Marcus Thomas Thrown off Team

November 4, 2006

Yes, it’s official – Marcus Thomas has been thrown off the team. Urban Meyer issued a terse, one-sentence statement saying that he didn’t live up to his responsibilities and that he’s gone. I have not heard an explanation as to what the final straw was.

Obviously this is a big blow to the team. Steve Russell on AM850 said that they found out on Friday shortly before going on the plane to Nashville. It’s an even bigger blow to Marcus, who if he kept himself out of trouble could have been a first-day draft pick, if not first round.

I’m going to reserve my comments on the day’s action until it’s over, but I did want to address the Marcus Thomas situation. This is not good for anyone involved.

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So Far This Year

October 25, 2006

Urban Meyer said yesterday that while watching the games this Saturday, he realized that what won teams games was playmakers making plays. This “revelation” of sorts means that Florida will be putting more spread back into the offense rather than a lot of the up-the-middle stuff that they had gotten into the habit of doing this year.

This is good. I have been saying that the “we’ve got to out-tough teams” mindset, while useful, is not what will win games for Florida. Last year, they had to take some of the spread parts out of the offense and go with a  more power scheme since the playmakers were out injured or playing hurt. This year, there’s more playmakers on the team, and none have had serious injuries. It was appropriate to get more conservative then, it is appropriate to get more aggressive now. The two leading rushers for Florida against Auburn were Percy Harvin and Andre Caldwell, and it was frustrating to me at least watching the Gators go away from that kind of play as the game wore on.

 *  *  *

So a lot of people did mid-season report cards, and I didn’t. Partly, it was because I was exceedingly busy at the halfway point, and partly because it didn’t make sense to do it at that point for a number of reasons. It didn’t occur during an off week, and also it was still inside the three-week run of SEC West teams.

The offensive line has been good, but not spectacular. It has led the way for multiple games with a 100-yard rusher, but it was as big a factor in the second-half letdown at Auburn as any unit on the team. The running backs all complement each other when all are healthy. The receivers have been inconsistent in that you don’t know who’s going to step up in a particular game out of the lot of them, but so far someone has in every game except Auburn (note the common thread throughout this). As far as the quarterbacks, I think I’ve beaten that horse enough over the past weeks that I don’t need to rehash it all again right now. The offense gets a B+, since sometimes it was the coaches going too conservative that held them back.

The defense has been great for the most part. The defensive line was hampered by not having Marcus Thomas for three games, but it otherwise has been one of the strongest positions on the field. The linebackers have been great too, though as many have pointed out, they over-pursued everything at Auburn. The coaches have them blitz too much which hampers their effectiveness, but I don’t hold that against them. The secondary has been a paradox. They give up too many yards, and can’t make enough stops. When opposing teams convert on third and more than two, more often than not it’s on a quick screen or slant because the cornerbacks are lined up 5 to 10 yards off the line. I understand that the coaches put them there, but they have too because only Reggie Nelson is a top-tier player back there. If you take away the some of the rather fortunate interceptions they’ve been getting, Florida is not 6-1. Overall they get a B as well, but I don’t know how it can improve that without taking more risks and getting more timely stops.

The special teams has been a mixed bag. At first they couldn’t get convert an extra point on a regular basis, and it took until Game 7 to get a field goal (for a variety of reasons, some not their fault). The return coverage had been decent until Auburn, and the return game still has not scored a touchdown in years. I give them a C, but that may be somewhat generous. There is a lot of room for improvement here.

I may be a bit harsh, but I would give only two teams in the country an A on offense, and that’s Ohio State and West Virginia. I may seem odd that a consensus top-ten team would be B, B, and C on its assessment, but that’s the truth. And, this year, that’s all it takes to be a top-ten team. This Florida team is good compared to a lot of other teams this year, but the 1996 Florida team would destroy this one. The 2006 Florida secondary is too weak, and the offense is too inconsistent.

Still, all they have to do is beat three teams that are inferior to them and they go to Atlanta for the first time since 2000. That’s a good feeling.


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.


Florida – Auburn Preview

October 14, 2006

I’m been procrastinating as long as I could, but it’s time to write this.

One the one hand, a lot of things are lining up for Auburn. It is a night home game for them, and they had College GameDay there this morning which always gets the fans fired up. They are coming off a loss to Arkansas, and good teams (like Auburn is) rarely lose two games in a row. In addition, Florida traditionally has never played well at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn is essentially playing for its season here, since with a loss it’d be unlikely for them to get to a BCS game and they’d need Arkansas to lose three conference games to go to Atlanta. Plus, Arkansas beat them with size and brute strength, and that’s not how Florida generally wins games.

Florida, on the other hand, has a lot going for it. UF has won eight in a row, and has already won a big night game in Knoxville in front of probably a louder crowd, and quite possibly against a better team. Chris Leak is as steady as they come, and he’s won games in Baton Rouge, Knoxville, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee before. The Gators are coming off of a big win against LSU, and the two quarterback system is really gelling into something special. The defense has bent in every which way, but it hasn’t broken and now with a full week of practice with Marcus Thomas back on the defensive line will only make them better. The offense also gets DeShawn Wynn back and Percy Harvin should be about 100%.
Now the bad. Auburn has been listless the past two games, nearly losing to South Carolina and getting demolished by the Pigs. Brandon Cox is really beat up, and Kenny Irons has been merely average in big games this year. If UF punter Eric Wilbur does as well as he did against LSU, then Auburn will be faced with long fields and the proposition of going 70 to 80 yards on the Florida defense. The Tigers’ defense has had serious issues stopping the run lately, and now they face a healthy Wynn and they’ll also have to deal with Harvin and Tim Tebow busting out of the backfield for potentially big plays.
Florida’s biggest problem, besides history saying that they’ll struggle at Auburn, is what Urban Meyer calls the Florida Nonsense. It’s all of the buzz and the press about the team. There were dozens of stories about Tebow’s touchdowns, how Florida might run the table, how they are in the national title race, and how they might not be in the top two when the BCS standings come out. Well, Florida definitely will not be in the top two if it listens and starts getting a big head. The Gators are at their highest ranking since anyone on the team came to this school. Also, Florida has yet to put a full game together with bad penalties, sloppy play, untimely turnovers, and unfortunate timeouts marring their play.

I will not be surprised whichever team wins. I am going to pick Florida though, and not just because I’m a homer. The offense has been getting better, and with a healthy Harvin it will get even better. Remember after UCF when people were comparing him to Reggie Bush? He’s not Reggie Bush, but he’s a big play threat every time he touches the ball. Wynn is not as fast at the Arkansas backs, but if he is healthy and ready to go he could punish the Tigers’ defense. Auburn also does not have the corners to cover all of Florida’s receivers. It’s hard to describe just how much of an advantage UF has when comparing receivers.

Auburn having lackluster wideouts also mitigates the Gators’ biggest weakness on defense – the secondary. Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith have been great and good, but they still give up too many passing yards. Basically though, if you stop Kenny Irons you stop Auburn and Florida’s front seven (plus Tony Joiner blitzing most likely) will get to both Irons and Cox in the backfield.

I expect this will be somewhere between the Tenenssee game and the LSU game. I don’t think it will take a 4th quarter comeback, but the Gators won’t put it away early in the second half either. Still, I’m feeling something in the 24 – 16 range. We shall see.

One last thing – I’ve referred to Auburn as the WarPlainsTigers because they have three nicknames: the Tigers, the War Eagle(s?), and the Plainsmen. Alabama fans give all sorts of reasons why, but they have issues themselves somehow making the Crimson Tide into an elephant. The Plainsmen is the vestigial one of the three, rarely coming up as far as I can tell. Auburn fans yell “War Eagle!” to each other instead of something like “Go Gators!” and they have an eagle fly to the 50 before every game. Finally, the Tigers are what they generally go by to everyone else. I don’t get it exactly, but I’m sure there’s convoluted stories behind them all.


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.


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.


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.

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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.