Notebook: New faces step up


Florida Gators defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (16) returns an interception during the second half of the Gators' 24-6 win against the Toledo Rockets on Saturday August 31, 2013 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville Fla. Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 7:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 8:01 p.m.

Count Florida senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley as someone not surprised how well true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III played in Saturday’s season-opener against Toledo

Facts

Muschamp confirms suspensions; Sun makes correction

Florida coach Will Muschamp confirmed following the game that cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, defensive tackle Darious Cummings, wide receiver Latroy Pittman and offensive lineman Quinteze Williams were suspended from Saturday’s game because of disciplinary reasons. Three of those players will return for next week’s game against Miami, while Pittman will sit out two more games.

It was erroneously reported by three media outlets, including The Sun, that defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick was also among the group of suspended players. He dressed but did not play. The Sun regrets the error.

“We knew Hargreaves was going to step up since camp,” Easley said. “All these guys knew what the deal was. We all want to get to one place and they understand that. That’s the one thing about these young guys.”

Hargreaves was one of several young players to step up during UF’s 24-6 win over the Rockets at The Swamp. With starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy suspended due to disciplinary reasons, Hargreaves made the most of his opportunity. The five-star recruit and Tampa native came up with a momentum-changing interception in the second half.

With Florida up 17-6, Hargreaves made a nice break on a crossing route thrown by Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens and returned the pick 15 yards to the Toledo 23-yard line. The interception set up Florida’s final score of the game, a 4-yard TD pass from quarterback Jeff Driskel to fullback Gideon Ajagbe.

Florida coach Will Muschamp said there were “no conversations” about whether Hargreaves should take the field as a true freshman. The coach said he contemplated starting Hargreaves at nickelback before a shoulder injury sidelined him for some practices late in camp. Sophomore Brian Poole started at nickelback instead, but by the second half, Hargreaves was playing the majority of the snaps.

“He practices really well,” Muschamp said. “I look at the guys who go compete and practice everyday … he’s very cerebral, very smart. The game comes very easy, very well to him and he works hard at it.”

Hargreaves wasn’t the only true freshman to step up on Saturday. Freshman receiver Ahmad Fulwood made his first career catch, a 5-yard gain that resulted in a first down. Late in the game, Florida freshman running back Kelvin Taylor (the son of former Gator running back Fred Taylor) had five carries for 43 yards, including a 27-yard run on his second career carry. On defense, true freshman safety Keanu Neal had two tackles.

Injury update

Florida made it out of its season opener relatively injury free. Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries sat out the fourth quarter with a sprained MCL, but Muschamp said he should be OK in time for next week’s showdown at rival Miami.

Hardin makes debut

It was an up-and-down debut for Florida kicker Austin Hardin. The redshirt freshman, replacing departed All-SEC kicker Caleb Sturgis, made 1 of 2 field goals and all three extra point attempts.

Hardin split the uprights on a 24-yard attempt on his first career attempt, giving the Gators a 10-0 lead. But in the fourth quarter, Hardin hooked a 39-yard attempt wide left.

“I lined up and pulled it a little bit left, picked my head up a little bit early, barely missed it outside the left post,” Hardin said. “You’re gonna have misses and the biggest thing is how you respond.”

Rhett fires up crowd

Former Gator running back Errict Rhett revived the “Mr. Two Bits” tradition, leading the Florida cheer made famous by George Edmondson before the start of the game.

A different celebrity guest will lead the cheer before each UF home game. Edmondson retired in 2008, and Muschamp wanted to revive the tradition.

“It was a great honor to fill the shoes of a guy that kept us hyped for so many Florida games,” Rhett said. “I don’t know if I did a good enough job, but I tried to be as enthusiastic as I could.”

Rhett starred with the Gators from 1990-93 before going to play seven seasons in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. He now lives near his native Fort Lauderdale, where he runs his charitable foundation and is involved with a construction company that builds affordable housing.

Rhett said he’s a big fan of the direction that the program is going under Muschamp.

“He’s enthusiastic, probably as enthusiastic as the players and more enthusiastic than any of the other coaches in the SEC,” Rhett said.

Asked about the performance of Florida junior running back Mack Brown, Rhett smiled and responded: “He wears a great number.” Like Brown, Rhett wore No. 33 during his UF career.

Empty seats

For the third straight season, Florida failed to sell out its home opener. The announced attendance was 83,604, with close to 6,400 tickets unsold for the 12:21 p.m. kickoff in late August. The temperature at kickoff was 87 degrees with 68 percent humidity.

After the game, Florida junior linebacker Ronald Powell was asked how he felt seeing empty seats in the stands coming off an 11-win season.

“It’s our job to fill them up,” Powell said. “The people that were here today were great Gator fans and the people who weren’t fortunate enough to be able to come … it’s up to us. If we keep playing well, those seats will be filled.”

Showers impressive

Valdez Showers showed why he was moved from the defensive to offensive side of the ball in camp. The defensive back turned running back finished with 31 rushing yards and 23 yards receiving, including a 29-yard on a sweep play.

“He’s different than what we have,” Muschamp said. “He’s a top end speed guy. ... We felt like he was a guy that could be special with the ball in his hands.”

Etc:

Florida won its 24th straight opener, the second-longest streak of season-opening wins in the nation behind Nebraska (27 straight entering Saturday night). … Florida improved to 13-0 under Muschamp when rushing for more than 150 yards. … Florida scored a TD on its opening drive of the season for the first time since 2009 against Charleston Southern. The 11-play drive featured eight runs and three passes and was capped by a one-yard TD run from Brown. Florida scored just one first-quarter TD in its last six games of the 2012 season. … Easley said he didn’t know before the game that ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit picked Toledo to upset the Gators. “I don’t listen to him,” Easley said. “He probably never played football.” When told he played quarterback at Ohio State, Easley said. “He did? I didn’t know.”

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