Florida Gators 27 – Vanderbilt Commodores 3

With each passing game it becomes harder and harder to envision tight end Aaron Hernandez in a Florida uniform in 2010.  Dude is talent.  A huge recruit coming in, Gator fans were excited when he signed with Florida.  Then came the practice reports.  Hernandez dropped A LOT of passes.  He looked lost in the offense.  People began to think maybe he’d be alright, but Hernandez probably wasn’t the player everyone once thought.  But when he put on a game uniform and got on the field it all changed.  A “wow” play here and there as a true freshman and thrust into the starting lineup as a sophomore when Cornelius Ingram went down.  What the Gators ended up with was probably the best tight end in the school’s history (yes, I just said that) and one of the stars of Florida’s 27-3 win over Vanderbilt.  Hernandez didn’t get into the end zone, but led the Gators with 7 catches for 120 yards.  Enjoy him now because in 2010 he could be playing on Sundays.
The word of the game was definitely defense in this one.  The offense was far from outstanding, but was efficient enough to put the ball in the end zone more times than needed thanks to the lights out Gator D.  Florida held Vandy to under 200 total years with almost a perfect split – 100 yards through the air and 99 on the ground.  Dustin Doe and Ryan Stamper were the stars with the Brandons watching from the sideline.  Doe led the team with 11 tackles while Stamper was second with 6 and got an interception.  That’s now 5 picks for Gator linebackers in the last 2 games.  Despite limiting Vandy to 199 total yards and only allowing the Commodores to put 3 on the scoreboard, Florida didn’t do much behind the line of scrimmage.  In fact, the Gators only managed 1 tackle for loss and no sacks on the night.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that given the final score, but against a better offense next week, there will need to be more pressure in the backfield.
On the offensive side, the story was a little different.  Vandy racked up 7 tackles for loss and 4 sacks.  Tackles for loss and sacks are going to happen from time to time given the nature of Florida’s offense, but those are numbers you don’t want to see.  Keep in mind, sacks are factored in to tackles for loss (the word “duh” comes to mind), but still.  The Gators officially have a date with Alabama in a few weeks.  Tay Cody and company will be licking their chops seeing how teams have gotten to Tim Tebow this season.  The middle of the line especially needs to tighten up.  In terms of the pass and the run game, let’s see solid protection from here on out.
Tebow had what seemed to be a rather pedestrian game, but did manage his highest completion percentage of the season (75%) and added to his career rushing total.  #15 probably still carries the ball more than many fans may want to see, but in the end we’re looking at a Florida team that’s 9-0.  It may not be pretty.  The offense may not always get going early like we’d like.  But a 24-point conference win is nothing to scoff at.  I remember only a few seasons ago when a 4 score victory over anyone in the SEC was something to get excited about.  In 2006 (one of those national championship seasons by the way), the Gators beat the Commodores by 6.  That year, fans seemed happy for the win.  This time around, if it’s not a final score of 45-10 or something along those lines, then it wasn’t a good game.  If Tebow isn’t putting up Heisman stats, then it wasn’t a good game.  If the offense doesn’t put up 500+ yards, then it wasn’t a good game.  But at this point in the season, it really is time to take each win as a win.  27-3.  9-0.  South Carolina up next.

TBG’s MVPs: Florida 23 – Tennessee 13 AND Florida 41 – Kentucky 7

Since I completely forgot to post the awards for the Florida/Tennessee game, you get a double dip with that and the Florida/Kentucky game this week.

Florida 23 – Tennessee 13

Offensive MVP: Three votes. Three winners. Emmanuel Moody for play that would’ve resulted in stellar statistics had the coaching staff kept him on the field. Tim Tebow for carrying the Gator to the win. And Jeffery Demps for playing hard despite a case of the temperatures.
Defensive MVP: Ryan Stamper. Stamper is one of those lunch-pail types that just gets the job done. You’ll never find yourself cursing him after a bad play. He doesn’t make mistakes.

Play of the Game: Tebow’s 4-yard run on 3rd and 3. Vintage Tebow…er…Ta-dow!

Surprise Player of the Game: Caleb Sturgis. We’ve been wondering for a while when Sturgis was going to add accuracy to power. It’s happened and he finally earned the kicking job.

Bouskilla Award (Hardest Hit): Tebow sending Dennis Rogan’s head back to Knoxville early. Jaye Howard for rolling with it. And Tebow vs. Berry. All worthy choices.

Kyle Jackson Memorial Trophy (Player Who Shouldn’t Have Been Out There): Brandon James the wide receiver. We all love Brandon James the kick/punt returner. We even like Brandon James the running back on occasion. Brandon James the wide receiver did make a great catch against Troy. But overall, the receiver version isn’t desirable. It’s not so much his fault as the wide receiver problem as a whole. But please, no more Brandon James the wide receiver.

Florida 41 – Kentucky 7

Offensive MVP: Tim Tebow. Tim Tebow. Tim Tebow. All three votes to the man who carries the entire Gator team.

Defensive MVP: Joe Haden for his strong showing despite having those damn, dirty flu-like symptoms. And Brandon Spikes for coming out and playing like we all know he can. As One Eyed Willy said “not is best game by any means, but by far his best this year.”

Play of the Game: Punt block, touchdown, Chris Rainey. There was no doubt about this one. Kentucky dreaded the punt block coming into this game. Mr. White Girls gave it his all.

Surprise Player of the Game: Emmanuel Moody for actually playing. He only ended up with six touches, but seemed to be on the field quite a bit. Has the coaching staff softened their stance on the talented running back? Time will tell.

Bouskilla Award (Hardest Hit): Joe Haden getting a near safety and Will Hill running through someone of the sidelines get their votes, but another Gator gets mention hear as well. For the hit that made the most impact (maybe on the entire Florida season), Marcus Gilbert. Talk about shear wrong place at the wrong time. That someone would be in the exact spot where Tebow was crashing to the ground has to be one in a million.

Kyle Jackson Memorial Trophy (Player Who Shouldn’t Have Been Out There): Wondy Pierre-Louis got another mention and two of us went with David Nelson. A personal foul was out of character for #83 and nearly taking out James on a return didn’t help. We also had a vote for whoever played right tackle for the Gators (you could probably give it to whoever played the right side of the line as a matter of fact). The line as a whole needs to step up. Now!

Morning Reading: Updates from the Latest Urban Meyer/Tim Tebow Press Conference

I can’t watch press conferences. Something about a guy just sitting there answering questions. It’s like the most boring courtroom drama ever. But I do like to find out what the coaches and players had to say. It’s just much easier to read about the press conference after the fact then sit through the pain while it’s live.

During the latest press conference, Florida head coach Urban Meyer commented on Ryan Stamper and how vital he is to the team. Over the past couple of years Stamper has gone from a backup who saw the field on occasion to one of the most reliable defensive players on the squad. You won’t hear his name mentioned among the stars, but he is an unsung hero. Meyer also said how much he respects what Rich Brooks has done with the Kentucky program. It may have been a while since the Wildcats beat the Gators, but look back over the past few years and you can see UK has definitely improved. And not every comment about Tennessee was a negative one. Meyer commended the defensive personnel the Vols have had over the past few years and how well they’ve played Florida.

Quarterback Tim Tebow commented on his collision with Tennessee safety Eric Berry, saying it was a good hit that both players felt. He also commended Kentucky’s improvement and shook off the winning streak against the Wildcats. Tebow said this is a different Kentucky team and a different Florida team. Each year is a new game and none of the past matters. Tebow believes the Gators will enjoy the rest of the season and play as hard as they ever have. He wants to do his best to remember every moment because he doesn’t have many games left. And finally, good ol’ #15 loves going on the road.

Florida Gators 23 – Tennessee Volunteers 13

Let’s go ahead and get the few positives out of the way first. Florida did beat Tennessee. When all was said and done, the Gators got their first conference win of the seasons and remained undefeated. Sometimes you have to take a game for what it is in the end – a win or a loss. Basically I’m saying there was another outcome that would’ve been much, much worse. So the Gators beat the Vols and can move on to the next opponent and get the game behind them. Another in the win column. Good job.

The defense did its job for the most part. Florida picked off Jonathan Crompton twice and held Tennessee to only 210 yards of total offense. Anytime you can hold an SEC opponent to 13 points, you’re doing a good job. And when you’re doing it with Brandon Spikes in and out of the game, well, you can’t really complain. Ryan Stamper stepped up and led the team with 12 tackles and three for loss. Ahmad Black and Joe Haden both had interceptions. Overall, the defense kept this game from being much closer than it already was.

Okay, two paragraphs is enough. Before I rant too much I will say I’m not the type that expects Florida to be perfect. Many fans and experts expect nothing less from the Gators this year. They should score 50 in every game and beat every opponent by 30 or more. I’m not like that. Of course it would be nice. I said in my preview of this game that I’d love to see the Gators absolutely blowout the Vols, but in the end I don’t lose sleep when a victory is still the end result. That being said, here we go…

I was bored watching this game. Truly bored. If I wasn’t a Florida fan and was at home, I might’ve actually changed the channel. Florida played not to lose. Nothing more and nothing less. The Gators wanted to get out with a win and that was it. All the hype about sticking it to Lane Kiffin was nothing more than hype. All excitement was…well, there wasn’t any. And it started and ended with the play calling in my opinion.

On offense, the Gators didn’t take chances. So Deonte Thompson was out. So Jeffery Demps had a fever. So Aaron Hernandez was battling flu-like symptoms. But what about all the other weapons we’ve all seen perform with our own two eyes? Florida didn’t try to stretch the field. They didn’t take a chance deep. They used very few formations. And they didn’t adapt to the defensive schemes Tennessee showed them. I understand Eric Berry is a very good player. He may be the best defensive player in the nation. But it seemed as if Florida knew that and offensive coaches weren’t willing to take any chance to let Berry make a play. In the end, Berry had an interception on a badly thrown ball, but his presence alone seemed to make the Gators feel they had to hold back on offense.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive play calling wasn’t much better and again felt like Florida was simply playing not to lose. It’s no secret I’m not a Crompton fan. I can’t imagine many people are. But where was the pressure? When you blitz an erratic quarterback like Crompton, you force him to make mistakes. Crompton made a couple of his own – drastically underthrowing his receiver on Haden’s interception and throwing to a double-covered receiver on Black’s – but could have been forced into making a few more had he been blitzed. We’ve seen what heavy blitzing defenses do to a quarterback of Tim Tebow’s ability. Imagine what they would do to one of Crompton’s.

I’m sure there are a million excuses as to why Florida didn’t necessarily perform up to its ability. The injuries and sicknesses could have contributed. Not willing to take chances and allow an upset could’ve been another. But it’s a win. However, this is the least excited I’ve felt about a double-digit win over one of Florida’s top rivals in quite some time. Who knows though, maybe this was this season’s Ole Miss game. We’ll see against Kentucky in six days.

The Long Snapper: September 3, 2009

Today’s the day. It’s an odd feeling. Being excited about a South Carolina/NC State game. Of course, it’ll be much odder tomorrow night when I’m sitting down to watch Tulane host Tulsa. What can I say? I have a problem.

Florida has captains. Brandon James. Joey Sorrentino. Brandon Spikes. Ryan Stamper. Tim Tebow. Spikes, Stamper, and Tebow became on the sixth, seventh, and eighth Gators to ever be two-time captains. (H/T: One Eyed Willy)

Dustin Doe, suspended.

Doctors are still trying to determine the best course of action for true freshman Andre Debose. The longer this takes, the more serious it seems to be. Now I don’t know if that’s true, but in many situations, the injury occurs and a course is decided upon. The fact that Debose’s situation is still being evaluated has me wondering what’s up.

Matt Patchan and James Wilson are still battling it out to determine who will get the final starting spot on the offensive line. Carl Johnson will start at left guard if Patchan wins the battle and he’ll move to tackle if the last spot goes to Wilson.

Superstar freshman linebacker Jon Bostic will play against Charleston Southern. Superstar freshman linebacker Jelani Jenkins probably won’t. Jenkins’ ankle is improving, but isn’t 100%. No point in pushing him into action.

Florida commit Gerald Christian flew up the Rivals100. The tight end is 51st on the most recent list after having been listed at 110th previously.

Broadcast information for the Florida/Charleston Southern game.

Most sites won’t put spreads on games where FBS teams play FCS teams, but Florida has been mentioned as a 63-point favorite over Charleston Southern. To find the last time the Gators even scored 60 or more points in a season opener, you have to go back to 2003 and year two of the Ron Zook era. Florida beat San Jose State 65-3 that day. Ingle Martin, Chris Leak, and Gavin Dickey all threw touchdown passes and Kelvin Kight was the Gators’ leading receiver. Florida would go on to finish 8-5 on the season leaving freshman Leak and Andre Caldwell probably wondering what they had gotten themselves into. Just another reason to be thankful for Urban Meyer.

ESPN pushed a Florida/Utah matchup, but it couldn’t get worked out in the end. Thus, we have Charleston Southern.

Despite been one of the more experienced members of USF’s offensive line, Jake Sims wasn’t likely to start. However, after Mark Popek’s battle with the flu, it looks like Sims will get his 11th career start.

The Bulls will be represented by Matt Grothe, Mo Plancher, George Selvie, and Kion Wilson as captains for the first game.

Keeley Dorsey – who passed away during conditioning in 2007 – would’ve been a senior this fall. To honor him, a different senior will wear #10 – his jersey number – in each game during the 2009 season. Defensive tackle Aaron Harris will wear it in the season opener against Wofford. Harris normally wears #98.

Mark Ingram and Julio Jones will play in Alabama’s season opener against Virginia Tech; on the condition they pay back the money for their fishing trip. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll never understand some of the NCAA’s regulations. It was a fishing trip. They weren’t given a fishing boat (at least not that we know of).

The Motor City Bowl has been renamed the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Be honest, you had no idea Little Caesars still existed.

The nation’s top high school receiver Kyle Prater chose to USC over Illinois. Good choice Kyle. Good choice.

As for that South Carolina/NC State game we’ll all be watching tonight, hopefully this time around things go better for Russell Wilson.

Morning Reading: Stopping Tim Tebow

I got a comment once regarding a Tim Tebow post to the effect of “you know there are other players on the team other than Tebow.” It made me chuckle because despite this being predominantly a Florida site, I dedicate less posts solely to Tebow than most places that talk equally about every sport. But with the Gator signal caller entering his final season in orange and blue, I have no reservations about talking him up a little more. He is, after all, one of the greatest to ever play the game. I remember watching the 2007 Heisman Trophy presentation with a diehard FSU fan who commented “how can you not love Tim Tebow?” The answer: I don’t know.

How do you stop Tim Tebow? For the most part you don’t. SI.com’s Andy Staples says realistically only two teams have done it: Auburn and Ole Miss. Even though Tebow also lost in starts against LSU, Georgia, and Michigan, Staples says there were other factors contributing to those games and realistically, those defenses didn’t stop the quarterback. Bulldog fans will immediately point to their pummeling of Tebow in 2007 as evidence they controlled him. And they did. But that also had a lot to do with the fact that Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen basically forbid him from running in that game due to an injury.

So how do you stop him? Or at least contain him? Well, as the article details, you: 1) force him to run the ball at least 15 times, 2) spy him with someone who has the size of a sequoia and the speed of a cheetah, and 3) have first-round NFL Draft potential defensive tackles to stop him on short yardage situations. Sound simple? Good luck if you think it is.

Look at what the Gators are dealing with during the 2009 season. At least 15 carries? Tebow could definitely get the ball at least 15 times in any given game. But with each passing season it became less and less likely. In 2007, when Tebow and Percy Harvin were the only offensive options Meyer and Mullen relied upon in many situations, Tebow hit the 15-carry mark eight times. Three of those eight came in Florida losses and two more came in two games the Gators won by only a combined 14 points. In 2008, he only hit the 15-carry mark four times. One came in that loss to Ole Miss, two were in close battles in the SEC Championship Game and National Championship Game, and the only true wildcard was a game in a downpour against FSU. With the collection of talent Tebow has in the backfield with him, don’t expect him to come close to the eight game mark he hit during the 9-4 2007 season.

As for the other two things you need. Gator linebacker Ryan Stamper seems to think Carlos Dunlap is a good choice to check off #2 on your list. Only problem? He plays for Florida and won’t be attempting to bring down Tebow in games. And you can definitely have a great defensive tackle – lots of teams do – but expecting them to do much against Carl Johnson, Maurkice Pouncey, and Mike Pouncey is like hoping you’ll one day be suiting up for your favorite team yourself.

So good luck Florida opponents and try your best. It’ll be fun watching what teams throw at Tebow during the upcoming season.

A Look at Depth Charts: The Florida Defense

After covering the offense, I’m moving on to the defense. Considering it returns all 11 starters, this wasn’t too difficult to put together, but there are definitely a number of second-teamers with starting experience that could make a push for serious playing time.

Players that could assume a starting role sometime during the season are in italics.

Florida’s Defense

Defensive End – Jermaine Cunningham (SR)
Defensive End – Carlos Dunlap (JR), Justin Trattou (JR)
Defensive Tackle – Lawrence Marsh (RJR)
Defensive Tackle – Terron Sanders (RJR), Omar Hunter (RFR)
Middle Linebacker – Brandon Spikes (SR)
Outside Linebacker – Brandon Hicks (JR), A.J. Jones (RJR)
Outside Linebacker – Ryan Stamper (RSR), Dustin Doe (SR)
Cornerback – Joe Haden (JR)
Cornerback – Janoris Jenkins (SO)
Safety – Ahmad Black (JR)
Safety – Major Wright (JR)
Nickel Back – Will Hill (SO)

Some notes on the defense…

Trattou actually started 13 games at defensive end during the 2008 season and could be on the field for the first snap during a number of games again in 2009. But the two most talented ends are Cunningham and Dunlap and overall, they should see the most time on the field.

Marsh and Sanders did their jobs last season, but coaches are looking for the interior linemen to make more of an impact. Those two should be the starters again when the season begins, but look for Hunter to push them. And we may even see Gary Brown get some important time as a true freshman.

A number of outside linebackers could see action this year and the Gators wouldn’t miss a beat. Doe, Hicks, Jones, and Stamper all have experience starting. Look for a number of others to also get time in 2009.

Although Hill is a monster talent, Black and Wright (especially as the season progressed) played too well to be unseated easily. However, coaches will figure out a way to get Hill on the field as much as possible. He will be a star of the special teams again and should be the primary nickel back.

TBG’s MVPs: Florida Linebackers

Sorry for the delay. I’ll be a little quicker in getting through the rest of these.

Brandon Spikes – 12 pts. (4 first-place votes)

There was absolutely no debate on this one. Florida has had a run a very good middle linebackers lately and Spikes is just the next in line. After a solid sophomore year, Spikes broke out as a junior in 2008. His inspired play led the defense to a dramatic turnaround. Surprisingly Spikes returned for his senior season, giving everyone no reason to think the defense won’t get even better.

One-Eyed Willy: “Do I really need to give any stats? Ok, I do. 93 tackles (led team), 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 4 INTs, 2 of which were returned for TDs (led team), 1 bone crushing hit and subsequent taunt of Mr. Knowshon Moreno, and 1 shanked punt in celebration. Nuff said.”

2. Ryan Stamper – 6
3. Brandon Hicks – 4
4. A.J. Jones – 2

As for the 2009 season…

Brandon Spikes – 12 (4)

2. Ryan Stamper – 5
3. Brandon Hicks – 3
4. Dustin Doe/A.J. Jones – 2

Up next: Defensive Backs

Morning Reading: Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow, and Ryan Stamper at the SEC Media Day

After One-Eyed Willy’s largely true, but somewhat disturbing testament to the things he dislikes about Florida, I’ve made a slight alteration to the Friday edition of Morning Reading. In response to #2 from Willy’s diatribe, this Morning Reading is brought to you by the gorgeous girls of the Gator Nation. You’re quite welcome.

There have been a number of stories come out of the SEC Football Media Day that occurred on Thursday. The whodunit regarding the one vote not placed for Tim Tebow. Whether the signal caller will go under center. The Gators goal to defend their title. And on and on.

GatorZone has some excerpts from interviews with Tebow, head coach Urban Meyer, and linebacker Ryan Stamper. It’s worth a read over your morning coffee.

Meyer talks about expectations for the defending national champs, Dan Mullen’s departure, the defense, Emmanuel Moody’s progress, and a certain middle linebacker that may have been too shy to join him at the session. Tebow elaborates on his decision to return for his senior year, the All-SEC snub, and the struggles to repeat. And Stamper talks about the offseason, hard work, getting to the SEC Championship Game, and looking forward to playing LSU.