MSU DT's Will Be Challenge For UF's Guards

It would only figure that the one area that Mississippi State plays with efficiency and fury midway through the 2005 football season will be going head to head against the area where the Florida Gators are struggling the most. The Bulldogs will be bringing a front seven that's very efficient against the run to face the Gators at The Swamp Saturday.

Matching up against the Bulldogs front seven has been a point of major emphasis for Coach Urban Meyer all week. Mississippi State is giving up only 113 yards per game rushing and 3.1 yards per rushing play. Florida, meanwhile, is struggling to put together a consistent rushing game.

For the Gators the problems are two-fold: an offensive line that hasn't found any kind of consistency or rhythm in the running game and an unsettled tailback position. The problems on the line can be traced to the play of the guards. Inconsistency at the position has been compounded by injury to the two best players, Jim Tartt and Tavares Washington. At tailback, Meyer has been running that position by committee but he's hoping that redshirt freshman Markus Manson, the fastest of his runners, will finally emerge Saturday.

Meyer wouldn't come right out and say that Manson will start Saturday, but his demeanor when the question was asked indicated that if Manson doesn't start, he will at least be in the game early and often. Manson has averaged 5.3 yards on 19 carries in mop-up duty so far.

Meyer said that the way Mississippi State plays its defensive tackles will present a couple of interesting challenges for the Gators Saturday.

"They play a G which means both our guards will be covered all night," said Meyer after a Thursday practice in a downpour. "That means it's going to be to Tavares, Tartt and (Steven) Rissler as the three guys who will be playing primarily at the guard spot. I won't be naming starters because all three will be rotating through the game."

It's not just the way the Bulldogs align their tackles that presents problems. Meyer says Mississippi State's front seven plays very hard on every play.

"Their defensive front is the best part of their team and that's why they're doing so well against the run," he said. "The back end they've got some new guys but the strength of their team is their defensive front. It's going to be a great challenge for our guards."

Meyer also said there was great emphasis Thursday on getting off to a good start on the opening drive. Florida has yet to score on the first drive of the game this season and only once in five games have the Gators managed more than one first down on the first possession.

"We got to come out fast," he said. "We've got to come out and get some yards. We spent a lot of time today on the opening script, a lot of time, and we've got to have some success early in that game."

Meyer said the problems on the first drive are not because the team comes out too wired or sluggish, but they can be traced to missed assignments.

"A guy missing a block and a guy getting a penalty … a guy holding on a kickoff return," he said. "Usually when a team fails you hear did you get to the stadium late or this or that but it's a breakdown of someone not doing their job."

The opening script is a group of plays that Meyer likes from what he and his staff have seen from film on the opponent. These are plays they want to run early to get a feel for what will or won't work.

"We script 11-12 plays," Meyer said. "The intent is that's the way you open a game. Those are the plays I always look down at and so does Danny (Mullen) because obviously those are the best plays and you also want to see how they're going to play you.

"Most of the plays are done when the defense is on the field and we're saying what are we going to go with this series? And that's most of the time and then Danny calls it and I'll say go with this, go with this and then the line coach will jump in and say here's what we have."

THURSDAY VISITOR: Former Mississippi State Coach Jackie Sherrill was a visitor to Thursday's practice. Meyer noted that State tailback Jerious Norwood was recruited by Sherrill.

"A different back," said Meyer. "A little more like (Alabama tailback Kenneth) Darby. Jackie Sherrill was here a little while ago and they recruited him and he really likes him. He's a really good player. Obviously they were dead in the water last week without him when they played LSU."

INJURY UPDATE: Meyer said center Mike Degory will be about 95 percent at game time Saturday and that "adrenaline will get him up to 100 percent so he's good." Wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius is still very sore so he's day to day.

Bubba Caldwell's leg is coming along fine. He will be joining the team at the team dinner Friday night.

Defensive end Ray McDonald, recovering from knee surgery, is rehabbing quickly.

"He's getting real close," said Meyer, who believes McDonald will be back by the Georgia game. McDonald has said he's a fast healer and he will be back for the LSU game on October 15.

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