Friday, December 15, 2017
Colleges

Florida Gators working to keep their latest strong start going

GAINESVILLE — If you're a Florida fan who is overjoyed by a 4-0 start, you might want to keep this in mind: Florida began the year 4-0 in 2010 and 2011, then finished a combined 7-11.

That is why there is only cautious optimism in Gainesville right now. The No. 11 Gators (4-0, 3-0 SEC) will spend this bye week working on ways to ensure they are a better team than they are today when No. 3 LSU comes to town in two weeks. The Gators' strong start will be tested by five straight weeks of SEC opponents: LSU, at Vanderbilt, host South Carolina, face Georgia in Jacksonville and host Missouri.

"We've got three huge days to improve. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are opportunities for our team to get better," coach Will Muschamp said Monday. "We met (Sunday) as a team, and I told our guys, starting with me all the way down, we all have room for improvement. Let's figure out and let's be coachable, let's be understanding. It's a good place to take care of themselves, but let's accentuate on the negatives of our football team right now and understand what they are, and let's get better."

The Florida-LSU game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and be televised by CBS.

HUNTER HONORED: Senior NT Omar Hunter was named SEC defensive lineman of the week. It is the first SEC weekly award for Hunter, who had a career-high eight tackles in Saturday's 38-0 win over Kentucky.

MYSTERY OF DEBOSE: When he arrived in Gainesville, Andre Debose was touted as the next Percy Harvin, but injuries hampered his first season, and this year he has struggled. He hasn't caught one pass and has two rushes for 1 yard. Muschamp said Debose needs a more consistent effort in practice.

"You know, again, anybody who is in the coaching profession, there's a key to every kid, and we've got to find that key to motivate any young man, not just Andre," he said. "Day in, day out, to consistently perform well, to consistently do it the right way. Because generally your practice habits carry over to the game. I'm young, but I'm old-fashioned. I believe that. Guys that don't go out and consistently perform well in practice, it generally carries over to the game. As coaches, we want guys that consistently do it well and do it right."

INJURY UPDATE: OL Chaz Green (Tampa Catholic) missed his second straight game with an ankle injury Saturday but is expected to be ready to face LSU, as are DL Dominique Easley (knee), WR/RB Trey Burton (back spasms) and TE Jordan Reed (head injury). LB Jelani Jenkins (broken thumb) is expected to meet with doctors this week; his status is unknown.

OL Matt Patchan (Armwood) has missed all four games with a strained pectoral muscle and slight muscle tear. Though there is no timetable for his return, he could be back in about three weeks.

YOUNG GUNS: Florida has played quite a few freshman, including RB Matt Jones (Armwood), LB Dante Fowler Jr. (Lakewood), WR Raphael Andrades, LB Antonio Morrison, DL Jonathan Bullard and OL Jessamen Dunker. Andrades and Bullard got their first starts against Kentucky, and Muschamp said the rule of thumb in his regime is be the best players play — period.

"If guys play well, practice well and prepare themselves well, I don't care what year they are, we're going to play the best guys," he said. "We're going to play guys that I know when I go to bed at night I've got complete confidence they are going to play hard for Florida. And those guys will do that. They are talented guys. They've earned the right to play, earned the right to start given the opportunity."

Muschamp said the staff will spend part of this bye week getting extra work for the young players with the expectation that their playing time will increase.

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @TBTimes_Gators.

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