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GRADING THE SPECIAL TEAMS
In the final evaluation of the 2016 Gators, a look at the special teams.
Johnny Townsend: Townsend is the best punter in the country. Period. He averaged 48.05 per punt with 28 going for 50 or more yards. He landed 25 punts inside the 20 and had only 6 find their way into the end zone. Of his 61 punts, only 28 were returned and there were 17 fair catches.
Eddy Pineiro: After three disastrous seasons with the kicking game, Pineiro was the ultimate breath of fresh air. He connected on 18-22 of his field goals, hitting 8 in the 40-49 yard range and 3 beyond 50, and 29-29 on extra points for 83 points. Most of his kickoffs were touchbacks.
Punt coverage: Townsend occasionally outkicked the coverage, a contributing factor in the 9.46 yards opponents averaged on their 28 returns, but there were moments when the Gators didn’t maintain discipline in their lanes and that resulted in extra return yardage.
Punt returns: After a brilliant freshman year in which he ran two punts back for TDs and averaged 15.54 per return, Antonio Callaway averaged only 7.38 in 2016. Part of that was because teams tried to kick away from him, but some of it had to do with poor blocking, penalties and poor decision-making.
Kickoff coverage: Because 43 of Pineiro’s 58 kickoffs were touchbacks, opponents only had a chance to return 13 all season for a 21.85 average
Kickoff returns: The Gators got a touchdown on a kickoff return when Antonio Callaway ran back an onside kick against Missouri but otherwise this unit was fairly average.
Grade A-: If you simply judge this by the performances of Townsend and Pineiro, it’s an A+ but there wasn’t much in the way of explosiveness in the return game and as we saw in the SEC Championship Game with Alabama, the punt coverage units occasionally lost lane responsibility. With Townsend and Pineiro returning next year, the Gators have a great foundation for special teams play. Callaway needs to have a 2017 that more resembles 2016 when it comes to returning punts and the Gators are still looking for the next Brandon James as a kickoff returner.
A FEW THOUGHTS FROM DAVID SHARPE
Left tackle David Sharpe is the only player on the offensive unit to start all 12 games for the Gators this year. Following Thursday’s practice, Sharpe offered a few thoughts Florida’s 2016 season and his future at UF among other things.
About Iowa’s defense: "They're a physical bunch, man. They play hard. It's not just any other game so it's a good group up front. It's going to be a test for us."
Florida’s O-line play in 2016: "We did pretty good this year, much better than last year."
The future of the O-line: "A lot of experience. You know, Martez (Ivey), Jawaan (Taylor) coming up, they're still learning. They have a great future so the line can be great."
The future of the offense: “I think we have a great chance to be great. We've got a lot of young guys still on the come up, still learning the game at all the positions really."
About offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier: “I think he's a great coach. Everybody's going to criticize everybody at the end of the day."
Will you be back for 2017?: “I haven't really made my decision yet so, you know, whatever that holds."
Feedback from the NFL: “ … a little bit. I haven't really been focusing on that right now, though. I've been here with my guys focusing on this last game."
BARBECUED HOG ANYONE?
Florida’s 25th-ranked basketball team got the SEC portion of its schedule off to a rousing start with a dominating 81-72 win over Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena Thursday night. The win was the third straight for the 10-3 Gators (1-0 SEC), whose only losses are to ranked teams (Duke, Gonzaga and Florida State). The win broke an 8-game winning streak for Arkansas (11-2, 0-1 SEC).
The Gators were able to neutralize the Arkansas “40 minutes of hell” defensive plan with excellent ball handling and good decision making on the part of point guards Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza, who combined to score 15 points and hand out 10 assists. The Gators turned the ball over only 9 times all night so the Razorbacks never got their transition game going.
For KeVaughn Allen, it was a second straight brilliant showing against his home state. Allen torched Arkansas-Little Rock for 19 points last week at the O-Dome and Thursday night showed the home folks what they’re missing by nailing 5-9 shots from the 3-point line en route to an impressive 21-point performance.
Allen was one of four Gators to score in double figures. Devin Robinson scored 17 while Kevarrius Hayes and Hill each scored 10. The Gators also got 5 points and 11 rebounds from John Egbunu, who missed the previous two games with hamstring issues. The combination of Hayes and Egbunu was good for 15 points, 17 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots, which neutralized the effort of Arkansas stud center Moses Kingsley, who scored 13 points and hauled in 14 rebounds.
The Gators took the lead for good at the 11:02 mark in the first half on a Robinson dunk and were never headed. Arkansas closed to within 1 point on two occasions but fell behind at the intermission, 44-35. The Razorbacks kept things close in the second half until an Allen 3-ball at the 9:45 mark stretched the Florida lead to 63-52. The lead ballooned to 16 on a 3-point jumper by Chiozza with 3:13 to go and from there it was just a matter of hanging on.
Florida finished the game hitting 44.8% from the field overall (30-67) and 34.6% from the 3-point line (9-26).
The Gators begin a 2-game home stand on Tuesday when Ole Miss comes to Gainesville.
Elsewhere in the SEC: Kentucky (11-2, 1-0 SEC) 99, Ole Miss (9-4, 0-1 SEC) 76; Georgia (9-4, 1-0 SEC) 96, Auburn (10-3, 0-1 SEC) 84; Tennessee (8-5, 1-0 SEC) 73, Texas A&M (8-4, 0-1 SEC) 63; Vanderbilt (7-6, 1-0 SEC) 96; LSU (8-4, 0-1 SEC) 89; Alabama (7-5) 83, Stetson 60; Mississippi State (9-3) 77, Missouri-Kansas City 54; Lipscomb 81, Missouri (5-7) 76
BOWLING FOR DOLLARS
Birmingham Bowl: South Florida 46, South Carolina 39 (OT)
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech 35, Arkansas 24
Alamo Bowl: Oklahoma State 38, Colorado 8
Liberty Bowl: Georgia vs. TCU
Sun Bowl: Stanford vs. North Carolina
Music City Bowl: Nebraska vs. Tennessee
Arizona Bowl: South Alabama vs. Air Force
Orange Bowl: Michigan vs. Florida State
Bowl stuff: Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle missed the Belk Bowl because he was arrested for shoplifting at a Belk store. Each participant in the Belk Bowl was given a $450 Belk gift card. Sprinkle got his $450 worth and tried to conceal a few other items … True freshman QB Jake Bentley threw for 390 yards and 3 TDs and wide receiver Deebo Samuel caught 14 passes for 190 yards and a TD in South Carolina’s 46-39 overtime loss to South Florida. The Gamecocks trailed 39-21 in the third quarter but they came back to tie the game and send it into overtime. South Florida QB Quinton Flowers threw for 261 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for 105 yards and 3 more TDs … The second half collapse by Arkansas was indicative of what’s happened all season. Virginia Tech outscored the Hogs 35-0 in the second half. In their six losses this season, Arkansas was outscored 143-23 in the second half.
SEC bowl records
SEC East 0-2
SEC West 1-2
NICK SABAN ON THE NFL, RETIREMENT
Every time an NFL team fires a coach, Nick Saban’s name comes up as a potential replacement. Saban insists that he’s happy as a clam at Alabama and has no desire to return to the NFL.
“I didn’t talk to one NFL team last year,” Saban said Thursday as Alabama preps for a playoff semifinal matchup with Washington in the Peach Bowl. “They know who to call. [My agent] Jimmy Sexton has been with me for a long time. He calls me and says, ‘Are you interested?’ I say no, and then that’s it. That’s as far as anything ever went with any team.”
As for when he retires, Saban says it isn’t about age although he has a deep admiration for Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who just finished up at 10-3 season at 77 years old. For Saban it’s a matter of how long he can keep the Alabama program going at such a high standard.
“The thing I always think about, can you continue to do this at the same level or standard that you’ve always tried to hold yourself to?” Saban said. “How would you respond if you didn’t feel you were doing that?”
Oregon will pay former USF head coach and Colorado DC Jim Leavitt $1.15 million per year to shore up a defense that gave up 41.4 points and 518.4 yards per game in 2016.
Firing Rex Ryan will have to squeeze by on $5.5 million per year the next three years. That’s what it cost the Buffalo Bills $5.5 to fire him.
During his three years at Alabama, Lane Kiffin had Nick Saban’s “process” ingrained into his daily routine. Said Kiffin Thursday, “I think probably the No. 1 thing, would be the process never changes. It's the same. 7:30 staff meeting this morning. Coach goes over the practice today and says each five minutes what we're doing in practice. You don't have to write it down because it's the exact same as every Wednesday's practice for three years. … He said to me before, ‘Lane, I can take good news, I can take bad news, but don't give me surprises.’ So I think that really explains a lot of the process."
RIP LaVell Edwards. The former BYU head coach passed away Thursday at the age of 86. Edwards was 257-101-3 in 29 years with only one losing season and 10 seasons in which the Cougars won at least 10 games. BYU won the 1984 national championship. Much of the spread offense passing philosophy so prevalent in college football today is an offshoot of Edwards’ innovative offenses.
Northern Illinois AD Sean Frazier says the Group of Five schools are considering putting together their own playoff since they are essentially locked out of the current playoff system by the Power Five conferences.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Should the College Football Playoff expand to ensure the best team from the Group of Five schools has a chance to play for the national championship?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann teamed up with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chementi to form Dead and Company. The idea came from Mayer who became obsessed with the music of the Grateful Dead. All 14 of the band’s concerts have been recorded and are available on CD. Today’s music is their concert at Bonnaroo during the summer of 2016.