Gators begin Women’s College World Series with decisive win over Tennessee

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Florida’s top ranked softball team relied on the same things that got them to the Women’s College World Series to pick up right where they left off the last time they came here.

Lauren Haeger allowed just one hit and two runs, homered and later scored on an error, Kelsey Stewart added a pair of hits and Florida dismantled Tennessee 7-2 in the first game of the WCWS. They’ll face the winner of LSU and Auburn tomorrow afternoon.

Haeger started the game off with a homer in the bottom of the first and and then went to work in the circle. No Tennessee hitter reached base until the fourth- at which point Florida had a 3-0 lead thanks to a two run homer from Kayli Kvistad- when Haeger hit a batter with an inside fastball. Unfortunately, that mistake was magnified when UT’s Megan Geer hit a home run of her own on the very next pitch, cutting the lead to 6-2.

But a myriad of Tennessee mistakes kept that homer from meaning anything in the end.

The Tennessee defense combined for four errors, three hit batters and a wild pitch to stake the Gators four more runs in their final three innings. It went something like this: Haeger started the bottom of the fourth with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch, Bailey Castro got hit by a pitch, an error by the second baseman let Haeger score and let Castro move to third, Kirsti Merrit (who was safe at first as a result of the aforementioned error) got nailed in the head in an attempt to catch her stealing, and then Castro scored on that little painful gift to give Florida two unearned runs in the 4th. A similar parade of miscues granted the Gators two more in the sixth, but at that point, it didn’t matter; Haeger was shutting the Vols down completely, and never let them even sniff a comeback after the 4th inning gifts.

Most amazing about the 7-2 score was that it could have been so much worse.

Florida left the bases loaded in each of the first two innings and then again in the sixth. This cannot happen against the really good teams they’ll need to beat in order to repeat as national champions. OK, so it turned out not to matter because Tennessee gave Florida a bunch of free runs to make up for it, but leaving the bases loaded half the times you come up to the plate without scoring on any of them is… well, bad. Tim Walton’s girls play great defense, and he’s got a great pitching staff… and they sometimes hit well, but if he wants to pick on them for anything, it’s getting clutch hits. Without those Tennessee blunders, this is a totally different game, and stranding all those runners is much more meaningful.

But then again, it’s a win, and wins at the WCWS are hard to come by. It was overall a solid performance to start the 2015 WCWS, and Florida now stands four wins away from a second straight national championship. That’s what matters.

That’s always been what matters.

JUCO OL Branton Autry commits to Florida

Jim McElwain’s 2016 recruiting class just got a big boost, landing a JUCO offensive lineman who hasn’t even visited the UF campus yet.

Brandon Autry (Coffeeville Community College) has committed to Florida. He also held offers from Arizona State and South Carolina.

Yesterday, Autry told Florida coaches that UF was one of two schools he would visit this summer, and thus commit to. His commitment today came off as a kind of change of heart, but he was adamant in saying “I felt it was the right time to commit.”

So, why Florida? “I love it. I think it’s going to be the right place for me. I feel like I can go in and play right away. That’s the number one thing on my mind.”

He made no secret that he chose Florida because he wants to play immediately, and Florida’s need on the offensive line is no secret, either. The Gators currently have only six scholarship players available on the line, though they will gain a few more when Trip Thurman returns in the fall and when Martez Ivey, Brandon Sandifer and Tyler Jordan arrive. But even with those guys, Florida would have ten scholarship linemen- not enough. You can never have too many quality linemen, and Florida got another in Autry.

He’s big (6’4 and 320) and has good footwork, which is a great combination for linemen to have. Whether or not he can crack the starting lineup remains to be seen, but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t at least get a look.

Checklist: Five keys to success for Jim McElwain in his first season

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Several weeks ago, I wrote that Florida fans needed to give Jim McElwain two years of leeway before they start judging him, for better or worse. This remains true now, and will remain true as we go forward.

But there are a few things that McElwain does need to accomplish if his inaugural season is to be considered a success. And of course, college football is a black and white universe, with very little gray. Some point in the near future, I’ll write up a more subjective checklist for McElwain, which will look deeper than numbers, stats and the answers to yes or no questions, but this black and white list should serve as a good indicator as to whether his first year is successful (and no, he isn’t necessarily a failure if he fails to accomplish all five).

1) Beat Georgia

Simply put, Florida’s got to beat Georgia to make the season a success. Lose this game, and Florida cedes all logical opportunity to win the SEC East. UGA will lose their two or three games they choke away every year, but no way Florida comes into this game undefeated, either, not with road trips to LSU and Missouri in the preceding weeks. They don’t have to make Atlanta in his first year, mind you, but they do have to at least compete to get there until the very end. And while FSU has received the majority of the hate from Florida fans, Georgia has been quite annoying to deal with in recent years- until last year. Of course, a lot of that had to be with Will Muschamp’s glaring coaching deficiencies, but McElwain needs to prove that the 2014 win was not a fluke. Time to reclaim dominance over the Dawgs with a second straight win.

2) Employ a top 25 ranked defense (yards and/or points per game)

Part of what made Will Muschamp so awful was that his football knowledge was limited to defense. He had no idea how to run an offense, and even worse, had no idea how to hire people who did. Predictably, the results were horrendous- Florida finished outside the top 100 in FBS (out of 125-130 teams) in three of his four seasons. Now let’s see if McElwain made the right hire, and more importantly, learns how to stay the hell away from an area of his team he’s not as familiar with. There’s talent there, between Antonio Morrison, Jonathan Bullard, and that nasty VH3 led secondary, and it’s time to see it shine with what should be the Gators’ best offense since 2008 complementing it.

3) Will Grier throws for 3,000 yards (includes bowl game)

For Florida’s offense to properly function, Will Grier has to be able to burn teams with the deep ball. Eclipsing 3,000 passing yards in 13 games is a pretty good goal, then, as it’s what Aaron Murray did in all four years at Georgia. It equates to 230 yards a game, which isn’t asking for too much, but enough production out of him that Florida doesn’t hide him the way they hid Jeff Driskel. Part of what made Dan Mullen’s Florida offenses so lethal was that when defenses crowded the box to stop the run, he would make them pay for it by throwing over the top. Establish that threat with Grier, and things will be looking good.

4) Go undefeated at home

Once upon a time, the Swamp was a treacherous, foreboding place for opponents to visit. The tenures of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer cemented Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as one of the nation’s toughest places to win. That all disappeared under Will Muschamp, who turned the Swamp into a place where only Tigers, Gamecocks, Commodores and FCS teams got out alive. Thanks to the damage done in each of the last two years, it’s time to repair the image built by Spurrier and Meyer. This isn’t as tough a task as it may seem, either, as two of Florida’s four toughest games (Missouri, and LSU) are on the road. All that’s left is to beat Ole Miss and FSU teams that figure to come back down to earth after recent successes, plus Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida Atlantic, East Carolina and New Mexico State. It’s time to make the Swamp a living hell again.

5) Employ at least one 1,000 yard rusher

Florida actually had a 1,000 yard rusher under Muschamp (Mike Gillislee in 2012), but before that, this hadn’t been since since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. Part of this was because Urban Meyer’s offense utilized four or five guys at a time who were equally capable of breaking off a long run, but (at least to my knowledge) McElwain doesn’t have that. So this running game is going to need a leader, a featured back who can inflict the bulk of the damage and then sit back and chug Gatorade as his backups carve up the worn out defense. Establishing this dependable back (and the first place I’d look is the direction of Kelvin Taylor) is key to the offense’s success, as Will Grier is going to need a successful running back he can trust to take some of the pressure up, and also open up some holes in the secondary.

Source: Gators TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe to transfer

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Jim McElwain’s first recruiting class at Florida was knocked by many for being too small, and now it just got even smaller.

Early enrollee Daniel Imatorbhebhe will transfer out of the program, per a source. Different sources have said the same thing to Scout.

Imatorbhebhe’s younger brother, Josh, recently committed to Southern Cal. Daniel’s desire to join him, plus his lack of desire to compete with Jake McGee, DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis for reps may have played a role in his decision. Either way, McElwain’s down a player, and a good one at that: he held offers from Nebraska, Missouri and Tennessee along with Florida coming out of high school.

But despite his talent and infectious personality in the locker room, he’s replaceable, as he left a tight end corps that conceivably had three guys ahead of him, and so losing him is not the end of the world. I wish him the best moving on, but Florida will be fine in the long haul.

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