FOOTBALL:Smiles abound with light at end of tunnel

Wake up calls, realizations and epiphanies come about in many ways. For some it's catching a telltale sign, for others it's talking it out. For this writer, it took driving a combined total of around 1,000 miles and 14 hours to find something out about this Gator team. Something that can't be labeled by going to practices and reading stories, but by answering the No.1 overall question that followed this unproven squad.

It is widely known, the 2004 UF squad was a team deemed as "unproven potential." What I took away from my visit to Rocky Top is that this team is better. Much better. This Gator team is better off overall then it was in 2003 and 2002. A majority of this falls on the shoulders of QB Chris Leak.

I spotted Chris this morning on campus on his way to Carleton Auditorium and shared a brief exchange with him.

"Good game on Saturday. You should hold your head high and its just one game," I said.

"That's why I'm smiling," he said. "It's just one game."

As he walked away, I felt good about the state of this team and this year. Yes, we lost a game we should have won on many levels. Yes, when the clock hit :00 I was in section GG of Neyland with head in hands. Yes, I've had enough of the prevent defense that did us in against Miami, Florida State and almost Arkansas. But no, I am not panicking, visiting fireronzook.com or wasting my time on the Gator Sports Zook-O-Meter (which currently reads "He's OK").

"I really believe our guys will take this game and it will be like it was last year when we were 3-3," Zook said. "We're going to try and get on a roll if we can."

There are mistakes on this team. Mistakes that can be corrected. While a change in defensive philosophy is nowhere on the horizon per Zook, pressuring Southeastern Conference QB's will turn into a priority hopefully sooner then later. Not enough can be said about the offenses above average performance, but going for the jugular should become more of a focal point. Case in point-- eight seconds. Last year in Gainesville, Coach Fulmer hit a hail mary with eight seconds left in the game, which despite being early was a game breaker. Zook said it didn't even cross his mind to go for it.

There was many a positive to be taken out of the Gators play. It is more then evident that offensive coordinator Larry Fedora knows what he is doing and is doing it effectively. Gone are the days of Ed Zaunbrecher's shotgun draw, and being implemented is Fedora's toss sweep. Fedora's play-action and multi-tempo offense is impressive to say the least and better then last year.

It also appears that this group of Wide receivers could very well be the deepest and most talented in the SEC. Dwayne Bowe is great and Reggie Brown is solid, but the likes of Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson, O.J. Small, Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius leave me speechless top to bottom. When guys like Reggie Lewis and Mike McIntosh don't see the field it speaks volumes of the guys in front of them. Yes, Chad stuck his hand out when he wasn't supposed to and Dallas' slap isn't acceptable, but I know for a fact that Carlos Perez wouldn't have been able to half the things this squad could.

O.J. Small has also been great for the team looking to me like another great WR by the name of O.J. Former Miami Dolphins O.J. McDuffie was Dan Marino's go-to-guy for a stretch in the mid 90's. McDuffie led the league in 3rd down catches for first downs and Small has evolved into a great leader in this aspect. He always seems to be open and even lined up at TE against UT.

The UF offense was great and I think the defense has some work to do before gearing up for Kentucky, Arkansas and LSU. Stay tuned tomorrow for my running diary complete with pictures of a Rocky (Top) Road Trip.


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