Orange and Blue Game Wrapup

April 20, 2009

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to the Orange and Blue Game. That’s one of the few sucky things about living in Charlotte (besides all the ACC fans): I can’t just go to Gainesville whenever I want.

Anyway, my parents and brother did make the game. Rather than give a rundown of all the media coverage of the game, I’ll instead tell you what they told me.

My brother was very disappointed that Tim Tebow didn’t do any downfield throwing. He said Timmy mostly was tossing swing passes, though he did run around a bit. That is, of course, until he got tagged by a defender. Ultimately though, this day wasn’t really about him.

It was John Brantley’s day. Urban Meyer has raved about Brantley’s performance in recent weeks, and for the most part he came through. My parents said his favorite target was Frankie Hammond, who had no trouble getting behind the reserve DBs according to my brother.

They also said that Tebow was conversing with Meyer the whole time while Brantley was playing, almost as though he was an assistant coach. That wouldn’t surprise me at all, and there’s precendent for it. Meyer made Chris Leak a big part of game planning in 2006, even letting Leak script the first 10 or 15 plays of the national title game himself.

My brother said one thing that stood out to him that few of the media reports mentioned was that there were some issues with shotgun snaps. Redshirt freshman Sam Robey is said to have won the starting center role not so much because he outplayed Maurkice Pouncey (because he didn’t), but because he played well enough to move Maurkice back to guard where the coaches want him. Robey apparently had issues with snapping it right into Tebow’s hands, but theoretically an off season’s worth of practice ought to straighten that out by the fall.

Walk on RB Christopher Scott ran hard and was productive, they said. Whether he’ll play much in the fall remains to be seen, but think about this for a second. The Gators now have a walk on who is behind three or four (depending on incoming freshman Mike Gillislee) other guys who is able to be a productive back against the defense. Compare that to the situation in 2005-06 (run it Wynnside!) and be grateful. Oh, and Chris Rainey still has the best moves on the team.

With all of the defensive starters injured or taking the day off, the offense was able to move nicely. Even so, there were still starter-caliber guys like Dorian Munroe available and playing. My guess is the backups are probably still a top-50 defense in the country, so it does at least give an indication that the offense progressed through the spring.

My parents are going to Meyer’s upcoming speaking engagement in Orlando, so if he says anything interesting I’ll pass it along.

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Gator Football Spring Practice Week 1 Wrapup

March 30, 2009

The Offense

Florida is experimenting with a fast-paced, uptempo offense. It is partially as a result of seeing Kevin Wilson’s Oklahoma offense in the national title game and partially as a result of seeing Kevin Wilson’s Northwestern offense in 2001.

I took a look at pace earlier this offseason, and I projected that the Gators would have scored about 55 a game last year if they played at Oklahoma’s pace. Urban Meyer may or may not have seen a similar figure from his stats guys, but he seems most interested in the way that an uptempo offense disrupts defenses.

The other big difference is that Tim Tebow will be taking some snaps under center. Tebow says it’s happening because it’s the way Scot Loeffler is influencing the offense, while Meyer says it’s happening to get Tebow more comfortable with it since he’ll have to do that in the NFL. It’s not that one is wrong and one is right, since the offense has always been a team effort under Meyer.

Many have pointed out that packages with the quarterback under center existed in Meyer’s offense in 2005 and 2006 when Chris Leak was running the show. That is true, and the I-formation is also coming back if they can find a fullback.

Behind Tebow, redshirt sophomore QB John Brantley is looking sharp.

Receivers

The question on everyone’s mind comes down to this: who will replace Percy Harvin? Meyer said around national signing day that he sees incoming freshman Andre Debose in that role. So far, that appears likely because no one has stepped up to take control of that role so far. Deonte Thompson, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps are the other candidates for that position.

Carl Moore was the invisible man for a lot of last season, which was odd for someone touted as a five-star guy from junior college. He’s been looking a lot better this year, now that

David Nelson and Aaron Hernandez have also looked good catching passes. Justin Williams has been practicing with the first team offense along with Thompson and Nelson. Riley Cooper is playing baseball and is not participating in spring football practice.

Personally, I’m thinking that the 2008 receiving corps is not going to be the best analogue for the 2009 corps in terms of fitting guys into roles. To me right now, 2006 seems like a better comparison given the personnel and likely ball distribution. Having Nelson as Dallas Baker, Thompson as Bubba Caldwell, Debose as Harvin, Moore as Jemaille Cornelius and so on feels a little more right. We’ll see.

Running Backs and Offensive Line

With Rainey rehabbing from surgery and Demps running track, Emmanuel Moody is the only scholarship running back at practice. Fortunately, he’s been playing very well so far though the defense has been stuffing him in goal line scenarios.

A probable cause for that is the fact that the offensive line has not been great. Partially that is because both Pouncey brothers are sidelined with injury right now, and the only other returning starter (Carl Johnson) is at a new position.

The younger guys who haven’t played much haven’t stepped up a whole lot. Things will get better when the Pounceys come back, but they alone won’t solve all the problems. It took half the season for last year’s line to gel, but hopefully this year’s crew will work themselves out a little sooner.

Defense

The defense has been dominating so far, but Meyer says that’s “usually” the case at this early stage of spring practice. It makes sense considering the offense is working through a lot of issues with new schemes and personnel while the defense is enjoying complete continuity.

The defense won the first scrimmage.

Defensive Line

Things are great at defensive end. They are so good and so deep that redshirt freshman Earl Okine has been moved to the inside.

With Torrey Davis kicked off the team and John Brown deciding to transfer, depth is again an issue at defensive tackle. Even the vaunted 2006 line needed Ray McDonald to move from the outside to the inside for depth.

As it turns out, things at tackle have been fine so far. Jaye Howard is bigger than ever and looking like a solid backup to starters Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders. Okine has been adjusting well so far. Omar Hunter, the guy Meyer called the Tim Tebow of the 2008 recruiting class, is finally in shape, healthy, and contributing.

Linebackers and Secondary

Brandon Spikes is happy to be back, and the Gators are happy to have him. He will be the unquestioned leader of what should be one of the top defenses in the country. This position is one of the best and deepest on the team, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Spikes, Stamper, and Jones are the first teamers right now, while Doe, Lorenzo Edwards, and Lerentree McCray are the second teamers.

The secondary is very crowded, especially at safety. Starters Ahmad Black and Major Wright are back, and both are playing well. Fifth year senior Dorian Munroe, injured all of 2008, wants his starting role back. Will Hill has been making plays. Dee Finley is finally on campus, and he’s looking athletic. It’s crowded back there.

Not much has been reported about the corners, other than that Janoris Jenkins has been taking some reps as a punt returner thanks to Brandon James being out. Freshman Adrian Bushell intercepted Tebow as well, and that’s about it.

I would expect that the position will be just fine with Joe Haden and Jenkins locking things down as the starters. The depth at secondary is something any other team in the country would be envious of.


BR Open Mic: Race and Sports

June 5, 2008

This week’s Bleacher Report Open Mic topic was race and sports. This was my contribution.

There are many important issues surrounding race and sports.

A lack of minority representation can be found in nearly all sports, collegiate or pro, from administration/ownership and all the way down to the coaches. The media coverage of players of different races tends to differ as well. For example, when an African-American player has a child out of wedlock he’s usually vilified for it, while white players like Tom Brady and Matt Leinart generally get a pass.

There’s so much more than that, and all legitimate topics should be discussed in constructive ways until all people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Too many people, myself included at times, would rather just sweep racial issues under the rug and pretend they don’t exist.

However, it is important that when racial issues are broached that there really is a foundation in reality to the issue.

Back in 2006, it became national news when Chris Leak was booed briefly by Florida fans during the game against Kentucky. Much-hyped freshman QB Tim Tebow had injected some energy into the sputtering offense that day, and when he was pulled towards the end of a drive for Leak, a brief chorus of boos could be heard. Here is the AP game recap if you have forgotten the rest.

After the game, many sports pundits around the country saw the occurrence of Gator fans booing the return of the black senior quarterback over the freshman white quarterback as a racial issue. At the time I wrote a piece on it, mainly directed at then-Orlando Sentinel columnist Jemele Hill and CBS Sportsline columnist Mike Freeman who had taken that stance.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to quote from what I wrote at the time:

“She [Hill] echoes the sentiment of a CBS Sportsline writer named Mike Freeman that Leak has been a punching bag at UF because it’s the South and Leak is black. The fans are down on the black starter, and want the white backup to be the savior.

To begin with, that’s crazy. Yes, there were racists in the crowd on Saturday. If you take any random set of 90,000 people on the planet, there will be racists of some type in that group. However, she must be forgetting 2003 when the UF fans were breathlessly pining for Leak to supplant Ingle Martin as starting quarterback. Martin is white. He ended up transferring to I-AA Furman where he played well, and he was a fifth round pick of the Packers in this year’s draft. There also were fans last year who wanted to see Josh Portis take away some of Leak’s snaps because of his running ability. Portis is black. He transferred to Maryland for a variety of reasons this offseason.

The booing only lasted about 2 seconds too, and it was only a small fraction of the people in attendance. It was like the thought process of the fans was:

  1. What? Tebow’s going out?
  2. Urban is an idiot for doing this! Tebow deserves to score after all that running!
  3. Boo!
  4. Oh crap, it looks like we’re booing Leak.
  5. Yay! Go Chris Leak!

Now, I know from people who were there that people were cursing Chris Leak’s name in the student section. In the alumni section where I sit with my folks, there were a few people who were booing the player, not the coaches too. However, the vast majority did their best to make up for the others. After a night of offensive frustration, people were excited to see Tebow run all over the field and they wanted to see him get a chance at the touchdown, not see the first team offense get more reps in the red zone. They were thinking about running up the score on Kentucky, not about what will get the team ready for the next four games.”

Gator fans are notoriously impatient, most especially when it comes to the offense. There were times last season when a vocal minority of fans wanted offensive coordinator Dan Mullen fired on the spot, and Florida was in the middle of turning in one of the best statistical offensive seasons in school history.

Freeman should have known better since he was once a local columnist in Jacksonville. I don’t know how much Hill knew of Gator fans’ nature at the time since she’s originally from Michigan and didn’t spend much time at the Sentinel, but I have no doubt that someone more experienced with the locals could have filled her in about Gator fan impatience.

Hill lost some credibility in my eyes since she was trying to bolt a racial frame on a situation that had 95 percent nothing to do with race. It has caused me to pause when reading anything else she’s written, wondering if she did everything she could do to research her columns.

As with any touchy subject like race, it is important to stand on firm ground when discussing it. When someone makes a race argument that isn’t well-grounded, it takes a little something away from those that do make legitimate arguments.

The people that need to hear the legitimate discussion will be less likely to take it seriously if they hear arguments like the one detailed above that are false alarms.


The Offense

October 30, 2006

Okay, enough of being a homer. Let’s face it – Florida is somewhat fortunate to be 7-1 with an offense that sometimes lacks cohesion, and absolutely lucky to be ranked 4th in the BCS under those circumstances. Every week it’s something different; sometimes the scheme is good but the execution is not there, other times the execution is pretty good but the scheme is puzzling at best. In the case of the Georgia game, both execution and scheme were bad.

In some ways, it seems like the coaches get stuck up on things that are good in theory rather than focusing on what goes on in the games. For instance, they are very big on getting players “touches.” I’ve always hated that term because it subtly implies that a player will excel simply by placing his hands on the ball. Just get this guy X number of touches per game, and things will be great. A case in point was the one play the coaches ran for Jarred Fayson on Saturday. He came in on one play and had a pass underthrown to him, as if the coaches suddenly thought “Oh no, we need to get Fayson a couple of touches this game,” and threw him in to catch a screen. He then disappeared for the rest of the game.

I prefer more of a basketball style approach – find the open man, and feed the hot hand. Just run good plays and let the fourth-year starter at quarterback decide who gets the ball. It’s like Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen are micromanaging the offense rather than letting it flow. There’s more to it than throwing either the occasion deep bomb to placate the fans and sideways screen passes. Georgia played a lot of zone, and as anyone who knows football well knows, you attack the zone with someone, usually the tight end, going over the middle. Andre Caldwell got his 40-yard touchdown doing just that. Why they didn’t “feed the hot hand” by going back over the middle in the 10 – 15 yard range is beyond me.

Part of micromanaging also is overthinking things. According to a quote from Meyer in today’s Alligator, it took DeShawn Wynn getting in Meyer’s face in the third quarter in order to get him carries. Urban said that did change his mind. Why he decided in the first place that a guy who ran for more than 100 yards on Tennessee was not fit for carries against Georgia raises plenty questions. Meyer spent some of his post game comments talking about how displeased he is with the drop back passing game since Chris Leak doesn’t get enough protection. I would think that using Wynn early to open up the pass would be a good way to buy Leak more time. I’m not advocating the Auburn game offense of Wynn up the middle nearly ever down, but Wynn is a better option between the tackles than Percy Harvin is (and yes, they did run Harvin up the middle in the first quarter). It’s about balance.

Now, part of the offensive struggles may have had to do with Leak and his not-concussion/headache/whatever it was that plagued him from late in the second quarter. Urban said Leak used three unnecessary timeouts after getting a particularly bad hit. It also seemed that some of the penalties could have come from miscommunications dealing with that. I don’t know, but I do know that the penalties need to stop. They kill momentum and disrupt the offensive game plan. Turning third-and-shorts into third-and-longs has been a specialty for the Gators this year, and they will not beat Auburn or Arkansas in the SEC title game if they get penalized as much in that game as they have all season.

One interesting thing I gathered from the morning and midday talk shows today is that there is somewhat of a Tim Tebow backlash starting up. I never thought I’d even get a hint of that this year, but it’s starting. I think his key fumble that led to a Georgia touchdown and his general ineffectiveness (aside from a couple of plays) has reminded people that he is fact a freshman and that he is not Superman. The St. Timothy image I talked about early in the season is fading. Some complain that using Tebow disrupts Leak’s rhythm and that the switching of quarterbacks leads to some of the false start penalties. They decide that for those reasons, Tebow may be better off left on the bench, almost that he’s more trouble than he’s worth now that defenses know that he’s going to run off-tackle left nearly every time.

I think that’s a fascinating development. Even the hits for this site from people searching for Tebow’s name have fallen off and nearly disappeared in the past three days. I think people are realizing that Tebow cannot yet run the offense, that trying to run two different offenses concurrently won’t always work, and that Chris Leak really is the best option for winning this year after all. Now, all it probably will take is a 30-yard run against Vanderbilt for the Tebow madness to start again, but for now there are at least a few fans who are deciding that picking Chris Leak as the quarterback and sticking with him is the best option for success.

It also may be that, just like with Leak and th booing nonsense earlier in the season, that they are not upset with Tebow as much as they are with the coaching staff. The coaches definitely deserve some criticism after that game since Georgia is clearly rebuilding this year and Florida can be an elite team when it wants to be. That game should not have been close. I wonder if the players slipped back into a Zook-era trademark move of relaxing when they get a big lead. Not only is the Meyer regime trying to get by with players recruited for a different scheme, it also has to deal with the culture of complacency that grew up in Ron Zook’s three years. Losses were bad and “not acceptable,” but there were never any consequences really, since they were “getting better and better every week.”

Do not get me wrong here, I am not blaming Ron Zook for anything. His direct influence doesn’t pass the limits of Champagne, Illinois these days. However, even Steve Spurrier in his last couple of years tended to whine a lot more than he did when he first started. I do question the mental toughness of Florida football, and that includes the fans too. We were all spoiled in the ’90s, and it seemed like Florida could do whatever it wanted to simply by showing up. The Tennessee loss in 2001 ended for good any thought of that since Spurrier owned Phil Fulmer, the SEC East was on the line, and Florida still lost.

This year, a lot of good fortune and bad turnovers by opponents in critical times has propelled Florida to where it is now. As I mentioned before, Florida has yet to put together a full game, but neither has any of UF’s opponents. Auburn’s second half was the best half of football played against the Gators, and if not for two uncharacteristic and costly turnovers by Chris Leak late, it still might not have been enough to beat the Gators. There is something about this team that is a double-edged sword – it keeps them from playing sharply, but also keeps the opponents from doing so either.

In the end, the Gator defense has been winning the games week in and week out. The front seven has been excellent in stopping the run outside of the Auburn game, and the secondary has getting a lot of big plays (once again, except for the Auburn game) while letting the smaller plays go. Reggie Nelson in particular has saved the secondary many times, at least when the coaches don’t have him playing 30 yards off of the line of scrimmage (just like in – get this – the Auburn game). Florida has the luxury of playing around with all sorts of things on offense since the defense has been so adept at keeping opponents out of the end zone. They haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been tremendous.

So what about this week? It’s just Vandy right? Well, Vanderbilt beat Georgia and has been very well-coached under Bobby Johnson. Using well-coached and Vanderbilt is not a common occurrence, so that should tell you something. Sure, Jay Cutler is gone, but there were plenty of other guys besides Cutler working to take Florida to double overtime in a game that Florida very well could have lost in regulation if not for a suspect celebration penalty on the Commodores. Florida has better size, speed, and talent all over the field, so the Gators should absolutely win.

As we know, though, Vandy doesn’t make things easy for anyone. They played Michigan to a closer final score than Notre Dame did. Florida should win, but it won’t be a cakewalk.


Florida – Georgia Preview

October 27, 2006

I could not bring myself to write about the Gators yesterday after the piece I posted in the morning. The subject matter is so heavy that I just couldn’t do it.

This year’s Florida – Georgia game is much like those of the past couple of years. One of the teams is playing noticeably lower than expectations, so the game is not getting that much of the national spotlight. I mean, even GameDay is skipping it to cover the Fulmer vs. Spurrier angle in the Tennessee – South Carolina game.

This is still the Florida – Georgia game however, and it means an awful lot to an awful lot of people. The current generation of students does not regard the Bulldogs with the same high level of emotion that most of the alumni do. Since I was 5 years old, Florida has only lost to Georgia twice. The only losses came in 2004, during the same week that Ron Zook got fired, and in 1997, after Florida lost a lot of player to the NFL draft. I don’t remember Vince Dooley and the Dawgs owning Florida.

The game certainly has enough tradition though. It is one of only three neutral site, regular season games that occurs annually along with Oklahoma – Texas and Army – Navy. It even has its own hall of fame. While I will always prefer to watch football in the Swamp more than any other stadium, the atmosphere in Jacksonville is definitely something special.

So what about this year’s game? It seems pretty cut and dry that Florida will win this year. If you ask any UGA fan right now they’ll probably tell you that. I just spent the last day or so in Tampa on another office visit/interview, and one of the people there told me that some Georgia students he knew didn’t even bother trying to get tickets because they think it is a foregone conclusion that they’ll lose. Florida has been playing much, much better over the course of the season, the Gators get all their players back healthy now, and Georgia lost to Vandy and should have lost to Mississippi State.

Some people, most notably Brady Ackerman, have been saying that Gators shouldn’t get overconfident because it’s Georgia and they’ve seen too many things happen in this game over the years to automatically pick Florida easily winning. Well, over the past 16 years, we’ve seen all sorts of things, and it took a coach being fired and a game played so poorly it is sometimes called The Fumble Bowl for Florida to lose. UF has been the best team in the SEC, and they won. Georgia has been the best team in the SEC, and Florida still won. Florida has started a freshman quarterback and still won. Florida has such a psychological edge in this game, it’s hard to understate it.

I think Georgia will probably come out and do something different from what they have done all year and get a surprise touchdown early, since Florida always seems to find a way to fall behind early. Still, Georgia is outmanned in this game, and it will be a significant surprise if Florida loses. Matthew Stafford has done nothing this year to suggest that he can beat a top-five team, and he’ll be under pressure all game from Florida’s defensive line. We will see more of Percy Harvin, Jarred Fayson, and Tim Tebow than we have in recent weeks though, and all three have the ability to add the exciting icing to the already substantial cake of the senior leadership on offense. I also expect Chris Leak to throw for more than 200 yards for the first time since the Kentucky game (yes, it’s been that long).

Urban Meyer is 19-2 when he has had more than a week to prepare for a game. He is undefeated in the state of Florida. As an ESPN.com headline for the game went not too long ago: Death, Taxes, and Florida over Georgia. It’ll be closer than it should be since it’s the Florida – Georgia game, but Florida wins 27 – 10.

One additional note – I’ll be staying north of Jacksonville this weekend in a house my aunt and uncle built less than a mile from the St. Mary’s River. It doesn’t really have Internet access, and maybe not even cable (I haven’t been up there in a while thanks to marching band), so there will be no GameDay column tomorrow. I’m sure you all will survive.


Upon Further Review

October 19, 2006

I intentionally took a few days off of writing this, mainly because there’s not a lot to talk about in Gator country right now. Football has an off week, basketball hasn’t started yet, and it’s far too early for the recruiting nonsense to get ramped up yet.

Most Gator fans I heard on Monday had things in the right perspective. Just about anyone will take a 6-1 start to the season, and keep in mind even Steve Spurrier only coached a team to an undefeated regular season once in his 12 years. Urban Meyer was probably not going to coach this team to an undefeated regular season in year 2 like he did at Utah simply because the SEC is so much better than the Mountain West. I never thought I’d ever have to defend a 6-1 start to a season, but here I am anyway.

I will say that it could have been possible to run the table if the off week was a week earlier. If Florida had last week off to get DeShawn Wynn and Percy Harvin to 100%, to give the coaches more chances to dissect Auburn’s schemes, and to give everyone else a physical and mental break, then things may have turned out a lot differently last Saturday.

The dearth of talking points has led to a lot of idle talk though, and the people who will never like Chris Leak no matter what are coming out of the woodwork and making noise again. The people who won’t accept anything other than Steve Spurrier’s offense specifically also are making their way to the surface and complaining as well.

Some of the Leak criticisms are completely valid. Heath Cline talked today about how inconsistent he is – on one play he’ll stand in the pocket and deal with the pressure or throw a block upfield, and the next he’s running around scared or falling down. Or, in the case of Saturday, throwing off his back foot or freezing while trying to figure out if he wants to throw it to Tate Casey or not. Cline also mentioned how Leak has brought a lot of the criticism on himself by proclaiming before his freshman year that he would not get a girlfriend until he won a national title, or before this year talking about throwing 50 touchdown passes. Some may take that as arrogance, though Chris is about as humble as they come.

There’s a lot of factors why some people don’t like him. There’s the ones I mentioned above. He also lacks a defining moment. His only really big fourth quarter comeback was against Kentucky, though Tennessee this year was a gutty win. People don’t know how to react to that. The LSU win in 2003, his two Georgia wins, and the FSU win in 2004 were all games where Florida led for most of the game. There’s no Doering’s Got a Touchdown, 52-20, Run Fred Run, or any other defining attributes to him. Rex Grossman didn’t either, and he lost his two biggest games in 2001, but he gets a pass because he finished second in the Heisman (and should have won it) and he stayed for Ron Zook’s first year when he didn’t have to.

Perhaps that’s another thing – Leak symbolizes in some people’s minds, for better or worse and fair or not, the maddening inconsistency of the Zook years. They win when they shouldn’t, but don’t know how to handle success. There’s no reason why in 2003 they should beat the eventual national champions on the road and then lose to Ole Miss to lose the chance to play in the SEC title game. This year’s team won at Tennessee, which is looking more and more impressive as the year progresses, and beat what is still a very good LSU team. The expectations rose, and what Zook called the noise in the system and what Meyer calls the Florida Nonsense ratcheted up. The result? A second half meltdown on the road in a winnable game. Last year, the meltdown came at South Carolina. This set of older players do not know how to handle success.

Part of that may be the lack of killer instinct of the Zook regime having seeped into them. I know that Leak has not been helped by having three different offensive coordinators, the third of which liking to run an offense that is not best suited for him. There are so many things that come into play, and it’s impossible to pinpoint one or two or ten things as the cause. It may simply come down to a fumbled snap on a punt leading to a momentum shift that a hostile crowd would not allow to change.

Urban Meyer has a track record showing that he does know how to handle success, though you wouldn’t know it by what some people are saying. One person sounded exasperated talking about the offense today, complaining of it sputtering – having a good drive followed by several punts. He didn’t come out and say it, though he almost did and definitely wanted to, but his point was, “Will this offense ever stop sputtering and dominate the league?” He got to “ever” before stopping himself, but that was all that you needed to hear.

“Will they ever…?” questions are asked after 6 to 8 years of a coach when plenty of his own recruiting classes have come and gone and nothing changes. “Will the ever…?” questions are fair for, say, UNC’s John Bunting at this point, but not Urban Meyer. He’s been to more BCS bowls than Florida has since 2002. He has an undefeated season to his credit, including the bowl, which while it happened in a non-BCS conference, non-BCS conference teams don’t go undefeated regularly. He only has one real complete recruiting class here, with the one prior to this year’s being the transition between Zook and Meyer. We won’t know how well his and Dan Mullen’s preferred offensive scheme will work until they get all their kind of players.

It’s not easy to step back and look at these things with a cool head. It doesn’t make for spicy sports talk radio, nor does it drive thousands of blog hits a day (trust me, I know). It’s just frustrating to me how Gator fans are creating an impossible situation. The coaches foster it by saying things like, “Losing is unacceptable at the University of Florida,” but that’s motivational coachspeak. Yes, it is the fans’ job to be loud, be passionate, and buy everything there is with a Gator head logo on it. Yes, part of this is that the people who always have complained this way are getting more opportunities to be heard between multiple local sports talk radio stations and online message boards. However, it wasn’t that long ago that Florida had trouble winning 9 games a season and missed going to a January bowl.

The program is clearly on the rise. Will it net a national title this year? Probably not. Was it ever going to win one this year? Probably not. Will just winning the SEC East be enough for some people? Probably not. If the team goes undefeated and wins by 20 points a game, there will always be people wanting to know why they couldn’t win by 30 a game. I just hope that the vocal minority among the fan base gets over itself, readjusts its perspective, and can find a way to enjoy this team.

The Gators are 6-1, and they has some spectacular playmakers on the team. I can’t wait for Georgia weekend.

*  *  *

However bad some people think things are at Florida, they’re worse at Miami. Everyone by now has seen the FIU-UM fight, and everyone has drawn their own conclusions about it. I have been waiting to hear what the final punishments are, and as most would probably agree, I think that FIU got it right and Miami got it wrong. A single game for stomping on people with cleats is ridiculous.

I will give Brandon Meriweather and Anthony Reddick credit for coming out with apologies that sound sincere. UM President Donna Shalala however says that she is not willing to “throw any student under the bus” after the melee in order to save face.

The aftermath of that fight has nothing to do with saving face. There’s nothing left to save after one player swung his helmet around like a weapon and another stomped on opponents while the Comcast color commentator cheers them on, followed by a celebration afterward where the players jumped up and down on the sideline holding their helmets in the air while the coaches were trying to get their attention to talk to them. All of the progress of the Butch Davis years in image restoration is gone. Kellen Winslow II’s “I’m a soldier!” monologue was a warning sign, and the post-Peach Bowl fight and the stomping on Louisville’s cardinal logo only added to it. Everything culminated on Saturday.

The worst part was not Shalala’s defense of her players, despite their actions being indefensible. The worst was that she said that she intentionally didn’t look at any video of the fight since that would make her mad and she needed a cool head to dole out the punishment. When was the last time you heard of a judge or jury refusing to hear evidence because it would make them angry? How are you supposed to know what happened if you don’t look at the video? It’s impossible to pick everything that transpired in one viewing, especially the first time when you’re in shock that it’s actually happening in front of your eyes. She says that the school now has a zero-tolerance policy for fighting, but who knows whether it will get enforced. Miami has no credibility anymore.

Some have tried to explain the fight by saying that FIU and Miami are only 9 miles apart, but I can’t remember FAMU ever getting into a fight with FSU. Another popular takeaway from it is that FIU could afford to dole out harsh penalties since it’s not going to a bowl and Miami needs the money. Well, Miami is a small private school, and it gets everything it needs from its private school tuition rates. True, the school rarely sells out home football and basketball games, but the amount of merchandise it sells makes up for that. Besides, this is a university, not a minor league football organization.

I don’t think Larry Coker will survive the year. Mediocrity on the field is one thing, but disciplinary problems are something else entirely. There were a lot of reasons that Florida fired Ron Zook, but embarassing incidents off the field played as big a role as any besides the Mississippi State loss. UF thinks it has a good discipline guy in Meyer, but some are raising questions over the Dee Webb/Kenneth Tookes incident over the summer and Marcus Thomas’ early reinstatement from his suspension. Miami under Coker however keeps regressing every year, and he doesn’t have firm control over the program. No one appears to, not Coker, AD Paul Dee, or least of all Donna Shalala.

To borrow a phrase from Heath Cline, the Miami program needs to be fumigated. Maybe that means hiring Butch Davis again, maybe that means hiring Tom Coughlin after he is probably fired by the Giants sometime after the year. The leadership at the school needs to find someone who will rid the program of its deleterious culture of “Defending the U” and who will teach them not just to win, but act with class and walk away from unnecessary fights.

Miami has no business wasting its time fighting some I-A peon like FIU, yet now such a brawl is an indelible mark on the school’s history. Will the leadership at the university make the bold moves necessary to enact real change? If the statements coming out of there the past couple of days are an indication, then the answer is no.

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There won’t be any more updates until Saturday as I am going to Atlanta for the next two days for an office visit and interview with Deloitte’s IT group. In the meantime, fill your time with College Football Resource (thanks for the link!) and EDSBS.


The First Bitter Pill

October 15, 2006

Well, the dream of an undefeated season has evaporated on the plains of Auburn. It was just that – a dream. Urban has already said it’s not a goal. I will admit that I got caught up in that dream as the season progressed, and why not? The team was winning, it was immense fun, and it was easy to do.

The warning signs were all there. I’ve already gone over all of the reasons why Florida is not a national title contender. Many of those things came to haunt them in the second half. First, I’ll go over the issues in the game, then the positives to take away.

  1. Everything worked on offense in the first half. It may seem counterintuitive to even list this as an issue, much less first. However, the Gators’ secret to being a great second half team was to make better adjustments than the other team. Well, since everything worked, Auburn had a better chance at making adjustments than Florida did. Auburn obviously made the right ones at halftime, and Florida couldn’t adjust on the fly in the second half. It was the receivers running the ball to the outside that was most effective, but Florida didn’t stick to that enough to score.
  2. Turnovers. Florida made theirs at bad times, and Auburn’s didn’t end up hurting them. I do want to say that Chris Leak’s fumble was a fumble since the defender hit the ball out of his hand, so that was not a case of being robbed by the refs. In fact, there were a few non-calls in Florida’s favor, like when Joe Cohen hit Brandon Cox’s helmet with his helmet and then with his arm. Leak did not have his best game, and Florida never got a big play from the secondary. Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith have bailed out the team several times with big interceptions, but they never came this time.
  3. The lack of big stops. Florida has rarely been able to get big stops all year, except when it’s a Nelson or Smith interception. The defense did not get any big stops this game either. Florida ran only 45 offensive plays this game, and that was a byproduct of the defense being on the field all the time. Auburn dominated time of possession, and they used the new clock rules that Tommy Tuberville pushed for and got in the offseason to their advantage.

I think part of this was that Florida simply got tired in the second half. Auburn had plenty of energy after practically taking last week off and then sleepwalking through the first half of tonight’s game. The schedule at last took its toll. I thought that at the beginning of the year (like most people did) that this was the game that Florida had a better than 50% chance at losing. That turned out to be prescient.

So where do they go from here? Well, back to Gainesville to get some rest for one. They’ve got to be emotionally and physically spent after this loss. There are some things to build on though.

  1. Everything on offense worked in the first half. They really did look good, although Auburn was not playing with real fire or emotion at the time. The turning point was the blocked punt, where it seemed after that, Florida played on offense to avoid punting, not to gain yards. It’s kind of like the difference between playing not to lose versus playing to win. They got tight, and Auburn had finally loosened up. Still, a healthy Percy Harvin made a big difference. For the record, the last time Harvin got the ball was on the first possession of the second half. Either his ankle got to him or the coaches decided to lean on the seniors after that. Either way, they must keep Harvin involved all game long.
  2. Auburn’s offense scored only 9 points. Yes, Auburn did not score an offensive touchdown. They got 2 points on the safety, 7 on the blocked punt, and 6 on the last play. The defense script of bend but don’t break did work as normal, and in that respect, it should have been 17-9. Florida’s sloppy offense and special teams really did them in. I still hold that the defense needed to make big stops if nothing else but for momentum purposes, since UF did nothing to turn the tide of Auburn’s second half momentum. The defense had 5 sacks in the first half, but none in the second. If they could have gotten some more crucial sacks or some of those timely interceptions, Florida wins the game. They didn’t come up with the big plays, but they did hold Auburn’s offense to under 10 points. I know Urban Meyer will take that every time.
  3. There’s a lot of footall yet to be played. The biggest game in this four game gauntlet is still what it was in the beginning: Georgia. Originally it was to make sure Florida stays ahead of them in the standings and hold the tiebreaker over them, but Georgia’s losses to Tennessee an Vandy (!) make that less of a concern. The big issue now is not losing another conference game, since I’m not sure that Tennessee will lose another conference game themselves. The goal for the year was getting to Atlanta, and the Gators are still on track to do so and they still control their destiny.

This one is going to weigh on Gator fans’ minds for a while. Auburn was playing to save their season, and they certainly did in the second half. However, if Florida ends up 11-1 at the end of the season, and gets revenge in the SEC title game, it’ll be non-stop what ifs for the month going into bowl season. What if the Tigers had blocked the punt? What if Leak had thrown underneath to Cornelius Ingram instead of underthrowing Andre Caldwell for the pick? What if Tebow had played more? (For the record, I think it wouldn’t have mattered the way Auburn’s defense played in the second half, although the offense could have used that spark of enthusiasm.)

Regardless, what’s done is done. This is no time to get ahead of ourselves and demand answers as to why UF is not going undefeated. It was a near impossibility with the schedule, and we knew this going into the season. I still hold that it’s quite possible that no one goes undefeated, although at this point I’d say that no one is beating Ohio State. Florida is still in the driver’s seat in the SEC East, though not as comfortably so than it was five hours ago. Going undefeated is really hard, and as Tuberville said two weeks ago, nearly impossible in the SEC.

Florida has not been to Atlanta in early December since 2000. This is the goal. It has always been the goal, and Florida can still accomplish it without help from other teams. If you told any Gator fan that Florida would go 6-1 to start the year, I think all but the most irrational would take it. I’ll still take it even today. Now, the focus switches getting fully healthy and ready to face Georgia.