Gators Using Bye Week To Adapt With Offense

The bye on Florida's football schedule couldn't have come at a better time for a team that has its share of walking wounded in need of healing time. Having the extra week to get players ready to go against fourth-ranked Georgia is manna from heaven but so is the time that Coach Urban Meyer and his staff have to get back to some basics on offense.

Florida is practicing this week without first unit linebackers Brandon Siler and Todd McCullough, both of whom are expected to be back at full speed when the Gators face Georgia in Jacksonville on October 29. Wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius, who suffered a badly sprained ankle against Alabama, is using the time to get back to full speed after missing the Mississippi State game and seeing only limited duty last week against LSU. There are others with aches and pains that are using the week to heal and get ready for Florida's final four-game stretch.

Getting the offense back in gear is a huge concern, particularly with Georgia looming large. Georgia is ranked fourth in the SEC and eleventh nationally in total defense (286.3 yards per game). Georgia is giving up only 91.2 yards per game rushing (second in the SEC, eighth nationally) and only 12.7 points per game (third SEC, tied for fifth nationally).

The Gators managed only 107 passing yards and 206 total yards against LSU. Florida put 17 points on the scoreboard but none of the points came as the result of a sustained drive. In that game, the Gators excelled on special teams and played superb defense, but the offense couldn't make the plays it needed to win.

"The shortcomings that we've had especially on offense, that's been a grind," said Meyer after Tuesday's practice. "We've been grinding hard, trying to get everything in order.

"You evaluate special teams which I did and I thought our guys probably had one of their better days against LSU. On defense we created five turnovers and five sacks. It's just that one phase [offense] that we have to get better and there's only one way to get better and that's to grind." Grinding it out isn't the only thing that's happening with the offense, however.

"We have to adapt and we're doing a little more of that right now," he said.

Florida's offensive problems can't be traced to just one area of difficulty. If it were that simple, the offense would be churning out the yards and the points with regularity. Meyer said it's all the little things that added together equate to the offense having its problems moving the football.

"A ton of little things," he said. "Ultimately it's making a big play … it's beating man coverage and protecting the quarterback and that's what it is. We ran the ball against a very good run defense (132 positive yards but 33 yards from sacks were deducted from the final total). I don't think they [LSU] have had a tailback run for 100 yards. I don't know if DeShawn [Wynn] did but he was close (93 yards).

"I thought it came down in my mind to protecting the quarterback and making plays through the air and we didn't do that."

Quarterback Chris Leak was harassed by LSU's defense into the worst passing game of his career at Florida, prompting a lot of Florida fans to complain that Meyer needs to replace the junior with true freshman Josh Portis, a fast and elusive runner who is experienced running the option. Meyer, as he did after Tuesday's practice, made it know that Leak is his guy and there is no plan to make a change at the position.

"Chris Leak is not the issue," said Meyer. "Chris Leak … he's fine. He's got to make some plays and that's obvious, but we have to protect him and there's been a lot of focus on that right now."

CALDWELL ON CRUTCHES: Wide receiver Bubba Caldwell, out for the season with a broken leg suffered on a kickoff against Tennessee, was seen leaving practice on crutches. Meyer said it's good to see Caldwell hanging around practice.

"He's starting to gain his weight back," said Meyer. "He's working out again. It's good to see him. We miss that guy."

At the time of his injury, Caldwell had caught 10 passes for 148 yards, rushed five times for 64 yards and a touchdown and he had returned four kickoffs for a 31 yard average.

MOSS IMPRESSIVE: Meyer continues to be amazed at the progress of defensive end Jarvis Moss. Now that he's healthy, the 6-6, 243-pounder is showing why he was considered the nation's top defensive line recruit three years ago.

"He had three sacks Saturday and that one play he made where he caused the fumble and recovered it … that's one of the finest plays I've seen," said Meyer. "You just think how far he's come. You all saw what he looked like in the spring. I'm proud of him."

Back during the spring, Moss was suffering from a bone infection in the groin area that wasn't detected until there was a thorough series of tests run in July. During the spring, Moss was down to 217 pounds and he looked like a scarecrow. He's a solid 243 now and it's likely he'll play at somewhere around 265 next season.

TO REDSHIRT OR NOT TO REDSHIRT: Meyer and the staff have been struggling with the decision whether or not to redshirt a pair of true freshmen. Guard Ronnie Wilson is likely to get a redshirt season but it's still not decided about wide receiver David Nelson.

With the problems the Gators have had at guard, it's tempting to burn the redshirt of Wilson, who is a prototypical guard with size, good feet and a nasty temperament, but Meyer said, "We're going to try everything we can to redshirt him … that's just the right thing to do and I think we will."

Nelson, a 6-6, 200-pound wide receiver, continues to improve in dramatic fashion. With Florida's problems getting anyone not named Dallas Baker, Chad Jackson or Jemalle Cornelius open, Nelson could see action in the final four games.

"He's really improving," said Meyer. "He was a long way away and you can seem him through drills and making plays now. I was concerned about David Nelson for awhile. I'm not concerned about him anymore. He's going to be a good player here."

STATS: Florida is ranked third in total defense in the Southeastern Conference (271.9 yards per game), trailing Alabama and Auburn. The Gators rank fourth against the pass (176 yards per game) and fifth against the run (95.9 yards per game). Nationally, the Gators are ranked seventh in total defense (Miami ranks first, Alabama fifth and Auburn sixth), fourteenth in rushing defense and seventeenth in passing defense.

The Gators are tops in the SEC in turnover margin at plus-13. Nationally, Florida ranks third.

Florida ranks first in the SEC in sacks with 23. That puts the Gators eleventh nationally.


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