Heroes Of The Series: Mike Nattiel – Florida Gators vs. Auburn Tigers

Heroes of the Series explores stars of past. These players or coaches either excelled for Florida or the Gators’ opponent of the week – in this case Auburn. They may have been the star of the game or provided a spark that shifted momentum. In the past, there has been a hero for both the Gators and their opponent. This week you only get the Florida hero and rightfully so. Auburn’s Wes Byrum has already been mentioned and he will NOT be associated with the word “hero.”

In 1996, when Florida won the national championship, the Gators scored 611 points. Over the following three seasons, Florida would score 430, 370 and 403 while only making it to the SEC Championship Game once – a 34-7 loss to Alabama in 1999. When the 2000 season came along, Steve Spurrier had found a quarterback again and brought back some of the scoring. The Gators’ output of 468 points wasn’t a complete turnaround, but Florida did score 34 or more in all but one of their first 10 games, including 35 in a loss to Mississippi State. The defense was a different story though; the Gators allowed 276 total points – the most they had given up in a season since 1992.

There were a few shining moments for the Gators though. In back-to-back weeks against LSU and Auburn, Florida allowed a total of only 16 points to the dual Tigers. The defense would take a step back in the four games after that, allowing at least 20 points in every contest. Heading into the SEC Championship Game against Auburn, the Gators were confident because of what they had done to the Tigers earlier that season, but Florida would need the ball to bounce their way to gain an advantage. And bounce it did.

Rex Grossman passed for four touchdowns during the game, Reche Caldwell caught two of those scores, and Earnest Graham had a career-high 169 rushing yards. Any of those three could have been picked as this week’s hero and they would all be deserving, but, in a twist of sorts, the honor goes to a defender.

Florida would jump out to an early 21-0 lead thanks to three turnovers and two of those three would come courtesy of linebacker Mike Nattiel. On Auburn’s first play of the game, the Tigers fumbled and Nattiel was there to pick up the ball. Not long after, Grossman would hit Caldwell to give the Gators a 7-0 lead.

After a Lito Sheppard interception led to another Grossman-to-Caldwell score, Florida was up 14-0. Auburn would begin to move the ball after that and got all the way down to the Gators’ three yard line before yet another turnover. Nattiel recovered his second fumble at the three and the Florida offense followed it up with a 97-yard touchdown drive.

Nattiel would end the game with eight tackles and those two fumble recoveries that led to Florida scores. It just goes to show you how important turnovers are. If Auburn had been able to score from the three, they could have made it 14-7. Instead, Nattiel recovered the fumble and a few minutes later it was 21-0 Gators. You can play a great game without causing a single turnover, but they sure help. This season’s Florida squad needs that help.

Steve Spurrier, Stephen Garcia, And The End Of A Career

Steve Spurrier has yet to find what he’s looking for at South Carolina. The former Florida star and head coach is searching for a quarterback to replicate what he had when he was with the Gators. From Shane Matthews to Danny Wuerffel to Rex Grossman, quarterbacks made Spurrier’s offenses some of the most explosive in the nation. While the Ol’ Ball Coach has made strides with the Gamecocks, he’s still in search of that golden arm.

Before South Carolina’s Saturday game against Kentucky, Spurrier decided that arm would not be Stephen Garcia’s. Garcia was benched in favor of Connor Shaw and Shaw took every advantage, playing well in the victory over the Wildcats. But we all know Spurrier. His leash is particularly short for his QBs and we figured it was only a matter of time before we’d see Garcia on the field again. We were wrong.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Garcia has been dismissed from the football team, effectively ending his college career. As opposing fans, Garcia gave us laughs. For Gamecock fans, he gave frustration. Garcia definitely had his moments, but the bad ones greatly outweighed the good. It all came to an end abruptly, but not surprisingly.

Heroes Of The Series: Rex Grossman – Florida Gators vs. LSU Tigers

Heroes of the Series explores some of the stars of past. These players or coaches either excelled for Florida or the Gators’ opponent of the week – in this case LSU. They may have been the star of the game or provided a spark that shifted momentum. They might be remembered for their entire careers or just for that single game. To get you riled up and more ready than you already are for the week’s matchup, it’s a two-part series with part one covering an opposing player and part two highlighting a Gator. For part one, looking at the Tigers’ night of fourth-down conversions, click here.

Rex Grossman’s final season in orange and blue was one to be forgotten. Really, the entire Ron Zook era was. Grossman was coming off a great 2001 in which he was a Heisman candidate and put up gaudy numbers during Steve Spurrier’s last hurrah in Gainesville. In 2002, the quarterback would return to earth looking uncomfortable at times trying to run the offense under a new coaching staff. 2001 was a great season for the gunslinger though and we’ll focus on one specific game.

Exactly 10 years ago today – October 6, 2001 – Grossman put on a passing clinic as the Gators dismantled the Tigers in Baton Rouge. As if going 22-for-32 for 464 yards wasn’t good enough, Grossman also threw five touchdowns and led Florida to a 44-15 victory. The Gators put up 632 yards of total offense in a game the Tigers were never in. In the first quarter alone, Grossman threw touchdowns of 13, 34, and 63 yards. His near perfect arm that day led to Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell both going over 100 yards receiving (164 and 120). Even tight end Aaron Walker averaged 17.6 yards on five receptions as the LSU defense could do nothing to stop Grossman and the Florida pass game.

For those of you that remember the game, it was everything we loved about the Spurrier offenses. For those of that don’t, all the highlights are in the video below.

The Long Snapper (2/22/10)

Let’s hope the most recent five-star defensive tackles Florida has signed take a different path than that of Torrey Davis and now Gary Brown.  Brown was arrested after slapping around two women at a party – one of which he scratched when he smacked her (come on Gary, cut your fingernails) – and has now been dismissed from the Gator football team.  It has been said that Brown has not met expectations since he joined the Gators last year and this was the last straw.  Hopefully his dismissal would have also occurred if this was the first straw.  It’s time to clean up this program.  The number of arrests is staggering and not a good reflection on a school you hear repeatedly referred to as providing a damn good public university education.  Mistakes will be made and not every player can be controlled, but hopefully Brown’s dismissal can act as a message to others going forward.  A player who had a bright future ahead of him (regardless of what people think about the incoming class, Brown had a good chance to play extensively over the next few years) is gone because of a bad decision he made.  You aren’t given multiple chances if you screw up your original ones in the way Brown did.  This should now be set as the standard.
A host of new stars take over the nation’s best conference in 2010.  Sorry USF fans, I’m not talking about the Big East.  Argue all you want about the Big 12 or even the Big Ten – as some seem to do – but the SEC has produced the last four national champions, putting them firmly on top of the heap.  So who will it be this year?  There’s a great chance Alabama and Florida will face off in Atlanta once again, but don’t count out the next set of SEC teams just yet who are ready to take over at the top for the Crimson Tide and Gators.  Auburn is a program on the rise.  You can never write off LSU.  Even South Carolina looks like it could realistically make some noise.  Any way you slice it, the Southeastern Conference will be as competitive as ever and could very easily bring home a fifth consecutive BCS National Championship.
I won’t get into the hatred that spews from the mouths of Gator fans for draft guru Todd McShay, but to say you would think people can’t change…ever.  Tim Tebow the quarterback is broken and can’t be fixed.  At least that’s what McShay and others would lead you to believe.  But Tebow is trying because he’s not going to give up based on what someone who is making a guess at his future has to say (let’s be honest for a moment, hate McShay or not, he’s got a damn cool job that most of us would take in a second).  So he’s working on a couple of specifics in preparation for his pro day.  First of all, Tebow is attempting to keep the ball closer to his shoulder instead of dropping it to his waist.  Hopefully that will reduce some of the release speed issues.  If you remember (and I think I’ve mentioned it on this site before), one of the things that got Rex Grossman drafted so high was the fact that he had such a quick release.  Tebow, does not.  Keeping the ball higher should allow him to get rid of it faster.  Tebow will also be working on his footing.  Up to his pro day – and assumedly beyond it – he’ll be working on three- and five-step drops.  All of this is in hopes that he can actually fix some of the negatives that so many seem to think he can’t.  Here’s to believing he can get better.  Tebow will never be the prototypical passer in terms of what the NFL looks for, but he will improve and should get looks at quarterback at the next level.
Sticking with orange and blue for today’s Long Snapper, former Gator defensive end Carlos Dunlap is doing everything he can to prepare for the NFL Draft.  Dunlap was once considered a lock to go in the first half of the first round in April.  There was even talk of him being a top five pick.  Then came the questions about effort; followed up by his DUI arrest which immediately put a red flag next to his name.  In response, Dunlap is training and training and training.  His goal is to get himself in the best shape possible for the NFL Combine.  On talent alone, Dunlap is one of the best athletes entering the NFL this year and that would warrant a top pick.  If he can silence the critics about the other points, he could make that happen.
My jump into the world of Facebook has been exactly what I expected for the most part.  The Bull Gator fan page has more fans than I thought it ever would and continues to grow, so that’s a plus.  But on the negative side, I check my personal account way more than most should.  I post relatively infrequently, but I still look.  Then again, I expected that from the beginning.  I do, however, stay away from controversy.  I am a fan of exactly two pages – the TBG one and the alumni association of my high school.  No political or religious affiliations for me.  No support of anything the slightest bit off color.  Nothing of the sort.  My posts are even good natured.  Basically I’m saying, I will not be taking the Jamere Holland route anytime soon.  The Oregon wide receiver has been kicked off the Ducks’ football team after a profanity-laced post that appeared on his Facebook page.  Holland had thought linebacker Kristian Kiko Alonso (I need more people named Kiko in my life) had been dismissed from the team and that apparently set off his tirade.  For good measure, Holland even brought race into it.  Oregon head coach Chip Kelly didn’t explicitly state Holland was kicked off for the post, but sure hinted at it: “I won’t get into the specifics, but you’re smart enough to figure it out.”