Meyer Says Team Healthy, Ready To Go

When he was a young coach at North Carolina State in the early 1970s, Lou Holtz was known to loosen up his team by doing magic tricks before big rivalry games. Holtz was an accomplished amateur magician who found the combination of magic and humor did a nice job of cutting the tension the week of a big game.

Florida Coach Urban Meyer was an assistant to Holtz at Notre Dame, where he says he saw the boss do some magic tricks but none during the week of an important game the likes of Southern Cal. Meyer hasn't resorted to magic tricks or anything funky this week to cut tension as the Gators have prepared to face undefeated and fourth-ranked Georgia in a critical Southeastern Conference showdown in Jacksonville on Saturday.

A lot of teams lose big games the week of practice by peaking too early or by letting the pre-game tension get the best of them. Meyer says his Gators have far too much to be concerned with than tension or peaking too early.

"I think when you're an established team, a true team, those are the kind of issues that you worry about," said Meyer, whose Gators take a 5-2 record into the game against 7-0 Georgia. "Right now we're not that. I remember being in those situations where you worry about those type of things but we're not in that position right now where we're trying to execute on offense and create som edepth on defense.

"We're still trying to get some guys healthy. Peaking early and those kind of things, I don't think that's this kind of team yet."

It's been a good two weeks of practice for the Gators, however. Last week's open date gave Florida's walking wounded a chance to heal, allowing Florida to have a good practice week to prepare for the annual Cocktail Party in Jacksonville that could once again decide the SEC East championship. If Georgia wins Saturday, the Bulldogs would clinch the SEC East title and a berth in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. Should the Gators win, Florida would still need some help from either Auburn or Kentucky to win the SEC East.

"It's been a good two weeks," said Meyer Thursday afternoon. "We still have some guys banged up a little bit and we're keeping an eye on them but they should be good to go for game time."

The four players whose injuries have caused the most concern are defensive end/tackle Ray McDonald, wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius, quarterback Chris Leak and linebacker Brandon Siler. All three should be able to go in the Georgia game although none of the three will likely play at 100 percent.

Siler spent last week in a boot to help heal an ankle sprained against LSU. Meyer hasn't pushed his middle linebacker physically this week but "he did a lot of mental preparation. He'll be good to go. I don't know if he'll be 100 percent, though."

McDonald had knee surgery after the Tennessee game. He got in a few plays against LSU a couple of weeks ago but he's really starting to come around only this week.

"Ray will probably play 85 percent," said Meyer. "He practiced pretty much Wednesday and Thursday."

Meyer said McDonald's role will be limited in the Georgia game because "I don't think his body can take a full 60-70 plays."

Cornelius had a high ankle sprain against Alabama four weeks ago that kept him out of the Mississippi State game and limited him against LSU two weeks ago. Earlier in the week Meyer said Cornelius was at 85-90 percent and that he expected him closer to 95 percent by game time.

Leak's [right] throwing shoulder was sprained in the Alabama game. He hasn't missed a game since then, but the injury has been healing. Meyer said that Leak has been throwing the ball much better this week, an indicator that the shoulder is nearly completely healed.

DEFENDING GEORGIA: Even with quarterback D.J. Shockley out of the game, Florida's defensive strategy won't change all that much against Georgia. Shockley is a mobile quarterback who can create with his feet and his absence takes away that element from the Georgia offense. His replacement will be Joe Tereshinski, who isn't slow but by no means is he as quick or elusive a running threat as Shockley.

The temptation with Shockley out and a relatively inexperienced quarterback like Tereshinski in is to bring the house with the blitz on nearly every play. Meyer said that's a temptation the Gators won't fall into.

"You have to be sound in the run game," said Meyer. "A lot of times you send the house and a crease breaks, it's to the end zone. I don't think that's our strategy at all. I think we'll mix it up. I don't think it will be any different."

The one advantage that Shockley's absence would provide for Florida is that the Gators won't have to dedicate one player to spy Shockley. The spy strategy may help to contain a scrambler like Shockley, but it takes away the creative edge the defensive coordinator has with that player. Instead of having a player that can be moved around in coverage or on the blitz, that one player has to be cognizant of Shockley and play very disciplined football on every single play.

"If you're facing a guy who can scramble and get out of there and quarterback run, you better either spy a guy when you're playing man coverage and you better make sure people stay in the pass rush lanes," said Meyer.

When teams don't spy the mobile quarterback and the discipline in the pass rush breaks down, Meyer said that's when quarterbacks like Vince Young and Shockley take off and hurt you because "you're minus one when he runs the ball."

PRAISING THE GEORGIA DEFENSE: When Brian Van Gorder left Georgia for the National Football League, most experts felt the defense would suffer in the transition to a new defensive coordinator. That hasn't been the case as Willie Martinez has the Georgia defense ranked fifth in the SEC and number 14 in the nation.

In the two important categories of scoring defense and turnover margin, the Bulldogs are among the best in the league and the nation. Georgia is at plus-nine in turnover margin which ranks them second in the SEC (Florida leads) and sixth nationally. Georgia is allowing only 13.7 points per game, fifth nationally and third in the SEC. "They're an SEC defense," said Meyer. "I would put them in the same boat as LSU and Alabama and Tennessee. I think they're tremendous defenses that run sideline to sideline real well, big up front and they cover well. They're an excellent defense."

KNOWING THE STAKES: The stakes are definitely high this week as it is a survival weekend for the Gators in the SEC East. Meyer knows what's at stake and so does his team, but he's not allowing them to dwell too much on the consequences.

"It's a great rivalry game and it's a game where you got to improve and it's a game that we're going to give everything we have to win," said Meyer. "I don't want to start those things around here, last chances and all that.

"This is a big time football game, that's what it is. Our goal is to compete for the SEC champ in November. That's what our goal is and obviously this one would be ended [with a loss] but we're just trying to talk about a football team that's trying to create depth on defense and trying to get better on offense."

Fightin Gators Top Stories