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!

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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.