Meyer Makes It Clear: Leak Is His QB

There is that old saying that the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town and in the case of freshman Josh Portis, there is an element among the Florida fan base that thinks he should take over the reigns of the offense from junior Chris Leak, who has been struggling. Coach Urban Meyer made it perfectly clear Tuesday that this isn't a popularity contest and that Leak is his guy.

Leak had the worst throwing game of his three-year career at Florida against LSU in Baton Rouge last Saturday, hitting only 11 of 30 passes for 107 yards. He was sacked four times and flushed out of the pocket several others by the blitzing LSU defense which gave rise to Florida fans questioning if Leak could ever run the spread option offense properly. Talk shows have been flooded with calls blaming Leak's play for the loss at LSU and calling for Portis, the freshman from Los Angeles, to take over since he has more speed and mobility.

A certain contingent of fans may want Portis, but Meyer knows who is going to be the Florida quarterback on October 29 when the Gators face Georgia in Jacksonville. Meyer also made it clear that there are plenty of blame fingers that can be pointed for the inconsistency of the offense and not all of them should be pointed at Leak.

"Chris Leak's our quarterback," he said. "To put the whole blame on him is not fair. I don't think people are doing that … we're certainly not doing that. It's a combination of everyone who is involved … coaches, players … everybody involved."

With an off-week to prepare for Georgia, Meyer emphasized that the entire offense is under re-evaluation and not just the play of the quarterback. Righting the offense, Meyer said, includes the possibility that the playbook will be pared back and simplified. During the off-season Meyer continually stated that the goal was to get second year production from a first year offense. Now, seven games into the season, the offense has shown occasional sparks of brilliance but it has almost been a one step backward for every two steps forward.

The Gators seemed on the verge of an offensive breakout in the first half against Kentucky when they scored seven straight possessions and again in the second half against Mississippi State, but those flashes of brilliance have to be tempered with the lack of production against the good defenses of Tennessee, Alabama and LSU. The time off this week will allow the Florida coaching staff to figure out what will work even if that means taking some plays off the table.

"We've been grinding and evaluating what's positive," said Meyer. "We've got to find out what can we get these young guys comfortable doing."

Finding a comfort level with the players is difficult because the offense still isn't completely installed. Meyer said during the offseason that he was looking for second year production from an offense that is in its first year and still being learned on the fly. Meyer has admitted more than once that his staff has pushed the offensive players very hard. He was asked Tuesday if the push for second year production has been overwhelming.

"I don't know if there's an answer for that," he replied Tuesday. "We were pushing hard and there are some normal growth issues with an offense such as this and a lot of newness for these guys so we pushed awfully hard. We're going to continue to push but the bottom line is that we need more production and we have to get more comfort.

"There's not the comfort level right now, especially against the faster teams. I think against the teams that don't have the great speed, right now there is that comfort level but against the fast teams that is an issue."

Meyer has been called to task for the predictability of the offense and in the wake of fearsome blitz packages and hard pass rushes, more hot routes by the receivers. He noted that these plays are in the playbook and they actually are getting called. Execution, however, is a problem.

"There were a bunch of them [hot routes and slants] called Saturday," said Meyer, who said that the Gators have to do a better job of getting the ball out of Leak's hand quickly and into the hands of the receivers.

"We just have to execute them," he continued. "Guys have got to get open."

Part of the problem in getting the ball out of Leak's hands and into the hands of the receivers has been the inconsistency in the offensive line play, particularly from the guards. Meyer pointed out that against LSU, his tackles Lance Butler and Randy Hand played well.

"Guard play has been a little spotty," he said. "Our tackles actually played one of their better games against LSU, Lance Butler and Randy Hand."

There inconsistency with the guards can be traced to their overall lack of experience. The Gators have been rotating senior Tavares Washington, redshirt freshman Jim Tartt and sophomore Drew Miller had 95 total plays combined in their careers when the season began so inexperience has been a real anchor dragging in the sand. Junior Steven Rissler has been added to the guard rotation and he has experience, having played both his freshman and sophomore years, but it's only this year that he's really put in the time at center. As a freshman he was a backup tackle who actually got a start against San Jose State. As a sophomore he spent the year backing up Degory at center and working as a backup guard.

Finding the players that work best together continues to be a problem, too.

"We're still trying to find the right combination," said Meyer, "but we have some players with potential to be pretty good players."

LSU mounted a fearsome pass rush against the Gators, getting pressure up the middle over the guards and from the outside with their blitz package that simply overwhelmed the Gators in terms of numbers. LSU was often bringing six, seven or eight on the blitz and that caused Leak to take a lot of hits. Although Leak says his confidence has never been higher, Meyer says his quarterback did get "spooked" by LSU's pressure.

"When you have pressure like that it's pretty hard to set your feet and throw," said Leak. "When the line gives you time to set your feet and throw you see the results are pretty good because the receivers have time to get into their routes. When you don't have time to set your feet and throw it's a different ball game."

Meyer said, "We're not protecting him very well. What happens is a quarterback gets spooked and you get a problem so even when you protect him his feet don't get set. We've got to get everything right. We've got to protect him better."

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