impressive than the one that surrendered 17- and 18-point leads in 2011. Texas A&M went punch for punch with a good -- not great -- SEC squad and barely lost out in the end. Florida might not be on the same level as Alabama or LSU, but the Gators didn't appear to hold any advantages over the Aggies, and Texas A&M gave as good as it got.

For Will Muschamp and the Gators, it has to be encouraging to see Driskel play so effectively, if not spectacularly, against an SEC foe. Florida has a lot of work to do, but its young quarterback showed flashes in his first start. Unfortunately for Florida, the true takeaway from Saturday might be the injury report. The Gators saw four players go down, including star linebacker Jelani Jenkins.

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