This is quickly going to devolve into a Chris Leak versus Tim Tebow post, and I hate that it has to be, but I’m going to get everything else out of the way first. If all you care about is the quarterbacks, then just scroll down some.
There was a lot of bad football played today. Either games were blowouts, or they were just ugly. We saw it with Georgia earlier today against Colorado, and then with Florida at night. Teams were just not ready to play after last week’s big games. Even USC was terrible against Arizona tonight. The best two games were NC State’s dramatic win over Boston College (despite sucking badly at the beginning of the year, the Wolfpack is now 1-0 in conference play, so Chuck Amato has that for now) and Michigan State’s epic collapse against Notre Dame.
The stat sheet has DeShawn Wynn running for 104 yards on 14 carries, but I can’t for the life of me remember when all those yards happened. Not just Wynn, but all of the running backs need to work on protecting the ball. Dallas Baker was very impressive, and despite at least one first half drop, he was the player of the game I think. He was making big plays at the right times when momentum could have swung to the Wildcats. The offensive line looked just awful though. Everyone seemed to relax after the trick play touchdown, think that they’d walk all over Kentucky. The ‘Cats deserve credit for battling though.
It took Florida’s defense about two and a half quarters to wake up and be it’s normal self. I don’t know if it took them that long to get used to defensive line changes or what, but Kentucky was tearing them up with simple screen passes and draw plays.
The problem was in the game planning by the coaches. Florida kept blitzing with often just one safety to help the corners, who are still not any good. I think they thought they’d have to compensate for Marcus Thomas being out, but as we saw int he second half, Ray McDonald will be fine in there. They need to compensate for the cornerbacks, the weakest and thinnest position on the field, not defensive line, the strongest and deepest position on the field. Once they got their act together everything was as it should have been.
The offensive game plan at first was not that great either. For most of the first half, it seemed like they were trying to get the ball into specific players’ hands, rather than just hitting an open guy. As the coach has tried to tell people, the real Urban Meyer Offense™ is personnel-driven, where you get the ball to playmakers and let them run with it. In the hurry-up offense at the end of the half, it became a case of just getting the ball to anyone, rather than someone specific, and the offense clicked. Rather than worry about how many touches players get, they just need to worry about getting the ball to the open guy. Everyone’s dangerous enough this year that it doesn’t matter a whole lot.
I will say that it also was a classic D- performance by the SEC referees. They were in rare form tonight. Both teams got shafted at various times, and the back judge appeared to be incapable of calling pass interference on anyone. Before tonight, I had never seen illegal motion (a before-the-snap infraction) flagged after a play had been run and blown dead. They probably won’t get reprimanded since they didn’t alter the inevitable outcome of the game, but they need to get their act together before they screw up a competitive game.
Okay, now the quarterbacks. Chris Leak was not at his sharpest this week, but he did throw for 268 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. While he wasn’t always clicking, let’s face it: no one was for Florida tonight. Only Baker and Wynn seem to me to grade out for Urban Meyer’s Champion’s Club for this week. ESPN.com did name Leak the player of the game, and says that he helped pad his stats with the game. He did what he needed to, and they got the win. He’s won 5 straight rivalry games, and hasn’t lost in the Swamp since October 9, 2004 (a span of 11 games). I’m not sure what else people want out of him with the inconsistent running game and defense over the past couple of years. He has never played behind a good enough line for him to sit back and pick apart defenses like a Rex Grossman or Danny Wuerffel, yet he’s on his way to breaking several school passing records this year.
Tim Tebow is certainly electric though. His long runs energized the crowd and got it buzzing. However, when you read coverage of this game or hear people talk about it, you’ll find two groups of people: those who watched the LSU-Auburn game and understood what happened, and those that watched and didn’t understand or didn’t see it.
Auburn and LSU have linebackers just as big as Tebow is. They have defensive linemen about as fast as Tebow is. They have safeties who don’t whiff when helping out on the run. In short, Tebow is not going run all over them like he did against Kentucky. He probably won’t against Alabama or Georgia either. No one will though, not Harvin, not Wynn, not Moore, not Brandon James, not Cornelius, Caldwell, Ingram, or anyone. Those defenses are just too good for that. If Florida gets 300 yards against either LSU or Auburn, it will be an accomplishment. If they get 500 yards combined in those games it will be an accomplishment. If anyone out there thinks that Tebow should start or even play significant minutes in the next four games, then they just don’t understand how good SEC defenses are.
Leak is going to get sacked a lot in the next four weeks. Wynn and Moore will get stuffed a lot in the next four weeks. Harvin and Caldwell will get tackled for losses on reverses. It’s all going to happen frequently. Get used to it. The SEC is a big boy’s league, and no one is going to rack up yards and points on these teams. Leak has been there before. He’s played in tough road settings. He’s seen these kinds of defenses. Tennessee is better than last year, but let’s face it: they couldn’t stop Tebow from picking up first downs when even Smokey knew he was running a quarterback draw. It’s always great to beat UT, but they’re nothing compared to what’s coming. This Gator team needs to lean on its seniors again, and it will have to be Leak, Baker, and Wynn leading the way on offense if they want to win.
Now, I like Tim Tebow. He seems like a great guy. His enthusiasm is refreshing. He’s a tremendously gifted running back. He still can’t throw it though. He also has little experience. He will come up with some big plays in the next month, but can he do it consistently? Freshman players always have games where they implode beyond repair for that game. Matthew Stafford had his today. If Joe Cox takes over the starting role for Georgia, he’ll have his too. Arkansas’ Mitch Mustain will have one too. Same with Alabama’s John Parker Wilson. It always happens, and Tebow’s turn will come. Senior quarterbacks have a much better track record in that regard, and that’s why there is no question that Chris Leak is as firmly in the starter spot as he has been all season.
Now yes, the fans momentarily booed when Leak replaced Tebow in the red zone after Tebow’s series of long runs. They quickly turned to cheers though, as if they were booing the removal of Tebow but still supporting Leak. I can’t blame them for feeling that way with Tebow adding some much-needed excitement to the game, but you can’t boo in that situation. The crowd tried to make up for it the rest of the game by cheering more than they had all game for Leak and starting “Leak for Heisman” chants in the student section.
I’d imagine most people didn’t understand why Meyer pulled Tebow there. If you stop though, it does make sense. The first team offense needed to practice running red zone plays, and that includes the starting quarterback. This game was not about how many points can we run up on Kentucky; if the coaches wanted to, they could have scored 50, but that wouldn’t have helped a whole lot to get ready for the next four games. With apologies to Kentucky, this was a glorified practice session for Florida.
I wish I could leave it at this. This won’t be the end of it though. I fully expect more of the same from the Alligator as I wrote about in my “Blown Coverage” post from last week. I would hope Pat Dooley will be on top of this, and I really would expect him to be. I have no idea what any of the major online pundits will say, but it’s likely someone will try to stir up trouble.
Is the Gator Nation divided on this issue? Yes, somewhat, but most of the really devoted fans I know will know how properly to evaluate this game, even if not initially. There definitely is no controversy in the team or coaching staff, and that’s really what matters. Urban and his staff know better than any of us on the outside what’s going on at practice, in the locker room, and on the field of the Swamp. There’s no time for trying to play up something that doesn’t exist.
Alabama is coming on Saturday. Yes, they lost to Arkansas, but only because of a complete meltdown by their kicker. Alabama’s offense might be back to being Mike Shula-as-Tampa-Bay-offensive-coordinator bad, but the defense is still stout. Bama has been unranked all season for a reason, but they still are going to play tough for all 60 minutes. They understand the revenge angle for UF after running it up on the Gators last year, and they’re not afraid of playing on the road.
Possibly the toughest four game stretch in team history is about to start. If Florida even goes 2-2, as long as one of the wins is over Georgia, then they’re set up nicely for going to Atlanta in December. It’s going to be a great test for this team. We will find out what they’re really made of, how tough they are when faced with major adversity. I can’t wait.