VETTEL: Checking In With Coach Strong

While Urban Meyer and most of his coaching staff are getting a feel for the Florida/Florida State game Charlie Strong does not have to learn anything. The Gators Co-Defensive Coordinator is preparing for his twelfth go-round with the Noles, dating back to 1983 when he was a graduate assistant under Charley Pell. I spoke with him earlier this week about the rivalry, the ‘Noles offense and the Florida defense.

LV: Charlie, you've seen more of these games than any player or member of the coaching staff has. With all the rivalries the Gators have had through the years, how does this game stack up in your eyes?

CS: Well it's different mainly because it's an in-state rival and you recruited so many of their players. The players on our team have played with them and against them back in high school and many are good friends. Plus it's always at the end of the season and really gets recruiting going. It seems the team that wins gets a good jump on recruiting.

LV: Talking about recruiting, can you name one or two guys that are wearing Garnet and Gold that you tried to get into Orange and Blue?

CS: Andre Fluellen, a defensive tackle who is playing well for them is a guy we tried to get out of Cartersville, Georgia. Antonio Cromartie, who's hurt is a player we really thought we had. But there are bunch of players on their team we recruited.

LV: Last year you won in Tallahassee, the first time the Gators had done that in 18 years. Now you have a chance to win back-to-back regular season games for the first time in 18 years. Is that important?

CS: The main thing, Larry is that we're 7-and-3 and we need a win just to end the season on a positive note and give us momentum heading into the bowl game. We haven't beaten them back to back in a long time, but no one thought we could go up there and win last year.

LV: The last two games your defense, which had played so well, has given up 72 points. What's changed? Why have you given up so much of late?

CS: You're right, we haven't played well in the last two games. It all started in the last four minutes of the Vandy game when we dropped an interception that would have wrapped up the game and they went on to score a whole bunch of points. We hadn't been giving up points in the fourth quarter, but they scored a bunch on us. We just have to get back to the fundamentals of what we were doing when we were playing good defense. That means tackling better and eliminating big plays. You look at the South Carolina game we gave up a big play there in the second half that was a critical play in the game and all because of two missed tackles.

LV: How much of that is dependent on the confidence of the secondary in the aftermath of losing Vernell? The play at both corners has not been nearly as good since Vernell was hurt.

CS: It's funny that you talk about Vernell Brown because at the start of the season nobody would have thought we would miss him as much as we have. Vernell was such a great leader for us back there in the secondary. Reggie Lewis played well in the South Carolina game and we know Dee Webb is a good player he just has to make more plays. I still have confidence in our secondary; I know they're going to play hard and get the job done.

LV: What stands out about Florida State's offense?

CS: I think they have two outstanding running backs (Lorenzo Booker, Leon Washington). They do a great job of staying within the system with their quarterback. They don't just go out there and expect him to win the game for them. They're going to try and run the football and they are a good running team.

LV: With the problems they have had with the offensive line and all the injuries will you change up some of your defensive fronts and try to confusing their blocking schemes?

CS: Not really. Usually when you have injuries you have to put someone in who hasn't played, but with (Corey) Niblock going down (Ron) Lunsford is a guy who has played a lot of football. They have guys who have played enough; they're a veteran team. We just have to be concerned about what we do and not worry about their situation.

LV: You faced Sidney Rice (South Carolina) last time out, is Greg Carr a similar type of player?

CS: I think they are very similar players in that they have great height and look to exploit a huge height advantage over our defensive backs. When you look at Carr he has nine receptions for touchdowns and they love to throw him the ball in the red zone and let him go up and get it. You know it's amazing he was right down the street from us. (Carr attended North Marion High School)

LV: When you play a tall receiver, what do you ask your corners to do?

CS: You have to body up on him and not let him get away from you. What you're concerned about is him creating space, then going up on top and taking the ball from you.

***

Florida State has had a most unique season offensively. The ‘Noles have scored 35 or more points five times, yet in the last two games they managed just 29 total against North Carolina State and Clemson. Despite the outstanding runners, they average just 110 yards a game on the ground. Of course, South Carolina was a poor running team but made big plays on the ground last time out. The Gators have to play at a higher level to put FSU in poor down-and-distance situations.

Drew Weatherford, the ‘Noles QB has been quite good when he has time and balance in the attack. But when he's pressured and facing tough situations he's made some mistakes (15 int.). FSU has had its best success on offense with a number of big plays. The Gators challenge to make them earn it little by little and pressure Weatherford into mistakes along the way.

Keep those emails coming!

Don't forget to email me your questions and comments, but please do not include attachments! My email address is: vettel@gatorcountry.com .

I look forward to you joining me on the radio, Sunday nights from 6:00-to-8:00 on Gainesville's WSKY-FM 97.3 (877/975-9825 toll free) Have a great week.


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