Meyer Heaps The Praise On The Volunteers

In Utah, where he is Urban Legend, Coach Urban Meyer was known for his sharp tongue, keen wit and verbal barbs hurled at rivals, particularly Brigham Young. The week of the game with the dratted Cougars, Meyer put BYU logos in the locker room urinals. In his first week with a major Southeastern Conference rival, he's so far avoided verbal sparring and if there's a Volunteer logo in the urinals, then mum's the word both from Meyer and the Florida Gators.

At his weekly media day Monday, instead of sounding Spurrier-esque with a verbal javelin or two hurled in the direction of Knoxville, Meyer sounded more like Lou Holtz without the whining. In his heyday, Holtz could make the worst team in Division III sound scary while downplaying his team to a pitiful level. Meyer built up the Tennessee Volunteers and while he didn't whine about or downplay the Gators, he certainly didn't wasn't passing out the accolades.

Among other things, Meyer called Tennessee "probably the best football team I've coached against as a position coach or a head coach." He praised the Vols defensive line as big, fast and mobile, adding "Some of these cats are 300 pounds and we don't have one" and that "They are a better defensive line than they were last year. They are noticeably quicker, stronger, and more experienced." He said that on offense the Vols are "very well coached and they are gigantic."

He called UT sophomore quarterback Erik Ainge "about as talented a quarterback as there is" and said all Rick Claussen does "is win games." He called running back Gerald Riggs Jr. a "great power back who can get to the edge on you."

While calling the Florida defensive line the most improved area on the team, he said "the edge goes to our opponent due to size and speed."

So it was that Meyer set the stage for Saturday night's contest that will match the fourth-ranked Vols against the seventh-ranked Gators in The Swamp. Missing were the sort of barbs that ratcheted the Utah-BYU rivalry even higher. He said he would not "cross that line of disrespect" and said that "regardless of what's happened in the past, we will always respect our opponent."

While admitting that he might do some things within the team to fire up the Gators, the coach was very careful not to dish out anything that would have a chance to make Tennessee bulletin boards. This was a very careful coach who made certain he was both politically and football correct.

From the standpoint of adding some spice to the mix, this one had the effect of a placebo. He's got the entire Southeastern Conference and nation watching his every move. His spread option offense, which some still choose to call a gimmick, will be on an even bigger national stage that last January's Fiesta Bowl. When Utah beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl, the offense was still considered gimmicky even though Meyer had been running virtually the same thing for four years. Pitt had a full month to find defensive answers for the spread option but came up empty. Those same critics who said that it wouldn't work against Pitt --- they were wrong then --- are saying just wait until Tennessee's defense does its dismantling job.

The critics will just have to hear themselves talk this week. Meyer isn't firing off one-liners about the Vols and he certainly isn't heaping praise on his offense. He came across Monday as a coach determined to let the game play out on the field. If he's got cards to play, he's definitely not going to show them this early in the week.

CHAMPIONS: On defense, corners Vernell Brown and Reggie Nelson, safety Kyle Jackson and defensive end/tackle Joe Cohen all earned Champions status for their play against Lousiana Tech whole on offense, center Mike Degory and tailback DeShawn Wynn became the first two offensive players to make Champion this year.

Meyer wouldn't go so far as to name Wynn the starter at tailback even though the 5-11, 230-pound junior had 101 yards in his first start to go with two rushing touchdowns and a pass reception for a third TD.

KICKING SITUATION: Eric Nappy came on to kick the final two extra points after Chris Hetland missed his third extra point of the season Saturday night. Hetland had two misses in the Wyoming game, both due to problems with the holder. Meyer said he isn't ready to name a starting kicker for Saturday night.

"I am not going to name that until game time," he said.

Meyer said that he thinks the Gators "have some good kickers but I'm not sure we have a great one" adding that "we better become great real fast with the history of this game." Last year, the Vols won the game in the final minute on a 50-yard field goal.

Although Nappy looked good kicking the two extra points, Meyer said "It would be hard for me not to put Hetland out there for a 47-yard field goal because I have seen him hit it. I haven't seen Nappy hit one, although he did hit his extra points."

UNEARNED POINTS: Meyer made it a point to note that the defense would have eight shutout quarters if not for special teams play, a turnover and a 15-yard penalty. Wyoming's two scores came after special teams blunders and Saturday night, Florida's first fumble of the year and a 15-yard penalty helped set up Louisiana Tech's only score of the game, a 37-yard field goal.

"If you take away those three scores our defense has two shutouts," he said. "They are playing very well. Our secondary and defensive line --- if you just watch them play --- are tied together. If you get pressure on the quarterback, you don't have to hold the coverage very long. Those are two of the brightest spots on the team."

EXTRA EDGES: Meyer downplayed any extra edge that Chris Leak's brother, C.J. may give the Gators. C.J. was a quarterback at Tennessee for four years before joining the Florida staff in the summer. There has been great speculation that Leak would give the Gators an edge with his presence.

"I've had some people ask if that (this game) is the reason CJ is here?" said Meyer. "I like to say sure but he is here because he is a high character/high quality person. I like those guys in the coaching profession. He has helped us with personnel, but that is over-rated too. This video equipment is good enough to watch how good they are."

Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer noted Sunday evening in his conference call that Leak might know the Vols signals from the sideline. Meyer said that stealing the opponents' signals is very over-rated, too.

"Nowadays, in stealing signals, I am not sure it is a major part of college football like it used to be," Meyer said. "It used to be a major deal. We used to have a grad assistant with binoculars telling us he thinks he got it, but the idiot never got it."


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