NEW ORLEANS — They were two of the centerpieces behind Florida’s turnaround this season, which likely was at the center of decisions made by junior safety Matt Elam and junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd to make themselves available for the 2013 NFL draft.
Both players confirmed they were NFL-bound after UF’s 33-23 loss Wednesday night to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.
“I wish it could have finished better, but I’ve had a great three years and now I’ve been told I have a great opportunity to play in the pros,” said Elam, a first-team All-American who had 11 tackles and a sack in his final game as a Gator. “It’s a dream of mine to play in the NFL.”
The 6-foot-3, 303-pound Floyd, a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection, had five tackles and two sacks against the Cardinals.
“I’m going to get a chance to do what a lot of players want to do,” Floyd said. “The fact that my coaches gave me their blessing and said, “Go. You’re ready. Good luck to you” [helped]. If I didn’t get that from them, I wouldn’t be leaving. I care what my coaches think and how they feel about me, so now I’m moving on.”
Floyd is projected as a late-first round pick, while Elam is seen as a second-rounder with a chance to improve his stock in the all-star games and combine workouts.
Neither defensive tackle Dominique Easley nor tight end Jordan Reed, both juniors, have made up their minds about their futures, they said after the game.
BACK ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Nose guard Omar Hunter was a freshman when the Gators went 12-1 and won the Sugar Bowl. He was a sophomore during Urban Meyer’s final season and a junior for last year’s 7-6 squad in Will Muschamp’s first year.
He went out Wednesday night having lived a full college football life, but feeling helped put the Florida program back on the right track.
“This team just really matured over last year and really came together as a unit,” Hunter said. “It started with Coach [Will] Muschamp and his staff leading us in the right direction. He’s a great coach and I feel good about the direction of this program. They’re going to learn from this and be that much better next year because of it. I’m looking forward to watching these guys grow and develop. We all played their hearts out this year.”
LOOK WHAT I FOUND
Freshman tight end Kent Taylor came into the Sugar Bowl having caught one pass this season. For zero yards.
He matched that one catch against Louisville … for a touchdown.
“It was pretty surreal,” he said. “On the big stage, like that, to score? Pretty unbelievable.”
Taylor worked free on a pick play from the 5-yard line and Jeff Driskel found him running clear in the flat on a third-and-goal with 2:13 to play.
UF junior Andre Debose’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter was the longest in Sugar Bowl history, topping the 93-yard from Notre Dame’s Al Hunter in the epic 1973 game against Alabama. The play also extended Debose’s school record for kick returns to four, including a 99-yard TD in the Gator Bowl win over Ohio State last year. … The Gators fell to 20-20 all-time in bowl games, including 3-6 in the Sugar. … Kicker Caleb Sturgis, in his final game, broke Bobby Raymond’s single-season school record of 23 field goals by nailing a 33-yarder early in the second quarter. That made Sturgis 24-for-28 for the 2012 season. … UF was minus-2 in the turnover margin for the game to finish plus-15 for the season. It was just the third time this season UF finished on the negative side in turnovers (LSU and Georgia). … Sophomore Lucheiz Purifoy started at cornerback, but also played wide receiver on offense and his first career reception on UF’s opening drive. Purifoy left the game in the second half with a thigh injury, but Muschamp said he was “fine.” … Florida wore the blue jerseys/orange pants color scheme for the first time since Nov. 18, 1999, a home loss against the Florida State. The previous time before that was Dec. 2, 1989, also a home loss against FSU.