Showing flashes of potential
Andre Debose, UF's game-breaker on Saturday, needs consistency to be part of offense
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Andre Debose played a pretty big role in Florida's surprisingly tough 54-32 victory over Furman on Saturday.
But it's what Debose does on Monday evening that's even more important.
He has to have another good practice, which is something he's struggled with since he arrived in Gainesville in 2009. He can't drop a pass, run a wrong route or generally have a sloppy performance. He has to find some consistency or he'll end up not having much of -- or any -- impact in the Gators' regular-season finale against Florida State.
"I always talk to him about mental intensity," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "It's got to be an everyday thing. Not just a one-day thing. That's where Andre's biggest challenge is right now. It's an everyday thing to go out and play hard and concentrate and focus on being a really good player.
"He's extremely talented, but if you don't bring the other part it doesn't always happen for you."
The 6-foot Debose is Florida's most dynamic receiver, but he has only displayed that in flashes. He'll make a big catch or two -- like the 65-yard touchdowns he had against Alabama and LSU -- and then disappear for weeks.
He'll re-appear and make a nominal contribution, then go unnoticed for several more weeks.
He's football's version of Punxsutawney Phil.
"Coach Muschamp just stays on me all the time [about his consistency]," Debose said. "This week he's been saying, 'mental intensity,' and just jamming that into my head. That's what I've been going into this week saying 'mental intensity' to myself.
"It just paid off."
And helped save Florida (6-5) from perhaps the worst loss in school history.
Furman (6-5) took a surprising 22-7 lead in the first quarter before the Gators recovered. What really got things going was Debose's 80-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter, which came on a go route. Debose out-fought cornerback Ryan Steed for the ball and cut across the field for a score that trimmed Furman's lead to 22-20 with 5:42 left in the half.
"The DB was a little too close, and I took full advantage of it and just beat him with speed," Debose said.
It was Debose's third career touchdown catch and it sent the sideline into celebration.
"It was huge," said quarterback John Brantley, who had career-highs in passing yards (329) and touchdown passes (four). "Our team needed it. Our crowd needed it. ... Andre did a great job of running down there and making a play for us."
That's the kind of production everyone expected out of Debose when was the prize signee of UF's 2009 class out of Sanford (Fla.) Seminole High School. Then-coach Urban Meyer called him the next Percy Harvin after Debose totaled 3,082 rushing, passing, receiving and return yards and scored 22 touchdowns as a senior. One of those touchdowns came in the final seconds of the Class 6A state title game, and he also made a 90-yard touchdown catch in the Under Armour All-America Game.
But Debose never developed into the playmaker the Gators needed as a replacement for Harvin, who was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings. Debose missed the 2009 season after undergoing surgery to repair a tear in the tendon that attaches the hamstring to the back of the leg and caught just 10 passes for 96 yards in 2010.
Debose did return two kickoffs for touchdowns last season, but his biggest contribution on offense was a career-high four catches for 36 yards against Kentucky.
It has been frustrating for the coaching staff because Debose could be the Gators' best playmaker if he could just find the consistency that has eluded him his entire career.
"I think it's your job as a coach to get it out of him," Muschamp said. "That's the way I look at it. Everybody's got different buttons you've got to push to find out what makes them go. That's our job. Andre's a talented young man and a great kid who works hard and wants to work hard and does everything you ask him to do."
If he follows up Saturday's game with a good practice on Monday, another on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, etc.. and does that week after week next season, he could become an All-Southeastern Conference player.
"I think the best of myself and I've been working on the little things my coach has been telling me to work on," Debose said. "That's my ultimate goal."
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.
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