Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Franz Beard's Thoughts of the Day; Dec. 29

A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning...

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GRADING THE SAFETIES

As we wrap up grading the Gators position by position in the regular season, we take a look at the safeties. We wrap things up tomorrow with special teams evaluation.

Marcus Maye: He will hear his name called early on when the NFL drafts in the spring because he has all the qualities you look for in a safety starting with cover skills and the ability to punish a receiver. When he went down with a broken arm in the South Carolina game, he was at the top of Florida’s tackling stats. Regular season stats: 50 tackles; 1.5 tackles for -11 yards; 1 sack for -11 yards; 1 INT; 6 pass breakups;

Nick Washington: One of the most improved players on the entire team, Washington started living up to the high school hype this season. Very solid against the run, he got better as the season progressed in coverage. Along with Harris, Washington gives the Gators a solid set of safeties returning for 2017. Regular season stats: 45 tackles; 1 INT; 1 pass breakup; 2 QB hurries

Marcell Harris: After a couple of years of limited productivity, Harris put together a solid season and surprisingly finished Florida’s leading tackler. He was good in coverage all year but got stronger against the run as the season progressed, showing good instincts for the football. He set himself up for a great senior season in 2017. Regular season stats: 64 tackles, 3 tackles for -10 yards; 1 sack for -2 yards; 2 INTs; 1 fumble return for 1 TD; 1 pass breakup; 1 forced fumble

Jaewon Taylor: Played in 10 games as a true freshman, mostly on special teams. Injured in the FSU game. Regular season stats: 7 tackles

Quincy Lenton: Hurt in August and missed the entire season. Took a medical redshirt.

Grade A: The Gators had a strong 3-man rotation going with Maye, Washington and Harris. Although losing Maye hurt the depth, there wasn’t a tremendous dropoff because Washington and Harris were playing at such a high level. Harris and Washington will return next year, giving the Gators solid safeties. Taylor showed great potential and Lenton will have a chance to prove he belongs in the spring.  

SOMEONE TO PULL FOR

Okay, maybe Austin Appleby isn’t ever going to make people think he’s the second coming of Brett Favre. He’s got a big arm, but sometimes the ball doesn’t go where it’s supposed to go. He can run but sometimes he waits just a split second too late to take off and gets nailed. He doesn’t always see the open receivers. It’s easy to point out all the things he can’t do, but despite all the shortcomings, this is a guy to pull for because he’s all about the team. He wants to play as badly as anyone else, but if the coaches tell him someone else plays because it’s best for the team, he’s good with that.

Appleby came to Florida hoping for a chance to play winning football. Those years at Purdue produced far too many lonely flights back to Indiana after another disappointing loss and far too many Sundays spent in ice baths trying to kill the pain of Saturday beatings. At Florida he sat for awhile, played a couple of games, sat some more and then finished the season. He got to quarterback a win at LSU that not only defied the odds but clinched the SEC East championship for the Gators. He got to start at QB in the SEC Championship Game. He will start Monday afternoon in the Outback Bowl against Iowa.

For a guy whose Purdue career was spent on the losing end of nearly every game he ever played, Austin Appleby has to be feeling pretty good about the way things turned out.

And now as the Gators put the finishing touches on a game plan for Iowa, listen to Appleby talk about the Gators. He oozes optimism about the future.

About Jim McElwain: “We get coached – and we’ve got the best coach in the country. We get coached hard. When we do something wrong, believe it, we know it. But we’ve also got to look back and say, ‘Guys, when we play at the level we’re capable of playing at every position, there’s few teams that can stop us.’”

What he took from the Alabama game: “That team (Alabama) didn’t get scored on for an entire month and we moved the ball the whole game. Now it’s about finishing. That’s really the biggest thing. You’ve gotta finish. You can’t be down on the 1-yard line against a great defense and a great team and — you’ve gotta find a way to get it in. That’s football. But, I mean, yeah. When you get two special teams turnovers, when you turn the ball over in the back end on offense, you give yourself a really tough chance to win. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Alabama or if you’re playing — it doesn’t matter. And again, it’s encouraging because you know how close we are, and we’ve been that close all year. We’re still the champs now of the East. It’s not like we’re a bad football team.”

Looking ahead: “There’s so much more that we can do and so much more that we’re capable of, and, you know, going into this game and beyond this game, it’s about the guys moving forward and playing to our full potential.”

Why the offense is going to be good in the future: “We’ve got so many young guys, you know? We’re losing who, me and who’s another senior that’s going? Fulwood? We’re young. How many freshman receivers? Sophomore running backs? We’ve got young guys up front.”

On what will eventually happen: “It’s everybody doing their job. All 11 finishing blocks, finishing protection, finishing routes, finishing throws. And we just gotta continue to push ourselves, come together tighter, ignore the noise on the outside and ultimately, it’s gonna click for us.”

On the game against Iowa: “We’re picked to lose this game, and we weren’t a favorite. Last time that we were kind of, I guess, disrespected maybe was a few weeks ago against LSU. And if I know our team like I know I do, we’re gonna take that personally, and I think we’ll be ready to play.”

GATORS NEED TO MAKE A STATEMENT AGAINST ARKANSAS

Mike White and the 25th-ranked Gators (9-3) open up SEC play tonight in Fayette Nam against Arkansas (11-1). Florida has played a tougher schedule than the Razorbacks, but the Gators have losses to Duke, Gonzaga and Florida State and their signature wins are against Seton Hall and Miami, both good teams but teams the Gators should have beaten. The Gators need to score a win against a really good team and strengthen their resume for March when tournament bids go out.

To stop the Razorbacks, the Gators have to make shooters Dusty Hannahs (14.9 points, 37.1% from the 3-point line) and Daryl Macon (13.3 points and 37.7% on 3-balls) take tough 3-pointers and they’ve got to come up with an inside game against intimidating Moses Kingsley (11.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per game).

How the Gators fare on the inside will have plenty to do with the health of center John Egbunu (9.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game), who has missed the last two games with hamstring issues. It will be a game time decision for Egbunu, who, at 6-11, 255, has the size and strength to deal with Kingsley (6-10, 240). If Egbunu can’t go, the Gators will go with Kevarrius Hayes in the middle. Hayes has played very well in the last two games, averaging 10 points and 6.5 rebounds.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Speaking to Alabama and Washington football players at the Ebenezer Baptist Church that was the home to Dr. Martin Luther King, former Atlanta Mayor, UN ambassador and associate of Dr. King Andrew Young said, "If you had to choose really who had more impact on the desegregation of Georgia, Martin Luther King or Herschel Walker, Herschel would probably win because he made Georgia No. 1," Young said. "... That's the thing about Herschel. There was never an incident. He was totally polite, totally responsible for his actions, and he had a very difficult time coming up. All of us did."

BOWLING FOR DOLLARS

Yesterday’s games

Pinstripe Bowl: Northwestern 31, Pitt 24

Russell Athletic Bowl: Miami 31, West Virginia 14

Foster Farms Bowl: Utah 26, Indiana 24

Texas Bowl: Kansas State 33, Texas A&M 28

Today’s games

Birmingham Bowl: South Florida vs. South Carolina

Belk Bowl: Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech

Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Colorado

Wednesday bowl highlights: Miami scored its first bowl win since 2006 to finish 9-4 in Mark Richt’s first year on the job. The Hurricanes are extremely young and if QB Brad Kaaya elects to return for his senior season, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC … West Virginia came into the game averaging 500.6 yards per game. Against the Miami defense, the Mountaineers managed only 229 … Pitt couldn’t stop Northwestern tailback Justin Jackson, who ran for 224 yards and 3 TDs. The Panthers had to go the last quarter of the game without quarterback Nathan Peterman, who had thrown for 253 yards when he went down with an injury … Texas A&M was #4 in the first College Football Playoff poll. The Aggies lost four of their last five games and finished the season 8-5. Since the 2013 season, the Aggies are 9-11 in games played after November 1.  

SEC in the bowls

SEC East 0-1

SEC West 1-1

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Steve “Bubba” Spurrier Jr. is the new quarterbacks coach at Western Kentucky, joining the new staff of Mike Sanford Jr. The staff will also include Mike Sanford Sr., who was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Utah from 2003-04.

UConn’s new coach is Randy Edsall, who went 74-70 from 1999-2010 at the school. Edsall was 22-34 in five years at Maryland after leaving UConn in 2010. Edsall signed a 5-year deal worth $1 million per year.

Tom Coughlin has interviewed for the vacant HBC job with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Lane Kiffin resuscitated his image enough in three seasons at Alabama to earn another shot at a HBC job at Florida Atlantic. In recalling three years of record setting offenses, a national championship and a 39-3 record with potentially a second straight national championship, Kiffin recalled Wednesday, I don't recall a happy moment. I just recall the ass chewings. I won't take that part of the process with me (to Florida Atlantic), though."

Washington State coach Mike Leach, never one to offer up excuses when his teams lose, wasn’t happy with the sideline demeanor of the Cougars in their 17-12 loss to Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl. “We unraveled,” Leach said. “The worst thing I saw was we had a certain number of people pouting on the sideline. Something doesn’t go our way and we’re entitled to pout in some fashion.”

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith says he’s “89% sure” he’s going to retire after Sunday’s game. Smith has 1,028 catches for 14,697 yards and 81 TDs in his career. He makes $3 million a year. The 11% uncertainty probably has to do with a call from Smith’s accountant assuring him he’s got enough money set aside to quit football.    

QUESTION OF THE DAY

Mark Richt has Miami fans believing the program is back on track again after 9 wins in his first year. Two-part question: (1) Can Richt make Miami a perennial powerhouse once again and (2) is a strong Miami a bigger threat to Florida State or Florida when it comes to recruiting?

MUSIC FOR TODAY

Vermont-based Twiddle has released several albums but the band is best known for its live performances that combine jazz, blues, funk, reggae and a good dose of rock and roll to boot. Their most recent album was “Plump Chapter 1” which was released in November of 2015. Today’s music is a live performance at the Catskill Chill from September of 2015.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opbZdlP3TxQ


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