Former Florida Gators To Play On World’s Grandest Stage

The world will be captivated by tonight’s Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and New York Giants. Sure to be one of the most widely viewed events across the planet, the Pats and Giants will do battle to determine which team will go home with the Lombardi Trophy. It’s a dream come true for many players to even be able to participate in the Super Bowl, but to win one is something completely different. Among those searching for a ring will be a few former Florida Gators.

In 2010, the Patriots decided it best to fill their roster with practically as many Gators as they could draft. In the second round of that year’s NFL Draft, New England selected defensive end/outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham and inside linebacker Brandon Spikes. The Pats would look back at Florida in the fourth round and take tight end Aaron Hernandez. That same year, New England would also sign former Gators defensive end/defensive tackle Gerard Warren. All four remained part of the roster into the 2011 season and three are expected to be big contributors tonight (Cunningham struggled to find a spot in the defensive rotation during the regular season and was put on injured reserve on December 10, 2011).

Not to be left out, the Giants have a former Gator as well. Signed as an undrafted free agent before the 2011 season, defensive end Justin Trattou made the roster and is listed as active. With Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck also on the roster, Trattou’s time has been extremely limited during his rookie season. We don’t expect to see Trattou on the field during Sunday’s game, but just being there as an undrafted rookie free agent will be an experience for the former Florida player.

If you don’t have a routing interest in tonight’s game, cheer for the Gators. Each one will be looking for their first (and hopefully not their last) Super Bowl ring.

Undrafted Gators Start To Sign Free Agent Deals

With the NFL back, all of those undrafted players are starting to receive phone calls and even offers from teams. The picture to the left is, of course, TBG favorite (we have a lot of those) Chas Henry. As of this piece being written, Henry had yet to be signed, but it is only a matter of time. The best punter to ever punt the ball in an organized game is sure to get a shot somewhere and even more sure to stick.
Among those picked up by teams during the first day of free agency were Duke Lemmens – Arizona Cardinals, Terron Sanders – Baltimore Ravens, and Emmanuel Moody – Buffalo Bills. Maybe Will Hill agreed to a deal with the Washington Redskins, maybe not.
There are still a number of former Florida players out there, including Henry, Carl Johnson, Lawrence Marsh, Carl Moore, and Justin Trattou. Odds are some of them will have already found a team by the time you read this.
(Photo: University of Florida)

A History: Urban Meyer vs. Steve Spurrier

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 14:  Head coach Urban Meyer (L) of the Florida Gators shakes hands with head coach Steve Spurrier (R) of the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)Two things happened before the start of the 2005 season that had Florida fans eager and a little nervous about the future of Gator football. Legendary former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier returned to the college ranks to take charge of one of the Gators’ SEC East rivals and Urban Meyer came from Utah to take over the Florida program.

Spurrier’s move was a decision that lost him some fans in Gator nation. When the Ol’ Ball Coach left Florida for the NFL, a number of fans lost their respect for the man, saying he left behind his alma mater for money. That’s partially true. Spurrier also left for opportunity. In a sport where ego runs rampant, many coaches have the desire to see what they can do at the next level. Spurrier left for a bigger paycheck, but also left to take his turn as a NFL head coach. Many wrote him off at that moment. I never did.

Even when he came back to college to coach a program – South Carolina – that resided not only in the same conference, but the same division as the Gators, I never lost my love for Spurrier. My formative football educational years were during the time he led Florida to new levels. To suddenly begin to despise the man because he took another job we all may not have wanted him to take was out of the question for me. But there was the realization that beginning in 2005, I would have to see him on the opposite sideline once a year. A shuddering thought, but one I could deal with.

At the same time, the Gators had moved past the Ron Zook experiment and brought in a young man (Meyer was four years younger when he took over at Florida than when Spurrier did the same) with a brief, but glowing resume. Coming off a 12-0 season with the Utes, Meyer had improved his record to 39-8 as a head coach. Gator fans, still soured by Zook, weren’t sure what to expect from Meyer, but were more than excited at what the future could bring.

It took Meyer only two years to do what Spurrier needed seven to accomplish – win a National Championship. In another two, Meyer would take home the title again. While those who still revered Spurrier initially thought they could never love another head coach as much, Meyer was quickly becoming the top man in the school’s long football history.

Their first five seasons at Florida were surprisingly similar. From 1990 to 1994, Spurrier was 49-12-1 with four SEC Championship Game appearances, three conference titles, and three major bowl appearances (he went 1-2 in those games). From 2005-2009, Meyer was 57-10 with three SEC Championship Game appearances, two conferences titles, and three major bowl appearances (where he was 3-0). Both coaches had three seasons with 10 or more wins and each had their worst record – an identical 9-4 – in their third year. Meyer benefitted from playing five more games than Spurrier and had a higher win percentage, but overall the success was similar. With one major exception.

Although the Gators were a dominant power for most of the 1990s, they would only win one National Championship under Spurrier. He would play for the title following the 1995 season, but wouldn’t win it until a year later in his seventh season as the Florida head coach. Meyer has already won two titles and finished 13-1 an astonishing three times and won’t enter his seventh season until 2011. To say Meyer has equaled Spurrier success would be an understatement. At this point he has surpassed it.

Looking at their overall tenure as Florida head coaches, similarities remain. Neither coach ever won less than nine games in a season and never lost more than four (although Meyer is walking both tightropes in 2010). Even their overall Gator win percentages get closer if you look at their entire bodies of work – Spurrier at 0.813 and Meyer at 0.829.

Only look at the last five years though and a very different picture is painted. Spurrier knew he wasn’t headed to a power when he agreed to coach South Carolina, but he had hopes to put the Gamecocks in a position to consistently compete in the SEC. That has yet to happen and, although South Carolina has been an improved program under him, they haven’t managed to lose less than five games in a season thus far. While Meyer has directed the Gators to an overall record of 63-13, Spurrier has been 41-31 with the Gamecocks and a meager 1-4 against Florida.

With the two coaches facing each other for a sixth time, there’s a lot more at stake than usual. Both teams sit at 6-3. For South Carolina, an upset over then top-ranked Alabama was the highlight. For Florida, the Gators hit bottom during a three-game losing streak. Thanks to an underwhelming year by SEC East members as a whole, both teams still have a shot at making it to Atlanta and playing in the SEC Championship Game. On Saturday, they will play a de facto SEC East title game.

Despite the meaning of this matchup for both teams, the actual game could go a number of different ways. It may end up being great. Or it could be one to sleep through. There have definitely been both in the Meyer vs. Spurrier series…

2005

Love or hate Spurrier, all Gator fans wanted in 2005 was to beat him. Florida had won 14 straight over South Carolina and, despite the addition of their former coach, the Gators needed that streak to continue.
In Meyer’s first season, he had led the Gators to a 7-2 (5-2) record with a shot at heading to Atlanta – assuming Florida got some help. With the upset loss to the Gamecocks, that door was closed by a man who had won a Heisman Trophy playing for the Gators and coached them to their first, and only, National Championship.

South Carolina played Florida tough from the start and was able to hold on late to win the game 30-22 in front of their home crowd. The Gators had a chance after kicking a field goal to pull within eight with 2:51 remaining. The following onside kick attempt was unsuccessful though. Florida forced the Gamecocks to punt with only a minute left, but was penalized, allowing South Carolina to keep the ball.

Despite an improved South Carolina team entering the matchup, the loss was still a gut-punch for Florida and Gator fans. The orange and blue didn’t lose to the Gamecocks. It was just that simple. To not come away with the victory was as shocking as having to face off against their former star head coach. Although it was Meyer’s first season and Florida had showed signs of life under their new leader, this particular loss would be remembered for the next year until the two teams met on the field again.

2006

I’ve had the fortune of being in The Swamp during two of the greatest home games in Florida football history. The first was during my freshman year in 1997 when the Gators upset top-ranked FSU in what I can only describe as the loudest stadium experience I’ve ever been a part of. The second was in 2006 when Florida beat South Carolina 17-16 in Spurrier’s return to Gainesville.

On that night, Jarvis Moss became a legend at Florida. His blocked extra point was crucial, but Moss went one step further, blocking a Gamecocks’ field goal attempt as time expired to seal the one-point victory. The kicking game was a nightmare for South Carolina as the Gators blocked three total kicks on the night.

An amazing finish and an always lively crowd were the highlights of the Florida win, but some other points stand out about the game. Despite only scoring a combined 33 points, the Gators and Gamecocks totaled 811 yards, 51 first downs, and only turned over the ball once. Numbers like that usually lead to higher-scoring games, but this was a battle that ended with both teams in the teens.

The legendary end to the game was only the beginning for Florida. The win would propel the Gators the rest of the season and help them climb the BCS standings. Florida would not lose again and would go on to win the National Championship. South Carolina would also not lose again and finish the year 8-5. It was a tough one for the Gamecocks with all five losses coming to ranked opponents and four of those five by a touchdown or less.

2007

While the South Carolina defense stood up admirably during the first two Meyer vs. Spurrier showdowns, they couldn’t stop anything the Gators threw at them during the next two.

2007 would end up being the down year for both coaches. It was the low point for Spurrier as South Carolina stumbled to 6-6 and would be Meyer’s worst season as the Florida head coach as the Gators finished 9-4. On the bright side, 2007 would be the season Tim Tebow would stake his claim as one of the greatest to ever play college football and put together a season for the ages as he took home the Heisman Trophy.

He may have won the award due to his performance against the Gamecocks alone. In the 51-31 win, Tebow accounted for 424 yards and seven touchdowns. His five rushing touchdowns set a school record and he broke a tie with Emmitt Smith and Buford Long for the most rushing touchdowns in a season in Florida history. His final touchdown of the night would be #42 for Tebow on the season which would break a tie with Danny Wuerffel for the most touchdowns accounted for in one season in SEC history. For good measure, the sophomore quarterback also set a career-high in the game with 304 passing yards.

The game would bring back painful memories for Spurrier. The Gators were the first team to score 50 or more points against a Spurrier-coached team since Nebraska put up 62 against Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. Despite being bowl-eligible, South Carolina would lose its next, and final game, and be left out of the postseason.

2008

In the 2008 meeting, Florida would hand Spurrier his worst loss ever as either a player or a coach. The loss to the Cornhuskers for the National Championship may have been more knock-you-to-the-ground-and-kick-you-while-you’re-down, but in terms of margin, this was the worst.

On their way to a second National Championship in three years, the Gators ran over the Gamecocks 56-6. Not only was it Spurrier’s worst loss ever, it was also South Carolina’s worst loss in 13 years (a 63-7 defeat to the Gators coached of course by Spurrier himself in 1995).

Florida turned the game into a numbers-haven of sorts. The Gators rushed for 346 yards, their highest total in 19 years, against a Gamecock defense that was only allowing 101 yards per game on the ground. Florida became the first team to win six-straight SEC games by 28 points or more. With two passing touchdowns, Tebow improved to 15 scores through the air and no interceptions against the Gators’ last four ranked opponents. And at one point in the first quarter, Florida scored three touchdowns on eight plays.

There are many things to remember from the 2008 beat down as a Gators’ fan, but my most fond memory was when a TBG-favorite almost scored. South Carolina tried some trickeration on a kickoff, but a badly thrown lateral resulted in a recovery by Florida long snapper James Smith. Smith appeared to have scored, but was ruled down just short of the goal line.

2009

The Florida offense struggled at times during the 2009 season and despite being the #1 team in the nation had trouble finishing off South Carolina.

The Gators would score on their first three possessions and make it look like another blowout was brewing, but Florida’s offense would cool off and the Gamecocks would begin to inch their way back into it. South Carolina even looked like they might take the lead in the fourth quarter, but Gator defensive end Justin Trattou became an instant hero as he intercepted Stephen Garcia and rumbled 53 yards. A few plays later, Tebow would cross the goal line and put Florida ahead for good.

The win could be credited to the defense that tightened when needed late in the fourth quarter. The Gators would sack Garcia four times late and a Joe Haden interception would seal it for Florida. South Carolina would win its next game, but fall in their bowl. The Gators would go on to finish 13-1 for the third time in four years.

As both teams prepare for the 2010 matchup, they will be thinking of what could have been. An upset of Alabama could have propelled the Gamecocks to a breakout season. A few plays could have seen the Gators beat LSU and Mississippi State. For now though, the teams are identical. 6-3 (4-3) with a shot at Atlanta. Neither will win the National Championship and its unlikely they’ll even finish in the top 10, but this one game could make or break how the season is looked back on in the coming years. Two legendary coaches doing battle for a spot in the SEC Championship Game.

Florida Gators 48 – Kentucky Wildcats 14

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Trey Burton  of the Florida Gators scores a touchdown as he is brought down by safety Winston Guy Jr.  of the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Gainesville, Florida. Florida defeated Kentucky 48-14 for head coach Urban Meyer
Florida beat Kentucky 48-14 on Saturday night.  But you could also say Trey Burton beat Kentucky 36-14.  Or that the Florida eights defeated the Kentucky eights by a score of 7-2.  Whichever way you look at it, the Gators beat the Wildcats by a good enough margin to get fans excited about the offense for at least a few days.
The world has now been introduced to Burton, who switched his jersey number before the game, got some sort of supernatural power out of the #8, and the proceeded to set a Gator record by crossing the goal line six times.  That’s one more than Tim Tebow’s previous school record.  Burton almost passed for a touchdown as well, but Omarius Hines mysteriously tripped on his way down the field.
Or was it all that mysterious?  The game saw nine touchdowns.  All nine were scored by players wearing the #8 on their jerseys.  Hines wears #82.  If he had kept his balance, he would have caught it from a #8, but clearly that wasn’t good enough for the football gods.  They had made their decision on exactly who could score TDs earlier that night and it just wasn’t in the cards for Hines.
Burton’s final stat line was something of legend.  10 total carries and receptions, six touchdowns, and that 42-yard completion to Hines for good measure.  His five rushing touchdowns came on only five carries, almost like you were controlling him in a video game trying to prove you could score on each and every carry.  Have to believe the Gators have a good red zone option for the next three or four seasons.
And Burton wasn’t the only bright spot.  John Brantley finally broke the 200-yard passing barrier and ended the night with 248.  Jeff Demps proved that maybe 26 carries in one game isn’t the best way to use him.  Emmanuel Moody looked like he could be the power runner.  Carl Moore was great and could be becoming the go-to receiver.  And Andre Debose finally got touches, something fans have been desperately waiting for.
On the defensive side of the ball, Duke Lemmens and Justin Trattou continued to overachieve.  Jaye Howard is proving to many that he could be the best player along the line.  There’s not enough to say about Jon Bostic.  And Jeremy Brown made sure the #8 was well represented on the defensive side of the ball as well.
It was a definite step forward for the Gators.  After three games there were plenty of question marks and there still are, but it’s a step.  A step right toward the #1 team in the nation and Alabama.  One that brings along a renewed hope heading into the next game.  The defense continued to impress and the offense seemed to stabilize.  Hopefully it wasn’t an aberration and was what will become more of the norm.
Florida did a lot right against Kentucky and could have some carried over momentum heading into that matchup with the Crimson Tide.  The first quarter of the regular season is over and the Gators are 4-0.  Now Florida heads to the proving ground.  Bama, LSU, Mississippi State, Georgia.  There’s still a long road ahead, but the victory over the Wildcats was reflective of what a top 10 team should be doing.  Again, a step forward.

Florida Gators 38 – USF Bulls 14

The big day has come and gone.  Florida and USF in The Swamp.  The game I’ve been waiting for since the two schools announced they would be playing each other.  It was pretty much as expected I would think and now we have five seasons to wait until the Gators and Bulls meet up again.

I’m putting this piece together while I watch Breakfast with the Gators, naturally.  Mrs. TBG loves college football, but she still doesn’t quite understand watching games twice.  Luckily the Sunday paper is bigger than usual and gives her something to do while I occupy the television.
For nearly two and a half quarters on Saturday, the games was exactly what USF wanted and might just have been Florida’s worst nightmare.  The Bulls were in the game a lot longer than the final score would indicate.  Up 7-0 deep into the first half.  Tied 7-7 halfway through the third quarter.  It was what the Bulls wanted.  To stay in the game against a top-10 team in one of the harshest environments in the nation.
For the Gators, it was the exact opposite.  An up-and-down offense and a defense that couldn’t do much against the run.  Luckily for Florida, the pass defense was stellar and continued to force USF’s B.J. Daniels into making a number of bad decisions.
At the 7:24 mark of the third quarter, the tide shifted as the Bulls would experience four minutes and 52 seconds of hell.  At that moment, Jeff Demps crossed the goal line after a spectacular 62-yard run that proved once again that he’s faster, shiftier, and better than anyone you know.  It would end with 2:32 left in the third when Justin Trattou reached the end zone, rumbling 35 yards after intercepting Daniels.  In the middle, Mike Gillislee punched in a touchdown from four yards out.  Four minutes and 52 seconds.  21 points for the Gators.  What was a tie quickly became a three-touchdown lead for Florida.
USF would score just over two minutes after the Trattou touchdown, but that was it for the Bulls.  Florida would add 10 more points in the final frame to finish off USF 38-14.
Before getting into the Florida-side of the game, let’s look at some of USF’s positives.  Yes, there were some.  First of all, the Bulls ran the ball well.  After the first game of the season, the Gators run defense looked like it would be a strength in 2010.  It may still be, but USF did a number of good things on the ground throughout the game.  The Bulls finished with 244 yards and ran for 6.3 yards per carry.  They say if you control the run game, you have a great chance to come away with the victory.  Early in the game, that was the case.  The problem was that second half.  Despite the Bulls great day on the ground, the Gators were better.  251 yards, 6.8 yards per carry.
Still, USF looked good on the ground against a team with a heavy rotation of defensive linemen and linebackers.  They came into The Swamp and ran well.  But they also may have done something Skip Holtz has not wanted to do since he became the head coach.  Daniels ran the ball 17 times for 107 yards.  That’s a good day.  A great day for a quarterback (well, unless you’re comparing it to Michigan’s Denard Robinson, then it’s only a mediocre day), but Holtz wants Daniels to be more of a passer and in that area, he had a day to forget.  Five completions to his teammates, four to the Gators.  84 yards passing, 51 of which came on one play.  I’m sure Daniels is more than ready for the bye week.
The other positive for the Bulls was the play of the defensive line, at least early.  When you give up 251 yards on the ground, you don’t want to think of your defensive line play as a positive, but USF got plenty of pressure on Gator quarterback John Brantley early and was able to slow the Florida offense.  Turnovers ended up being the problem and the heat didn’t help.  Having to be on the field as much as they did during the second half was tough and as the Gators got rolling, things got difficult for the entire USF defense.
Now for the Gators.  This Florida running back had a career-high 139 rushing yards and 255 total yards on the day.  Who is Jeff Demps?  Demps has now played in two games on the season.  Two games in which he averaged over 12 yards per carry in each.  Think about that for a second.  12 yards per carry (he actually averages 12.5).  There are plenty of receivers that don’t average that per catch.  In fact, Brantley is averaging only 8.1 per completion.  We expect high per carry averages for Demps – he averaged 7.8 as a true freshman and 7.5 as a sophomore – but over 12 is ridiculous.  Even if you remove his 62-yard run against USF and his 72-yard run against Miami (OH), you still get a back averaging over six yards per carry.  Can you say weapon?
Other than Demps, Florida has plenty of positives to build on as they head into SEC play.  The pass defense was once against its ball-hawking self.  That’s now two games and eight interceptions already.  Ahmad Black and Janoris Jenkins have accounted for five of those.  That’s now nine for Black in his Gator career, one away from jumping into a tie for tenth all-time in school history.  Not bad for a “recruiting mistake.”  Jenkins has stepped up and has clearly become one of the leaders on defense.  The young cornerbacks on the roster have a great player to learn from over the course of the season.
And the young players overall for that matter.  Those young players that stepped up and had good performances on Saturday.  Stephen Alli, Robert Clark, and Andre Debose all saw plenty of time on the field against USF.  While they only totaled one catch for 15 yards (the reception was Clark), they’re all learning and experience is key.  On the defensive side of the field, both Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins made great plays in coverage.  Depth in the secondary is a concern of many because of the youth at both cornerback and safety, but if the youngsters keep playing like they have been, it shouldn’t be much of a worry.
Good game for Florida and something to build on for USF.  The Gators don’t get a rest as they travel to Tennessee in a few short days.  The Bulls get a chance to rest after the loss before three straight home games.  Saw some good things from both teams and some areas where there can be improvement.  If the second half is indicative of how Florida will play from here on out, the Gators can and will have a very good season.  For USF, it’s not something to get too discouraged about.  This was definitely not a team to be ashamed to lose to.  Learn from it and move forward.

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.
 

Morning Reading: Brandon Spikes to Play; Florida Defensive Linemen Battle Injuries

Those of you that live up north are probably going to laugh, but it’s cold in Florida.  Okay, it’s not cold as much as a little chilly, but I believe we set a record in Tampa two nights ago.  “We.”  Like I had anything to do with it.  What it does make for though is near perfect football weather.  On Saturday it was in the high 60s/low 70s around these parts.  Sounds pretty much perfect to me.  But the heat will be back.  Highs in the high 80s by the end of the week.  Maybe one day I’ll understand the weather in this state.  Last winter, two freezes killed most of the plants in my front yard.  Two years ago, I wore shorts throughout January.  Of course whatever winter we do get usually lasts no more than a week or two anyway.
Despite missing most of the Arkansas game with a groin injury, senior middle linebacker Brandon Spikes appears to be back on track to play this Saturday against Mississippi State.  Maybe it was a slew of injuries holding Spikes back from performing up to expectations earlier in the season and not just a down start to the year.  Spikes appeared to be his normal self against LSU and had an all-star performance.  If that was the only game he was truly healthy, then I’ll take more of that please.  As much as I’d like to see him out there against the Bulldogs on Saturday, there is a bigger matchup against that other Bulldog team in two weeks.
As for the rest of the defense, the line appears to be affected the most.  After spending most of the first half jawing with Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett (what was that all about?), Justin Trattou injured his bicep.  If he can’t go, this could be a bigger blow to the defensive line than most would think.  Trattou has always had his motor running at 100 miles per hour and has become an important part of the line.  With Carlos Dunlap still playing like any other average DE, Trattou’s improved play is vital to the Gators’ pass rush.
Jaye Howard didn’t dress against the Razorbacks, but should be back on Saturday.  And Jermaine Cunningham has battled through a number of ailments this season; although you wouldn’t know it the way he is playing.  I have a friend (you know who you are) that’s said for quite some time now that Cunningham is the wild card and the real key to the line.  Although Dunlap is thought to be the star, Cunningham plays extremely well under the radar.  That couldn’t be more true.  Cunningham has quickly become one of the most consistent performers on the line and may be the Gator we would all miss the most if he were forced to sit out.
 

Florida Gators 23 – Arkansas Razorbacks 20

The motto for the 2009 season may just be “a win is a win.”  First of all, I’ll go ahead and give a round of applause to Arkansas.  They did their research on Florida’s offense and did whatever they could to disrupt it.  In the end, a driven Tim Tebow and a Riley Cooper determined to make up for an early drop put the Gators on their back and carried them to the win.
For three quarters, I don’t know if the Florida offensive line played that bad or the Arkansas defensive line played that good.  Let’s go ahead and assume both.  I just had a discussion this week with One Eyed Willy on who will replace Gators that are leaving after this season and which players might leave early.  On our radar was of course the Pounceys.  We were pretty confident one or both would test the draft waters this year.  Now?  I can’t imagine either leaving.  Look, I believe both of the Pounceys are extremely talented and will be taking their act to the NFL for many years to come.  But both of them seem lost so far this year.  How many times was Tebow pressured from not the outside pass rushers, but from guys coming right up the middle?  Maybe this was the game that turns it all around for the twins.  They are the leaders of the offensive line and need to take control.  They took a big step forward in the fourth quarter.
And about that Razorback offensive line.  I’m glad the Gators don’t have to face them again.  They knew exactly what to bring and how to bring it.  They exposed holes in the blocking schemes Florida runs and constantly put Tebow on the ground.  They (and all the damn fumbles!) kept Arkansas in this game.
We have to go ahead and give a game ball to Jermaine Cunningham for playing like we all keep hoping Carlos Dunlap will.  Cunningham and Justin Trattou put pressure on Ryan Mallett and hurried him throughout the game.  And it was Cunningham who got the final tackle to end the game.
At this point, what else can you say about Tim Tebow?  He may not have the numbers he put up in 2007, but remember, in 2007 the Gators finished 9-4.  Numbers be damned, Tebow just wants to win.  He is that quarterback you don’t want to face in a close game anymore.  After the SEC Championship game last year and now this game, he’s determined there’s no way the Gators are going to lose as long as he has anything to do with it.  I’m excited for the John Brantley era (really, I am…he’s a different type of talent than Tebow and I’m interested to see what he can do), but I can’t say I’m really looking forward to Tebow not being a Gator.
The streak gets to 16 and Urban Meyer gets his 50th win as the Florida head coach.  A win is a win and now I’m exhausted.  I’m not sure I can handle more games this close.  I need a nap.  But in a few minutes that team right behind the Gators in the rankings plays, so I’ll power through.
 

TBG’s MVPs: Florida Gators 56 – Troy Trojans 6

It’s time for the individual game awards. Names for most pending.

Offensive MVP: Tim Tebow, QB, 15-of-24, 237 yards, 4 touchdowns, 13 carries, 71 yards, 1 touchdown. The Tebow we all know and love was alive and well in this one. 308 total yards of offense and five touchdowns and he’s already the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. In the very near future, Tebow will be the SEC’s all-time rushing touchdowns leader. If you don’t think that’s at least a little impressive, you need to check your historical significance pulse.

Defensive MVP: Janoris Jenkins, CB, 3 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 interception. Florida felt Jenkins’ impact on pass defense almost immediately. He has become the team’s top cover corner and we should all be happy he’s back. And…Justin Trattou, DE, 3 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass deflection. With names like Jermaine Cunningham, Carlos Dunlap, and Omar Hunter along the defensive line, many tend to forget about other contributors such as Trattou. He impact was more than felt in this one.

Play of the Game: Tim Tebow to Brandon James, 32 yards, touchdown. For a guy listed as a running back who really hasn’t played all that much offense over the course of his career to make a catch like that in traffic in that weather was beauty personified. It’s didn’t hurt that Tebow’s throw was as perfect as it could be.

Surprise Players of the Game: Another award we gave to two players. I wanted to go with Omarius Hines, but his drop was too fresh in my mind. KP however gave him the benefit of the doubt for his ability to make people miss and some great runs after the catch. After two games, Hines is third on the team in receptions and yards. I ended up going over to the defensive side of the ball with Josh Evans. Although the box score shows him only racking up one tackle, he always seemed to be around the ball when he was in the game. Evans is a guy who wasn’t a definite to even qualify then became an almost definite redshirt candidate and now he’s suiting up and making plays.

Bouskilla Award (Hardest Hit): We had two winners for this one as well, but they were actually for hits they put on Florida players. First, Janoris Jenkins picked up his second award of the game after clocking Brandon James on his return that was called back. And second, offensive coordinator Steve Addazio for body checking Riley Cooper after Cooper lost his helmet for the 19th time.

Kyle Jackson Memorial Trophy (Player Who Shouldn’t Have Been Out There): Wondy Pierre-Louis, CB. As KP said, “every time he steps on the field he’ll win it.”

The Long Snapper: September 1, 2009

Florida. USF. Random rants. Links galore. Sentence fragments. Unrelated videos. Tips from readers. Depth charts. Injury updates. Practice notes. Diary entries. Recipes. Why I’m right. Why you’re wrong. Top plays. Rumors. Arrest counts. Broadcast times. Recruiting. High school scores. Stock tips. Dog training lessons. College football. The Long Snapper.

Jeffery Demps to start. Chris Rainey to relieve. Emmanuel Moody to contribute. Mike Gillislee to play. Mack Brown to salivate.

Demps, haiku.

The injury is not career-threatening, but could be redshirt-inducing. If Andre Debose’s hamstring requires surgery, expect the all-world receiver to watch the 2009 season from the sideline. The specifics of the injury are far from common, but either is Debose. Expect a healthy – and pissed-off – #4 to hit the field with a “here’s what you’ve missed” attitude when he’s back to 100%. Getting some more time to learn Urban Meyer’s offense will only make him more dangerous.

Justin Trattou, tight end.

Meyer on life, liberty, Jaye Howard, the seniors, professionalism, Debose’s bum hammy, the schedule, offensive depth, and more. Consider this required reading pupils.

Saturday’s game against Charleston Southern will air on Sun Sports at 7:00 PM. For those of you who want to watch it again, it will replay on Sunday at 8:30 AM. And again, Tuesday at 11:00 PM. I still can’t believe I have to do this, but I’m actually calling Bright House right now to find out how much EXTRA I have to pay to get Sun Sports HD.

Dennis Dodd’s boner for whichever program is currently the top dog is showing. Three out of the top seven biggest games of 2009 include the Gators. While I bleed orange and blue, taking the entire nation into account, my list would’ve been slightly different.

USF linebacker Donte Spires has left the team, citing academic and financial issues. There’s an outside shot he will return in the spring, but his ship to contribute may have left the gate. If he comes back, Spires will count 2009 as his redshirt year.

Jessie Hester and A.J. Love may not play on Saturday. Both were listed as second-string receivers, but that’s due to their injuries. At 100%, either could start. And yes, I just linked you to the exact same article as in the previous paragraph. You’re welcome.

Big East coaches stick together. Bonus points to Bill Stewart for calling Jim Leavitt by the less formal Jimmy.

The USF depth chart for the Wofford game is out. Don’t expect it to be set in stone. We’re already hearing Jerome Murphy could get the start at cornerback over Kayvon Webster. I say let Webster start. Baptism by fire. Or something like that.

The Wofford game will televised by Bright House on their sports-related station that all of you who have the cable network get, but few of you can stomach to watch. It will be filmed using a Sony Handycam and a sketch artist.

Brion Carnes – a future Bull QB – completed 18 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns while adding 80 yards and another touchdown on the ground in Manatee’s (Bradenton, FL) opening win against Plant (Tampa, FL). If Plant sounds familiar to those of you not in the Tampa area, it’s because it has recently produced players like Mike Williams, Robert Marve, Aaron Murray, and Orson Charles. Manatee gave college football some guy named Tommie Frazier.

Willie Williams, waste of talent.

A speedy recovery wished to Alabama defensive end Brandon Deaderick, but when a man with a gun asks you for something, just give it to him.

Shareece Wright, out.

Rick Neuheisel brushes his teeth with steel wool, breaks NCAA rules like you break toothpicks, and will punch you in the mouth for inviting him to participate in your March Madness pool. So why would the presence of wildfires 10 miles from the Rose Bowl stop him from wanting UCLA to go ahead with their opener in the stadium? The answer: it wouldn’t. The Bruins plan to play through the smoke.

And finally, because you haven’t seen it in a while and because you know you want it.

If you’d like to purchase a video of One Eyed Willy dancing to this song (the Sugar Hill Gang version) at my wedding, please send $19.95 plus shipping and handling to Dancing with Willy care of The Bull Gator.