Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Florida finally a plus in turnover margin
By Jeff Barlis GatorNation
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Weeks before his first season as a head coach, Will Muschamp said turnover margin would be one of his biggest indicators of success.
Florida safety De'Ante Saunders tied for the team lead in interceptions with two last season.
It's been a particular sore spot all season, as his defense has struggled to create takeaways to the tune of a minus-eight turnover margin, worst in the Southeastern Conference thus far.
That changed in Saturday's 54-32 victory against Furman on Saturday, as Florida put the game out of reach and capped its scoring with two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
"It was good, but that's what we kind of expect," Muschamp said. "That's not happened for us this year and we've got to do a better job of coaching. The only way I can look at it is that way.
"I've said it before, two years ago I was the defensive coordinator at Texas and we led the country in turnovers. We're not emphasizing it a whole lot differently than we are now."
True freshman free safety De'Ante Saunders had Florida's first turnover returned for a touchdown this season when his snared his second career interception early in the fourth quarter and returned it 25 yards. It was Saunders' second straight game with an interception.
With four minutes remaining in a 47-32 game, redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins stepped in front of a Furman receiver, intercepted the ball and ran it back 75 yards for his first career touchdown.
After the game, Jenkins expressed relief at finally holding on to an interception after he had dropped several easy picks earlier in the season.
"Yeah it felt good," he said with a little laugh. "'Bout time, man. I wasn't thinking about [the drops], but it's a relief. I got a monkey off my back."
Offensive line shuffle
Injuries continue to test Florida's depth on the offensive line.
Muschamp said left tackle Xavier Nixon was "banged up a little bit" during the game and was replaced by Kyle Koehne, who started at left guard in place of injured senior Dan Wenger (ankle).
Fifth-year senior James Wilson got into the game at left guard late in the first half when Koehne moved to left tackle.
"Kyle Koehne and James Wilson responded very well for us," Muschamp said.
Redshirt freshman Chaz Green, a starter for most of the season, missed his fourth straight game with an ankle injury. He was dressed in full pads but didn't see action.
Starting tight end Jordan Reed, who was very active early with four catches for 56 yards and the Gators' first touchdown of the day, re-injured his ankle and did not see the field in the second half.
"From briefly talking to the medical staff, they think it will be a couple of days for him to get back," Muschamp said.
Senior tailback Chris Rainey re-injured his right ankle early on the Gators' first possession, but he returned later in the first quarter. He ran for 90 yards on 15 carries but spent the afternoon limping on and off the field.
Quarterback John Brantley said lingering injuries to his throwing arm and shoulder have improved and aren't hampering his performance.
"I'm probably around 90 percent," he said. "I'm feeling pretty good right now."
Strong safety Matt Elam limped off the field late in the fourth quarter and didn't return.
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With a 43-yard field goal in the third quarter and a 55-yarder in the fourth quarter, Florida place-kicker Caleb Sturgis moved into second place in school history with 45 field goals made. The Gators' all-time leader is Jeff Chandler with 67.
Sturgis also became the first kicker in school history to kick five field goals in his career of 50 or more yards. He now leads the SEC with three 50-yard field goals this season, after entering the game tied at two with Georgia's Blair Walsh.
Prolific Paladin Jerodis Williams had a career day against the porous Gator defense.
The junior running back ran 19 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-long 77-yard jaunt in the third quarter.
"It was just a little power play to the left side," he said. "Somebody actually knocked me to the right side, but when they hit me I just darted to the right, stumbled a little bit.
"One of our guys had a seal, I looked up and it was just green grass."
Williams went over 1,000 yards on the season, becoming Furman's first 1,000-yard rusher since Hindley Brigham had 1,042 in 2003.
-- The announced attendance was 84,674 but The Swamp appeared to be about two-thirds full on a chilly, overcast day.
-- Furman struck quickly in the first quarter with touchdowns on its first two drives, each taking less than two-and-a-half minutes. With the Gators down 15-0 to a team from the Football Championship Subdivision, the crowd responded with a mix of boos, murmurs and stunned silence. Sophomore defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd admitted the Gators came out flat and had to rally. "Listen, it's Furman," he said. "No disrespect, but it's Furman."
-- Furman's record fell to 1-20 against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents since 1987. The Paladins' only win in that stretch was against North Carolina in 1999. Furman's last win against Florida came in 1930.
-- With his first quarter touchdown pass, Furman quarterback Chris Forcier, older brother of former Michigan QB Tate Forcier, broke former Gator quarterback Ingle Martin's 2004 single-season passing touchdown record of 22.
-- Redshirt freshman wide receiver Quinton Dunbar caught his first career touchdown pass, a 29-yarder in the second quarter.
-- Sophomore outside linebacker Darrin Kitchens made his first career start in place of McCray and led the Gators with a career-high 12 tackles.
-- Muschamp said redshirt freshman safety Josh Shaw missed the game to be with his grandfather, who is "very ill."
-- Florida's captains were offensive tackle Matt Patchan, linebacker Jon Bostic, wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. and safety Josh Evans.
Jeff Barlis is editor and writer for GatorNation. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JeffBarlisESPN