As a result, Florida's strategy after grabbing an early 14-nothing lead made perfect sense. Protect the ball and shorten the game. The Gators blew a great scoring opportunity late in the first half, and decided against trying for points after a costly (and mostly invisible) false start penalty late in the game.
Surprisingly Good Fit For Meyer
While Florida's first-year coach is better known for the spread-option offense (which rumor has it we might see next year) this game was not an uncomfortable fit at all. You may recall way back when I defined Meyer as an old school coach with a new age attitude. Meaning he combines the traditional core values of coaching with the wide-open mindset of high-scoring football. Well the high scoring part has not worked out so well … but the old school mindset lets him enjoy wins of this sort.
The opening drive was a thing of beauty as Florida scored on its first possession for the first time all year. That's a stunning fact in week eight. Still the 13-play, 80-yard sojourn down the field not only set the tone for the game. It WAS the game. The drive showed the adjustments in providing more protection for Leak. And it showed they remembered that Tate Casey was on their side. Even though Leak missed on the throw, the fact the second play went to # 84 gave Georgia something to think about.
So, just like 2002, the Gators find themselves with two SEC games to win while needing Georgia to lose one for Florida to return to the SEC Title game in Atlanta. Certainly you would rather control your own destiny and not be dependent on the kindness of strangers, but Florida has to be pleased to take a 6-2 record into the stretch run. Florida has left Jacksonville with at least three losses the past three seasons.
The wins should come, though neither game can be viewed as a gimme. Vandy is desperate to end a four-game losing streak and had a week off to try and find the form that let them win their first four. And South Carolina's win over Tennessee shows why you never count the HBC out of anything.
But all Gator partisans will be rooting for Auburn to knock off the Dawgs in two weeks. They almost pulled it off back in '02 but Georgia scored late to win the game and the division. Georgia will have a week off and hopes to get D.J. Shockley healthy for the battle with the Tigers. Fortunately for UF, Auburn has plenty of incentive since they are still alive in the SEC West and the rivalry with Georgia is a big one on the plains.
With apologies to baseball legend Reggie Jackson, Florida may have found its own Mister October in Reggie Nelson. The talented sophomore safety has been making plays all year, more and more each week. He responds to his first start with seven tackles and an interception helping the Florida defense hold Georgia to ten points and less than 300 total yards.
Nelson ranks is tied for sixth on the team in tackles, is fifth in tackles for loss and shares the lead in sacks with Jarvis Moss (4). You might see # 32 spend more time in his nickel spot the next two weeks, however since Vandy and South Carolina are teams you are likely to play a lot of nickel against.
Still Much Room For Improvement
While the win over Georgia made it 14 of 16 for the Gators in this rivalry there are still many things this team can improve on in an effort to finish the regular season 9-2. While all involved have pretty much given up on the notion of this offense being a high-scoring unit, there's no reason Florida can't make its own life easier.
You start with penalties where once again the Gators repeatedly had minor mistakes that had major implications. Right after the Nelson interception in the second quarter, the Gators false start. Moving the chains against a great defense is tough enough without starting out first-and-15. Early in the third quarter a foolish personal foul put Georgia in field goal range, even though the Dogs missed the kick. An illegal formation on a punt eliminated a solid Wilbur kick. The following boot was awful and Georgia netted 18 yards from an inexcusable mistake. End result? Georgia's only touchdown.
Then as Florida is trying to run out the clock --- or perhaps score a clinching touchdown a hard-to-see false start again makes it tough. When Urban Meyer decided to punt Georgia deep rather than try a 46-yard field goal into the wind, Wilbur came through with a boot to the nine. But once again, Florida screws up with an illegal shift. Wilbur's following kick is a touchback. Better for the average, perhaps, but eleven free yards for a Georgia offense trying to rally.
Florida ended up with ten penalties to Georgia's three, picking up 30 extra yards in miscues. For the year, Florida is averaging almost 67 penalty yards a game to their opponents 40. The Gators out-gain their opponents by 97 yards a game (368-to-274) but they give back 27 of it in penalties.
A Little Health Wouldn't Hurt
This has been one of those years when every time an injured player gets healthy it seems somebody else goes down. Saturday Florida got extended play from Ray McDonald, but Earl Everett was hobbled and not his usual self. Jemalle Cornelius gets closer to full speed and Dallas Baker sprains his ankle midway through the second quarter. Dallas was less than full speed the rest of the day, but judging by his post-game jumping around it appears he'll be okay. Ray Mac and Jemalle should also be closer to 100 % in a week.
Not many teams have much of a chance of being healthier in week nine than they were in week four, but that would well be the case for Florida.
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