InsideTennessee: Volunteers vs. Gators Matchup

Florida coach Urban Meyer has run the spread-option offense for four years and he's seen just about every imaginable defense trying to stop it.

438556``There are a lot of creative ways,'' Meyer said. ``We've had anywhere from 11 people standing all over the place to six people with their hand on the ground trying to rush you. I think we've seen most of them.''

But there are defensive limitations.

``There are only so many different ways (for a defense) to attack when you're spread out all over the field,'' Meyer said. ``That's one of the advantages we feel we have as a staff. If you're sideline to sideline, there are only six people left that can get involved. So we've just got to figure out where those six people are.''

In short, it's easier to run the ball against six defenders as opposed to eight or nine, and it's easier to pass when you force a defense to defend you from sideline to sideline.

That's the beauty of the spread-option offense.

On the flip side, the option exposes your quarterback to taking multiple hits.

Gator quarterback Chris Leak doesn't like to get hit. No quarterback does, you say. But in Leak's case, he can be affected by the hits. Not all quarterbacks are affected by hits. Not all quarterbacks get happy feet and starting look at the pass rush instead of the pass coverage.

It will be intriguing to see how Tennessee defends the spread option. The Vols would be wise to try to rattle Leak's cage on every option, even if it means leaving the pitch man open for a 10-15 yard gain now and then.

It might also be wise for Meyer not to run many options with Leak against a fast, physical defense line Tennessee's.

Don't be surprised if Meyer has a package with his backup quarterback, Josh Portis, a 6-4, 220-pounder with sub-4.5 speed from California. Portis, who committed to Utah but followed Meyer to Florida, led the Gators with 45 yards on five carries against Wyoming. He's a better option quarterback than Leak, but can't pass nearly as well.

Meyer described Florida's run game against Wyoming as non-existent. That's not entirely true. The Gators had 176 positive yards, but lost 85 on sacks and bad snaps from the shotgun.

``Our goal is over 200,'' said Meyer, whose teams have scored at least 28 points in 12 straight games. ``I'm anxious to see great improvement in that area. It wasn't missed assignments. I don't think our line finished blocks. And our backs have got to break tackles and get positive yards all the time.''

Skyler Thornton was Florida's top gainer among running backs with 36 yards on eight carries. DeShawn Wynn, suspended for the first game, could be the answer, although Meyer isn't sure just yet.

``There's a big difference between an answer and the answer,'' Meyer said. ``He's a talented guy. He's big (5-11, 230) and strong, which is what everybody is looking for.''

Meyer said it was tougher to integrate his offense at Bowling Green and Utah – his first two stops -- because those teams ran I-formation, two-tight end offenses. At Florida, he inherited an outstanding passer in Leak and a three-year starter at center in Mike Degory.

Meyer said the bright spot of Florida's opening day win over Wyoming was the defense, which allowed a mere 222 total yards, 50 rushing. Defensive end Ray McDonald, a 285-pound converted tackle, was terrific, applying constant pressure with his pass rushing skills.

Meyer said it was a relief to finally play a game.

``That's the fun part, an opportunity to see players compete,'' Meyer said. ``This is a player's game. Who gives a darn about the coach. I'm so happy to hear people talking about Chris Leak and Chad Jackson and Ray McDonald and the way we played, because that's what counts.''

* Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said he's not sure why his offensive line wasn't physical against Alabama-Birmingham.

``I don't have a real good answer for that,'' Fulmer said. ``You could scrimmage more, I guess, but then you're concerned about getting somebody hurt. A lot of team around the country (including LSU) don't take anybody to the ground the whole fall.

``Maybe it was just the first ballgame and UAB giving us a couple of things that bothered us.''

The Vols rushed for 138 yards but should have come closer to 250, according to former UT assistant David Cutcliffe, because the Blazers were in a two-deep zone and seldom put eight in the box.

Fulmer said his guards weren't physical. That's understandable out of redshirt freshman Ramon Foster, but it's puzzling that Cody Douglas played poorly. Douglas had the lowest grade among the starting linemen.

* Fulmer is upset that the NCAA Clearinghouse can't resolve issues with football players before football games are played.

The Vols had to send lineman Gerald Williams back home to Florida because he hasn't been cleared.

``Somebody's not telling us exactly right because they (Clearinghouse) are saying they didn't get all the information on time and the schools says they did,'' Fulmer said. ``It's frustrating because it's a young man's life. With the resources they have, they ought to clear it up faster than they have.''

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