Florida Football: Five Key Players to The Gators' Improvement
After three consecutive losses, many Florida fans were more worried about the possibility of bowl eligibility than a third consecutive appearance in the SEC Championship Game.
However, a hard-fought 34-31 overtime victory over the Georgia Bulldogs has the Gators energized and very much in control of their own destiny in the SEC East race.
Normally, changes in attitude like Florida's recent transition from despair to optimistic hope are rare, but here are five players that have the Gators primed to make another trip to Atlanta at season's end.
During the preseason, junior safety Will Hill admitted that he at times during the 2009 season, he would take plays off.
Hill vowed that would not be case in 2010, but up until Saturday's victory over Georgia, he had not kept that promise.
Hill missed the Gators' first two games against Miami (OH) and South Florida due to a suspension and since he has returned, he's been a non-factor on defense.
However, that all changed against the Bulldogs.
Hill picked off Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray twice Saturday, including an 89-yarder that nearly won the game in overtime before he stepped out-of-bounds on the four-yard line.
In addition to a third interception on a two-point conversion attempt, Hill also recorded six tackles on the day, including a bone-jarring hit on Bulldogs wide receiver Kris Durham that knocked the senior out of the game for a while.
If Florida can count on Hill playing up to his full potential alongside senior safety Ahmad Black from here on out, then the Gators will easily add to their NCAA-leading total of 16 interceptions.
Chris Rainey could not have returned to action at a more opportune time for the Florida Gators.
Coming off a three-game losing streak, the Gators were battered, especially at the running back position, and they needed firepower quickly.
And Rainey provided a needed spark, torching the Bulldog defense for 241 total yards on 24 touches, ensuring a first down for the Orange and Blue whenever he touched the ball.
After that dynamic performance, it's very clear that Urban Meyer is happy to have one of his favorite offensive weapons back in the mix.
If Rainey can stay on track both on and off the field for now on, he has the potential to do some special things during the rest of his time in Gainesville.
Chances for redemption don't come often, but when Chas Henry saw his opportunity, he didn't let it slip.
Just one game removed from missing a game-tying field goal against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Henry nailed a 37-yarder to take down the Georgia Bulldogs 34-31 in overtime.
And if scoring the game-winning points for the Gators wasn't enough, Henry also had a little fun with Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, blowing kisses to the Bulldog sideline after Grantham made a choking gesture at the Florida punter-turned-kicker.
With regular kicker Caleb Sturgis still out with a back injury, Henry will have to continue working double duty as both the punter and the kicker this weekend against Vanderbilt.
This is just a hunch, but I'm sure the Gator Nation will have no problem with this scenario after Henry's heroics in Jacksonville.
Trey Burton is continuing to make his case for a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team at season's end, but there's only one problem.
Which position will Burton be listed at?
Listed appropriately as the "slashback" by CBS's Gary Danielson against Georgia, Burton had done it all for the Gators, passing, catching, and running in Urban Meyer's spread offense.
However, Burton turned it up a notch against the 'Dawgs, rushing for a career-high 110 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns, including a clutch 51-yard running score in the fourth quarter.
Additionally, Burton helped keep the opposing defense off balance in the Gators' new rotating "quarterback carousel," completing both of his passing attempts for 26 yards.
Burton is a major playmaker and a key component of the Florida offense and as he goes, so go the Gators.
In times of adversity, teams search for a constant to grasp onto and ride the tough times out and for the Florida Gators, said constant was senior safety Ahmad Black.
Black has certainly earned his captain moniker this season, continuing to perform at a high level despite the Gators' struggles and playing a key role in making Florida's secondary one of the nation's best.
In addition to recording 191 tackles, three interceptions, and one sack, Black has led by example and taken younger players under his wing, including Trey Burton (those of you that follow Black and Burton in Twitter know what I'm talking about).
While his senior season hasn't gone as well as he would have hoped, Black has the chance to end his career with a third consecutive trip to the SEC Championship Game on the line.
Knowing Black's work ethic and his big-play tendencies (see: 2009 BCS National Championship Game, fourth quarter interception), he'll be locked in and ready to do everything it takes to reach Atlanta one more time.
Read the original article on GatorRaid.com.