Gators vs. Gamecocks Head to Head Preview

The Kickin' Chicken (Steve Spurrier) couldn't figure out which era of Southern Mississippi defensive excellence to help raise the Gamecocks fortunes, so he brought them all to roost in Columbia. For thirteen years, John Thompson ('92-'98), Dave Wommack ('98-'00), or Tyrone Nix ('01-'04) called the shots for usually heralded Golden Eagles defense.

Florida Offensive Preview


There is much work to be done in Columbia. Tennessee and Arkansas ran for a combined 391 yards on 83 attempts (4.7) over the past two weeks. Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler also sliced and diced the Gamecocks secondary completing 27 of 49 for 339 yards and a touchdown. The Carolina defense allows 22.9 points per game. However, the Carolina defense has allowed an average of only 12.5 points the past two games.

A Carolina defense that has allowed 996 yards of total offense in the past three games must go against a Florida offense that despite losing key skills position performers Dallas Baker and DeShawn Wynn can move the football. The key for Florida is scoring in the red zone.

Offensive Line

Florida spent much of the bye prior to the Georgia game shoring up their pass protection problems and run blocking schemes. The Gators had clearly struggled in pass protection, allowing 24 sacks in just seven games. Ten of those sacks had come in the three games before playing Georgia. The Gators gave up only one sack in each of the pas two games.

Offensive line coach John Hevesy utilizes a zone blocking scheme that asks a lot of their offensive front. The inexperience and injuries at guard had been a major source of frustration. However, some of the sacks were traced to coverage sacks and quarterback Chris Leak holding the ball too long.

Those issues have been non-existent in five of the Gators last eight quarters and a couple of overtimes.

Outland and Rimington Trophy candidate Mike Degory is the rock of the Florida offensive line. The senior center has the intellect, intensity, and inertia to get things moving positively. He is a power oriented blocker who also has solid pass blocking technique.

Center

#68 Mike Degory 6-6 304 Sr. 3L Melbourne

Guards

#79 Steve Rissler 6-3 310 Jr. 2L Sarasota

#76 Tavares Washington 6-4 320 Sr. Sq Greenville, MS</b>

#67 Drew Miller 6-5 310 So. 1L Sarasota

#63 Jim Tartt 6-3 315 Fr. Sq. Sopchoppy

Tackles

#74 Randy Hand 6-6 310 Sr. 3L Ft. Myers

#72 Lance Butler 6-7 315 Sr. 2L Lexington, NC

Florida had played musical guards throughout the 2005 season. Four players (Tavares Washington, Steve Rissler, Jim Tartt, and Drew Miller) have rotated in an effort to find permanent starters at both positions. Washington and Rissler started against Georgia and Vanderbilt with both earning champion grades after post game film review.

Rissler is the guy the Florida coaches feel should challenge for Degory’s position next spring. He saw reps as the backup center in August and little else. However, their inability to find players to nail down the guard spots, coupled with injuries, forced Rissler into the rotation. Rissler has answered the call. He is consistently better coming off of the ball and getting a sound punch on his man. His footwork seemingly has been much improved.

Junior college transfer Tavares Washington played sparingly in 2003 and was redshirted last season after suffering an injury during the summer. The senior has battled some minor injuries including an elbow injury against Alabama, but those are apparently behind him. Washington has long arms and has improved his balance.

Sophomore Drew Miller had his finest performance as a Florida Gator against Georgia and played well last weekend versus Vandy. Miller, an Olympic lifter, has the physical tools needed to become an outstanding lineman. He has lacked the experience. It appears the two weeks of practice helped greatly before the Georgia game. Miller was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. Miller too has long arms and continues to improve locking and moving a defender.

Redshirt freshman Jim Tartt has the powerful build and on the field anger management issues that O-Line coaches love. However, Tartt has been slowed by a shoulder problem that was surgically repaired just before the season. He continues to get reps to gain the necessary experience. Tartt figures to be a serious challenger in the spring and the coaches hope that his fellow linemen take on his aggressive on-field persona.

The Gators return three solid seniors at center and tackle. Mike Degory, Randy Hand, and Lance Butler, who have several starts among them the past two years. Hevesy thought it best to switch Hand and Butler, with Hand now manning the left tackle position.

Hand and Butler did an outstanding job against two very good Georgia defensive ends. They both graded out champion with their strong performance. I noted several plays where Hand and Butler both took the Georgia rush off of the edge out of the play. They continued that performance against Vanderbilt, as both again earned champion grades.

Injuries: Jim Tartt (shoulder). He will play on Saturday, as he continues to get better.

Analysis: The Gators continue to grow as a unit. It would appear that Rissler and Washington have solidified their roles as the starters at guard. Center Mike Degory and tackles Randy Hand and Lance Butler all graded out as champions.

Receivers

A talented group of wideouts- Chad Jackson, Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker, and Jemalle Cornelius- were supposed to be among the most dangerous group in the country. Just as it did with the rest of the Florida offense, things looked ahead of schedule to Coach Urban Meyer. That is, until the trip to Tuscaloosa.

Florida’s talented receiving corps lost Caldwell to a broken leg in the Tennessee game and Jemalle Cornelius suffered a high ankle sprain against the Tide. To complicate matters, the receivers found getting separation from the Crimson Tide secondary to be a difficult task. That appeared evident at times against both Mississippi State, LSU, and Georgia as well. That was not the case this past Saturday against a poor Vanderbilt secondary.

Dallas Baker had emerged as the Gators go to guy. Baker (38-492, 2 TD’s) has hauled in 38 passes for 492 yards and a pair of touchdowns, seventh in SEC receiving yards. However, the Gators will be without his outstanding speed and strength this Saturday. He broke a rib and punctured a lung against Vanderbilt.

Chad Jackson (63-632, 7TD’s) returns as the Florida receiver that requires special attention. He leads the conference in receptions per game (7.00) and is third with 70.2 receiving yards per game. Despite his glowing stats, I would say that Jackson too has struggled somewhat to get away from opposing defensive backs. He also must improve his blocking. That appeared to change against Vanderbilt last Saturday, but again, the Commodores have a porous secondary.

Tight End

#84 Tate Casey 6-6 242 So. 1L Longview,Tx.

Wide receivers

#8 Chad Jackson 6-1 205 Jr. 2L Hoover, AL

#6 Jemalle Cornelius 5-11 190 Jr. 2L Fort Meade

#17 Gavin Dickey 5-11 205 Jr. 1L Tallahassee

#3 Kenneth Tookes 6-2 209 Jr. 1L Jacksonville

#80 Nyan Boateng 6-2 200 Fr. HS Brooklyn, NY

#28 Kyle Morgan 6-2 225 Sr. 1L Melbourne

Florida’s second (healthy) leading receiver is Jemalle Cornelius. He continues to make progress after suffering a hig snkle sprain a few weeks ago. Cornelius had his best game since the injury, hauling in four passes for 34 yards and the game winning touchdown in the back of the endzone. He has great quickness and good acceleration after the catch. He played quarterback in high school because he was such a talented athlete.

Tight end Tate Casey had not been used as often as I expected. Thankfully, that changed against Georgia. Casey (7-63, 1TD) is an exceptional talent and should continue to be utilized in an ever expanding role.

Kyle Morgan has proved to be an outstanding blocker, which is demanded in the Florida offense. Throughout practice sessions the past couple of years, Morgan demonstrated great hands and a possession receivers’ ability. However, he had not recorded a catch this season.

Quarterback/outfielder Gavin Dickey (1-17) has good hands and tremendous running ability after the catch. He didn’t get many reps early in the season, but he should see a boost in playing time since the injury to Caldwell and Baker.

Don’t be surprised to see the Gators use one, two, or possibly three talented freshmen in the absence of Baker. Nyan Boateng has four receptions for 77 yards. Boateng has good hands and is blessed with tremendous speed. He runs well after the catch. Louis Murphy saw action after Dallas Baker sprained his ankle against Georgia. He is much like Boateng in many ways. The Gators are also considering taking the redshirt off of 6-6 receiver David Nelson, who has been impressive in practice.

Injuries: Andre Caldwell (knee), Jemalle Cornelius (ankle), and Dallas Baker (broken rib/punctured lung) Caldwell and Baker are out. Cornelius continues to improve.

Analysis: Dallas Bakers’ injury was not something the Gators needed. Of the top five receivers on the depth chart to begin the season, two are out and another is continuing to get back to full speed after an ankle injury. Nyan Boateng and Louis Murphy are very talented players with speed. Both should see the field this weekend.

Chad Jackson is an outstanding talent, who has to do a better job blocking.

Tight end Tate Casey and fullback/tight end Billy Latsko were used more in pass protection to slow down the blitz. Don’t be surprised to see Casey catch a few more passes and perhaps, Latsko also forces linebackers to keep an eye on him.

Backfield

Quarterback Chris Leak had a stellar performance against Vanderbilt. He completed 32 of 41 (78%) for 257 yards and three touchdowns. As solid as his passing numbers were, Leak demonstrated vast improvement running the football. He was the games leading rusher with 12 carries for 67 yards (5.6 ypc) and two touchdowns. Leak was rewarded with the SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

This was terrific news for Florida fans who watched the three year starter struggle after suffering a shoulder injury against Alabama. His unimpressive play manifested against Mississippi State and LSU. His mechanics, which had been awful, were much improved against Georgia.

Leak (173-275, 1940, 14 TD’s and 4 INT) has hit on 173 of his 275 attempts for 1940 yards. He has 14 touchdown passes and has run for six more. Among SEC passers, Leak is third in total offense and ranks sixth in passing. However, Leak has to continue to get good protection and open receivers.

Freshman quarterback Josh Portis is an outstanding runner. He is the third leading rusher on the Florida team with 29 carries for 163 yards (5.6 yards per carry). However, defensive coordinators have duly noted that Portis doesn’t throw the ball when he is in shotgun formation.

Quarterback

#12 Chris Leak 6-0 210 Jr. 2L Charlotte, NC

#4 Josh Portis 6-4 210 Fr. HS Woodland Hills, Ca.

Running back

#2 Markus Manson 6-0 210 RFr. Sq. Tuscaloosa, AL.

#42 Billy Latsko (FB) 5-10 230 Jr. 2L Gainesville

#33 Kestahn Moore 5-10 205 Fr. HS Arlington, Tx.

#21 DeShawn Wynn 5-11 236 Sr. 3L Reading, OH.

Freshman Markus Manson picked up two big firsts Saturday night. He picked up his first touchdown wearing the Orange and Blue and earned SEC Freshman of the Week for his efforts against Vanderbilt. Manson ran for 61 yards on 18 carries, while also hauling in six passes for 48 yards for the Gators in place of the injured DeShawn Wynn. Manson has great quickness, speed and usually finds the open lane after coming through the middle. He has run for 256 yards on 56 carries.

True freshman Kestahn Moore (29-156, 2 TD) is the other half of this rushing tandem. Moore has a nice blend of quickness, speed, and some power. Moore caught three passes for 30 yards a dn a score last Saturday.

Injuries: DeShawn Wynn (shoulder)

Analysis: Leak was awesome. It appears that his shoulder woes have been corrected. What an outstanding game, four touchdowns through the air and two more via the ground. Hopefully, Leak can build on running the football when he has an open field and the opportunity to pick up a much needed first down. Making plays don’t just happen in the passing game.

The one-two punch of the M&M boys (Manson and Moore) should provide Florida with plenty of quickness to hit the hole and speed if they get beyond the linebackers. They also double as very good receivers out of the backfield.

Florida will use Billy Latsko at fullback, tight end, and H-back for blocking purposes. Latsko is an excellent blocker, who can also catch the ball out of the backfield.

Vanderbilt’s defense was horrible. Is this a mirage or is the Florida offense indeed on the rise?

Florida Defensive Preview



Nobody understands offensive prowess like Steve Spurrier. The Florida graduate changed the way the Southeastern Conference and much of the nation challenged defenses. Bama’s Bear Bryant wore the houndstooth hat when it came to head coaching, but the visor wearing Spurrier is tops’ as the best offensive coordinator in SEC history.

A battered and bruised Florida defense will be challenged to tame Spurrier and the Carolina Fun ‘n Gun. The Gamecocks rank fourth in the league in pass offense. Carolina has also struggled with a poor running game. Spurrier has made the most of Lou Holtz’ mess, and should garner plenty of coach of the year consideration.

Defensive Line

There is no better story on the Florida defense than that of reserve defensive end Jarvis Moss. The six-foot six All-American had pain in his lower abdomen and struggled to put on weight since his arrival from Texas. He weighed just 218 pounds this past spring, hardly the necessary weight to compete in the rough and tumble Southeastern Conference.

A series of tests failed to turn up anything positive that might solve his problem. Doctors were baffled, and Moss was disillusioned with the process and football. As the tests continued, Moss painfully contemplated quitting football. Finally, a test revealed something bizarre. Moss had a staph infection in his pelvic bone. He apparently contracted the infection after being given a cortisone shot while playing high school ball in Denton, Texas.

Moss immediately went on antibiotics. Florida trainers began pumping nutrients into him and Moss was actively working out and had regained a healthy appetite. He grew to 240 pounds in six weeks.

Moss did not see action in Florida’s opener against Wyoming. In fact, he played little in the Gators next two games. However, he is coming on strong. Moss has recorded 14 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He has also forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, and broken up two passes. Moss is super quick with tremendous speed. He also has plenty of intensity, probably pent up frustration for the many months in which he suffered through the pain of the staph infection. He is a future star, who is quickly making his presence known.

It was thought he Florida defense received a tremendous boost with the return of defensive end Ray McDonald. RayMac as he is affectionately known throughout Gator Country injured his knee in the Tennessee game. He didn’t start the Georgia game, but played a key role making three tackles coming off of the bench. In fact, McDonald graded out as a champion in Meyer’s system. He did not play well last Saturday and Meyer said that he was not ready to return. The knee continues to give him problems. It will probably be a game time decision, but I would doubt that McDonald will be able to play a significant role.

When McDonald went down, the Gators simply dropped former defensive end Joe Cohen down at defensive tackle. A fullback in 2003, Cohen is playing the best football of his defensive career. He attributes part of his success to the coaching staff who introduced him to new techniques for getting off of the blocks and making plays. He picked off a pass against LSU and had a limited return, proving that his days as a running back are indeed over.

Tackles

#44 Marcus Thomas 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Jacksonville

#93 Steven Harris 6-4 281 Jr. 2L Miami

#95 Ray McDonald 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Belle Glade

#98 Clint McMillan 6-1 282 So. 1L Oviedo

#99 Lutrell Alford 6-2 290 So. Tr Gainesville

Ends

#20 Joe Cohen 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Belle Glade

#57 Jeremy Mincey 6-4 265 Sr. 1L Statesboro, Ga

#94 Jarvis Moss 6-6 245 So. Sq. Denton, Tx.

#91 Derrick Harvey 6-4 260 Fr. Sq. Greenbelt, Md.

* Projected lineup- Injury updates won’t be available until Friday.

Jacksonville native Marcus Thomas had been playing the best football of his Florida career. He went out of the Vanderbilt game with a back problem. It is not yet known whether he’ll be able to play this weekend. Thomas had totaled six tackles against the ‘Dawgs, including one for a loss when Georgia had driven inside the Florida twenty yard line. He also graded out champion. On the season, he has recorded 30 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, and two quarterback hurries. Thomas has a terrific first step and has the lateral speed loved by defensive coordinators.

Defensive end Jeremy Mincey is having an All-SEC season. He leads the Gators in tackles (57) and tackles for loss (9.5). Mincey also has 3.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries. The senior was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week following the win over Georgia as he racked up seven tackles, a tackle for loss, and quarterback pressure, and pass knocked down. He has the speed, power, and quickness to make things happen.

Defensive tackle Steven Harris has 14 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Harris began his career at Florida as a defensive end, where he has played the past two seasons. Harris has a pretty good first step and pursues well laterally. He dropped down last spring and continues to gain experience.

Reserve defensive end Derrick Harvey came to Florida as the top defensive prospect on the East Coast. Harvey has good quickness, speed, and he appears to be gaining some much needed on the job training. He had five tackles, including a tackle for loss and sack.

Injuries: Ray McDonald (knee). Marcus Thomas (back)

Analysis: The Gators have held opponents to 100.7 yards rushing per game, while checking in as the second ranked team in the conference sack column with 24. Florida has only added one sack in the past two games. Furthermore, they have added only three quarterback hurries during that same period. However, Blake Mitchell does not have the strength that Tereshinski and Cutler have in breaking tackles.

Marcus Thomas played a key role in plugging the middle and stopping the run. Without him, the Gators might find shutting the run down more difficult. Florida has to keep Carolina’s run game in the garage and get pressure on Blake Mitchell.

Linebackers

Florida middle linebacker Brandon Siler has been a tremendous blessing since his arrival from Orlando last season. He stepped up for the injured Channing Crowder and earned the national Freshman Defensive Player of the Year award.

Siler hasn’t suffered a sophomore slump. Siler leads the SEC in fumbles recovered. He is tied for second on team in tackles (52), tackles for loss (7.0), and fourth in sacks with three. He also has six quarterback hurries.

To say that Siler has a nose for the football is an absolute fact. He has recovered an NCAA best six fumbles this year. Siler has it all- size, speed, quickness, and he packs a punch when he arrives on the scene.

He can also cover. Siler has broken up four passes and has one interception this season. He also earned champion status for his play against Georgia.

#40 Brandon Siler 6-2 239 So. 1L Orlando

#30 Earl Everett 6-2 231 Jr. 2L Webster

#47 Todd McCullough 6-5 233 Sr. 3L Jacksonville

Weakside linebacker Earl Everett is one of the most underrated linebackers in the conference. Everett has tremendous instincts which blend perfectly with his quickness and speed. He too packs a wallop. He is tied with Siler, second on the team in tackles 52. Everett also has a pair of tackles for loss and a sack. He had a career high 14 tackles against LSU.

Everett has been very effective in coverage as well. He is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and has forced a fumble. Everett knocked down two Cutler passes last weekend. However, he suffered a contusion to his thigh in the Georgia game and it was re-aggravated last weekend.

Strongside linebacker Todd McCullough is a Jacksonville native, who played at the legendary Bolles School. He has played (as a true freshman reserve) under Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, and now Urban Meyer. There is not much that McCullough hasn’t seen in his years in the SEC. He missed the 2003 season due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. McCullough has 26 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and an interception this season.

Injuries: Earl Everett ()Reserve linebacker Jon Demps will miss the remainder of the season due to a knee injury. the best overall player in The Sunshine State three years ago. assing game and sensational running back

Analysis: Florida has two outstanding linebackers in Siler and Everett, but no quality depth. Think that I’m kidding? Florida has just four scholarship linebackers on the active list. Keeping these guys healthy is a must. True freshman Jon Demps was getting some work as a reserve at the MIKE and had been improving, until he was lost to a knee injury. Brandon Siler has returned from a knee and ankle injury and now Earl Everett is recovering from a thigh injury.

One of the reasons the Gators are fourth in total defense is because of Siler and Everett’s ability to play the run and pass so well equally. Everett has lined up on the outside receiver and has covered very well.

Secondary

Florida’s corners have played very well this season. Each of the four starters (Vernell Brown, Dee Webb, Reggie Nelson, and Jarvis Herring) earned champion status for their play against Georgia. The loss of Vernell Brown is huge for the Gators. He was Florida’s best cover corner. Despite his small stature, he blanketed taller receivers. Brown led all defensive backs with 34 tackles, including 3.5 behind the line of scrimmage

Dee Webb is Florida’s most experienced corner. He did play well last weekend against Jay Culter and Vanderbilt. Webb was caught looking too long in the backfield in zone situations. Another knock on Webb is that he has had several sure interceptions go through his hands. Webb has broken up a team high 11 passes this season, while picking just one. Webb has 27 tackles on the year.

Cornerbacks

#15 Dee Webb 5-11 190 Jr. 3L Jacksonville

#22 Reggie Lewis 5-10 195 Jr. 2L Jacksonville

#4 Avery Atkins 5-11 189 Fr. HS Daytona Beach

Safeties

#46 Jarvis Herring 5-11 205 Sr. 3L Live Oak

#32 Reggie Nelson 6-1 175 Jr. Tr Melbourne

#3 Kyle Jackson 6-1 200 So. 1L Jacksonville

#19 Tony Joiner 5-11 200 So. 1L Haines City

#49 Terrance Holmes 5-11 202 Jr. 2L Glassboro, NJ

The Gators will start Reggie Nelson at nickel against the oft throwing Spurrier. He is most dangerous when playing nickel, because he can do so much. Nelson started at free safety for the first time against Georgia. Nelson has been a big play guy since he was at Palm Bay High School in Melbourne. I felt that Nelson was the best overall player in The Sunshine State three years ago and, based on his early season play, deserved more than a role in the Florida nickel and dime packages.

Nelson has 37 tackles, including four tackles for loss and is second on the team with four sacks. He recorded seven tackles against Georgia and his first interception in his first start of the season. He has also forced a fumble on a punt and recovered one as well. He is the ultimate playmaker. Nelson was second on the team in tackles last weekend with seven and a pass broken up.

Jarvis Herring suffered a quad contusion against Georgia as well. He played last weekend and re-injured the leg. Herring has 41 tackles, including two sacks, and two tackles for loss. He has picked off one pass from his strong safety position and is a leader on the squad.

Kyle Jackson had been the Florida starter at free safety, but struggled at times to get over against Alabama and LSU. I had no doubts that he would see significant action in the Georgia game. However, he did not play. It is clear that the Florida coaches are sending a message to Jackson. Because of the numerous injuries he did play against Vanderbilt, but again was slow getting over in zone coverage. Jackson will probably start this Saturday at safety and he’ll have to play back to his old form to impress the defensive staff and his teammates.

Injuries: Starting cornerback Vernell Brown (broken ankle). Reserve Nick Brooks injured his knee and is out for the year. Jarvis Herring (quad contusion).

Analysis: Florida leads the conference in turnover margin with a +17. Prior to the Vanderbilt game the Gators were third in the SEC in pass defense, giving up just 167 yards per game. Jay Cutler carved them up and almost pulled off the upset in the process. A secondary that had given up too many big plays against Alabama and LSU has not yielded many since.

The loss of Vernell Brown and nagging injuries to key defensive personnel makes this one even more difficult. One of the last things you want is to face Steve Spurrier, who seemingly has found a couple of pretty good receivers and a quarterback capable of getting the job done. Potentially there is a lot on the line for Florida, most notable a trip to Atlanta should they win and Auburn defeat Georgia in Athens Saturday night.

Florida Defensive Preview



Nobody understands offensive prowess like Steve Spurrier. The Florida graduate changed the way the Southeastern Conference and much of the nation challenged defenses. Bama’s Bear Bryant wore the houndstooth hat when it came to head coaching, but the visor wearing Spurrier is tops’ as the best offensive coordinator in SEC history.

A battered and bruised Florida defense will be challenged to tame Spurrier and the Carolina Fun ‘n Gun. The Gamecocks rank fourth in the league in pass offense. Carolina has also struggled with a poor running game. Spurrier has made the most of Lou Holtz’ mess, and should garner plenty of coach of the year consideration.

Defensive Line

There is no better story on the Florida defense than that of reserve defensive end Jarvis Moss. The six-foot six All-American had pain in his lower abdomen and struggled to put on weight since his arrival from Texas. He weighed just 218 pounds this past spring, hardly the necessary weight to compete in the rough and tumble Southeastern Conference.

A series of tests failed to turn up anything positive that might solve his problem. Doctors were baffled, and Moss was disillusioned with the process and football. As the tests continued, Moss painfully contemplated quitting football. Finally, a test revealed something bizarre. Moss had a staph infection in his pelvic bone. He apparently contracted the infection after being given a cortisone shot while playing high school ball in Denton, Texas.

Moss immediately went on antibiotics. Florida trainers began pumping nutrients into him and Moss was actively working out and had regained a healthy appetite. He grew to 240 pounds in six weeks.

Moss did not see action in Florida’s opener against Wyoming. In fact, he played little in the Gators next two games. However, he is coming on strong. Moss has recorded 14 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He has also forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, and broken up two passes. Moss is super quick with tremendous speed. He also has plenty of intensity, probably pent up frustration for the many months in which he suffered through the pain of the staph infection. He is a future star, who is quickly making his presence known.

It was thought he Florida defense received a tremendous boost with the return of defensive end Ray McDonald. RayMac as he is affectionately known throughout Gator Country injured his knee in the Tennessee game. He didn’t start the Georgia game, but played a key role making three tackles coming off of the bench. In fact, McDonald graded out as a champion in Meyer’s system. He did not play well last Saturday and Meyer said that he was not ready to return. The knee continues to give him problems. It will probably be a game time decision, but I would doubt that McDonald will be able to play a significant role.

When McDonald went down, the Gators simply dropped former defensive end Joe Cohen down at defensive tackle. A fullback in 2003, Cohen is playing the best football of his defensive career. He attributes part of his success to the coaching staff who introduced him to new techniques for getting off of the blocks and making plays. He picked off a pass against LSU and had a limited return, proving that his days as a running back are indeed over.

Tackles

#44 Marcus Thomas 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Jacksonville

#93 Steven Harris 6-4 281 Jr. 2L Miami

#95 Ray McDonald 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Belle Glade

#98 Clint McMillan 6-1 282 So. 1L Oviedo

#99 Lutrell Alford 6-2 290 So. Tr Gainesville

Ends

#20 Joe Cohen 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Belle Glade

#57 Jeremy Mincey 6-4 265 Sr. 1L Statesboro, Ga

#94 Jarvis Moss 6-6 245 So. Sq. Denton, Tx.

#91 Derrick Harvey 6-4 260 Fr. Sq. Greenbelt, Md.

* Projected lineup- Injury updates won’t be available until Friday.

Jacksonville native Marcus Thomas had been playing the best football of his Florida career. He went out of the Vanderbilt game with a back problem. It is not yet known whether he’ll be able to play this weekend. Thomas had totaled six tackles against the ‘Dawgs, including one for a loss when Georgia had driven inside the Florida twenty yard line. He also graded out champion. On the season, he has recorded 30 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, and two quarterback hurries. Thomas has a terrific first step and has the lateral speed loved by defensive coordinators.

Defensive end Jeremy Mincey is having an All-SEC season. He leads the Gators in tackles (57) and tackles for loss (9.5). Mincey also has 3.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries. The senior was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week following the win over Georgia as he racked up seven tackles, a tackle for loss, and quarterback pressure, and pass knocked down. He has the speed, power, and quickness to make things happen.

Defensive tackle Steven Harris has 14 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Harris began his career at Florida as a defensive end, where he has played the past two seasons. Harris has a pretty good first step and pursues well laterally. He dropped down last spring and continues to gain experience.

Reserve defensive end Derrick Harvey came to Florida as the top defensive prospect on the East Coast. Harvey has good quickness, speed, and he appears to be gaining some much needed on the job training. He had five tackles, including a tackle for loss and sack.

Injuries: Ray McDonald (knee). Marcus Thomas (back)

Analysis: The Gators have held opponents to 100.7 yards rushing per game, while checking in as the second ranked team in the conference sack column with 24. Florida has only added one sack in the past two games. Furthermore, they have added only three quarterback hurries during that same period. However, Blake Mitchell does not have the strength that Tereshinski and Cutler have in breaking tackles.

Marcus Thomas played a key role in plugging the middle and stopping the run. Without him, the Gators might find shutting the run down more difficult. Florida has to keep Carolina’s run game in the garage and get pressure on Blake Mitchell.

Linebackers

Florida middle linebacker Brandon Siler has been a tremendous blessing since his arrival from Orlando last season. He stepped up for the injured Channing Crowder and earned the national Freshman Defensive Player of the Year award.

Siler hasn’t suffered a sophomore slump. Siler leads the SEC in fumbles recovered. He is tied for second on team in tackles (52), tackles for loss (7.0), and fourth in sacks with three. He also has six quarterback hurries.

To say that Siler has a nose for the football is an absolute fact. He has recovered an NCAA best six fumbles this year. Siler has it all- size, speed, quickness, and he packs a punch when he arrives on the scene.

He can also cover. Siler has broken up four passes and has one interception this season. He also earned champion status for his play against Georgia.

#40 Brandon Siler 6-2 239 So. 1L Orlando

#30 Earl Everett 6-2 231 Jr. 2L Webster

#47 Todd McCullough 6-5 233 Sr. 3L Jacksonville

Weakside linebacker Earl Everett is one of the most underrated linebackers in the conference. Everett has tremendous instincts which blend perfectly with his quickness and speed. He too packs a wallop. He is tied with Siler, second on the team in tackles 52. Everett also has a pair of tackles for loss and a sack. He had a career high 14 tackles against LSU.

Everett has been very effective in coverage as well. He is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and has forced a fumble. Everett knocked down two Cutler passes last weekend. However, he suffered a contusion to his thigh in the Georgia game and it was re-aggravated last weekend.

Strongside linebacker Todd McCullough is a Jacksonville native, who played at the legendary Bolles School. He has played (as a true freshman reserve) under Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, and now Urban Meyer. There is not much that McCullough hasn’t seen in his years in the SEC. He missed the 2003 season due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. McCullough has 26 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and an interception this season.

Injuries: Earl Everett ()Reserve linebacker Jon Demps will miss the remainder of the season due to a knee injury. the best overall player in The Sunshine State three years ago. assing game and sensational running back

Analysis: Florida has two outstanding linebackers in Siler and Everett, but no quality depth. Think that I’m kidding? Florida has just four scholarship linebackers on the active list. Keeping these guys healthy is a must. True freshman Jon Demps was getting some work as a reserve at the MIKE and had been improving, until he was lost to a knee injury. Brandon Siler has returned from a knee and ankle injury and now Earl Everett is recovering from a thigh injury.

One of the reasons the Gators are fourth in total defense is because of Siler and Everett’s ability to play the run and pass so well equally. Everett has lined up on the outside receiver and has covered very well.

Secondary

Florida’s corners have played very well this season. Each of the four starters (Vernell Brown, Dee Webb, Reggie Nelson, and Jarvis Herring) earned champion status for their play against Georgia. The loss of Vernell Brown is huge for the Gators. He was Florida’s best cover corner. Despite his small stature, he blanketed taller receivers. Brown led all defensive backs with 34 tackles, including 3.5 behind the line of scrimmage

Dee Webb is Florida’s most experienced corner. He did play well last weekend against Jay Culter and Vanderbilt. Webb was caught looking too long in the backfield in zone situations. Another knock on Webb is that he has had several sure interceptions go through his hands. Webb has broken up a team high 11 passes this season, while picking just one. Webb has 27 tackles on the year.

Cornerbacks

#15 Dee Webb 5-11 190 Jr. 3L Jacksonville

#22 Reggie Lewis 5-10 195 Jr. 2L Jacksonville

#4 Avery Atkins 5-11 189 Fr. HS Daytona Beach

Safeties

#46 Jarvis Herring 5-11 205 Sr. 3L Live Oak

#32 Reggie Nelson 6-1 175 Jr. Tr Melbourne

#3 Kyle Jackson 6-1 200 So. 1L Jacksonville

#19 Tony Joiner 5-11 200 So. 1L Haines City

#49 Terrance Holmes 5-11 202 Jr. 2L Glassboro, NJ

The Gators will start Reggie Nelson at nickel against the oft throwing Spurrier. He is most dangerous when playing nickel, because he can do so much. Nelson started at free safety for the first time against Georgia. Nelson has been a big play guy since he was at Palm Bay High School in Melbourne. I felt that Nelson was the best overall player in The Sunshine State three years ago and, based on his early season play, deserved more than a role in the Florida nickel and dime packages.

Nelson has 37 tackles, including four tackles for loss and is second on the team with four sacks. He recorded seven tackles against Georgia and his first interception in his first start of the season. He has also forced a fumble on a punt and recovered one as well. He is the ultimate playmaker. Nelson was second on the team in tackles last weekend with seven and a pass broken up.

Jarvis Herring suffered a quad contusion against Georgia as well. He played last weekend and re-injured the leg. Herring has 41 tackles, including two sacks, and two tackles for loss. He has picked off one pass from his strong safety position and is a leader on the squad.

Kyle Jackson had been the Florida starter at free safety, but struggled at times to get over against Alabama and LSU. I had no doubts that he would see significant action in the Georgia game. However, he did not play. It is clear that the Florida coaches are sending a message to Jackson. Because of the numerous injuries he did play against Vanderbilt, but again was slow getting over in zone coverage. Jackson will probably start this Saturday at safety and he’ll have to play back to his old form to impress the defensive staff and his teammates.

Injuries: Starting cornerback Vernell Brown (broken ankle). Reserve Nick Brooks injured his knee and is out for the year. Jarvis Herring (quad contusion).

Analysis: Florida leads the conference in turnover margin with a +17. Prior to the Vanderbilt game the Gators were third in the SEC in pass defense, giving up just 167 yards per game. Jay Cutler carved them up and almost pulled off the upset in the process. A secondary that had given up too many big plays against Alabama and LSU has not yielded many since.

The loss of Vernell Brown and nagging injuries to key defensive personnel makes this one even more difficult. One of the last things you want is to face Steve Spurrier, who seemingly has found a couple of pretty good receivers and a quarterback capable of getting the job done. Potentially there is a lot on the line for Florida, most notable a trip to Atlanta should they win and Auburn defeat Georgia in Athens Saturday night.

Florida Special Teams Preview


Special teams were rarely a trademark of the Spurrier era at Florida. It seemed that he was always looking to improve in that area. There were good years, sound performers, solid performances on a game to game basis, but outstanding special teams play year in and year out were not the norm in Gainesville.

The Gators have had some outstanding performances in 2005. Eric Wilbur has been sensational keeping opponents pinned back in their own territory. Walk-on placekicker Chris Hetland has hit on eight of nine, missing his first last weekend against Vanderbilt. Dee Webb has blocked two kicks this year. Florida has also improved since using true freshman Jonathan Phillips on kickoffs. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see special teams play a big role in determining the outcome of this game.

Special teams

The Florida special teams play has been largely impressive, of late. One area that needed addressing was kickoff coverage. Since inserting true freshman Jonathan Phillips the Gators have improved in that area. The return game has usually been disappointing, especially since the loss of Andre Caldwell, who broke his leg returning a kick against the Vols.

However, running back Markus Manson took a kick back 28 yards against Vanderbilt, after taking a kick back 31 yards a week ago in Jacksonville against Georgia. He has that special spark Florida needs to eventually bring one all the way back. Fellow return man Gavin Dickey brought back his first kick 19 yards against the Commodores.

The coverage has gotten much more consistent. It starts with Phillips putting the ball where the coaches call for the ball to spot. The players have been keeping in their lanes.

Punter Eric Wilbur has been sensational and has nailed punts that have kept the opponent bottled up with 20 of his 48 kicks downed inside the 20 yard line. He also had a fake punt go for 20 yards against Georgia. He is averaging 41.9 yards per kick. Wilbur has only had one kick blocked.

#10 Eric Wilbur (P) 6-1 195 Jr. 2L Winter Park

#39 Chris Hetland (PK) 6-0 185 Jr. Sq. Leesburg

#38 Jonathan Phillips (KO) 5-11 200 HS Wellington

#43 James Smith (LS) 6-1 225 Fr. Sq. Gainesville

#97 Nick Fleming (HLD) 6-0 205 Sr. Sq. Kirkwood, Mo.

#16 Vernell Brown (PR) 5-8 165 Sr. 2L Gainesville

#2 Markus Manson (KR) 6-0 210 Fr. Sq. Tuscaloosa

#17 Gavin Dickey (KR) 5-11 205 Jr. 1L Tallahassee

Walk-on place kicker Chris Hetland has been spectacular. The Leesburg, Georgia native participated in six plays the past two years, and has hit eight of his nine attempts. He missed a 26 yard field goal as time expired in the first half against Vanderbilt. Hetland has hit two from inside the thirty, three from inside the forty, and three from inside the fifty. His long is from 47 yards out against Wyoming. Hetland hit three field goals against Tennessee.

Receiver Chad Jackson returned a punt 12 yards against Vanderbilt. It was the first return of the season for Jackson. Vernell Brown handled those chores for Florida, and was just beginning to have some success. Florida usually goes after the punt, so setting up the return is moot. The Gators have blocked one punt this season.

Analysis: Eric Wilbur has helped the Florida defense all season forcing opponents to start deep in their own territory. He has hit a two or three off the side of his foot, but is usually very consistent. As a team, the Gators are second in putning. Wilbur is currently fifth in the conference.

Chris Hetland has been the surprise story of the Florida special teams squad. He has hit eight of his nine attempts this season, making him the last kicker in the nation to miss a field goal opportunity.

Look out for Manson and Dickey in the return game. These guys are due for a breakout. I would assume Meyer will continue using Chad Jackson in punt returns for his steady hands.


Fightin Gators Top Stories