Meyer: Bama Goal Line Stand Checkmate

Even when the Gators fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter Saturday against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Coach Urban Meyer felt his team would find a spark that would ignite a comeback. The fact the Gators came up empty several times when one play could have made a difference was still troubling Florida's first year football coach Monday.

Meyer saw how his team roared back from a 21-0 deficit to Texas A&M in 2003 when he was coaching Utah, so he felt confident that the Gators would dig down to find the energy to rally Saturday. He felt the rally was ready to commence on the first play of the second quarter when the Gators had fourth down and less than a yard for a touchdown.

A 32-yard run on a fake punt by Earl Everett followed by a 13-yard scramble by Chris Leak and a 12-yard Chad Jackson run on an option play set the Gators up with a chance to get back in the ball game. Everyone in the stadium in Tuscaloosa could feel momentum ready to shift to Florida's advantage.

"I felt like we had it [momentum] back after the fake punt," said Coach Urban Meyer at Monday's media gathering. "I thought, 'Okay, good it's going to be 17-7, and now our defense is going to cover people.' That's how we win."

Three straight running plays got the ball within a half yard of the goal as the first quarter expired. The Gators ran out on the field to start the second quarter with an Alabama crowd screaming for a goal line stand and Florida fans expecting the Gators to punch the ball in to end what had been a nightmare of a game to that point. DeShawn Wynn got the call for Florida but he was stuffed by the Alabama defensive line short of the touchdown the Gators needed so badly.

"Obviously you want to battle back," said Meyer. "I don't think our kids gave in at all but that was the momentum changer. You quiet the crowd a little, you go in there and score … and Chris (Leak) made a nice scramble and had a couple nice plays. Then to not make it on fourth down … that has to happen … on a good football team that has to happen in that situation.

"After the fake punt we went in there on fourth down and you have to score there. You have to score. You have to get it done. We didn't get it done. In my mind that was the checkmate of the game."

Not only would the Gators have had a chance to cut Alabama's deficit to a very manageable 10 points with a score in that situation, it would have also quieted what most Bama followers said was the loudest Bryant-Denny Stadium crowd in many years. When Florida failed to capitalize, the crowd got more into the game and the momentum just snow-balled from there.

"You just evaluate what happened, and one team just made bunch of big plays and the other team did not," said Meyer. "One team played with momentum. One team did not. Every time we had a chance to get momentum back, we failed while one team did not."

Meyer pointed out that the coaching staff has to take responsibility for the loss, but he said that in big games, Florida's best players have the responsibility to step up their level of play. He said that happened when the Gators played Tennessee a couple of weeks earlier, but it didn't happen against Alabama.

"We are not a great team, and I said that after we played Tennessee," said Meyer. "Our A1As … the guys who sit in the front row right here [in the team meeting room] played terrific against Tennessee. On great teams they [great players] kind of lift the other guys up and you go find a way to win it. That's not happening here. That hasn't happened here in awhile. When your great players play great, you win. Our guys didn't play great."

OFFENSIVE PROBLEMS: Meyer said that there won't be any wholesale personnel changes on the offensive line because the Gators just don't have the personnel to make changes. The line, he said, is just going to have to continue working hard and get fundamentally better.

Meyer is expecting Jim Tartt to return to the lineup Saturday against Mississippi State. The freshman guard had a dinged shoulder and banged up ribs. Tavares Washington, the other guard, went out with a badly bruised shoulder. He is expected to return also.

Meyer admitted Florida's offense isn't hitting on all cylinders but said that it's totally unfair to say that quarterback Chris Leak is the problem, particularly after a loss.

"The thing I'm going to make sure doesn't happen is when you lose … I've seen it before and I cringe every time I hear it, everyone says, 'Is it Chris Leak? Is it the line?' It's the Gators," said Meyer. "When I have a team meeting after the game, I say I am extremely disappointed in the Gators."

COVER THREE: On Alabama's first offensive play of both the first and second halves, the Gators were caught in cover three zones and both times the Gators paid dearly. Brodie Croyle hit Tyrone Prothro for an 87-yard touchdown pass on Bama's first offensive play of the game in the first quarter, and on the first offensive play of the second half, he hit Keith Brown on a slant over the middle that went the distance for a 65-yard score.

"We are a man coverage defense, and the amazing thing is that the three big ones were against zone coverage," said Coach Urban Meyer at his Monday media gathering.

Meyer said that Florida's safeties didn't step up to make plays on both the long touchdown throws. He said that Florida's corners, Dee Webb and Vernell Brown, didn't play poorly.

"I would have to say Vernell Brown and Dee Webb are our fastest players and Alabama's receivers had legitimate speed…they ran away from the safeties," said Meyer. "I'm not sure they ran away from the corners. The home run ball early in the game was zone coverage where you start the corners with outside leverage. I flipped the headset off and asked what was the coverage and it was cover three. I'm not convinced that our two cover corners can't run with most people in this league."

Cornerbacks Coach Chuck Heater gave credit to Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle for making great throws but said the Florida secondary has some work to do this week. Heater said that Alabama caught Florida in a zone on both the long touchdown throws but no matter the defense, the Gators should have made plays.

"You can play one defense or twenty defenses, but the bottom line is you have to execute the defense," said Heater. "There are times that the offense just has a better play called but in every situation you have to at least make the tackle so you can regroup and move on to the next down. There were some breakdowns in our coverage that we have to fix this week."

Heater said the Gators had Croyle scouted well but the Alabama quarterback came through with his best game ever. Croyle finished the game with 286 passing yards and three touchdowns on 15 completions in 18 attempts.

"I had seen him make all those throws in the film I had studied but I had never seen him that consistent on one day," said Heater. "Give him credit for a great day and give number four (wide receiver Tyrone Prothro) a tremendous amount of credit too. He's the real deal."

Against Tennessee, Meyer said the corners and safeties made the plays that got the Gators the win in that critical game. Against Alabama, they came up empty.

"On the back end [secondary] against Tennessee, we made about 90 percent of our big plays," said Meyer. "I don't have the exact stats with me but when our free safeties, corners and strong safeties are not making the plays like they have all year, you have a harder time playing the style of defense we play."

CHAMPIONS CLUB: Only two Gators graded out well enough to make Champion's Club on Saturday.

"On defense, Jeremy Mincey played very well. On offense Dallas Baker had his best game this season. He (Baker) is really coming along. He played terrific. They made great efforts.

"It's amazing. You talk to them (Mincey and Baker), and you look into their eyes and realize that those are the two most devastated young men on this team after the loss. We just have to get back."

SECOND HALF DEFENSE: Except for the 65-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second half, Florida's defense turned in a respectable effort the rest of the way.

"We held them to only 51 yards rushing and 69 yards passing," said Meyer. "We held them to 33 percent on third downs."

PUTTING ALABAMA IN THE REAR VIEW: Meyer said that Florida would deal with the mistakes of the Alabama game in the film room on Monday afternoon, then all eyes would turn to Saturday's homecoming opponent, Mississippi State. Mississippi State defeated Florida in Starkville last season. On the Monday after that devastating loss, Coach Ron Zook was fired, opening the door for Meyer to become Florida's coach.

Meyer said the Gators have to put the Alabama game behind them because Mississippi State is very capable.

"We really have no choice [but to put Alabama behind]," said Meyer. "There's not a whole lot of mind games. You don't have any choice but to watch our film, correct our mistakes and go really hard in practice. The guys that don't play well have to play better or we're going to lose another one. The one thing I like is that we have smart players here. You watch the film and say 'here's what we have to do.' We have to play a little better … we have to coach a little better."

TAILBACK: Meyer made it perfectly clear that the door is open for redshirt freshman Markus Manson to step in and take the starting tailback position. Manson has 19 carries for 101 net yards in Florida's five games but he hasn't had a significant carry when a game was anywhere close to being in doubt.

Meyer said that Manson is "in competition for the starting tailback position" and that his status will be determined by the Tuesday and Wednesday practices. He also said that when Manson is in the game, he looks "very fast."

Part of the problem at the tailback position so far is that Wynn so far has lacked the explosion in hitting the hole. Wynn does have a team leading 241 yards on 55 carries but he hasn't shown the ability to carry the team and the running game.

RAY MC UPDATE: Defensive end Ray McDonald, sidelined with a knee injury, is scheduled to come back for the Georgia game. Meyer said that McDonald has other ideas.

"I've been told Georgia (October 29) but the kid kind of winks at me and says LSU (October 15)," said Meyer.


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