MEYER: UF Must Better Adapt To Personnel

For a change Saturday, Urban Meyer got a chance to be a football fan. With no game to coach and no practices to organize, he got a chance to watch three Southeastern Conference games on television. There were no offensive explosions, just fast, dominating defenses that made quite an impression on the Florida coach.

Meyer and the Florida Gators have an offense that has been struggling for yards and points, particularly against the top tier teams in the league. Saturday, he found out that the Gators aren't the only ones struggling. Points are at a premium this year in the SEC because the defenses are so good. Alabama (fourth), Florida (fifth) and Auburn (eighth) are in the top ten nationally in total defense with Tennessee (13th), Georgia (14th) and LSU (22nd) not all that far behind.

When you take the way the defenses are playing this year and add that to a Florida offense that is in transition to Meyer's spread option attack, there's little doubt why the Gators are not racing up and down the field, racking up points practically at will.

"You take the defenses in this conference and you take the corners and the athleticism up front, it's unique," said Meyer at his Monday media day. "The ability to play man coverage changes the whole game because now you're plus one in the box if they can be physical with you, which they're doing in this league. That separates the SEC from all the different conferences."

With defenses dominating, tough games such as Alabama's 6-3 win over Tennessee Saturday in Tuscaloosa have become the norm in the league this year. The top tier teams in the SEC have loaded up their defenses with fast, physical players and on nearly every team you see starters playing key roles on the special teams.

"It's a league of speed and a league of explosive players on both sides and on special teams," said Meyer, who has the second ranked defense in the league and special teams that are among the best. A week after Florida held LSU's dynamic punt returner Skyler Green to one punt return for one yard, Auburn let Green loose on a 66-yard scoring return that was the difference in the game.

Meyer knows the defenses are excellent in the league and that has something to do with the Gators inability to move the ball consistently. The defenses are only part of the problem, however. The coach is well aware that his team has to execute better when it has the football and that players have to step up and be difference makers at critical junctures in the game.

In the loss to LSU a couple of weeks ago, Florida was unable to sustain any scoring drive from its own half of the field. The Gators were all to predictable in that game and almost all of the Florida playmakers seemed to be on the defensive side of the ball. That effort, or lack of, caused Meyer and his staff to spend a great deal of the past week rehashing everything they do on offense.

"We have a tremendous amount of work to do offensively," he said. "We ran the ball a little better, especially the last two games, however, execution in the past game is not anywhere close to where it needs to be. So how do you improve that? You get your playmakers making plays, you gotta get your quarterback comfortable protecting him and we have to do a better job as a staff of putting him in position to make plays."

Meyer was particularly critical of the coaching staff Monday. He said that he and his assistants have not done a particularly good job of preparing the team and adapting the offense to the available personnel.

"I don't think we've done a great job," he said.. "The job of a coach is to adapt the system. I've always said that there really isn't a system, that the system has to adapt to the personnel so that's what makes up the system and I don't believe we've done a great job with that.

"If you evaluate the top teams in this conference you're not going to roll out 50 points right now. Just not now , but maybe down the road you will as you develop a little bit. It's going to come down to some guys going out there and making plays and coaches getting them in position to make plays and that's what we have not done in the big games."

Meyer said the days are gone when a team could just step on the field and run its base offense down another team's throat. The name of the game these days is adapting to the defenses since teams are putting their best and fastest athletes on that side of the ball.

"You can't say here's the offense, go get it," he said. "At some point it's going to fail. You need to keep adapting your offense to your personnel and the style of defense that you're seeing."

A key issue for the Gators has been coming up with big plays at critical moments in the game. As an example of making plays in big games when they counted the most, Meyer pointed to Alabama safety Roman Harper, who forced a fumble into the end zone against Tennessee that not only stopped a Tennessee scoring drive short but gave the Crimson Tide the ball and the chance it needed to win Saturday's game. Meyer said the Gators made big plays against Tennessee but they failed to make them against LSU.

"It's amazing what it comes down to, especially in this conference," he said. "It comes down to making 5-6 plays to win a game. That's obviously something we did at Tennessee and we did not do at LSU."

Making plays will be critical for the Gators against fourth-ranked Georgia in Jacksonville. Even though Georgia will be playing without quarterback D.J. Shockley, who sprained an MCL in the win over Arkansas over the weekend, Meyer has seen enough of the Georgia defense and Georgia's offense to know that this has the makings of another tough, grind it out game in the SEC where the outcome will be decided by a big play here or there.

Against Tennessee, the Gators got the big plays in the form of excellent special teams execution that forced a fumble on a punt and critical third down conversions when quarterback Chris Leak hit receivers for first down yardage.

"It will be a great test for the Florida Gators but it's also time that we step up and make some plays like we did against Tennessee at the opportune moments to win this game," he said.

ABOUT CHRIS LEAK: Meyer said that adaptations in the offense were made during last week's off week but don't expect to see a bunch of new plays added. The goal of last week, he said, was to get Chris Leak confident in what he's doing.

"It's hard to add plays," he said. "What's changed is how we do them. I think there's no question we have to get him comfortable. It's hard to do that on a week without a buy. That's one of our intents to get him more comfortable."

Getting Leak more comfortable could hinge on more cohesive play out of the offensive line. Leak has been sacked more than any quarterback in the SEC, due in part to an offensive line that has been struggling, particularly at the guard positions. Meyer is hoping that some hard work on fundamentals during the bye week put some of those issues to rest.

"The positive is we have a little consistency now," said Meyer. "We've been rotating our guards and trying to find a good mix. We're going to go with Tavares [Washington] and [Steven] Rissler at the guards. Jim Tartt (shoulder and ankle) is questionable and Drew Miller is really starting to come on. The number one thing. The number one thing is consistency and the number two thing is we're settled in at who our left guard is and who the right guard is without flipping guys back and forth.

"I think our tackles played better than they have against LSU ... they hung in there. Our guards need to continue to improve."

Meyer said the Gators will go hard in practice on Monday and Tuesday to get the offensive line ready to go against Georgia.

ABOUT SHOCKLEY AND GEORGIA: Meyer said the Gators will practice as if Shockley is going to play even though Georgia Coach Mark Richt has said that the target return date for his quarterback is two weeks from now against Auburn.

"D.J. Shockley, last week before his injury, was playing as well as any quarterback in America," said Meyer. "He's one of the ones if everybody is covered, he takes off and he's a very dynamic runner. They have some built in quarterback runs which that's the plus one factor. The one guy you don't cover man to man is your quarterback. He gives you that weapon so if you're playing man to man you better spy a guy and you better keep an eye on that quarterback especially if he's dynamic like Shockley."

If there is no medical miracle that gets Shockley back on the field, Georgia will be going with backup Joe Tereshinski, more of a pure dropback passer and far less a threat to beat you with his feet.

"I don't know much about this new quarterback and neither does our staff other than the limited amount of reps you saw in the game," said Meyer. "He did come in and play fairly well."

Meyer said that other than the run threat presented by Shockley he doesn't expect Georgia's game plan to change much. He expects the bread and butter of the Bulldog offense to be the running game and the passing game to be keyed by play action.

"Their run game is what gets them going," said Meyer. "They're very good running the ball."

GEORGIA DEFENSE: Meyer paid particular attention Saturday to Georgia's defense in the Bulldogs' 23-20 win over Arkansas. He called the Bulldogs "very physical and very fast." Georgia is ranked 14th in the nation in total defense. Georgia is fifth in the SEC against the run. The Bulldogs have 21 sacks and 11 interceptions.

Meyer said, "Their defensive front is a little banged up and they gave up some rushing yards but you watch Arkansas and the rush yards they gave up were a dymanic football player (tailback Darren McFadden, who rushed for 194 yards) making 2-3 guys miss and taking off down the sideline with great speed."

Noting that Georgia really gets after the quarterback, he said, "we're going to just keep evaluating [offensive strategy] and make sure we have enough protection for Chris and get the ball out of his hands maybe a little quicker."

Fightin Gators Top Stories