Georgia is the New Tennessee

October 14, 2006

After losing at home on homecoming to Vanderbilt, Georgia is officially this year’s 2005 Tennessee. They have no offense, the defense is slowly deteriorating, and everyone seems to be losing confidence. Vandy is not as bad as it seems, with each of its conference losses coming by less than a touchdown. Bobby Johnson has a good thing building there, and while I don’t think Vanderbilt will ever be a bowl team year in and year out, they certainly seem to be set to be competitive consistently.

Iowa’s loss to Indiana is even worse. By the way, did you know that Mark May picked Iowa to go to the national title game in the preseason? Yes, it’s true, and yes I’ll remind you every time the Hawkeyes lose. It’s about time there was some crazy upsets. This year has been mostly quiet in that regard.

Also, just a tough break for Adrian Peterson. He finally gets to play in front of his father, has a giant day in a blowout win, and ends up breaking his collarbone. He’s one of the better guys in college football and a tremendous player who is fun to watch. That’s a shame.


GameDay Report: 10/14

October 14, 2006

10:05 – We’re live from Auburn (and I’m live from a recliner in southwest Gainesville), the second straight Florida game covered. Last week it was here and I was there, but I can actually comment this week.

10:07 – We’ve got a lot of talk about how tough road night games are in the SEC. Florida won’t be intimidated, and Chris Leak will be poised. This much, we already knew.

10:08 – Okay, so our fluff pieces this week are on Brandon Cox and Adrian Peterson. Good to know.

10:10 – Speaking of Cox, Heath Cline had a guy named Chuck Oliver on from an Atlanta radio station who goes around to SEC or ACC practices every week, and went to Auburn this week. He says that Cox is really physically beat up right now. That bodes well for Florida, especially if the defensive line can get into the backfield regularly.

10:12 – We’ve got some same “The Good The Bad and The Ugly” posters, bad puns on Chris Leak’s name, and so far I’ve only caught one pro-Florida sign saying that Albert wants seconds of Tiger. I still like my brother’s girlfriend’s sign from last week that said “Even Sigfried and Roy Could Tame These Tigers.” I know a camera man panned it slowly, but I still don’t know if it got on TV.

10:15 – This just in: West Virginia hasn’t played anyone yet. Oh oh, breaking news: The winner of WVU – Louisville will go undefeated, and Georgia knows how fast the Mountaineers are. WVU is lousy on defense, Corso rants, which is interesting because they’re the other team besides Cal that he picked to go to the national title game and he apologizes for Cal does wrong. Herbstreit just points this fact out as soon as I’m done typing it.

10:20 – A nice picture of Bo Jackson, who never became half the player of video game Bo Jackson.

10:22 – Before the break, Herbstreit tried to be clever by saying that the Big East big guns needed to watch out for Pitt, but really they don’t need to for two reasons: 1) Pitt is coached by the Wannstache, who is one of the worst big game coaches in recent memory, and 2) they don’t have the players to keep up with them. If you’re understaffed compared to your opponent, you’ve got to out coach them to win. That’ll never happen.

10:25 – The new clock rules suck, and the officials this year are missing a lot of calls on the field. Corso thinks they’ll amend the rules to go back to the old rules for the last two minutes of halves. We’ll see, but since offensive coaches hate them but defensive coaches love them, a decision to change them back will be in deadlock and never get overturned.

10:29 – Arkansas has had a nice year, and part of that is their new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the coach at a high school where Mitch Mustain went to high school.

10:31 – Houston Nutt apparently knew Malzahn for a while before hiring him, and he was able to get a few recruits to change to Arkansas for them. Malzahn has actually written a book on how to run an offense, for sale on Amazon. At least he’s brought some crazy trick plays.

10:33 – No Microsoft, I still don’t want to restart now. I don’t even know what MSXML is or why it needed an update. I hate Windows.

10:37 – Will Arkansas win the SEC West? Maybe, but beating Tennessee and LSU will be tough. If Auburn wins out, the Tigers might, but we’ll see. Fowler asks the guys what several teams all have in common, and while waiting for a response from the other two a guy in the crowd shouts “They suck!” Well done, whoever that was.

10:40 – Thanks to Auburn fans for bringing back the “Pac 10 Sucks” chant back. It’s truth, and needs to be said as often as possible to remind the uninformed masses.

10:42 – DeSean Jackson has better stats than Ted Ginn does, but why is Ginn lingering in Heisman discussions while Jackson is unheard of? Part Ohio State hype, part East Coast Bias, and part level of competition.

10:44 – Herbstreit baits the crowd with talk of USC beat Arkansas who beat Auburn and what does that mean, a classic logical fallacy. The crowd responds with more “overrated” chants for Cal and USC. Once again, well done. Don’t let them get away with that. The Pac 10 is weak, and USC will lose, maybe twice.

10:47 – Some pandering with gratuitous highlights of the 1994 Florida at Auburn game. Thanks.

10:51 – A nice fluff piece on Tim Tebow. The Auburn fans are targeting him, but as Fowler said he got through LSU fine. Herbstreit, of course, as a former quarterback didn’t like the two quarterback system, but it’s grown on him. The also point out that no one has knocked Tebow back. That’s true. He practically ran over LSU’s prize safety last week.

10:53 – Desmond Howard demonstrates Tebow’s plays, you know, if Tebow was a slow, right-handed former receiver.

10:54 – By the way, Publix’s Cheesy Quick is about a dollar less than Easy Mac, and it tastes exactly the same. Just a tip for you fellow students out there.

10:55 – Nope, I still don’t want to restart. Just like I said the last 5 times. Stupid Microsoft.

10:56 – Fortunately, despite what the song said, Big and Rich did not come to my city last week. In fact, I hope I’m never in the same city as those hacks.

11:01 – An somewhat interesting piece on Adrian Peterson and his father, who spent a lot of Adrian’s life in jail. As always when they do these things, they gloss over why the athlete’s relative got into jail, and in this case the people who raised Peterson too (his mother and step father).

11:03 – Wow, there’s no creativity in the signs in the crowd at all. Of course, it’s Auburn, so there you go.

11:05 – As Fowler pointed out, Herbstreit’s philosophy on Buy or Sell is sell low and buy high. I hope he has someone else doing his investments.

11:08 – We’ve got Mike Hart showing Desmond how not to fumble later in the show. I really think Penn State has a shot against Michigan this week since Hart will have to be the offense by himself. Mario Manningham is out, and Chad Henne doesn’t have enough weapons after him to be all that effective. That means the Nittany Lions will stack the box and stop Hart. When you stop Hart, Michigan is a 7-5 team like last year.

11:09 – It is 11:09 am, and Miami and FSU are still unranked, while Mizzou and Rutgers are. Life is good.

11:10 – Some funny stuff with the GameDay guys trading seats and imitating each other.

11:13 – Just as we all knew, Corso could never make it as host. Also, Fowler got some good jabs in pretending to be Kirk. Herbstreit could work on his Corso some, but he’s not bad at it.

11:16 – The crowd is getting restless. Herbstreit pulls out a Scarlet Knight mascot head to pick Rutgets over Navy, and Corso can’t help himself and pulls out a Navy hat. Lee tried to play it straight as the host, but he can’t contain his enthusiasm.

11:17 – It’s Rocktoberfest at Gatorland Kia so, uh, don’t miss out on those great deals on small cars. Has a local car dealership ever made a decent commercial?

11:19 – Sir Charles joins us on the phone. He’s always a great interview. He needs to turn the volume down on his TV, because there’s an echo effect like when people call in to radio shows with the radio still on.

11:22 – The Chuckwagon picks Auburn 21-17. Of course he does.

11:26 – Auburn’s 101 db is not nearly as load as Florida’s 111 db. Yeah, that’s right. I think there’s even more people there than there were in Gainesville last week since there’s absolutely nothing to do in the village of Auburn.

11:28 – Mike Hart just does not fumble the football. He’s a bit undersized, but he’s tough as nails and doesn’t put the ball on the ground. That’s going to keep him in the NFL for a long time.

11:30 – Penn State had a pep rally last night and Joe Paterno gave a rousing speech. They’re doing the white out thing today, which jumped the shark when the Miami Heat bandwagoneers “fans” used in the playoffs last year. Like all other Miami sports teams, they don’t have real fans, just a bunch of people who show up to be seen. And yes, I just made up a word.

11:33 – Thinking of AT&T (who just had a commercial), how is it that they are probably going to get to buy Bell South? Are there any Baby Bells left if they go? I thought the government meant it when they broke up that monopoly.

11:36 – I have no idea why Louisville is expected to do so well in the BCS while West Virginia languishes. I didn’t know a mediocre Miami team improved the Cardinals’ resume so much. Also, the computers love USC for some ungodly reason. I give up with the BCS.

11:39 – Now we get Mark May to talk about how awesome USC is. He’s the biggest USC fanboy in the country. He says that they deserve to be number 2 because “they won their games.” Yes, well so have Florida and Michigan, and both of them have had tougher schedules. Herbstreit calls him on this, and May counters with picking Auburn to win. This despite that their talking about who’s number 2 now, not after tonight.

11:42 – Apparently Auburn fans roll “Toomer’s Corner” after big home wins. Classy.

11:46 – Brandon Cox has had to overcome MG, a neuromuscular disease that harms muscles and can lead to paralysis. Now, he’s the quarterback of Auburn. That’s remarkable, but as a player, he’s no Jason Campbell. If Florida can stop Kenny Irons, Cox probably can’t win the game by himself. Especially since Auburn has average at best receivers.

11:49 – Auburn’s offensive line has been playing terribly of late, and Herbstreit thinks the Florida front seven will be a big difference. Corso highlights Marcus Thomas and Reggie Nelson. He thinks it’s a game where the tougher team will win. Good thing Urban learned how to be tough from Lou Holtz earlier this year. Yes, that was sarcasm.

11:50 – Shockingly, I still don’t want to restart my computer. I should have waited to install that update until after GameDay. Oh well.

11:54 – They mention the Wisconsin band being on probation. I’ve read beyond the stale AP report, and it’s some pretty bad stuff. I just wonder how that can be allowed to happen.

11:55 – The Auburn band meanwhile decides to play while the show is on air. Real classy guys. Do they play while the ball is live too?

11:58 – I still think Penn State has a great chance. They even have the revenge factor from last year. Herbstreit is calling the game, so he can’t make a pick, but Corso likes the Wolverines.

12:01 – Auburn is really banged up, and they are still reeling from Arkansas. Kirk finally learned his lesson for picking against Florida and likes the Gators. Corso picks Florida again after setting up the crowd by saying things like they have beautiful women there and that he wore an Auburn tie.

That’s all for GameDay, and that’s it until the Florida – Auburn preview later this afternoon.


“Madness” 2006

October 14, 2006

The only madness going on at Madness 2006 was that of fans who probably felt shafted. Granted, it’s hard to get that upset when admission was free, but that was an embarrassment for the defending national champs. The whole thing was just a commercial for frozen pizza, cell phone service, and the local utilities. I’m not validating them all by giving them a mention

It began with the dumb games as usual, like the crawl around and pick things up off the floor while blindfolded game, and a contest where answering trivia questions gave contestants a chance to putt across the entire basketball court diagonally to win a truck. It was the standard boring stuff.

Next, they introduced the women’s and men’s teams and had them walk in through the lower section crowds like the men’s team did during their championship celebration. Each player had a signed mini basketball that they tossed into the crowd after being introduced. One of my friends got Corey Brewer’s ball, so that was cool.

They then did a three point shooting contest of sorts, where two pairs of players alternated shots concurrently at the two baskets to see who could get to 10 made shots first. This is when we learned that Joakim Noah and Al Horford have been working on threes over the summer. They then had a dunk contest which, as has been the case since David Lee left, was pretty lame overall. Walter Hodge won, but it was sort of by default, really.

So after that they did their standard intrasquad scrimmage right? No, Billy said several times that they had practiced at seven, so they weren’t going to do it again for the fans. Goodnight. Yeah that’s it. That’s all there was. I mean, there also was Lee Humphrey, Taurean Green, Horford, and what looked like either Jack Berry or Garrett Tyler dancing with the Dazzlers again, and Billy pretending to drop the crystal basketball trophy and having it shatter to pieces. It was a fake trophy, and the crowd didn’t believe it was the real one for a second. Billy, sensing that no one really thought it was funny, later would say that it wasn’t his idea to do that. At least they didn’t trot out a “I guess we’ll have to get another one” line or anything.

Well, to bring it back to football, I decided to do a list of equivalents of people on the football team to their analogous basketball brethren.

Taurean Green: Chris Leak is the Taurean Green of the football team. This is the easiest one to do. Not only is there the parallel of the point guard being the quarterback of the basketball team, but also their demeanors are similar. They aren’t the flashiest or most vocal guys, but they are the steady hand at the wheel fully capable of being spectacular when they need to be.

Lee Humphrey: Jemalle Cornelius is the Lee Humphrey of the football team. They both are coaches’ favorites, both are stand-up guys on and off the playing surface of their choice, and both are humble and do everything their coaches ask. They are the glue guys – they help hold the team together. They both make big plays but will never make big headlines because of the other guys on their teams. The best part is that neither would have it any other way.
Corey Brewer: Dallas Baker is the Corey Brewer of the football team. They are versatile scorers who are more athletic than they look sometimes. Both have Big Man on Campus personalities, and for good reason, but that helps to drive them to get better rather than bask in the glory and slack off. Their respective teams would be more hurt by them going down with an injury than most realize. Last year we saw that with Brewer’s ankle; hopefully, we won’t have to see the Gators without Baker this year.

Al Horford: Brandon Siler is the Al Horford of the football team. Both get noticed by making big plays, and fortunately for Donovan’s and Meyer’s squads, they make them often. Neither is afraid of being physical, and they intimidate their opponents with their toughness. They are leaders, and their teams would be hurt more than most realize without them. They are also very consistent and consistently good. You know what you’re getting game in and game out with Horford and Siler, and you’re very pleased with what you get.

Joakim Noah: Here’s the tough one. Let me be clear about something: there’s no one on the football team like Joakim Noah. There’s no one on any team in any sport in any country with someone like Joakim Noah. He’s incomparable and inimitable, and speaks for himself in more ways than one.

That said, I picked two guys to equal Noah: Reggie Nelson and Tim Tebow. Nelson is the best defender on the team, has an exuberant personality, and has some wild hair at times. He also has a penchant for making big plays at crucial times. That sounds like Joakim, right? I add Tebow to that because he plays with the most visible emotion of anyone on the football team, and when he gets a head of steam going, there’s no stopping him easy. That definitely sounds like Noah. Plus, fair or not, for better or worse, no one gets the crowd riled up as much as Tebow does. Again, same with Noah and the basketball fans.

For now I’ll leave the comparisons with the starters and save Brandon James as Walter Hodge arguments for later. If anyone has any other comparisions they think are apt or have issues with mine, well, that’s why there’s that big ol’ comment box below.


A Few News Items

October 13, 2006

According to the Gainesville Sun, both Percy Harvin and DeShawn Wynn should be ready to go tomorrow. Florida has been very fortunate with injuries this year in that they have not been serious or season-ending injuries like what hit Ray McDonald and Andre Caldwell last year. All of those injuries came in the preseason, which gave the coaches time to plan for life without them. Keeping clear of the injury bug is something that all elite teams in particular years do, so that’s encouraging.

I also heard some interesting things on the local radio programs today. In the past 59 games in the Florida – Auburn series, the teams are 29-29-1, with the home teams having a considerable advantage. In fact, it took until 1973 for UF to get its first win ever at Auburn. This is not going to be some kind of cakewalk tomorrow. Dave Revsine also brings up the fact that Auburn has beaten a top-five team at home six times in its history, and three of those six times were Florida. Yahoo! Sports does mention that Florida has won 8 of 9 against Auburn, but the loss was in 2001 at Jordan-Hare.

One of the remarkable things about this team is about how balanced it is. Not too many people stand out statistically because so many guys are playing productive ball. Foxsports.com has a reprinted midseason report from CollegeFootballNews.com listing accolades for the first half of the season, and while it predicts UF to win the SEC title game (curiously, it says over Auburn, which means they must think the Tigers win this weekend), no Gators made the best players list. Even more puzzling is SI.com’s midseason All-Americans which has only Reggie Nelson from the Gators on the first team (which makes sense) but has only Marcus Thomas on the second team, andhe’s been suspended three of Florida’s six games.

The most satisfying to see though was ESPN’s midseason hot/not report, as the first pairing was Florida being hot and FSU being not. The most important thing year in and year out is how the Gators do in the SEC, but beating the Noles is something that never does get old, you know? For all the crap I have heard from Seminole fans since 2001 (the only year I’ve ever heard them be humble about a game since they were having a down year and were completely terrified of Rex Grossman), it’s nice to see them put in their place some. I hope when Bobby’s done they promote Jeff. I really do.

I am however, intentionally not linking to Mike Freeman’s latest disaster of a column. He basically says that Urban Meyer is undercutting Chris Leak’s Heisman chances by doing “gimmick” plays with Tim Tebow. If you need analysis as to why that’s wrong, I’d like to invite you to return to WarChant.com or your Miami fan message boards or what other Florida-hating corner of the net that you slunk out of to end up here. I think now that Freeman is writing for a website and not a newspaper, he’s taking the John Dvorak approach of writing highly inflammatory things in lieu of reality to drive page hits. The sad thing is that it’s a strategy that works. Freeman probably picks on Florida because after spending a year in Jacksonville he knows how passionate and downright irrational Gator fans can get. Plus, a lot of the rest of the country hates Florida because of many Gator fans’ arrogance. I hope everyone can just agree not to feed the troll anymore and just ignore whatever else he might spew out between now and the end of the season.


A Couple Quick Things

October 13, 2006

Posting has been a bit sparse this week again thanks to having 3 final exams. All of my classes are modular, so they go half a semester, then a week off, then another half a semester. Module 1 just ended, so I had to study some non-football related things a lot this week.

Fortunately, the team really has been speaking for itself. I really don’t know how much more I can add right now. Of course, there’s plenty of people talking about the Gators now, and I’m going to get into that later today after work.

DeShawn Wynn was supposed to return to practice yesterday, so I’d imagine I’ll find out how that went on Brady Ackerman’s show this morning. He’ll be important, but Auburn’s real weakness is speed backs. Because of that, I expect to see more Percy Harvin (if his ankle is better than it was last week) and Jarred Fayson lining up with Chris Leak in the backfield. It also could be a big day for Kestahn Moore in that sense.

Also, tonight is Midnight Madness to kick off the basketball season, and of course I’m going to be there. There’s a volleyball game at 8 and then the basketball stuff begins at 10, so we won’t get a chance to see the new floor, though I expect that it will be painted the same as it has been in recent years. I won’t be at the volleyball since I’ll watching a couple friends perform “Carmina Burana” at the Phillips Center at 7:30, but I’m definitely there for the roundball at 10. What a great story they were last year, and they all came back too. I can’t wait.

Also, remember that basketball games are a great recruiting tool for football (and I mean beyond Cornelius Ingram). I met Ron Zook at a basketball game my freshman year, and he was there with about 30 recruits. The O’Dome was rocking, and we beat Tennessee by about 30 that night. Good times.


Off-Topic: A Note on Gradkowski

October 9, 2006

I know, I know, it’s another Bucs post, but I figure if I talk about Chris Simms going out and Bruce Gradkowski replacing him, I should at least mention something on how the rook did.

As it turns out, he did just fine. Statistically, he had an excellent day, going 20/31 for 225 yards and 2 TDs. He did have one major bad play, a fumble that the Saints would convert into a touchdown of their own. Still, for a 6th-round draft pick making his first career start in his rookie year, and on the road to boot, that’s excellent. He even showed some mobility that caught the Saints by surprise a little bit, though it won’t take long for defensive coordinators to see it and catch on.

“There is a lot of promise in that young guy. He played his brains out,” Gruden said. “I like everything about him.”

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Gradkowski said. “There’s a lot of good that came out of this game. Guys made great plays, the receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen were blocking their butts off … running the ball well.”

The Cadillac finally got back on track, and Gradkowski made some plays, but a Reggie Bush punt return ended up winning the Saints the game. The AP writeup for the game, which is where the above quotes come from, spent most of it fawning over Bush, and that’s fine because most of the coverage of the game did. Lost in all of that though was a rookie quarterback who made a very impressive debut and, if he can keep it up, looks to have a very long career in the NFL.


Polls and Room for Improvement

October 9, 2006

I was somewhat surprised to see Florida 2nd in the AP poll. I know that a lot of people, sportswriters especially, saw the LSU game as a “prove it” game for Florida. The Gators came out on top with a 23-10 win and proved that they belong in the national title discussion. I still think Ohio State is the only team you can reasonably pick for number one because of how the Buckeyes dominated Texas and Iowa both. They’re the only sure thing. After that, it gets blurry.

Florida probably should be number two since they are undefeated and have beaten Alabama, LSU, and a Tennessee team that is looking better and better by the week. The fact that the UT game was in Knoxville and a fourth quarter comeback win makes it look even better. Other contenders include USC, whose only victories of note are Arkansas, who really isn’t that great despite the Auburn win in a look-ahead game for the Tigers, and Nebraska, who was undone by ultra-conservative coaching. Plus, the Trojans looked very beatable against the Washington schools. Michigan gets all of its prestige this year from one win, the Notre Dame blowout. Granted, that’s a great win, but after that the Wolverines have played only middle-of-the-road Big 10 teams like Wisconsin and Minnesota. West Virginia has looked good, but hasn’t played a ranked team.

ESPN.com (who also has UF at #2) says that Florida could be number one if it wins at Auburn. I’m not so sure about that since, though Florida will have had the toughest schedule by far, they aren’t dominating like OSU has been. The Gators’ pass defense fell from 64 to 70 nationally after the game. Granted interceptions don’t count in that, but if JaMarcus Russell makes better decisions and doesn’t throw so many INTs, may LSU wins that game. SI.com praises Florida, saying it is a team on the rise and that Tim Tebow is one of its three Big Men on Campus for the week, but then promptly picks Auburn to win 17-14 (all in the same article!).

Coach Meyer of course downplayed the importance of the rankings, and really, he should. With Florida’s schedule, as long as the Gators win out, there’s no way they could end up out of the top two. He also needs to keep the team focused because after a scare at South Carolina and a collapse against Arkansas, Auburn will be playing to save its season this Saturday. If Auburn loses this one, it’ll take three losses by the Pigs (out of South Carolina, Tennessee, Miss State, and LSU) for Auburn to go to Atlanta. All but MSU at least potentially could be losses, but I wouldn’t count on it during one of Houston Nutt’s classic I-gotta-save-my-job years.

Then again, LSU was pretty much playing for its season and Florida still won by two touchdowns. The game is at Auburn though, which gives the Tigers an advantage. Florida did win at Tennessee though, and Neyland Stadium gets more riled up than Jordan-Hare ever does. As you can see, there’s a million different ways to look at this game. While SC and Arkansas exposed a lot of flaws in Auburn’s defense, the WarPlainsTigers are not going to roll over and die just because the Mighty Gators roll into town and tell them to. No one will be intimidated this weekend on either side of the ball.

Tommy Tuberville is too good of a coach to let Auburn pull an LSU this weekend. At least, I think he is. He’s only been untouchably good once, and that was when he had Cadillac Williams, Ronnie Brown, and Jason Campbell all as seniors. Before that year, the school was ready to fire him for Bob Petrino. He also had the bad karma of complaining about possibly being shut out of the national title game working against him. Now, they have to win or they’re out of both the SEC West and BCS bowl chase.

Still though, it feels very good to get validated with national rankings. Gator Growl got everything amped up, between the highlight clips set to music from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies (which is highly effective) to Urban Meyer’s best speech to fans yet. Then, the ESPN College GameDay guys showed up for the first time in three years and were rewarded with the loudest crowd in GameDay history (no joke, and well done to all in attendance). Finally, the Gators went out and won a game by 13 that most national pundits picked them to lose. It was one of the best Gator football weekends in years.

*  *  *

Now that the excitement has worn off to some degree, it’s time to take a good look at the team. The offensive line has improved drastically in its pass coverage over the year. The running game still seems to be limited to DeShawn Wynn and Tim Tebow. The secondary keeps giving up lots of yards but somehow ends up with timely interceptions over and over. I said this above, but it bears repeating: Florida’s vaunted defense is 70th in the country in passing yards surrendered per game.

That’s the most exciting thing from this weekend: Florida looked that good but still has a lot of room for improvement. If DeShawn Wynn won’t be at 100%, someone else is going to need to step up. Getting a healthy Percy Harvin will help tremendously too. His first catch of the LSU game illustrated why perfectly: he took a nondescript and well-covered screen pass and turned it into a 14 yard gain. Chris Leak is going to need to stop throwing it away so much when a receiver is open and also stop underthrowing Andre Caldwell on his deep post routes (he did just that twice against UCF too). The coaches are also going to need to get more decisive on the rotating QB thing, since Florida has been wasting about two timeouts a game solely because of the play clock running low due to them deciding to switch quarterbacks with 15 seconds to go.

Having Marcus Thomas back was a huge help too, as he played a lot more and a lot better than most people, myself most of all, had expected. The line got some pressure on Russell but didn’t come away with as many sacks as it should have. Now, I heard today that Auburn has a smallish offensive line, so that presents a prime opportunity to cause some havoc this weekend. Having Thomas there the whole week at practice should help too.

Special teams is one area that is looking pretty solid. The coverage was excellent on the whole, and Riley Cooper’s hit on Early Doucet to cause the fumble that ended up a safety was amazing for a freshman wide receiver. Brandon James is fine on returns when he actually gets to return it. Eric Wilbur had a fantastic game against LSU, making a huge difference in the field position game. Florida will be in great shape if he can keep it up on the Plains. Chris Hetland, meanwhile, still can’t make a field goal and Meyer said he might look into letting Eric Nappy try some. Hetland apparently has been hitting them well in practice, so he hasn’t for sure lost the job. The fact that they got the extra point problems solved means things are going in the right direction, and Florida has been fortunate this year that the lack of field goals hasn’t come back to bite them.

The biggest thing to look out for is an emotional let down after this past weekend. Auburn is still a very, very good team, and they’ll be plenty motivated at home. They’ll come out fired up and probably score quickly, like everyone but UCF has done to UF this year. I expect it to be more like the Tennessee game than LSU. It’ll be hard-nosed, defensive SEC football, and as long as Meyer isn’t so fixated on “out-toughing” Auburn to the point of rushing Wynn up the middle for no gain 14 times, Florida should be fine. We shall see.


23 – 10

October 7, 2006

I came into this game not sure of what to think, and I leave it exactly the same way. It’s hard to say who outplayed who, or whether LSU self-destructed or Florida caused them to. It was a sloppy, bizarre game but the good guys came out on top.

I guess I’ll start with what I do know for sure, and that’s Tim Tebow was the player of the game. There were questions as to whether DeShawn Wynn or Percy Harvin would play, and if Chris Leak would be effective against the LSU defense. As it turns out, Tebow and his one-man play action game was the highlight of the game for the Gator offense. Leak was solid but not spectacular, and the running game never really got going. This could have been a very different game without the plays he was making.

As I said before, it was not a pretty game. Both running games could get nothing done. LSU had 5 turnovers again (assuming the fumbled punt and kick count, I can’t remember the rule on that). Florida’s offense could only get things going in fits and starts. Florida’s pass defense played Charmin soft but still allowed only one touchdown pass. There were penalties galore, and there were some that shouldn’t have been called and others that should have been. I’m telling you, these SEC refs are terrible, but at least they’re being mostly neutral in their awfulness.
This was a huge game for the morale of the Florida fans though. All of the people I heard talking while leaving the stadium and campus were giddy. They weren’t complaining about the offense, swearing about the defensive backs, or critiquing the play calling. They were laughing. They were high-fiving strangers. They were talking about passing West Virginia, whether Oregon or Cal would beat USC, and some of the finer points of the Ohio State – Michigan rivalry. They were chanting “SEC” near the end of the game, and completely forgetting about it afterward for even bigger things. While the fans have always wanted national titles, they’re really starting to believe now.

Now, Auburn’s loss to Arkansas does hurt the Gators’ cause and strength of schedule. South Carolina and Arkansas both showed how to attack the Tigers’ defense. Their offense also has been struggling. Simply put, Auburn hasn’t looked this beatable in a while. I’m feeling much better about this game, but the team must stay as focused as ever because it’s still an SEC road game and Auburn is still a very good team. There’s no GameDay again, but it is going to be another edition of ESPN Full Circle.

After this game, even some of the most crotchety Gator fans on the post-game call in show said that they were at last sold on Urban Meyer as the coach. The rest of the fans were really getting into the two-quarterback system. The Facebook group/GameDay sign “Leak Pass, Tebow Smash” is looking better and better.

Yes, it’s great to be a Florida Gator tonight. It’s easy to get carried away with a win like this, but you know, it’s finally nice to get a reason to get carried away with a win again. UF is 6-0 for the first time since 1996. We are on a 13-game winning streak. We haven’t lost at home in two years. We are getting lots of accolades from the national press, and they are discovering just how many playmakers we have on offense. Neath the orange and blue victorious, we celebrate a big win over a tough team. Go Gators!


Gator Growl + LSU Preview

October 7, 2006

I need to do my LSU preview now because I will not be writing it while sitting on my couch watching GameDay; rather, I will be attending GameDay! It’s about time they got back down here, and really to an SEC game in general. If Florida wins, it should be two Gator games in a row since the Florida – Auburn game would be a matchup of two top-five teams. The key word is “should.” I don’t care if it makes the same conference or team two weeks in a row, they are supposed to be at the best game every week, and if there’s only one game between top-five teams…

Anyway, Gator Growl was pretty good. The student-made stuff was about on par with past years. The best part of it as always is when they get a Gator to go incognito to a road game and interview the fans while pretending to be a fan of that team. This year they did it at the Tennessee game, and Vols never disappoint. One of the better exchanges:

Interviewer Guy: So, if you could describe Phil Fulmer in one word, what would it be?

Tennessee Fan: Fat.

It also featured a fan boasting about drinking his homemade moonshine. Sometimes, reality really is the way you’d script it. The two comedians were also very good. Gabriel Iglesias was the undercard, and he was very funny. Jim Gaffigan was the headliner, and he was hilarious. I did hear at least one person say they liked Iglesias better, and that makes sense since his delivery is more animated and better suited for an event like Gator Growl. It was better than Wayne Brady last year who, though he was good, tried to do improv comedy in a stadium, and stadiums (stadia?) really are not the right place for that.

I did not attend the parade since I’ve done seven years’ worth of parades between high school and college band, and I wanted to take a break from parades, so I did. The opening of Growl had the two singers of Gainesville’s own Sister Hazel performing a wonderful national anthem, not that unlike the Grateful Dead’s performance for a San Francisco Giants playoff game that Bill Simmons recently linked to. The University Gospel Choir then did a beautiful and soulful “God Bless America,” followed by the two guys and the choir teaming up for a positively fantastic rendition of “Think” by Aretha Franklin. Say what you want about Sister Hazel’s songs, those guys can sing and the gospel choir is always amazing.

* * *

Okay, so on to the LSU game preview. I have been going back and forth about this game all week. On the one hand, LSU has the best defense based on statistics in the country. On the other, the only one of their opponents with a pulse is Auburn, and the WarPlainsTigers are not exactly known for having an inventive offense. On the one hand, Florida’s passing defense is 64th nationally. On the other, it has worked the bend-but-don’t-break formula to perfection, plus Marcus Thomas is back so the Gators should get at least some pressure on JaMarcus Russell.

This would appear to be a game of opposing forces: LSU has the SEC’s best defense and Florida the conference’s best offense. That’s somewhat misleading in a way, since Florida’s defense and LSU’s offense are not that far behind their counterparts. LSU has plenty of weapons, and its big receivers are going to have a field day on Florida’s smallish cornerbacks. Tony Joiner and Reggie Nelson are going to need to play the games of their lives in order for Florida to win. I think they can do it, but we’ll just have to see. Florida will have the run covered since LSU can’t run the ball anyway.

Meanwhile on offense, the Gators are going to need every last one of their weapons for this. LSU has a monster defensive line, so the offensive line will need to step up or else Chris Leak will have to roll out of the pocket every time he wants to throw the ball. DeShawn Wynn being hurt well, hurts, but Kestahn Moore looked good last week and Urban Meyer has finally been publicly praising Markus Manson again. It will be rough going for Tim Tebow rushing the ball unless he can complete some passes. LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pellini loves to blitz, so UF must punish him for it with quick slants and screens that allow the receivers a chance to knife through the holes in the defense opened up by the blitz.

If Percy Harvin really is around 90%, he’ll be a huge factor. He’s exactly the kind of guy that UF needs for this game. He is fast and elusive, and since one or more linebackers will be blitzing, if he can make his man miss then he’s off to the races. Dallas Baker also needs to get the ball more this weekend. He’s big and has good hands, and that’s a huge plus. This might even be a breakout game for Cornelius Ingram since the kinds of routes he runs from the tight end/slot where he usually lines up are the ones that are left open by blitzes.

This is going to be a dogfight from beginning to end. Florida very well could fall behind early again, but as we saw last year, LSU will commit turnovers. The difference is that last year’s team couldn’t capitalize on them, whereas this year’s team has been better in that regard. Florida also has been making excellent adjustments in-game and at the half to dominate the second halves of games. It’ll need to keep that up this weekend.

I’ve gone back and forth as to whether I think this will be a low-scoring, field position battle kind of game, or a more high-scoring shootout thanks to the two talented offenses. I’m going to go in the middle and say 20-13 Florida, but I could be way off here. I have to think that the crowd will be making a difference after Urban brought up the fact that an LSU player said that his team doesn’t fear the Swamp and thinks it’s not as good as Tiger Stadium. Plus, Florida has the momentum: 5-0 this year, 12 game home winning streak, 16-game homecoming winning streak, and a coach who has yet to lose a game played in the state of Florida.

Let the Gator Growl.


Marcus Thomas Reinstated

October 6, 2006

After weeks of waiting, predictions for and against, and much debate, Marcus Thomas has been reinstated and cleared to play against LSU. An independent university committee made the decision, and then both Jeremy Foley and Bernie Machen agreed. Note that Urban Meyer was not part of any of the decision-making process except at the very end when he agreed with the independent committee, the athletic director, and the university president. When I say “independent,” I don’t mean outside the university, since it’s UF personnel on it, but independent of the University Athletic Association, coaches, players, and athletic director. It wasn’t the sports department making the decisions.

Now, just because he’s cleared, it doesn’t mean he’ll play. I doubt he will for any significant amount of time. He’s missed several weeks of practice and likely is not in game shape. Plus, the team has been preparing all week without him, and it’s hard to rearrange everyone on the defensive line the day before a game. Urban says that Thomas “still has some work ahead of him,” which could mean anything in the vague dialect of Meyer-ese.

“I think he’s a very good football player,” Meyer said. “He’s a good chemistry guy on the team. He’s invested a lot into this program. Obviously, having him in here is going to help, but we also played pretty good without him. It’s important. Is it the catchall? Absolutely not. We proved that the last couple weeks.”

Despite mixing up adverbs for adjectives, Coach Meyer is spot on here. They did play well without him the past two games. They did not, however, play as well as when they had him. That makes sense, given how good he is. I doubt he’ll make much of an impact against LSU since the running backs in purple and yellow have been ineffective all year anyway. He’d be needed to get after JaMarcus Russell, but even with as slow as Russell is, I don’t know that an out-of-shape Marcus Thomas would make that much of an impact. It’s looking a lot better for Florida for the Auburn game though.

In the end, I hope this was a real decision to end his suspension, and not a technicality or a football-driven decision. Obviously, they think that there’s not enough proof to say that the second drug test was not a false positive from something left in his system from the first one. Still, I hope this can get Marcus Thomas the person back on the right track, regardless of what Marcus Thomas the football player does.

I hope that part of this is testing him regularly. As President Reagan used to say, “Trust, but verify.” Marcus Thomas is a leader on the team, and he needs to be sending good messages, not serving as a warning to his teammates. I do not hold any pretense of thinking that I know what goes on inside the football program. What I do know is that as long as this decision ends up passing the smell test, then it’s a good sign for Marcus and a good sign for the team.

In other good news, FSU lost at NC State, the site of a game this year that involved Akron winning over the home team. It’s amazing how much that program has fallen. You know, it’s completely unsurprising that certain people who decided Drew Weatherford was best quarterback in the state (whose names may or may not rhyme with “Furbstreet”) have not acknowledged the error. There were a lot of people (whose names definitely do not rhyme with “Furbstreet”) who had Weatherford as a potential Heisman candidate. Those people are silent too. We’ll have to see what the weekend’s coverage has to say before making final judgements, but there’s no way FSU is still ranked after this weekend. That would make both FSU and Miami unranked. How sweet indeed.


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