Offense Shows Signs Of Finally Coming Around

If you go by numbers alone --- 14 points and 261 total yards --- then your first inclination is to call Benny Hinn. Since this is game eight of Urban Meyer's first go-round at Florida with the spread option offense, numbers alone say a faith healer with a miracle cure is long overdue, but in this case, the stats can't and won't tell the whole story.

The stats can't begin to tell you how efficient the Gators were on those first two drives of the game when Florida stuck it to then fourth-ranked and unbeaten Georgia for a pair of quick scores. The stats can't tell you how successful the Gators were in eliminating the costly mistakes that kept Florida in second and long and third and long in previous losses to Alabama and LSU. The stats can't tell you what a boost the offense gave to Florida's slug it out defense by giving the stop troops the early lead.

And the stats certainly can't tell you that the offensive ship that was listing badly and taking on water seems to be sitting a bit higher in the water on Monday, looking more and more like it's going to slog its way through the difficult times and somehow become something that looks more like 2004 Utah.

What the stats don't show is how the guard play stepped it up Saturday. Inconsistent all season long, the guard rotation of Tavares Washington, Steven Rissler and Drew Miller turned in an outstanding effort. The Gators had given up 24 sacks in the first seven games of the season, most of them straight up the gut and right over the guards. Georgia got just one sack Saturday and that was simply because the Bulldogs had more rushers than the Gators had protectors.

Rissler and Miller played so well they graded out champion and because the guards were good, so were the center and the tackles. Center Mike Degory and tackles Randy Hand and Lance Butler all graded out champion, largely because they weren't spending half the game trying to compensate for the mistakes of the guards.

Miller's play was so good that he was named the Southeastern Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week. He graded 92 percent and had six knockdown blocks to help lead Florida's tailback tandem of DeShawn Wynn and Markus Manson to a combined 158 yards on 28 carries.

Coach Meyer wasn't ready to pronounce the offense fit and healthy again at his Monday media day, not was he ready to give the guards a clean bill of health, but he felt Florida may have finally turned that corner with the offensive line play. Using his hands to demonstrate, he pointed out how if the pressure comes from the outside, the quarterback can step up in the pocket and still get his throw off, but if the pressure's up the gut, directly over the guards, then there is a big problem, especially with a quarterback who is only six-feet tall.

"When this happens out here [pressure from the edge where the tackles protect] at least he can step up in the pocket and throw the ball," said Meyer. "When this happens here [hands moved inside] and that's the result of center and guards with penetration … the guards have to play better to give our quarterback the opportunity to step up and throw the ball, and they did. That is absolutely imperative, and I think they played their best game against a very good defensive front."

Unlike losses to Alabama and LSU, the Gators limited the number of negative plays whether by silly penalties or first down sacks that put the offense in the hole on second down. By avoiding the second and long and third and long situations, Florida was able to move the ball well enough that the defense had only one situation when it took over defending a short field.

Again, the results Saturday are not the sure sign that the offensive problems are cured once and for all, but it is a sign of maturity and a sign that the offense is starting to come together in positive ways.

The Gators may not have poured on the points or racked up record yards, but they did hammer away at the Georgia defense for enough first downs so that when Florida punted, Georgia was taking over with a long field to maneuver against Florida's very stingy defense. Only once did Georgia take over with a short field and that was at the UF 49 after a shanked punt by Eric Wilbur.

After the other Florida punts, Georgia took over on the 15, 17, 16, 8 and 20 yard lines. The key for the Gators was moving the football and getting positive yards on first down.

"We always say that offensive football is a 10-yard game so win each game," said Meyer. "If it's second and 14, those are hard ones, especially against good teams. You have to stay on course."

The first drive of the game was the perfect example. The Gators marched 80 yards on 13 plays. Florida gained positive yards on every first down play and the Gators never had a third down in which more than five yards was necessary to convert.

"That first drive I thought Chris (Leak) did a nice job," said Meyer. "We didn't have the third and 12, the third and 14 … we didn't have the second and 16. We didn't have the silly nonsense penalties that knocked us back.

"The second half we had a couple of penalties that did set us back and that took us off course. Right now we're just not functional enough to rally back from a big minus play. That first drive that was right on course."

The first drive was critical to the entire success of the game. Florida put Georgia in the hole on the scoreboard, and the quick start gave the Gators a serious emotional lift. By going ahead early, Georgia was forced to play catch-up football the rest of the way with its second string quarterback Joe Tereshinski making his first start every in the biggest game of the year for the Bulldogs.

"The fast start was critical to the mentality of the team," said Meyer. "When Chris hit those three first downs in a row and dove in for the touchdown, that really set the tempo for the game and our sideline exploded. You need that confidence and momentum, and that played a big role in that game."

While it is safe to say that there is work to be done before a cure can be pronounced on Florida's offense, it's evident from the way Florida played Saturday that there are positive signs. The offense remains a work in progress but it is starting to show some signs of real life.

RESILIENT DEFENSE: Florida's defense is now ranked fifth in the nation with two SEC defenses (Alabama third, Auburn fourth) rated just ahead. Georgia came into Saturday's game with the top rated offense in the SEC but Florida held the Bulldogs to more than 120 yards below their season average.

The Gators did it with a defense that was fairly banged up. Brandon Siler played the entire game at middle linebacker with a bad ankle. He didn't practice at all during the off week and had limited reps in the week leading to the Georgia game. Siler was the co-defensive player of the game with defensive end Jeremy Mincey (four unassisted tackles, 10 assists, SEC Defensive Player of the Week). Ray McDonald is another that couldn't practice much during the week but he played well enough to grade champion. During the game, Jarvis Herring (graded 92 percent, made champion) got a severe thigh bruise as did linebacker Earl Everett.

The fact Florida played so well with played banged up and injured made Meyer particularly proud of their effort.

"I think we played great defense," Meyer said. "We held, I believe the number one offense in the conference at the time to 286 yards and number 20 (Thomas Brown), who is an explosive player along with (Danny) Ware, we kept them inside.

"One of the games we lost we had a problem with missed tackles and we took care of that problem this week. I thought our guys played very well. I thought our defense showed a lot of resiliency and toughness. We had some guys banged up, who had limited practice reps last week but they fought through and they played hard. I thought they did very good."

Meyer commented Sunday that in the SEC, getting two or three touchdowns in a game seems to be an accomplishment in a league where seven of the top 16 defenses play. Asked if he's ready to turn the season over to the defense and let them win the final three regular season games, Meyer said that he hasn't given up on the offense yet.

"We've got to prove a great deal on offense," he said. "We have made improvements, and we have faced some very good defenses. We've had some injury issues but no one really cares, including us. We have to move on and get better. Am I ready to turn the season over to the defense? I'm ready to turn the season over to the Gators. You have to do what you have to do to help each other win. We did excellent on the way the game started and the way we played field-position football."

MEYER ON VANDY QB JAY CUTLER: Meyer said the Gators are very well aware the threat that Vandy quarterback Jay Cutler poses this week. Cutler leads the SEC in passing and he's proven to be a definite running threat. Although he isn't as fast and elusive as Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley, Cutler can get positive yards with his feet.

"He [Cutler] is a difference-maker quarterback," said Meyer. "I admire him. When you've played against Georgia and LSU and you see the way he played against those teams, you can see he is a tough nut. He's a guy who gets you that extra yard and makes plays happen when they're not there. That's the biggest thing a quarterback like that gives you. He's an accurate passer, but there are a lot of accurate passers. He is a tough guy, and he's a big guy who you better keep in front of you."

GRADING CHAMPION: On defense --- Siler, Mincey, Herring, Jarvis Moss, Marcus Thomas, McDonald, Reggie Nelson, Dee Webb, Vernell Brown; On offense, Hand, Butler, Miller, Rissler, Degory, Wynn, Manson, Leak, Tate Casey, Jemalle Cornelius, Kenneth Tookes, Dallas Baker.


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