Maintaining Focus Is Key For Gators This Week

Injuries have taken away some of his best players and there are depth and personnel issues that are keeping his staff up late at night this week, but Coach Urban Meyer has a bigger concern. His biggest task of this week is keeping his Florida Gators focused on what they have to do rather than the help they need to win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division championship or the fact that South Carolina is coached by Steve Spurrier.


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When the Gators face South Carolina in Columbia Saturday, they'll be doing it with a banged up and bruised team that has more health issues than any team Meyer has ever put on the field. Injuries have depleted the Gators of critical depth at wide receiver, linebacker, defensive line and in the secondary so the Gators will be going with young backups in some situations, hoping to make it through a game without another injury in other areas.

Practice this week isn't just about finding warm and able bodies to fill needs in the lineup, though. There's a mental edge that Meyer is trying to maintain, one that is as critical as any physical preparation the Gators will go through.

Florida has a shot at winning the SEC East but the Gators can't do it without a little help from their friends. The Gators are 7-2 overall, 5-2 in the SEC. They trail Georgia by one game but if the Gators can beat South Carolina and Georgia (8-1, 6-1) loses to Auburn, Florida would win the SEC East by virtue of a head to head win over Georgia.

And then there is that little issue about one Steven Orr Spurrier, the same guy whose name is plastered all over Florida football and the same guy who recruited four seniors who will be starting for the Gators Saturday. The Florida and South Carolina media are all over this story, which has taken on more national implications now that South Carolina has gone on an improbable four-game winning streak and is bowl eligible. The suddenly formidable Gamecocks represent a far greater obstacle to Florida's title chances than they did two weeks ago when the Gators were still euphoric over an upset win over Georgia.

It all amounts to one potential distraction after another, something that Meyer doesn't need with all the other issues he's dealing with this week.

"I got to really talk to this team about that," said Meyer after Wednesday's practice. "I know people, family and reporters are saying what about this? What about Georgia? What about that?

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! What about third down and six with four minutes left? Your focus better be on that."

Maintaining focus is a problem that Meyer has had to deal with all season. He's said all along that this is not a mentally tough team, that it's a growing and learning process to develop the kind of toughness that results in full and complete concentration on the task at hand. It's a particular problem on a week like this with a championship at stake and so much talk about the Old Ball Coach.

Meyer is preaching to his team to put the distractions aside and keep their eyes glued to the one thing in their control, which is beating South Carolina.

"We're going to play South Carolina in a hostile environment," said Meyer. "You gotta take care of yourself. You gotta take care of your assignments and your responsibilities. That's the message there has been this week."

The fact that the Florida defense was a no-show for most of last week's Vanderbilt game has been a plus for Meyer. The fact that Vanderbilt took the Gators into double overtime has brought the defensive unit back down to earth after the strong performance against Georgia.

"After we won a big game early in the year and our defense played very well, we were the greatest defense that ever played," said Meyer. "Well, obviously that's not true. We have to earn everything we get. We didn't play very well Saturday. I hope that's a blessing in disguise. I hope the cobwebs are knocked out of there and I hope there's an urgent approach this week which there has been."

Meyer liked what he saw of Tuesday's practice but there was somewhat of a letdown on Wednesday.

"Today was okay," he said. "Tomorrow has to be right on the dot."

SECONDARY CONCERNS: With Vernell Brown out with a broken leg, the concern in the secondary is the corner that will be played by former wide receiver Reggie Lewis, whose backup will be a true freshman, Avery Atkins. Reggie Nelson will be shifted from free safety to the nickel position which will allow him to get into more coverage of inside receivers and offer more opportunities for blitzing. That means Kyle Jackson is moving back to free safety after sitting out all of the Georgia game and large portions of last week's Vanderbilt game.

All the personnel moves had saying after practice, "We still need an extra day, I'm glad it's Wednesday."

INJURY UPDATE: Redshirt freshman guard Jim Tartt, who has missed the last two games with a severely sprained ankle, looks to get some action against South Carolina. He'll add depth to a suddenly revived position that has graded out well the past two games. In the last two games, the Gators have gone with a three-guard rotation of Tavares Washington,

Wide receiver Dallas Baker was in civvies for the third straight day. He's got a broken rib and is looking more and more doubtful for Saturday.

Tailback DeShawn Wynn practiced again with the yellow, non-contact jersey.


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