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The Florida Gators' 2013 regular season is (a little past) halfway over and there is already plenty to reflect on as Florida has limped into a 4-3 (3-2 SEC) record with Georgia and two games against ranked opponents (South Carolina, Florida State) still upcoming.
FIVE WHO CAME TO PLAY
1. Dominique Easley, DT: He played so well early in the season that he vaulted into the conversation as a prospect worth drafting in the first round. He got into the backfield with ease (no pun intended) and was a leader for the Gators both on and off the field. His injury ravaged Florida's defense physically as well as mentally.
2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB: Talk about an impact freshman. Hargreaves has not only played up to the level of the juniors that start at the position, he has already surpassed them and looks like the best cornerback the Gators have on the roster with team-highs of three interceptions (in his first three games) and seven pass breakups. That's saying something.
3. Solomon Patton, WR: Credited with having a top-notch attitude and work ethic, Patton took the challenge presented to him by the coaching staff - become a complete receiver - and ran with it (literally). He had more receptions and yards in the second week of the season than he registered in the three years prior and has been UF's best offensive player with 426 receiving yards and four touchdowns through seven games. He also has a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown.
4. Dante Fowler Jr., BUCK: His production has waned a bit over the last couple weeks but that will happen when two of the best players on the defense (Easley and linebacker Ronald Powell) are injured. Fowler has emerged as a legitimate pass rusher with team-highs of 8.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks this season. He also has six quarterback hurries.
5. Tyler Murphy, QB: The way Murphy was spoken about in the offseason, one would have thought that an injury to starter Jeff Driskel would have meant that the football program as a whole might as well be shut down for the season. Instead, Murphy has more than held his own in Driskel's absence, proving that hard work and dedication do pay off in the long run.
FIVE WHO HAVE DISAPPOINTED
1. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB: He has come on as of late - registering his first career interception on a pick-six, forcing a fumble and recovering another fumble in a three-week span - but Purifoy still remains a liability in coverage for a Florida team that had high hopes he would make strides in that area. He looks nothing like the top-20 NFL draft choice he is supposed to be.
2. Kyle Christy, P: The Gators knew they had big-time questions at kicker but went into the season thinking Christy was as solid as a booter could be. Instead, he averaged nearly six fewer yards per punt than he did in 2012 and was benched for freshman Johnny Townsend.
3. Tyler Moore, RT: Losing Chaz Green in the summer has been a bigger blow than Florida thought as Moore has struggled as his replacement and become a turnstile on the offensive line. Left tackle D.J. Humphries gets a dishonorable mention here, too.
4. Matt Jones, RB: Adversity struck Jones hard in the form of a serious viral infection that had him severely limited early on. He did post a 28-carry, 176-yard performance against Kentucky, but Jones looked slow and limited as a ball carrier, not the guy everyone thought could replace Mike Gillislee.
5. Brent Pease, OC: Motions and shifts, creativity and a downfield passing game were supposed to open up Florida's offense in a major way. Instead? Nothing has changed and the Gators continue to play with a boring, uninspired and often times dreadful offense that looks worse by the week. Though he got injured barely into his third game of the season, quarterback Jeff Driskel also deserves a dishonorable mention here.
FIVE BEST PLAYS
1. Purifoy's blocked punt against Miami with 4:23 left in the first quarter. Florida scored a touchdown off the turnover in a much-needed swing of momentum that the Gators did not fully capitalize on over the remainder of the contest.
2. Murphy's keeper on 3rd-and-6 at Tennessee's seven-yard line, which he ran in for a touchdown to put Florida up 31-10 with 14 minutes remaining in the game. It clinched UF's ninth-straight victory in the series against UT.
3. Patton's late first-quarter touchdown against Arkansas. After catching a third down pass from Murphy on a corner route, Patton avoided a tackler, turned up the field and exploded into the end zone for a 51-yard score. The Gators took a 17-7 lead into the break, and Patton's touchdown turned out to be the game-winning score.
4. Christy's best play of the season came not on a punt but a fake punt pass that he completed to LB Neiron Ball for 14 yards. It would have been an even greater highlight had Florida beat LSU, but alas, the Gators fell hard on the road in Baton Rouge, LA.
5. Patton's 100-yard kickoff return touchdown at Missouri, which gave UF life in the game. It was yet another opportunity squandered by UF.
1. Injuries. Eight players (five starters) out for the season, four due to torn ACLs, others surprisingly missing games after never being listed on weekly injury reports, the Gators supposedly having just 13 healthy defenders for their last game. You pick. There's plenty to choose from here.
2. Year two. Florida had the offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons for the first time since Steve Addazio (2009-10) and look what it got them - nothing. The Gators offense is still putrid and one of the worst in the country.
3. Special teams. A hallmark of the Florida football program under both Urban Meyer and the first two years of Will Muschamp's regime, the "third side of the ball" has been an issue all season. Both punter and kicker have been a problem, when only the latter was supposed to be a concern, the coverage teams have been badly fooled by fakes, and the return teams did squat until Patton broke out with his return touchdown last week.
4. Ranked losses. Since starting the 2012 season 3-0 against ranked opponents (plus a road victory over Texas A&M), the Gators are 1-5 against teams in the top 25. Florida is 0-3 in 2013 with losses to Miami (16-21), LSU (6-17) and Missouri (17-36) and got badly beat in each game despite the first two appearing close due to the final scores.
5. Historically bad. Forget that some of the Gators' offensive numbers are the worst this program has seen in years - decades even. Florida could legitimately finish the regular season below .500 for the first time since - ready for it - 1979. That team went 0-10-1 and was the worst in school history.
FIVE TO KEEP AN EYE ON
1. Kelvin Taylor, RB: He has done nothing but show, based solely on offensive skill, that he should be the Gators' starter over the final half of the season. If Florida wants to continue relying on the running game to win, it's time to feed K.T.
2. Quinton Dunbar, WR: After putting together two of the three best receiving games of his career against Miami and Tennessee, Dunbar has almost completely fallen off the map. Murphy and UF's offense need help, and Dunbar must step up in a major way.
3. Michael Taylor, LB: Forget Antonio Morrison, who has looked better as of late but struggled to make an impact in the first half of the season. Taylor has been the better inside linebacker. He is ferocious on defense and plays with the type of consistent attitude, effort and skill that Muschamp and company want to see from every defender.
4. Frankie Velez, K: A big reason why the Gators were so successful in close games last year was Caleb Sturgis's leg. Velez will not live up to that standard, not by any means, but if he can simply be a reliable placekicker that can put some points on the board, he may help Florida win a couple games down the stretch it could otherwise lose.
5. Defensive tackles: A cop-out here going with two, but Damien Jacobs and Darious Cummings will serve as a duo that must rotate and find a way to make up for Easley's absence. UF's run defense has struggled since Easley went down, and it is largely due to the line being weaker in the middle. Shoring up the defensive tackle position would help big-time.