The rigors of a tough Southeastern Conference slate had taken its' toll on the Florida football team. Three weeks ago, the Gators were beaten and busted up. Because of limited depth along the offensive front, defensive end, and at running back they struggled in games they probably shouldn't have. A few weeks of rehabilitation and a pitiful Division I-AA opponent afforded them the opportunity to rest several key players. The result is that the Gators will arrive in Tallahassee as healthy as expected for this time of the year.
Florida head coach Urban Meyer said at the time that eight or nine guys were walking around in protective boots after suffering sprained ankles. Offensively, the Gators interior offensive line was hobbling. Center Steve Rissler tweaked his knee, guard Jim Tartt sprained his ankle, and right guard Drew Miller suffered a high ankle sprain and an Achilles' injury. Furthermore, guard Ronnie Wilson spent the past month trying to get back into football shape after suffering an injury in August that kept him out for several weeks.
The injuries weren't been limited to the offensive line. Florida's skills positions players had fallen victim as well. Running back DeShawn Wynn tweaked his knee, playmaker Percy Harvin has suffered through a high ankle sprain through much of the year, and quarterback Chris Leak took a blow to the head that caused him some ill effects. Wide receivers Jemalle Cornelius and Dallas Baker have also struggled with injuries in recent weeks.
However, that is past tense. This figures to be the first game where the injured Florida players are at full speed or close to full speed. Playing a hated in-state rival (Florida State) and for a Southeastern Conference championship a week later- could the timing get much better?
The Big Nasties
"Jim Tartt played probably his best game," Meyer said at his weekly press conference. "So did Ronnie Wilson. Marcus Gilbert, we want to get him in there, he's going to eventually have surgery on his elbow after the season. It's just not improved. He hyperextended it early in the year. Maurice Hurt had knee surgery. He had a scope and he's still not one-hundred percent. So those are the two young people that we wanted to get ready, but they're just not healthy enough to play. So, you're a little limited. Jason Watkins played a little bit and we don't have much depth. But, Tartt and Ronnie are really coming on right now."
Left tackle Phil Trautwein (6-6 308) has had an All-SEC season from my vantage point. Meyer has called him "Mr. Consistency". He held Georgia defensive end Quentin Moses to zero tackles and was named the offensive player of the game against LSU and Tennessee. Trautwein also graded out champion against Kentucky, Alabama, Vanderbilt, and Western Michigan.
Florida has one other lineman worthy of first team All-SEC consideration, center Steve Rissler (6-3, 306). It's doubtful that he'll get the spot, but there is no question that he will be considered. Rissler has graded out among the best this season on the Florida offensive line earning champions club nomination is most of the Gators games.
The projected starting offensive guards prior to the season opener were sophomore Jim Tartt (6-3 315) and redshirt freshman Ronnie Wilson (6-3 312). Now that both are healthy and are coming on maybe the Gators will have the physical, punishing presence they expected before the season began.
Right guard Drew Miller (6-5 305) was set to start the season at right tackle before Wilson's injury forced him inside. He was also named to the champions club for his work against Kentucky, Alabama, and LSU.
Right tackle Carlton Medder (6-5 315) struggled early in the season as a first time starter. He improved, but has not been as consistent as the Florida coaches would have hoped at this point of the season. He graded out as a champion against Western Carolina though.
Senior quarterback Chris Leak (6-0 207) has finally led Florida to their first Eastern Division championship since he has stepped under center. He has played perhaps his best football for the Gators the past two weeks. Obviously, his time against Western Carolina was limited, but his numbers over the past two weeks (28 of 39 for 354 yards and 2 TD's) are impressive. On the season, Leak has completed 170 of 265 for 2,257 yards. He has thrown 19 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
He seems to play well at the conclusion of each season. Leak has given Florida State fits the past three years taking two out of three from the Seminoles. He has 60 completions in 103 attempts for 715 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He has also carried the ball 21 times for 57 yards.
True freshman reserve quarterback Tim Tebow (6-3 229) is prepared to run the full compliment of the Florida offense Meyer a few days ago. He has completed 21 of 31 passes for 357 yards. He has thrown four touchdowns and one interception. Tebow is the Gators second leading rusher with 396 yards on just 67 carries (5.9 ypc). Tebow stands poised to tie or perhaps break a Florida record against Florida State. He needs just one rushing touchdown to tie Jimmy Fisher (1976) for the Florida quarterbacks single-season rushing touchdowns record with eight. He leads Florida with seven rushing touchdowns this season.
Running back DeShawn Wynn (5-11, 238) was one player who benefited with limited contact. He carried the ball only four times for 32 yards and two touchdowns. It allowed Wynn another week to rest his body before colliding with the Florida State defensive front.
Reserve Kesthan Moore (5-10, 212) ran four times for 20 yards last weekend. He is averaging 5.1 yards per carry this season. Gator Country is still abuzz about the performance of true freshman Mon Williams (6-2, 195) who nearly ran for the century mark in the fourth quarter alone last weekend. Williams had nine carries for 95 yards, 10.6 yards per carry. He demonstrated the ability to make people miss- something that Meyer has stressed throughout the season. It will be interesting to see if his number gets called this week to provide Wynn with a blow.
True freshman Percy Harvin has been sensational. A nagging high ankle sprain has been his biggest obstacle this season. The playmaker extraordinaire has rushed 26 times for 215 yards, 8.3 per carry. Harvin has also caught 20 passes for 305 yards and a score.
The unsung hero of this offense is senior fullback Billy Latsko. He is an outstanding blocker who gives Leak additional time to throw, Wynn and Moore the ability to get past the linebacker, and is often spotted downfield knocking around a defensive back to clear a path for the Florida receivers. Latsko (5-10 232) provided a huge spark to the offense with a key 18 yard reception against Alabama. He provides yet another headache for defensive coordinators.
Florida has a pair of athletic tight ends. Cornelius Ingram (6-4 225) is emerging as a dependable receiver who picks up big yardage after the catch. Ingram was the leading receiver in the game last Saturday with for receptions for 59 yards. He averages 13.1 yards per catch on the year.
Junior Tate Casey (6-7 240) has several starts under his belt and provides the Gators with a big target. He made the national highlight circuit with his reception of a Tim Tebow double-pump, jump pass in the back of the endzone against LSU.
The Gators have one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the country. They can flat torch you when they opt to go four or five wide. The leader of the group is senior Dallas Baker (6-3 207) who leads the team with 49 receptions for 788 yards (16.1 ypc) and eight touchdowns.
Junior Andre Caldwell (6-1 203) emerged as the Florida playmaker the past month or so. His running ability after the catch was outstanding against Georgia. Caldwell has 44 receptions for 416 yards and four touchdowns. He has 15 carries for 100 yards and one touchdown.
Senior wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius returned to action this past weekend and looked very impressive. Cornelius hauled in three passes for 49 yards.
True freshman Riley Cooper (6-3, 206) is incredibly fast, elusive, and aggressive when blocking. He had three receptions last weekend, all for touchdowns. Cooper has four catches on the season for 92 yards, 23 yards per catch.
FSU-UF: Gator offensive preview
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