Steve Harris Says Do It For The Seniors

It was on the bus, somewhere between Jacksonville and Gainesville last Saturday night, that Steven Harris felt the mood of the entire football team morph from celebration to focus on the Vanderbilt Commodores. Beating Georgia was certainly the kind of achievement that merits some sort of a shindig but this is a party that ended quickly.

That 14-10 win over then unbeaten and fourth-ranked Georgia was Florida's lifeline to the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division race. Georgia could have clinched the East earlier than any team in the 14 years of divisional play in the SEC, putting the Gators on a fast track for Shreveport and the Weedwacker Bowl. Georgia never got to pop the cork on its celebration and Florida's post-game party ended early. The Gators still need to win their two remaining SEC games and they will have to have some help from either Auburn or Kentucky to make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, but at least now there is hope.

The awareness that there is a championship to play for wasn't lost on the Gators on that bus ride home. Harris thought about Jarvis Herring, Todd McCullough and Jeremy Mincey, senior starters on the nation's fifth-rated defense. They came to Florida to compete for and win SEC championships but they don't have a ring yet. That sobering thought put a collective end to the celebration.

"The celebration ended that night on the way home on the bus," said Harris. "Everybody just looked around and said we've got a job to do. We've got to keep winning. We can't control what anyone else does, but we can control what we do, so we have to win."

Even though two more SEC wins offer no guarantee that the Gators make it to Atlanta for the championship game, Harris knows that the seniors on this team are owed a maximum effort and that begins with beating Vanderbilt at The Swamp Saturday night (7:15, ESPN2).

"We have some seniors on this team that over the past that haven't won anything around here," said Harris. "We're not trying to hide that. We're trying to win championships. We're trying to send them out on the right page so we have to win every game. It would be wrong for them not to win something before leaving here."

Florida has a 6-2 overall record, 4-2 in SEC play. Because the Gators beat Georgia, if the Bulldogs lose one of their two remaining SEC game, Florida is the Eastern Division champ because of the head to head result, so there is plenty to play for.

Vanderbilt has plenty to play for, too. The Commodores were on the fast track to their first bowl game in 21 years when they started the season 4-0 but in the four games since that surprising start, Vandy has come back to earth. The Commodores are mired in a four-game losing streak now, needing two wins in the final three games to qualify for a bowl game.

Harris knows that the four-game winning streak wasn't expected from Vanderbilt just as he's aware that all teams with pride get tired of losing at some point, making them extremely dangerous.

"A lot of people didn't expect that [4-0 start] out of Vandy but you can't doubt any team," said Harris. "At some point somebody is going to get up and say we just can't keep on losing, we've got to win and they're going to start winning."

Florida Coach Urban Meyer says the Gators have had a good week preparing for the Commodores. He doesn't believe overconfidence or losing focus is going to be a problem for his team.

"I can't see that," he said after Wednesday's practice. "We just had a little discussion about things like that. Florida's got to compete for a championship. It's November. It's time."

Meyer considers Vandy a dangerous opponent. The Commodores have wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss in the SEC and they have the league's top rated passer in senior quarterback Jay Cutler.

"Vanderbilt has an excellent quarterback," said Meyer. "All you have to do is watch the tape. They beat Arkansas, they beat Ole Miss, they beat Wake Forest … they've beaten some good teams and they were right in it with some other good ones."

Four of Florida's previous SEC games were away from Gainesville so Meyer is looking forward to a home game and a typical Swamp crowd to energize his team Saturday.

"The best thing is that we're playing in that stadium [The Swamp] at 7 o'clock at night on a Saturday night in Gainesville in November and so I'm sure that it's going to be a good effort by the Gators," he said.

BAKER STILL HOBBLED: The news isn't good for wide receiver Dallas Baker. Baker was held out of practice Monday and Tuesday to help heal an ankle sprained in the Georgia game but there hasn't been much progress. Meyer called his junior wide receiver (37 catches, 480 yards) "questionable, very questionable" for Saturday's game.

"I thought he would be out here today but ankles are amazing things so we'll find out," said Meyer. "He's a good enough player like [Brandon] Siler that we'll get him in there if he's ready to go."

Wide receiver Chad Jackson, who has been slowed by hamstring problems the past couple of games, has shown marked improvement.

"Chad's better," said Meyer. "Last week he was sore but he's better this week. It's just wear and tear."

Siler, who played at less than 90 percent against Georgia because of a sprained ankle, is close to 100 percent now. Senior safety Jarvis Herring and junior linebacker Earl Everett, both with thigh bruises, are sore but able to practice. Sophomore safety Reggie Nelson had a good practice Wednesday. He was slowed by sore, tight hamstrings on Tuesday.

CAN'T CATCH A BREAK: When it comes to health issues, redshirt freshman guard Jim Tartt must feel like someone is sticking needles in a voodoo doll that bears his resemblance. All season he has been battling to play through chronic soreness in a shoulder that was operated on following spring practice. The shoulder kept him from playing a lot of snaps in any one game. Against LSU, he sprained his ankle and that kept him out of last week's Georgia game.

Tartt was making progress toward playing in the Vanderbilt game when he re-injured the ankle in Wednesday's practice.

"Tartt dinged it again today," said Meyer. "He tried to go today but it's going to be a little bit longer."

In Tartt's absence, sophomore Drew Miller stepped in to play the best game of his Florida career against Georgia, earning Southeastern Conference Offensive Lineman of the Week honors on a performance that included six knockdown blocks. Miller was in a three-man guard rotation with senior Tavares Washington and Steven Rissler against Georgia as Florida turned in its most consistent game by the offensive linemen all season.

"It was a much better performance in the guard position in particular," said Meyer. "It was the first time I think all year that we had them grade out champions which was very important. So right now we have three [guards] playing fairly well. You have Rissler, you have Drew (Miller) and you have Tavares."

CASEY'S EXPANDED ROLE: Tight end Tate Casey had three catches for 28 yards in the first seven games of the season but against Georgia he had three catches for 21 yards and his first touchdown of the season. During the past two weeks, Meyer says Casey's practice habits have been outstanding and that showed in the way he played against Georgia.

"He [Casey] is doing good," said Meyer. "He's had another good week of practice. He just gets better and better. His last three weeks have been really good."

Meyer feels that the success of the Georgia game will have some carryover effect with Casey this week.

"Where he's being utilized and he's had a little success," said Meyer. "With these kids, you take yourself away for a minute … the pressure on them to perform comes from family, it comes from fans, it comes from people in their classes, so you see when they have some success the whole team is bouncing around a little better. And Tate had some success in that game."

UF VS. VANDERBILT: In the modern era of Florida football (since 1960) the Gators own a 22-3-1 record against the Commodores. Florida tied Vandy, 14-14, in 1968, and the Gators lost to the Commodores in 1974 (24-10), 1982 (31-29) and in 1988 (24-9). Florida was ranked (eighth in 1974,14th in 1982, 20th in 1988) all three times Vanderbilt pulled off the upset.

In Florida's 22 wins, the Gators have outscored Vanderbilt 697-226 with the widest margin of victory the 71-13 thrashing in 2001 at The Swamp.

Vanderbilt has scored 17 points in each of the last three meetings. Florida won last year by a 34-17 margin.

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