First of all I agree that the Tennessee game is huge as it has always been. Florida did not finish the job last year and that led to doubt in close games later in the season like LSU and Mississippi State. Urban Meyer and his staff have done a great job at identifying the fourth quarter as a point of emphasis for this team with offseason conditioning. The fact that he will play more players, especially on defense, should help this team this season. As for Florida being better, I agree they should and will be better. A lot of people in the Gator nation have used this rationalization when convincing themselves UF will beat Tennessee. The Volunteers are better as well. They are better this year at quarterback, running back, defensive line and defensive back. They did not have Kevin Simon after an early injury and they get him back as well. It should be a higher quality game this year with both teams improved. The key will probably be mental and with UF having home field advantage the Gators should be able to draw upon that. Phil Fulmer has won a lot of close games in his career and that is an advantage for the Vols as well. One thing should be pointed out from the Gator players' point of view: They know they won last year and could have won the prior year in The Swamp. Expect them to be very confident when the Vols roll into town. As for the season outlook, I think a Gator win would set the goals much higher for players and fans but a loss would not be the end of the season. The key for both teams will be how they handle the outcome after Sept. 17. This decade the most important game was the Tennessee game in 2001. UF should have won that game and played for the national title against Miami. Who knows? If that happens Spurrier may still be on the sideline at the Swamp.
Brady: My question is, I know that the offence is going to be very good, but in '95, the offense was one of the best and Nebraska made us look like a high school team. In '96, if we did not get a second chance … well we would not even have a championship. Do you think the new coach is as dedicated to having a great defense? I don't want to get to championship games and get blown away. Great defense wins championships, not great offense!
Defensive teams have won the national championship the last several seasons. The offensive stars have stolen the headlines (Matt Leinart, Jason White and Ken Dorsey) but it has been the defenses that put them in position. You cannot win a title or a BCS bowl game without a good, physical, opportunistic defense. Utah's defense a year ago was not ranked in the top 25 but it did turn people over a bunch and gave up some of its yardage in garbage time. UF has the opportunity to be a good pressure defense. They have speed and playmakers at each level of the defense. The key will be how many players will UF rotate in and how many turnover they can cause. Meyer's defenses have always created big plays and the athletes he has this year should be able to do that. This will not be the statistical giant that Ohio St, Iowa or even USC will be this year but it should be in the top 25. I think the goals for this defense should be 30-30-15. That is: 30-plus turnovers, 30-plus and hold teams to less than 15 points a game. If they get those three numbers you can book a trip to no worse than the Sugar Bowl for a BCS game.
Ack: What are your opinions on how the following players will fare this season? Brian Crum, Lutrell Alford, Vernell Brown, Eric Rutledge, Billy Latsko, John Demps, Daryl Gresham. Thanks. Phonecheck
First of all, I think all these guys have had good fall camps and will contribute to the Florida program and the season. Crum has really fit in well at linebacker. He is a good athlete who may be valuable against spread teams. He can get better but should provide depth. Lutrell Alford has size and a big heart. I think he can be a factor for depth as well. Alford is a guy who slipped through the cracks of Division I recruiting and is hungry to make a name for himself. Vernell Brown has really impressed me with his ability to frustrate receivers at the line of scrimmage. I think he is a good player but the Volunteer receivers' size matched up on him does concern me. Vernell likes to prove doubters like me wrong and it won't surprise me if he has a big year. Eric Rutledge is probably better on the defensive side of the ball this year. He should provide a good special teams player. He needs to get a bit quicker but he is tough. The coaches like Latsko, who is not that quick but very tough and always around the play. Once again both of these guys are unselfish, hard nosed kids who help your special teams and play as backups. John Demps has size and speed but needs to improve his open field tackling to become a great player. Demps will get better as the season goes along and could have a freshman year similar to Brandon Siler of a year ago. The coaches are trying Daryl Gresham at defensive end which tells me they like his toughness and athleticism. Gresham may play this year and physically I think he has a chance to be a good one at UF.
Ack: Hi. It seems that despite the strong incentives Urban Meyer gives to stay out of "The Pit," the team is suffering a lot of nagging injuries. I read in the State newspaper that Spurrier and staff are so aware of South Carolina's lack of team depth and the need to avoid injuries that they have considerably lightened the amount of practice with full contact. Coach Meyer must know what he is doing but do you think he may be going a bit overboard in trying to toughen up the Gators? Do you see any sign he will change strategy to keep players healthy into the season? Thanks, Tarrant.
I think idea of "The Pit" is very similar to what we had when I first got to Florida. We called it the "chain gang" and Rich Tuten (now with the Denver Broncos) worked your butt very hard. We used to have to wear full hooded sweat suits for the entire workout. Coaches are always trying to get players to determine the difference between pain and injury. Football is a tough sport and you will play with some pain most of your career. I think Meyer's use of The Pit is interesting and I think the media has given it way too much attention. There are a lot of schools in the country that have names for the injured. I think the guys getting dinged up at the end of camp is a product of a physical camp in which Meyer and his staff had to find out what kind of team they had for year one. It could change in the future but overall they came out of camp without any season ending injuries.
Brady: Should we have any concerns with Wyoming in the opener?
To be honest with you it should not be a conern as long as UF protects the football and handles the first game jitters. The pressure is more on UF because the Cowboys have nothing to lose. I think UF will play well and put the game away in the second half. It shouldn't be a walk over like many season openers and the real test will come for the Gator defense.
Ack: What role do you think Gavin Dickey plays?
I still think Dickey will play some at the fifth receiver and also have a series or two at quarterback. I will not be surprised if he gets in the first two games in the first half at quarterback to give Tennessee something to work on with the option package.
Brady: Who has emerged to give us depth at offensive line?
Steve Rissler and Drew Miller had good camps. Rissler can play a couple of spots and I am sure Miller can play both guard spots. Simon Codrington is a freshman who could play some while Carlton Medder has made a nice move as well. If the Gators can get control of the first two games the fourth quarter, it could be very important for the offensive line as Meyer gets a game look at some guys who could provide depth.
Ack: Trev Alberts and Mark May picked Georgia on the ESPN Show to win the East. Do you think that can happen and why would they pick the Dogs?
I was surprised when I saw this considering what Georgia lost on defense. I do think Shockley will be pretty good at quarterback and the running game should be solid. If the Dogs can get past Boise State and Spurrier these guys may have something cooking. Georgia has a really good coach in Mark Richt but they lost defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder and I am still not sure they have the Florida monkey off their back.
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