VETTEL: Leak Truly "Shouldered" The Load

Florida quarterback Chris Leak was awful in the first half of Saturday's game with Mississippi State. He missed picking up open receivers and then when he found them, he misfired anyway. Until a muffed punt with about six minutes to go in the first half, Florida found itself in an uncomfortably tight and strangely played game with the 2-3 Bulldogs.

Turns out Chris Leak had good reason to be rusty, having not thrown the ball all week due to an alleged shoulder injury. I say alleged because it was not reported by UF all week long. I say alleged because in the post-game press conferences Coach Urban Meyer told us it dated back to an injury against FSU last November and Leak said that it didn't. Whatever the truth of the type and severity of the injury (Leak says it's a bruise) we did see him get medical attention early in the game and we did see the offense improve dramatically in the second half.

Still this offense is producing as many questions as answers. Florida is only getting quality play from two receivers right now, Chad Jackson and Dallas Baker. The Gators were without Jemalle Cornelius against the Bulldogs (another injured player who we were led to believe earlier in the week would be fine for the game). Chad Jackson has been relegated to shovel passes and drag routes, but he's been so busy, one of the oldest records in Florida football is now in jeopardy. The running back situation seems to hinge on who practices well on Tuesday while the offensive line play remains spotty. The Gators did manage almost 500 yards Saturday, but it is looking more and more like Florida's success in the big games this year will come down to two other units.

Defense Rather Salty

Saturday the Gator defense was as physical as it had been all year, especially Brandon Siler who played like he was madder than heck at someone. Florida registered six quarterback sacks after totaling just twelve in the first five games combined. The defense posted a pair of safeties and held the Bulldogs 242 yards with more than half of that coming on two plays.

While the Gator "D" has been a little big-play prone the past two weeks, nobody can complain about a unit allowing just 257 yards per game. Florida keeps getting more and more out of Reggie Nelson who actually leads the team in sacks while Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey are also getting in on the act. This unit will really be challenged by LSU, which has as much speed as anyone Florida will see all year.

Another "Special" Day

As unpredictable as Florida's offense has been, the Gator special teams have been a complete mystery from week to week. It's a little early to declare "mystery solved" but it was an awfully good day for that group. Eric Wilbur looked like his old self for the first time all year and Florida twice pinned State down at the one-yard line leading to the two safeties. They recovered a muffed punt to set up Florida's first touchdown and Chris Hetland remained perfect with his seventh straight field goal. Add to that a blocked punt for a touchdown and it was a very special day. That will be needed again this week as Florida faces LSU and dynamic kick returning threat Skyler Green.

Of course, it's never all good news when you review a 60-minute game. Florida still cannot kickoff to save its collective arse. The Gators yanked the redshirt off rookie kicker Jonathan Phillips but his kicks did nothing to inspire confidence that he will solve the problem.

And on-field discipline continues to be an issue with this bunch. Florida once again won the coveted battle for most penalty yards and now has more than doubled (408-to-202) its opponents in that category. Chad Jackson cost Florida a scoring opportunity with a fumble into the end zone when he foolishly tried to extend the ball over the plane of the goal line. Mistake-prone teams generally pay for it eventually and Florida did in Tuscaloosa. Problem is, it's a long season and careless turnovers and multiple penalties are the kind of gift that keeps on giving --- to your opponents.

How About # 32

Last week when I wrote down what I considered to be much-needed changes for the Gators, number two on my list was that Reggie Nelson must play. Well he played a lot Saturday and he is a dynamic difference maker on the field. Two quarterback sacks, a recovery of a muffed punt to set up a touchdown and downing the ball on a punt to set up a safety stood out as four of the ten or twelve biggest plays of the day. Plus his hustle kept Mississippi State from scoring what would have been a demoralizing touchdown in the closing moments of the first half.

I know safety is one of Florida's strongest positions and Vernell Brown has been solid on the corner opposite Dee Webb. And I know Todd McCullough is a whole lot bigger. I don't care. Florida must do what it takes to give Nelson even more opportunities to make plays.

Miscellaneous Saturday Musings

For anyone who questions the toughness of defenses in the Pac-Ten, UCLA 47 California 40. Southern Cal racked up about 700 or so against Arizona, but the Notre Dame game might be interesting. Charley Weis has had two weeks to prepare and if Mother Nature will make it uncomfortable for the boys from "Cali" an upset is not out of the question. Penn State has convinced me. Their defensive effort against Ohio State was something else. Assuming the Lions don't get to Pasadena for the National Championship they'll be an incredibly attractive BCS team. Texas is definitely one of the two best teams in the nation. The Longhorns' domination of Oklahoma just reinforces my belief they are going to be incredibly difficult to beat.

Vanderbilt gave LSU a struggle by forcing the Tigers to be patient offensively and waiting for them to make a mistake, which they invariably did. If Jay Cutler had not had a miserable day (11-for-32 113ydards, 0 TD, 2 INT and -20 rushing) Vandy might have sprung the upset. Instead the October 22nd Vandy/South Carolina game could well be for a bowl bid.

Don't look now, but Drew Weatherford is making significant strides for FSU. The young QB had a terrific game against Wake Forest with 20-for-31 for 351 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for a score in the Seminoles' 41-24 win. Meanwhile Steve Spurrier got his first SEC win with the Fighting Roosters in a 44-16 win over Kentucky. The game was tied at ten before Rich Brooks' Mildcats collapsed. Kentucky has posted a 7-21 record under Brooks and you gotta think a list is being drawn up in Lexington. It shouldn't come as a big surprise. Brooks is in his 21st season as a college coach and has had just seven winning seasons and four of those included just six victories.


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