Special UF football team deserves special mentions
Published: Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 10:15 p.m.
Because the All-SEC teams don't come out until later this week and the Florida football banquet isn't until Dec. 8, it seems like a good time to come out with an early list of superlatives for this special 11-1 Gator season:
Offensive player of the year: Zero debate about this one. It's senior tailback Mike Gillislee, who became the first Gator since Ciatrick Fason in 2004 to break the 1,000-yard rushing barrier. He was a huge difference-maker this season, rushing for 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns. He gave Will Muschamp the downhill tailback he has been looking for.
Defensive player of the year: With so many emerging standouts on this side of the ball, it is a tough call. We're going with safety Matt Elam, UF's biggest defensive playmaker. He led the team in interceptions with four, was second in tackles (65), had 10 tackles for loss, broke up five passes and forced a fumble. Several other players were strongly considered, including tackle Sharrif Floyd, middle linebacker Jon Bostic, tackle Omar Hunter and safety Josh Evans.
Offensive play of the year: Gillislee had big TD runs against Texas A&M, LSU and FSU. But the play that sticks out is Trey Burton's 80-yard touchdown run at Tennessee that pulled the Gators out of a 20-13 deficit late in the third quarter and triggered a UF rout.
Defensive play of the year: True freshman linebacker Antonio Morrison's big hit on FSU quarterback EJ Manuel caused a fumble in the fourth quarter that led to a quick TD and turned around the game in the Gators' 37-26 victory in Tallahassee that put UF in a BCS bowl.
Quote of the year: “You know what? I know I got killed for it last week, but there is a reason why we did it. We needed to play that way in the game (against Bowling Green) to play that way in this ball game. It's a long season. When they start having one-game seasons, we'll put everything we can into one game so we can win one game and I'll be really happy at the end. I like to look at it as a 12-week season. We have to do what we have to do to win the football game.'' — UF coach Will Muschamp after the Gators' 20-17 victory at Texas A&M.
Offensive comeback player of the year: Offensive guard James Wilson made the most of the sixth year of eligibility given him by the NCAA. He overcame a history of knee injuries to start nine games this season. His last game, against FSU, may have been his best.
Defensive comeback player of the year: Sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball's career appeared in jeopardy after undergoing brain surgery and missing all of last season. He returned this season and made an impact on defense and on special teams.
Unsung offensive hero: Fullback Hunter Joyer carried the ball only twice for a yard, but his strong blocking was a huge factor in Gillislee rushing for more than 1,000 yards.
Unsung defensive hero: Defensive end Earl Okine had a solid senior season and played inside at tackle when he was needed there.
Top true freshman on offense: D.J. Humphries started three games at offensive tackle and was a major contributor in the Gators' jumbo package in the running game. He'll be the starting left tackle in 2013.
Top true freshman on defense: Ends Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler were significant contributors and showed they have a chance to be elite players in the SEC, but the nod goes to linebacker Antonio Morrison, who started two games in place of the injured Jelani Jenkins and played in all 12 games. He was ninth on the team in tackles with 27.
Loudest moment in The Swamp: When Gillislee scored on a 12-yard run late in the third quarter to give the Gators a 7-6 lead over LSU. It was an insane asylum.
Biggest downer: The six-turnover performance that cost the Gators the Georgia game — and the chance to play in the SEC title game.
Greatest escape: The Gators surviving against Louisiana-Lafayette, thanks to Loucheiz Purifoy's blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown by linebacker Jelani Jenkins with only two seconds to play.
Best goal-line stand: Holding LSU to a field goal in the closing seconds of the first half after quarterback Jeff Driskel lost a fumble on his own 7-yard line.
Best timing: Playing Texas A&M in Johnny Football's first start.
Worst timing: Taking care of the ball in every game but one (Georgia).
Gators who have a chance to be first-team All-SEC: Tailback Mike Gillislee, tight end Jordan Reed, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, defensive tackle Omar Hunter, middle linebacker Jon Bostic, safety Matt Elam, place-kicker Caleb Sturgis and punter Kyle Christy.
Most likely to leave early for the NFL: Floyd, Elam, Reed and defensive end/tackle Dominique Easley.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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