Davis impresses with playing time

The loss of Antonio Morrison forced a freshman to step in. Jarrad Davis was already starting to create a role on the Florida defense because of his play on special teams, but the loss of Morrison meant more snaps for Davis at South Carolina. He took advantage of them. The freshman ended the game with five tackles, including a key tackle for loss to get a stop on fourth down.

It went further than the statistics. Davis made his presence felt on big hit on a punt return by Victor Hampton in the first half. The big play came early in the fourth quarter. The Gators had a 14-13 lead, and South Carolina was driving. The Gamecocks forced a fourth-and-three at the Florida 43-yard line, and instead of punting, South Carolina put the ball in the hands of the Southeastern Conference's leading rusher Mike Davis.

The running back took the handoff and went to his left, trying to get the corner. On his way, Florida freshman linebacker Jarrad Davis shot through a hole, wrapped up the legs and gave the ball back to the Florida offense with the stop.

"He made a huge play on fourth down the other day," Will Muschamp said. "Coming from the backside and made a really nice open-field tackle."

The Gators will continue to get more reps for Davis, and Muschamp said he would start on Saturday against Georgia Southern.

"He really has played well," Muschamp said. "He's an explosive young man. He's very smart. He has been our most productive special teams player. Everything we've put him in, he's been productive. Practices well, practices hard, practices physical."

Last week, Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin called Davis a "pleasant surprise." He was the least heralded linebacker in the 2013 recruiting class, which included Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin, but he's also the first one to carve out an important role on the Florida defense.

When told that Davis was a three-star recruit coming out of high school, Muschamp joked that it must mean he isn't cut out to start at Florida.

"He was not a heavily recruited player, but he's a guy that has come in and is very smart, very intelligent, works hard, explosive, got great speed, can finish on plays," Muschamp said. "He's got all the intangibles you want, instincts at the position. But you don't ever know when you have a freshman."

The challenge with freshmen is getting them acclimated to college football. Enrolling early can help them understand college and get more experience with the playbook, but players that don't enroll early, like Davis, can still make a big impact.

There have been multiple freshmen make immediate impacts on the Florida roster this season. Running back Kelvin Taylor has become the starting running back, while Ahmad Fulwood continues to get increased reps at receiver. Joey Ivie recently started playing on the defensive line, while Davis and Anzalone are seeing reps with the Florida defense. The play of former five-star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves hasn't surprised anyone.

There is one key factor that gets freshmen on the field -- maturity. When they have it and aren't overwhelmed by the transition to college, freshmen can make an immediate impact, like many in Gainesville have this fall.

"You look at the guys that are really contributing a lot for us, they're all very mature guys," Muschamp said. "They all work hard. They come to practice every day. They're accountable for what they do and how they handle themselves.

The other requirements to play as a freshman can be obvious. Muschamp said there has to be an opportunity for the player to get on the field, and the ability has to be there, too. Muschamp has always subscribed to the theory that the further a player's position is away from the football, the easier it is for him to get on the field as a freshman.

But the most important continues to be how mature a player is, both physically and mentally.

"Some guys, there's no gauge for that on how they're going to respond and handle those situations," Muschamp said. "And you don't ever know. I've been in this for a long time and I've had guys that there's no question in my mind they can help us as a freshman. How much, who knows? And they've come in and just not done it. And there's been guys just totally off the radar and you wouldn't expect them to help at all and they've been major contributors and starters for you. You don't ever know until you get them on campus and you see what they can handle and what they can't handle."

PREPARING FOR THE OPTION: Georgia Southern comes into Saturday's game riding its triple-option to 353.5 rushing yards per game, along with 100.2 passing yards per game. The style of offense is difficult for the Florida coaches to teach the players in one week, causing some nervous feelings in Muschamp this week.

"We've got to simulate, that's the difficulty facing a team like this simulating it in practice," Muschamp said. "You just don't ever see it. Not many teams run it. I guess the service academies and Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern. It's not something you see everyday. Recognition is key. Simplicity in what we do. Execution is going to be key."?

The key for the Florida defense will be in the players' eyes and understanding responsibility. The Gators haven't seen a team that runs an offense like this since Muschamp took over the program. The only time anything close happened came early in the game against Furman in 2011, and the Gators allowed 22 points in the first quarter of that game.

The Gators have to understand their responsibilities on the field and how to slow the Eagles. That includes the passing game. Georgia Southern averages 19 yards per completion, hitting big plays through the air when the opposition isn't expecting it.

"When you lose your eyes on the run game, they can hit you deep," Muschamp said. "They've got some guys who run it extremely well. They have guys who fit their system. (Head coach Jeff Monken) has been there now enough time to where they're able to have the kind of guys that fit what they are.

"It goes back to eyes and execution. Get your eyes in the right spots, don't lose them in the wrong spots and make sure you cover down on what you're supposed to cover down on."


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