Will God Smile on the Gators?

Will God smile on the Gators in Columbia? Steve Spurrier set the standard for offensive supremacy in leading his beloved alma mater to seven SEC titles and their only national championship. Now, the former Heisman Trophy winner, affectionately known as the ol' head ball coach, will mastermind the Fun ‘n Gun in hopes of denying the University of Florida an opportunity for their first Eastern Division title since he left the Gators program in early 2002.

"I've got my enthusiasm, my passion, and my fire, "Spurrier said upon taking the South Carolina job. "I've got all of that back in me. I pledge to you, you're going to get my best shot."

And isn't that exactly what Gators fans everywhere want to recall after Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler dissected the Florida secondary to the tune of 361 yards and four touchdown passes? To complicate matters for Florida, injuries to key personnel are making the Gators bid for an Eastern Division crown formidable.

Most notably is the loss of Vernell Brown, who broke his fibula early in the second quarter last Saturday. Brown had been Florida's best cover man, an accomplishment that was repeatedly noted through the sweltering August practice sessions. Consistency and leadership had become the norm with Vernell Brown. His stellar play had even dispelled talk of a height disadvantage when he went against much taller receivers. He was proven and dependable. And now, he will assume the role of volunteer coach on the Florida sidelines, until he returns in the latter part of December.

The Gators should open with Dee Webb, who struggled last Saturday night, and Vanderbilt- goat turned hero, Reggie Lewis, playing opposite, at corner. The only other viable options at corner are Reggie Nelson, who will be on the field regardless, at safety or corner and freshman Avery Atkins, who figures to be a future star in this league. Atkins has played well on special teams, but hasn't seen much action at corner, even in nickel or dime situations. He will get a crash course this week.

There are major concerns at safety too. Jarvis Herring is not playing at full speed. Herring suffered a quad contusion in the Georgia game two weeks ago and took another hit during the Vanderbilt game that further limited his effectiveness.

The lackluster play of Kyle Jackson to get over in coverage was evident against Alabama. He struggled trying to get over on a play in the second half against Vanderbilt too. Jackson, a freshman All-SEC selection one year ago, will need to find a return to his former self if the Gators are to be successful in Columbia.

Vanderbilt had a much needed bye week before coming to Gainesville. It was clearly evident that the Commodores coaches' did a tremendous job preparing their team, while giving their players some rest, as they had plenty of legs to run the field.

Cutler solved the Gators zone coverages and the receivers had little trouble separating when Florida went man.

Spurrier will spread the field and force the Gators to cover. The Florida injuries only add fuel to his fire. Carolina quarterback Blake Mitchell is not in the same class as Jay Cutler. But, Spurrier will put him in position to make plays.

Mitchell had his greatest success against the hated Tennessee Volunteers, when he ravaged their secondary completing 22 of 37 passes for 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His success against Vanderbilt and Arkansas' was mildly impressive at best. His combined numbers in those games, 27 of 52 for 363 and four touchdowns. Mitchell has taken pretty good care of the football though via the air throwing two interceptions in the past three games.

The ball coach has allowed his quarterbacks to get punished for their efforts though.

Mitchell has put the ball on the ground in each of the Gamecocks last two games. The Florida defense has to take a shot at the ball when Mitchell has it in his hands. Furthermore, Carolina has allowed 21 sacks.

Two weeks ago, that would have been a major plus for the good guys, who entered the Georgia game leading the conference with 23 sacks. However the Gators have managed only one sack in the past two games.

Marcus Thomas has been playing the best football of his life, but suffered another back injury Saturday night against the Commodores. The extent of Thomas' injury or availability is not yet known.

The return of Ray McDonald has not given the Gators a deciding edge either.

"Ray McDonald is not the same player," Coach Urban Meyer said in his press conference. "He didn't play very much (against Vandy) and ever since his Tennessee injury, he has not been the same player."

While that is certainly a fact, it appears that Meyer is also serving notice to RayMac that the Gators defense needs his emergence and leadership if they're to have an opportunity to schedule a flight to Atlanta next month.

South Carolina has given up seven sacks in their past three games, including four against Arkansas last weekend.

Furthermore, weakside linebacker Earl Everett is not at full strength due to a contusion on his thigh suffered in the Georgia game. Coach Meyer said that he was operating at about 75 percent last weekend.

Everett may be the most underrated player on the Florida defense, who just happens to play a position where there is no depth.

The Gators defensive front will need to get pressure on Mitchell and hopefully force him to make a mistake. If they can't rattle him in some form or fashion, it could be another nail biter, this time in a more hostile environment.

One problem the Gators defensive front encountered the past two weeks was size and strength. Quarterbacks Joe Tereshinski (Georgia) and Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt) are 6-3 or taller and weigh between 225 and 230. Mitchell stands 6-3, 194 and doesn't have the strength to pull away from defenders as both of these quarterbacks demonstrated.

Spurrier brought back five Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year awards to Gainesville. He won six titles outright, and the seventh in 1990, his first year as the Florida helm.

Darth Visor, Steve Superior, Ol' Shiny Britches- call him what you will. The Kickin' Chicken knows that the Gamecocks have caught the Florida defense at a most opportunistic time. He has taken advantage in those situations strolling the sidelines of the Southeastern Conference for 12 ¾ years.

Carolina tasted defeat ten times during Spurrier's Florida tenure, including five times in Columbia. His 63-7 win over the Gamecocks in 1995 is their worst beating in SEC history. While he simply doesn't have the talent to put that kind of beating on the Gators, he is capable of pulling of the upset with Florida's health concerns.

"We have to get those guys in there," Meyer said. Without them it's going to be very tough for us to compete if we don't have those players in there."

Meyer gathered the Gators up last Saturday and asked for somebody to step forward and make a play. All of those early wake up calls and hours spent in the sweltering August sun preparing for an opportunity to advance to Atlanta seemingly come down to winning this Saturday. Can the Gators regroup and perform causing God to smile on the Gators once again in Columbia?

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