The Bull Gator (3/16/10)

USF has received its first verbal commitment of the 2011 recruiting cycle.  Punta Gorda Charlotte wide receiver Alex Mut is the first member of that class to become a Bull.  The 6’2”, 185-pound pass catcher hauled in 58 receptions for 1,014 yards and 14 touchdowns as a high school junior and will look to improve upon those numbers as a senior.  Mut has always wanted to go to USF and chose the Bulls over Duke and Rutgers.  He hopes to be able to contribute immediately on the field and may get that chance with the wide receiver depth chart expected to be wide open in 2011.  Getting Mut may have slightly opened the door for USF when it comes to his teammate, running back Mike Bellamy, but with offers from some of the larger programs in the nation, Bellamy is ultimately expected to go elsewhere.
Jim Leavitt has decided to sue USF after all, citing that his firing wasn’t legal and the investigation conducted was obviously biased.  His lawyer had the following to say: “The USF report is a rambling collection of hearsay/double hearsay statements and non-contextual quotes that, in essence, is a subjective, picked-over, blatantly biased summary by USF.”  Well, okay then.  So basically, they believe Leavitt was unjustly fired.  The former head coach still denies anything ever happened and due to that believes he is owed a large part of his remaining salary.  I have to wonder how we ever got to this point with coaches.  Having to have reason to let someone go.  Is because he no longer fits the ideals the university is looking for a good enough reason?  Multi-million dollar buyouts.  If you don’t win consistently, why should you receive money to be fired?  Some of the standards are put in place to protect the coaches and some are put in place to protect the schools.  I get that much.  What I don’t get is how we have gotten to a point where it is so difficult for either to move on if they feel the fit isn’t right anymore.  Leavitt will fight this until the end – or at least until the point the school offers him what he, and his lawyers, deem a worthy settlement amount – and it will happen again.  An incident will occur and a school won’t be able to fire their coach as easily.  Or a coach won’t provide a winning program, but will be given millions to be shown the door.
It’s hard to believe that 2010 will mark Robert Marve’s fourth season in college.  That’s right.  Marve was part of the recruiting class that included soon-to-be NFL Draft pick Jimmy Clausen and new Florida starting quarterback John Brantley.  Look at the top of the Rivals100 from that year and you’ll find five of the first six names will be playing on Sundays this fall.  Marve on the other hand will be starting over at Purdue.  After announcing he could no longer play for Randy Shannon at Miami, Marve opened up his options and eventually decided on the Boilermakers.  He’ll be competing for the starting quarterback job this fall.  For now, it looks like Marve may have landed on his feet, but it’s still a story to follow.  Marve had his troubles at Miami and was far from a model citizen.  Miami blocked him from transferring to a number of schools even though it was initially said he wanted to come closer to his Tampa home to be with his father who was sick.  In case you aren’t too good with geography, Purdue is quite a ways away from Tampa.  But Marve has settled in and seems to be doing well.  How he does on the field is a different story altogether.
Sometimes being dominant in one sport isn’t enough.  Sometimes you must be dominant in multiple sports to prove your rule over all others.  Jeff Demps is among those chosen few.  Not only is he faster than most in pads, he’s faster than most without them as well.  There’s a good possibility we’ll be watching him in the Summer Olympics in the future, but for now we can settle for Demps the National Champion.  Demps set a school record in the 60-meter dash and then won the final to lead the Gators to their first indoor National Championship.  Demps was named an All-American in the process.  Cheers to the entire men’s team and the women’s team (who finished fourth) as well.  (H/T: One Eyed Willy)
Today’s list is easy. My final four in order of finish.  I would give my standard bracket warning, but you already know it by heart.  So right or wrong, here are my final four.  Realistically three and four could be tied, but consider it my push for a third-place game.  And that’s right, there is no Kentucky.  Take what you will out of that.  It could’ve been spite.  It could be the fact that I’m not sure I see them winning six in a row to take the title.
1. Kansas
2. Duke
3. Syracuse
4. West Virginia
The Sixth Man: With this site taken the turn toward college football, the March Madness Challenge has suffered.  This year, and most likely for future years, I’ll have a group on ESPN.com’s Tournament Challenge you can join.  There is no prize other than bragging rights or pride.  I’ve never been one for pride.  But bragging rights…that’s a different story.  So saddle up and join the fun.  It’s easy.  Head over to the group page or find it yourself (the group name is The Bull Gator, as if you couldn’t have guessed that).  Once there enter in the password – thebullgator – and fill out your bracket.  Play to win, play for fun, or just play.  It doesn’t really matter, but become immortalized in the annals of this site.  It’s your chance to take down the two-time winner, One Eyed Willy, and shut him up forever.  (Please note: there’s no guarantee you’ll shut him up forever, or even a few minutes for that matter.)

The Long Snapper (2/10/10)

I don’t have to give you any more reasons why Florida’s 2010 recruiting class was so good, but I might as well.  One reason might be that guy who is currently (sort of) the head coach of the Gators.  ESPN has declared Steve Addazio as the 2010 Recruiter of the Year.  For all of his supposed play-calling faults, Addazio is said to be loved by players and recruits.  Credit him with playing a big part in the recruitment of a number of high-profile prospects, including Sharrif Floyd.  Prospects and current players alike seem perfectly confident he can keep the Gator train moving while Urban Meyer is taking some time off.
If you guessed “running fast” as the answer to the question of what Florida speed back Jeff Demps is up to during the offseason, you’d be correct.  Demps was recently named the SEC Male Freshman of the Week after posting the second-fastest 60-meter dash time in school history (6.61) at the Virginia Tech Elite Meet.  It was also the second-fastest time in the nation so far this year.  If Demps doesn’t make it in the NFL one day, he has a very bright track future ahead of him.
For those of you like me who were too young to remember Georgia’s Herschel Walker running over, around, through, and by every SEC defender for three years check out Every Day Should Be Saturday’s take on his annihilation of Bill Bates.  Walker defined “man among boys” during his time with the Bulldogs and to this day remains one of the greatest to ever play college football.  Although he did so for a rival, respect the talent.
Tee Martin is back in the SEC.  The former Tennessee quarterback – last seen as the QB coach under Mike Locksley at New Mexico (where he coached with former Florida offensive linemen Cheston Blackshear and Mike Degory) – has been named the new wide receivers coach at Kentucky.  Hate Martin for being the Vol quarterback to beat the Gators after Peyton Manning went 0-4.  Hate him for participating in what can only be described as a nightmare of a National Championship Game for Florida fans – Tennessee vs. FSU.  But don’t hate him for climbing the coaching ranks.  Martin is a solid, young assistant who could easily find himself in line for some high profile positions in the next five years or so.
Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott – who looks like, well I don’t know, but he doesn’t look like a big conference commissioner – has said the conference could look into the possibilities of expanding.  The conference’s television deal expires following the 2011-12 school year, making it a perfect time to consider expansion.  While there has been no talk with potential new members, many would think Boise State and Utah would be interesting choices.  Let’s see what the Broncos or Utes could do in a BCS conference and give the Pac-10 a championship game.  I’ve always liked the idea of each of the big six having a title game.  You should too.  If the SEC over the last two years is any indication, championship games might be the closest thing we get to a playoff anytime soon.

Introducing the 2011 National Champion Florida Gators

2010. A season expected by many to be a step back for Florida. A rebuilding season if you will.  But a season in which an SEC Championship Game berth and an appearance in a BCS bowl is still very much in reach.  Those expecting 2010 to be a return to the 2007 season are in for an awakening.  The Gators are light years beyond that squad in terms of overall depth and experience.  It’ll show in 2010.  And it’ll really show in 2011.
ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach recently gazed into the future and gave some predictions for the decade ahead.  Among those were a few Florida-specific visions: Urban Meyer will lead the Gators to at least one more National Championship before retiring for good, Florida will win the SEC East in 2010, and John Brantley will take home the Heisman Trophy in 2011.  We choose to ignore Schlabach’s other prediction of Bobby Petrino taking over for Meyer one day.
The stars align in 2011.  During 2010, you’ll see that Brantley is much better than you think.  He’s the passing quarterback.  The one with the rocket arm.  The one that has a realistic chance to be one of the top quarterbacks taken in the 2012 NFL Draft.  He’ll make wide receivers better.  He’ll improve the running game because opponents will spend too much time attempting to defend the pass.  He’ll definitely lead the Gators to his share of wins in the two years he has left in orange and blue.  Fans will never love a Florida player more than they loved Tim Tebow, but Brantley will get more than his fair share of admiration.  And so will the rest of the 2011 squad.*
*This is where you get the “assuming the about-to-be-mentioned players return for 2011” disclosure. There will be no attempt to predict who may declare early for the 2011 NFL Draft until we at least get within a year of the event. Guessing at this time is pointless.
Pint-sized speed backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey will be seniors along with Brantley.  One or both will lead the running game and provide game changing runs like they’ve been doing since they both came to Florida.  Mike Gillislee – who we’ve seen flashes of already – will be a junior and firmly planted as an integral cog in the offense.  And assuming Mack Brown sticks with his commitment – which he seems to be doing – we’ll see him on the field quite a bit as well.
Deonte Thompson, Frankie Hammond, Omarius Hines, and T.J. Lawrence will all still be around.  Andre Debose will be in his third year in the system and second on the field and should be a star by then.  Stephen Alli, Quinton Dunbar, Chris Dunkley, Solomon Patton, and another recruit the Gators could receive a commitment from very soon will all have time in the offense under their belts and be ready to contribute consistently.  And don’t forget the biggest question unit of 2010.  The tight ends.  In 2011, Gerald Christian, Michael McFarland, and Desmond Parks should all have enough experience to line up in the Florida version of the TE.
The offensive line appears to be set for the future.  Big names like Xavier Nixon, Matt Patchan, and James Wilson should anchor the line in 2011.  Florida coaches actually considered playing Sam Robey at center in 2009 because he was that good.  Expect him to be one of the nation’s best over the course of the next few years.  Depth is definitely a priority and the Gators appear to be set in that department.
Go to the other side of the ball and directly across the line and you get what could have the most star power on the entire team.  Defensive line is nothing to worry about anytime soon.  There are those already on the roster: Gary Brown, William Green, Jaye Howard, Omar Hunter, Earl Okine.  And there are those about to arrive.  If you’ve had a pulse over the last month, you’ve seen Florida get commitments from three of the Rivals100’s top seven players: #1 Ronald Powell, #4 Sharrif Floyd, #7 Dominique Easley.  Oh yeah, all three are defensive linemen.  And all three could play right away.  Take a moment to wipe the drool off your face.
The linebacker position also has its share of big names.  Brendan Beal has caught the injury bug big time since his arrival, but if he can stay healthy, he’ll be an important contributor.  We’ve already seen moments from Jon Bostic that lead us to believe he’ll be a great one.  And Jelani Jenkins has All-American and future top 15 draft pick written all over him.  With Dee Finley making the move to LB from safety, there’s another body the Gators can rely on.  Add Michael Taylor – one of the MVPs of the Under Armour All-American Game – and Gideon Ajagbe – one of the most underrated recruits in recent memory – to the mix and depth will be good in 2011 as well.
Do we really have to even go over the secondary?  The current commitment list of those expected to be part of the 2010 recruiting class is a who’s who of the nation’s best defensive backs.  The current roster is no different.  In 2011, Janoris Jenkins could be starting at cornerback for the fourth straight year and Will Hill should be one the defensive leaders.  Good luck passing on the Gators that season.
The special teams should continue to be a strength with players like Demps, Rainey, Dunkley, and Robert Clark all being perfectly capable returners.  Caleb Sturgis will still have one of the strongest legs in the game and should have the control and accuracy to go along with it.  The biggest concern in 2011 could actually be at punter.  Since 2003, the Gators have not had to worry about the position in the least.  Eric Wilbur and Chas Henry were and are among the nation’s best.  In 2011, Henry will be gone and who knows who will take over the position, but if history is any indicator, Florida has nothing to worry about.
Most importantly, Meyer will still be the head coach.  There was no resignation.  At this point, there isn’t even a true leave of absence.  Meyer has announced he will coach spring practice.  All that means he will continue to be on the short list of the country’s best head coaches.  So despite assistant coaching changes (expect that when you’re a premier program), the leader will remain constant.  Think nine-win seasons are acceptable to Meyer?  Think again.  He has put Florida in a position to see at least 10 victories a year for the foreseeable future.  2011 will be more like 13 or 14 though.  Introducing the 2011 National Champion Florida Gators.

Kenny Carter Leaves, Stan Drayton Arrives (Again)

If you hear a rumor enough times, it seems to end up being true more often than not.  During the last recruiting cycle, rumors started to spread about Plant’s (Tampa, FL) Aaron Murray choosing Georgia over Florida.  Few believed the speculation because the star quarterback was thought to always favor the Gators.  But sure enough, he committed to the Bulldogs.  That’s not to say you should always believe the rumors, just to take heed when you hear the same one over and over again.
Earlier this week, rumors spread like wildfire stating running backs coach Kenny Carter would be joining Charlie Strong at Louisville.  Current Gator commit Mack Brown said Carter told him as much.  No one wanted to believe Carter would leave for a similar position at a (sorry Cardinals’ fans) smaller program.  But he did.  Carter left and Florida needed a replacement.
More rumors began to spread about exactly who that replacement would be.  Stan Drayton’s name was pushed to the forefront and many couldn’t believe it.  Why would Urban Meyer hire back a guy Florida let go after the 2007 season?  A guy who didn’t exactly praise the Gators on his way out?  The rumors didn’t make sense, but in the end they were true.  Drayton will return to Florida to coach the running backs.
Before you get too deep into “but didn’t Florida not want this guy only a few years ago?” and “why would he ever be brought back?” take a look at what Drayton did and had to work with during his previous stint with the Gators.
Drayton came to Florida in 2005.  The year before, Ciatrick Fason had an outstanding year in which he ran for 1,267 yards and 10 touchdowns after which he decided to enter the NFL Draft.  Fason’s departure left the Gators with a returning unit that had no player carry the ball more than 58 times during 2004.  Florida played in 13 games that season, meaning the leading returning ball carrier only averaged 4.5 carries per game the prior year.  Due to that, and a new head coach and offensive philosophy, the run game struggled during 2005.  It had its moments, but for the most part took a step back.  But that should’ve been expected as the Gators adjusted to the new offense.
In 2006, the Gators won the National Championship in part due to a running game that gained nearly 500 more yards and ran for five more touchdowns than the previous season.  The team’s top seven rushers all averaged at least 4.8 yards per carry.  Although Florida wasn’t considering a “running” team, the unit did its part.
2007 would be Drayton’s final year with the Gators.  It was a season that saw the team gain over 350 more rushing yards than it did in 2006 and up its run TD total from 24 to 39.  Yes, a large part of that surge was due to a quarterback named Tim Tebow carrying the ball 210 times, but didn’t Drayton at least have something to do with that?  It was Meyer’s offense, but you would think the running backs coach at least had something to do with all aspects of the run game regardless of who’s carrying the ball.  Especially when it comes to plays designed to be a run.
The year after Drayton left, the running game seemed to take a leap forward.  The three true running backs that carried the ball at least 58 times a piece all averaged over 7.2 yards a carry.  Many seem to attribute this to a new coach and going away from the Drayton’s approach to the unit.  Not to take anything away from Carter and his accomplishments as a Gator assistant, but he had Jeffery Demps, Emmanuel Moody, and Chris Rainey.  Drayton didn’t.
So maybe Drayton’s return isn’t such a bad thing.  Maybe he’s a better coach then we think.  Maybe he knows the system and has worked with some of the other coaches before and will offer the smoothest transition in.  Maybe he’s a great recruiter (which he is…then again, as One Eyed Willy says “it’s Florida, aren’t all the coaches at programs like this great recruiters?”).  Maybe Drayton 2.0 will be received better than the first incarnation.  We’ll find out soon enough.
 

Alabama Crimson Tide 32 – Florida Gators 13

Well that was ugly.  If I had to point to one thing that made the biggest difference in this game (besides Alabama just flat out being the better team of course), it was tackling.  The Crimson Tide hit the player with the ball, wrapped up, and brought him down.  There weren’t broken tackles.  There weren’t missed hits.  Alabama did what it was supposed to do fundamentally.  On the other side, Florida didn’t wrap up.  The Gators didn’t bring down the ball carrier with the first hit.  There were missed tackles, blown assignments, and numerous times where a Tide player was finally brought down by the third or fourth guy to hit him.  A few made tackles here and there and the Gators could’ve actually been in this game.
Offensively, the Gators’ biggest issue was running the ball.  Sure Tim Tebow did his part and gained 63 yards on 10 carries, but collectively the rest of Florida ran the ball four times.  One week after carrying the ball a total of 15 times for 179 yards, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey were only handed the rock three times.  Say what you want about Alabama’s defense, they are good, but to only take three shots with your top two running backs?  Demps gained nine yards on his lone carry, then didn’t touch the ball again.  Rainey did have a one-yard loss, but also pushed ahead for eight yards on his other carry.  Emmanuel Moody was on the field several times, but didn’t touch the ball once.  Once Florida got behind early, someone determined the passing game was going to get them back into it.  Early panic if you ask me.  Despite getting close in the first half, not allowing the run game to get going hurt the Gators in the end.
I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way now and then try not to mention it again.  We have one more chance to watch #15 in a Florida uniform and then his Gator career comes to an end.  He was one of the greatest players to ever wear orange and blue.  There’s no denying that.  But I will NOT miss the crying.  The first time was understandable.  It’s emotion.  It can overtake you when you least expect it.  After all, this is a kid who just wants to win more than anything.  But again and again?  He’s a football player and although Saturday didn’t turn out how he may have wanted or may have dreamed, he needs to be a football player.  Alabama beat you and your team.  It sucks.  I hate it right now too.  But you are the leader of your squad.  Man up and act like it.  Sorry if that may disappoint some Gator fans out there, but it had to be said.  He isn’t the five-year old fan who just watched Ohio State get waxed 41-14.  He’s the quarterback of one of the top programs in the nation.  Act accordingly.
As for the other Heisman Trophy candidate playing in this one, I will have absolutely no problem with Mark Ingram taking home the statue.  The Tide running game dominated on Saturday and Ingram led it.  28 carries for 113 yards and three touchdowns is an NFL stat line.  Ingram’s long only went for 15 yards, meaning he just kept pounding away at a Gator defense that was typically very, very good against the run.  Throw in two receptions for 76 yards including the 69-yard scamper that may have broken the Gators’ back and you have a guy that deserves the trophy as much as anyone.  I know I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for him next Saturday and cheering him on against Texas in a few weeks.
And there you have it.  I could analyze this game until I turned blue in the face, but there’s really not much else to say about it.  As much as it pains me to admit it, the Crimson Tide looked every bit the best team in the nation.  They controlled every aspect of the game and kept focused for the entire 60 minutes.  They deserve to play for the national title and I hope they win it.  The performance they put together was one that will be remembered for quite some time.  Unfortunately for us Gator fans, it’ll be one we can’t forget.
 

Game Preview: Florida Gators vs. Alabama Crimson Tide – 12/5 – 4:00

Rematch.  Florida vs. Alabama for the SEC Championship.  Again.  It doesn’t get much better than this.  The top two teams in the nation playing for the conference title.  Why can’t we just have them play best of three for the national title?  There are those that obviously feel strongly either way about who will come out on top in this one and play Texas/Cincy/TCU for the big trophy in about a month.  I know how I’d like it to turn out, but I’m not a psychic.  All I can offer are my 10 things:
1. Predicting the winner.  Anyone that says “the Gators don’t stand a chance!” or “Bama will lose by at least three scores!” is an idiot.  Good-natured trash talk is always fun.  Sounding like an ignorant asshat while pounding your chest is another.  You don’t know how this one will turn out any better than the next guy.  All you know is that at this exact moment Florida is favored.  But that really doesn’t mean a damn thing.  Two undefeated teams are facing off and it really could go either way.  For my prediction, I’m throwing my hands in the air and saying “who the hell knows!”  Or, as One Eyed Willy suggested to me, I’ll let my XBOX play it out on its own tonight and see who comes out victorious and go with them.  Last year, the Gators were 10-point favorites.  They won by 11.  So maybe there’s something there, but this is a new game and you can’t take the 5.5 points Florida is giving to the bank.  Well you can, but that bank’s name is Las Vegas and in most cases they keep your money.
2. Senior day, redux.  So it’s not senior day on Saturday, but it might as well be.  For the seniors, this is SEC Championship Game appearance number three in four years.  Most of us Gator fans choose to forget everything about the 2007 season with the exception of Tim Tebow’s Heisman Trophy, so we don’t like to take that one into account anyway.  These seniors have experienced something special.  Yes there was the four-year conference title streak in the 90s, but there was only one national championship with those four.  These three appearances have already produced two national titles and the jury is still out on the third.  Basically, it’s great to be a Florida senior.
3. Random Omarius Hines fact.  There’s probably a pretty good chance we won’t see Hines lined up on offense in this game.  There’s probably a pretty good chance we won’t see Hines lined up on offense again until the 2010 season.  If that’s the case Hinesy, know that you’ve impressed us and we’re thrilled to be able to be witness to your future as a Gator.
4. 49-3.  That’s the combined record of these two schools since the start of the 2008 season.  25-1 for Florida.  24-2 for Alabama.  Those are video game numbers.  Ones it doesn’t look like either team will stray too far from in 2010 either.  It equates to a win percentage of 0.942 over that time.  Texas rivals that with a 24-1 record, but adding in Nebraska puts the Big 12 Championship Game participant’s combined record at 42-8.  That’s only 0.840.  The Gators and Tide are two very big reasons why many think the SEC is the nation’s premier conference.  And why they may be right.
5. Alabama has only ever faced Florida in the SEC Championship Game.  This is probably not important at all because of that whole “this is a new game” thing I mentioned earlier.  But it’s interesting to note this will be the seventh time the Crimson Tide have played for the conference title and the seventh time they have done so against the Gators.  Florida is 7-2 in the SEC Championship Game and 4-2 when playing Alabama.  This will mark the 10-year anniversary since the Tide won their last conference championship.  I’m sure they’ll want to end that drought and there’s probably no other team they’d rather take down in the process.  The Tide also have a chance to become only the third program with at least three titles since the championship game format was introduced.  The Gators will try to add to their comfortable lead when it comes to title game victories.
6. 0 rushes, 0 yards, 0 catches, 0 yards, 0 touchdowns.  For all that’s been said about the effect of Percy Harvin’s absence on the offense, that’s the stat line he put up in the last year’s SEC Championship Game.  Harvin didn’t play a single down against Alabama in 2008 and Florida still came away with a 31-20 win.  That’s not to say we all wouldn’t love to have him on the field this time around, it’s just to put everything into perspective.  The offense may not be as flashy.  There might not be as much excitement.  But the Gators still know how to win.  So much so that they’re one game better than they were heading into last season’s conference title game.  There’s no denying the impact Harvin could have on the 2009 offense, but there’s no better position Florida could be in right now then where they are.  Number one and 12-0.  Here are the Gators that scored touchdowns in last season’s game: Carl Moore, David Nelson, Jeff Demps, Riley Cooper.  You won’t find Harvin or Louis Murphy on that list.
7. Keeping Mark Ingram out of the end zone.  The Alabama running back and Heisman hopeful has only been kept from scoring in three games this season.  It just so happens those three are also the only three the Crimson Tide won by less than 10 points.  Keeping him out of the end zone is of the utmost importance.  Ingram may still gets his yards (and if he doesn’t, Trent Richardson could pile up a few), but the Gators need to stop him from gaining that final yard on the way to pay dirt.  It’s no coincidence those three games were also three of quarterback Greg McElroy’s five highest passing attempts outings of the season.  Force the Tide to throw and the Gators stand a better chance.  Of course the other side of that coin could be said as well.  Eliminate Florida’s run game, and Alabama could gain the advantage.
8. Tony LaRussa Carlos Dunlap.  Let’s try to put a positive spin on this, shall we?  First of all, damn you Carlos Dunlap!!!  Okay, that’s out of our system.  Dunlap is talent.  There’s no denying that.  We’re looking at a kid that will be taken in the first half of the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft.  He could even push himself into the top five.  But like any athlete, he does have some parts of his game that are stronger than others.  Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it a weakness, defending the run isn’t Dunlap’s best quality.  A few of the other defensive linemen may actually be better suited to matchup against a team like Alabama.  Then again, this is one of the most feared defensive ends in the nation we’re talking about.  Of course, last season Dunlap totaled one solo tackle and two assists against Alabama.  That’s it.  Not to say he didn’t do his part occupying offensive linemen, but he was far from the defensive MVP of that game.  You’d like every player available for every game, but go back and read point number six.  You do what you need to do to get by when one of your stars is unavailable.
9. Play up to the excitement.  A lot of people will say “treat this like any other game.”  I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that.  It’s not any other game so why pretend it is?  The fact of the matter is Florida is going up against an undefeated Alabama team.  Why act like that’s not true?  The Gators shouldn’t be scared.  After all, they’re undefeated too.  But they should recognize what this game means.  It’s an SEC title.  It’s a shot at the national championship.  It’s not just the next game on the schedule.  The stakes have been raised.  Act accordingly.  Get excited and up your game.  12-1 with a loss to one of the top teams in the nation is nothing to throw out, but how much better is 13-0 and another conference championship?  That’s what you’re playing for.
10. Stay undefeated.  I’ve been alive for six one-loss Florida seasons.  I’ve watched two 12-win teams and two 13-win teams.  This team has a chance to be the first 14-win team in school history and the first undefeated, untied squad as well (if the records I found are correct, the 1911 team went 5-0-1).  And don’t bring up that crap about not losing a single game in 1943.  If you have no team, of course you can’t lose.  Getting to 14-0 won’t be easy.  Getting to 13-0 is a hard enough battle.  But both are within reach.  This team can make school history.
 

5 Florida Things I’m Thankful For

I’m not particularly thankful for the uniforms Florida will be wearing this weekend.  I’m a big fan of white helmets.  The clean, crisp look was always a favorite of mine.  But the rest of the uniform (including the Florida font F on said helmets) is an atrocious excuse for Nike to make a little more money.  Of course, there are a lot of Gator-related things I am thankful for.
1. Aaron Hernandez.  In a year in which the receiving corps has been questioned on more than one occasion, Hernandez has been the consistent bright spot.  Riley Cooper has performed as well, but there are some key drops that come to mind that leave #11 off this list.  Hernandez on the other hand looks every bit the world-class recruit he was coming out of his school.  But don’t get too used to seeing him dominate on the field.  This is most likely it for Hernandez.  For a guy his size to as athletic as he is, it would do him little good to return for his senior season.
2. Yards per carry.  Yes, the numbers have leveled off as the season has progressed, but you still can’t complain about 7.1, 6.2, and 7.3.  Florida’s three top runners not named Tim TebowJeff Demps, Chris Rainey, and Emmanuel Moody – all average over six yards per carry.  That was also the case during last season’s national championship run.  When the passing game struggles, the Gators can usually rely on one of the backs to get the offense going.  And all three will be back in 2010.  Something to look forward to and be thankful for all over again next year.
3. Charlie Strong.  I don’t want Strong to ever get a head coaching job.  I mean he obviously deserves a shot at this time, but for purely selfish purposes, I hope to not see him on another sideline anytime soon.  What he’s done with the defenses of the past few years has been remarkable.  It definitely doesn’t hurt that he gets to work with some of the most talented players in the nation, but Strong is the mastermind behind the defense and he’s one of the team’s top recruiters.  Kids want to play for Strong and who can blame them.
4. Jermaine Cunningham.  Cunningham’s presence over his four years as a Gator are rarely recognized, but he is critical to the success of the defensive line.  There have been bigger names and linemates who have received more acclaim, but few have been as consistent as Cunningham.  He forces offensive lines to pay full attention to both sides of the defensive line.  He’s been solid defending the run for quite some time and has been increasingly dangerous over the years as a pass rusher.  Just make sure you get his sandwich order right!
5. 11-0.  For all the complaints we’ve heard about Florida and the stuttering offense over the course of the season, the Gators head into their game against FSU at 11-0.  That’s perfect ladies and gentlemen.  Florida got through its regular season SEC schedule undefeated.  There were close games, some rightfully so and some that probably shouldn’t have been, but the Gators are still 11-0.  Be thankful.
 

Florida Gators 24 – South Carolina Gamecocks 14

It’s nothing to write home about, but yet another win. For the statisticians, that’s 10-0 and 20 in a row overall.  You may not like how they go about it, but Florida keeps winning.  Curse the television all you want, but beating South Carolina means the Gators will go undefeated in the SEC in the regular season.  And oh yeah, that didn’t happen in either of the last two national championship seasons.  Remember you could be a USC fan having just got done watching them get plastered by Stanford.
In his last regular season SEC game, Tim Tebow accounted for one touchdown through the air, another on the ground, and two phantom scores to Riley Cooper.  Cooper’s an outfielder right?  Coming down may hurt, but lay out on one of those and make a play.  Tebow is now 1 rushing touchdown away from tying Herschel Walker’s plus bowl games record.  With 4 games left, it should be no problem for #15.
10 games in and we’re still trying to find out exactly what the running back plan is.  Sounds a little like USF, except of course the fact that Florida is undefeated and #1.  Jeff Demps, 9 carries.  Chris Rainey, 6 carries.  Emmanuel Moody, 3 carries.  Brandon James, 1 carry.  Whatever gets the win I guess.  At one point there was actually a drive where Moody scored a rushing touchdown (his first of the year) and only a few plays earlier, Omarius Hines caught a pass.  For a second, I thought it was my birthday.  Not only did Hines catch 1 pass, he actually caught 2.  The announcers were so kind to inform us that Hines’ first catch of the game was his first of the season.  I’m so kind to inform them they were wrong.  It was his eighth of the season, but why should they know that, it’s only their job.
Blitz was the word of the day.  As in, the Gators still have trouble stopping the blitz and Florida’s defense blitzed too much.  There are play designs in which the blitzer is supposed to be allowed a free path.  I understand that.  Maybe a quick slant or stop.  Something in which the ball is supposed to get out of the quarterback’s hands almost immediately.  Unfortunately for Florida, the blitz seems to fluster Tebow enough that it stalls the entire offense at times.  On the other side of the ball, Charlie Strong and company decided to bring the heat themselves.  For three quarters, it worked in a very limited manor.  For the most part, it seemed to cause coverage problems when an extra player was putting pressure on the quarterback.  In the fourth quarter, Strong softened up and only called for the blitz strategically.  Holding back somehow resulted in the defensive line getting pressure and Jermaine Cunningham entering beast mode.  Definitely one of those times I’m patting myself on the back for being an absolutely outstanding couch coach.
Our game ball goes to Justin Trattou because without that interception and subsequent 53-yard return, the game could’ve been a lot more interesting that it already was.  Interesting makes for good television, but big wins are comfortable and keep me from chugging Pepto.  Trattou’s pick was followed by a collectively sigh of relief from the Gator fan base.  It was the “phew, we’re going to win another one” moment of the day.
So it’s 10-0 now.  Through the conference unscathed.  Back to Gainesville for 2 home games before heading to Atlanta and then beyond.  And for good measure, remember, when you look back at 2006 (another season where there was plenty of complaining about the offense…and the defense for that matter) all you recall is Florida hosting the national championship trophy at the end of the season.
 

Game Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores @ Florida Gators – 11/7 – 7:15

I’ve said it a million times this week, so I’ll lay off it today.  But I will say if you happen to be golfing in the Carrollwood Village area of Tampa today and see a man in a suit at the clubhouse bar alone and cursing the institution of marriage, buy him a drink…he’ll need it.
10 things for today’s game…
1. The game trophy.  Last week, Florida defeated Georgia to take home the Okefenokee Oar.  This week, if they beat Vanderbilt they get a first edition copy of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.
2. Ignoring the spread.  35 points is a lot.  It’s a shellacking.  An absolute annihilation.  Odds are it won’t happen.  That’s not to say it can’t.  It just hasn’t since Bobby Johnson took the reins of the Commodores.  The Gators could do it if they wanted, but this is a team that’s had its ups and downs on offense it seems unlikely they will keep their foot on the gas the entire game.  Then again, they could to simply prove they can.  Either way, ignore the spread.  Just win.  Do it convincingly, but just win.  A solid game on defense and enough points so that no one says “how did Vandy keep it close?”  That’s all that’s needed.
3. Random Omarius Hines fact: In a game where the Gators are favored by that many points, we may actually have a Hines’ sighting.  Here’s to 4 catches, 56 yards, and a late touchdown catch.
4. The future.  It’s hard to determine how Mike Gillislee will fit into the offense over the next few years.  Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey are both only sophomores and Emmanuel Moody will be around next season as well.  But Gillislee seems to have it all.  Burst, power, agility.  Gillislee may only get mop up time this season, but expect him to be part of the regular rotation in 2010.
5. A second half full of John Brantley.  This is one of those games where #15’s backup can get some valuable experience.  Although it’s unlikely to happen, I say let Brantley come in to start the second half if the Gators are up by more than 20.  I respect Vanderbilt, I really do, but they aren’t coming back from 3 scores.  Let Brantley run the offense for an entire half and get some good reps in front of the home crowd.
6. The freshman linemen.  Xavier Nixon.  Nick Alajajian.  Jon Halapio.  Get those guys in the game as well.  The offensive line has had a number of bury their heads in the sand this season, but in the end the Gators are 8-0 and the SEC East champs, so you really can’t complain too much.  However, the depth is more than lacking.  If one of the big dogs goes down, things could get interesting come SEC Championship Game or bowl time.  Nixon has put himself into a position to get some playing time with the first unit.  Like my last 3 points, this is a perfect game to get these guys some more experience.
7. Let’s keep this thing going.  Brandon Spikes is out.  Brandon Hicks is out.  There are 3 linebackers left with plenty of experience who will see the field early and often – Dustin Doe, A.J. Jones, Ryan Stamper.  But what about all those other guys who were all-world recruits?  Jon Bostic, Lorenzo Edwards, Lerentee McCray, Jelani Jenkins.  Watch closely.  The future at linebacker is bright.
8. Less than 10 points allowed.  The Gators have held 4 of 8 opponents to less than 10 points.  Make it #5.  A lot of second teamers will get action today, but there’s no room for error.  No mental mistakes.  No brain trips.  Keep the pressure on for 60 minutes and don’t let Vanderbilt get a big play or two.  Be the best defense in the nation.
9. 9-0.  Get it.  Simple.  Remain undefeated.
10. Don’t think about LSU/Alabama.  Florida is in the SEC Championship Game.  Who they play is completely irrelevant.  There are 4 games left.  Take one at a time and don’t worry about who the opponent will be on December 5th.
 

Morning Reading: Tim Tebow and the Florida Offense

This Saturday marks both the World’s Largest Cocktail Party and Halloween.  We here at The Bull Gator have decided to go as Red and Tebone in honor of their gloriously legendary trip to the Florida/Georgia game.  Where TBG headquarters is located, said costumes won’t get a second glance.  While we support the notion of filling kids with sugar, we also support having more candy around the house.  ADHD has nothing on a 5-year old dressed like Spider-Man after a pound of sour patch kids.
Tim Tebow frustrated.  Tim Tebow mad.  Opposing teams not want make Tim Tebow mad.  Then again, this season, they might not care.
#15 is frustrated with how things are going for the Gators lately.  Not the side of the squad that is undefeated and ranked #1 in the nation.  Not the side that leads the SEC in scoring, rushing, and total offense.  But the side that comes out once Florida gets into the red zone.  The side that has reached the end zone just seven times in 25 trips inside the 20-yard line.  The side that is about as predictable as you slacking off at work today.
Nothing quite like knowing exactly what play is going to be run before the Gators break the huddle.  Think Florida needs to mix it up?  DING DING!  The Gators have run 76 plays inside the 20 so far this season.  Tebow has carried the ball 42 times in those 76 plays.  With a stable of backs that would make any defense wet the bed, it’s anyone’s guess why they’ve carried the ball considerably less.  So much less it’s close to a third of what Tebow has done.
The reason is obvious.  He’s Tim Tebow and knocks would be tacklers down with merely a gaze.  But not this year.  Tebow is still having a good season.  He’s still doing his thing and leading the Gators to victory after victory.  But 42 out of 76?!?  Use #2.  Use #3.  USE #21!  We all saw what could happen when Florida lines up under center.  Now do it again.
Part of what made the Florida offense so dangerous in 2008 was that defenses couldn’t get a good read on it.  Tebow led the team in carries by a wide margin last season.  But it’s even larger this year and opposing teams know it.  Time to give those backs with the ridiculous yards per carry averages the ball more.