Alabama Game Wrapup

October 2, 2006

Updates will be sporadic this week as it’s incredibly busy. I’ve got work, internship interviews, group projects due, group presentations, and meetings, and that’s not even counting Gator Growl. Yes, it’s still fun being a student.

This win over Bama was not the most fun win in the world, but once the team finally got going they were fine. Florida is 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the conference for the first time since 2001. Florida now has won 12 straight at home, and Urban Meyer is still undefeated in games played in the state of Florida. This team is on a roll.

This game was the official celebration of the 100th anniversary of Gator Football. There were lots of videos before the game, and the ceremony for the “Ring of Honor” was nice. UF picked the best players of the past four decades, and chose Steve Spurrier, Jack Youngblood, Emmitt Smith, and Danny Wuerffel. It’s hard to argue with any of those choices. It was nice to see Steve make it, since he said he wasn’t sure that he would, and it was disappointing that Emmitt decided that “Dancing with the Stars” was more important than attending.

My brother wondered about who would get it for the current decade. It’s barely half over so it’s too early to call, but Rex Grossman and Chris Leak probably are the early favorites, but as they say, there’s a lot of football still to be played. It could be Tim Tebow, it could be Percy Harvin, or it could be some freshman from next year.

As far as the game goes, it was an interesting study in opportunities and momentum. Each team had its chances to blow the game wide open, and fortunately Florida was the team to do it. I really think if Bama had Tyrone Prothro, they would have won again. The UF defense did a good job of bend-but-don’t-break (giving up 323 yards and 20 first downs but only 6 points) but if there was one more good receiver to keep track of, especially one of Prothro’s caliber, it’d have been over in the first half again. Florida was on the ropes with Bama in the red zone after its fumble recovery touchdown, but the fact that the defense help the Tide to just 3 points was a huge point in the game.

The next big point was Florida’s second quarter touchdown drive, and specifically Chris Leak’s long run. For whatever reason, be it that Bama played man defense when they normally play zone or Meyer shuffling too many players around as Heath Cline believes, Florida’s offense was awful until that drive. Maybe the run did open up the pass, or maybe they just decided that “out-toughing” an opponent does not necessarily mean running it up the middle for no gain.

In any event, Leak’s run was a huge moment for the team. The crowd was buzzing when Tebow entered the game despite Leak throwing for two straight first downs. He had his plays and came out, then Leak had his turn to shine. That run changed the way the crowd acted. After that run, there was no more chatter automatically starting when Tebow entered the game. There was no more going nuts over Tebow running for three yards. It wasn’t just the run, but the way he showed emotion afterward that really changed things. For a player who Cline has sometimes called a “quarterbot,” showing that excitement was big. Tim Tebow’s completion to Jemalle Cornelius would have been nearly as big, except he didn’t follow it up with anything. He’s thrown just 12 passes in five games.

After that drive, I felt a lot better and stopped worrying about whether we’d win or not. I knew once they got the pass going and stopped trying to blast Wynn up the middle they’d be fine. Florida’s biggest advantage is speed and elusiveness, not bruising tailbacks and a dominant offensive line. Don’t get me wrong, having a 100-yard rusher is as important in this offense as any this side of Mike Leach, but it is daring defenses to stop Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell, Jemalle Cornelius, and Percy Harvin all at once is where Florida will have its most success.

That is not to say that loading the field with receivers will work this weekend. Putting five-receiver sets on the field against LSU is a death wish for Chris Leak. LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pellini is already famous for his blitzes, and they definitely will bring the house if Leak is left alone in the backfield. Four-receiver sets are probably dangerous as well if the running back is not there for blocking. Alabama is good, but they’re also unranked for a reason. LSU is a much better team, and probably the most talented team the Gators will face this year.

This game will be an especially big test for Florida’s defense. Without Marcus Thomas in the middle, the defensive line is clearly not as good. The coaches have been blitzing linebackers to compensate, but that’s leaving the middle of the field open for crossing patterns and slants. Well-timed seam routes to the tight end would destroy this defense. Reggie Nelson has been playing great, but it takes more than just him. JaMarcus Russell has been great this year against shaky secondaries, and as big as he is, he won’t go down easy if Florida can get to him. If Gator fans thought it was frustrating watching the pass defense the past two games, they’re going to blow a gasket after watching Russell and Dwayne Bowe have a field day on Saturday.

Am I saying it’s hopeless? No. Harvin sat out this game but should be ready to go for LSU. DeShawn Wynn has only a sprain, but it’s still uncertain if he’ll go. Thomas will not be playing. If Harvin is close to 100%, then Florida should be fine on offense. I can say it’s more likely to be a shootout than the 7-3 result in LSU’s game at Auburn. It is true that LSU is first in total defense and Florida is 13th, but LSU had padded its stats on lesser teams and the unimaginative Auburn offense, and Florida’s pass defense is 64th nationally. Really.

Well, this kind of became an LSU preview type thing, which is fine since I have no idea when this week I’ll get a chance to write again. In the end, the win over Bama was good because we got some revenge for last year and it showed how well the coaches are doing this year at making adjustments on the fly. It was not a completely satisfying win, but we’re not going to get overly satisfying wins any time soon. The SEC is just too good for that. There is no gaping chasm between the elite and the rest as with the Big 10 or Pac 10.

It’s a costly win if it keeps DeShawn out for Saturday. LSU is not a chump, and it’s going to be a dogfight of the first degree. I can’t wait.

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As an aside, that was another atrocious game by the referees. There was another helping of really late flags and questionable calls against both teams. At least they evened out. Chris Hetland’s field goal was close, but it was good. I was in the South endzone where it happened, and I can tell you that it was good. However, even though it went over the back judge’s post, he deferred to the other post’s official who didn’t have a good angle and had no way of knowing if it was good. Unbelievable.

This is really getting old, and these terrible officials will cost someone an important game. I don’t know if it will go Florida’s way or not (and given SEC officials’ history, it will not), or even if it won’t happen during a Gator game, but it’s coming. Even if it’s to give Alabama the game over Tennessee in a scenario where the Gators go to Atlanta if the Vols lose, it’ll still be a shame. I’d take that of course, but it’ll still be a shame. These teams deserve better. It’s already the toughest conference in the country, and with opponents being so good teams should not have to overcome inept officiating as well.