Notebook: Cleveland’s career comes to a close

Nov 27, 2019 | 0 comments

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In the Gators’ deep and highly productive receiving corps, the highest-ranked member of the group coming out of high school often gets overlooked.

As the No. 34 overall recruit in the class of 2016, Tyrie Cleveland arrived at UF with sky-high expectations from fans. Instead, his career statistics are modest: 72 catches for 1,176 yards and eight touchdowns. Those are decent numbers, but they fall short of what you would expect from a high four-star prospect.

As he prepares for his final game in the Swamp on Saturday night against Florida State (6-5, 4-4 ACC), he’s made 18 receptions for 256 yards and a score this season. He’s become the fourth or fifth option at a loaded position. Still, he’s carved out an important role on special teams and become perhaps the team’s best perimeter blocker.

Last week, he posted a message on Instagram that read in part, “Sometimes I wish I could have done more.”

"I wish I could have made more plays,” Cleveland said on Tuesday. “Me being a competitor, I always want to make plays. I feel like I made plays, but I could have made more.”

His highlight reel might not be long, but he’s responsible for two of the Gators’ most exciting plays this decade. As a freshman, he hauled in a 98-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Austin Appleby at LSU that proved to be the winning score. Then, of course, who could forget his 64-yard Hail Mary reception to beat Tennessee in 2017. It was the first (and still only) time in school history that UF won by scoring a touchdown on the final play of the game.

“As a little kid, you always think about just having like kids growing up talking about the play and what happened that day,” he said. “As a college athlete playing my position, a lot of guys just want to score and make a lot of plays and make a lot of plays for the team. I was grateful and blessed to be put in position to make a game-winning catch.”

However, his love for that catch goes beyond the obvious. He called his shot like Babe Ruth famously did.

“I was on the sideline and defense was on the field,” he said. “I came up to Josh [Hammond], and I said, ‘Hey Josh, I think I’m fixing to win the game for us.’ He was looking at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘Hey, I’m fixing to win the game. So, when we get on the field, I’m going to win it.’ And I just went down and sat by myself and just waited until the offense got on the field.

“The first thing [Hammond] said [after the game], ‘You told me you were going to go do it. You told me.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I told you.’ Everybody was happy. That was a great time, a great experience.”

He admits that Senior Day will be emotional for him, not just because it’s his last game in the Swamp but because of where he comes from.

“Where we come from, not a lot of people make it out,” Cleveland said. “There's bad influences or people just trying to lead you down the wrong road. I took a different route. My people will be very proud of me.

“My emotions are going to be high just because it’s my last game in the Swamp. Over the four years, I’ve just met a lot of people along the way, a lot of great people, and just building that relationship. This relationship will last a lifetime, and I’ll never forget the moments that I had in the Swamp. So, it’ll be very emotional for me Saturday.”

He's hoping to add one more signature play to his resume against the Seminoles.

“A couple nights ago, I was dreaming about making a crazy play, so I'm praying to God something happens,” he said.

Buchanan reaches the finish line

Center Nick Buchanan is a classic example of a late-bloomer. He came to Florida as a guard, redshirted in 2015 and played in a combined three games in 2016-17. Then Dan Mullen and offensive line coach John Hevesy arrived and moved him to center. Mullen and Hevesy didn’t like previous starting center T.J. McCoy’s smaller stature, so Buchanan was able to beat him out for the starting job. He’s started 23 of the 24 games since then.

“I think it’s just teaching [the younger players] just to keep working,” Hevesy said. “It might not be today; it might not be tomorrow. Again, the difference I think you’re seeing is more and more kids want that instant gratification, which it’s not, it’s still going to be work. Him and Kyle [Trask] are great examples of that. They put in the time, they put in the work and, when it was their opportunity, they took great advantage of it. I think all kids should look at that.”

As a redshirt senior on a line filled with youth and inexperience, Hevesy is pleased with the way Buchanan has set a positive example for his teammates.

“He’s a great leader to the team,” Hevesy said. “Really to me two years ago when we got here, you just saw it in the weight room and everywhere, just kids listened to him. The great thing about him [is] he’s not emotionally high or low. He’s steady in the middle, which is great to me in the middle because I tell him all the time, ‘You have to be in control of everybody.’”

Buchanan isn’t looking for any frills or emotional fulfillment on his Senior Day. Only one thing will make the day a success.

“Hopefully a win,” he said. “That’s all I need.”

Offensive line improvement

UF’s offensive line has been a never-ending case of three steps forward and one step back this season. They started the season atrocious at run-blocking but pretty good at pass-protection. Then, toward the middle of the season, the running game began to show signs of life, but the pass-protection began to fail. In their last game against Missouri, they struggled mightily at both.

Part of the inconsistencies and struggles can be attributed to having four new starters and relying on a pair of freshmen. Still, they must take giant leaps over the offseason given the makeup of next year’s offense.

Florida will lose four senior receivers and possibly one or two more to the NFL Draft. They likely won’t be able to throw for 280 or more yards consistently like they’ve done this season.

“We've got to hold up our end of the deal until we can develop [the receivers], until we can get to what you'd perceive as 50-50 running/throwing,” Hevesy said. “To me that's just, we'll figure that out next year when we get to spring practice and all that stuff going forward.

“If we've got to run the ball 55 times to win the game, that's what we'll do. If we've got to throw 55 times, then we've got to do it to win the game.”

Hevesy said they used the bye week to get the younger players some more reps, and they’ll do so again in bowl practices.

Guard Brett Heggie said the biggest hurdle the unit has to clear is communication.

“You know, the run game is streaky because there’s five, six, seven guys every time.,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to work together. The big thing is communicating and timing and knowing where you’re going and when you have to get off a block. It gets tricky sometimes. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”

He's confident that the younger linemen will be ready by the time next season arrives.

Ethan White, for sure,” he said. “He’s made really big strides. [Richard Gouraige], he’s starting now. He’s made some big strides. Riley [Simonds], Kingsley [Eguakun], all those guys are going to keep working in the offseason to get better and contribute next year.”

Gators stay put in CFP rankings

Despite two teams in front of them losing last Saturday, Florida remained at No. 11 in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s poll that was released on Tuesday night.

Penn State, despite losing to Ohio State and having the same number of losses as Florida, remained ahead of UF at No. 10. Baylor jumped from 14th to ninth following its victory over Texas.

The final rankings of the season and the New Year’s Six bowl assignments will be unveiled on Dec. 8.

Penn State remaining ahead of the Gators could significantly damage UF’s New Year’s Six chances. As it stands now, Florida would be on the outside looking in. Aside from beating FSU on Saturday, it would also greatly help their chances if Oklahoma beats Baylor in the Big 12 Championship Game and Ohio State blows out Minnesota or Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game. It would also help if two SEC teams made the playoff.


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