One thing is certain about this year’s version of the Florida State-Florida matchup: the similarities surrounding the two squads are uncanny.
While both in-state rivals have been plagued by injuries at several key areas along the depth chart this season, the two Florida powerhouses also enter Saturday’s contest following a bye-week with disappointing 7-3 overall records and 5-3 marks in conference play.
But while the Gators are looking to avoid dropping their second-consecutive game in a row, the Seminoles are desperate to not drop to 0-3 in their last three ballgames as the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship looms Dec. 3.
The theme for the struggling Seminoles is injuries and the defensive line is certainly no stranger to that logic. Senior defensive end Kamerion Wimbley, who is tied for third in the ACC in sacks with 7.5, went down with an MCL injury early against North Carolina State Nov. 5 on an apparent chop-block, and has been missing from action ever since. The 6-foot-5 standout pass rusher’s absence has only made it that more difficult for a unit that’s been prone to giving up the long run for over a month now. While some say that the Kansas native possesses the determination and will power to make a return to the lineup Saturday, it seems more and more likely that he will not suit up in the Swamp
Rising redshirt sophomore defensive end D.J. Norris, who has seen his minutes skyrocket since the loss of Wimbley, will also not be playing for the Tribe (ankle). Without Norris, defensive ends coach Jody Allen may be forced to slide talented second-team SAM linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who measures it at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, into the defensive end rotation to provide depth much like he did against Clemson in the last outing.
At defensive tackle, the Seminoles don’t have as many injuries but it is a unit that is very young beneath the two starters. Senior starter Brodrick Bunkley has stepped up as the next great FSU big man and has been one of the few bright spots on a defensive unit that has underachieved this season. The Tampa native seems to be playing stronger each game and currently ranks No. 2 in the conference with 17 tackles for loss.
#52 Brodrick Bunkley 6-3 295 Sr.
#96 Andre Fluellen 6-4 285 Jr.
#93 Letroy Guion 6-4 282 Fr.
#91 Emmanuel Dunbar 6-5 285 Fr.
#90 Aaron Jones 6-3 270 Fr.
#92 Darrell Burston 6-2 250 Jr.
#98 Alex Boston 6-2 269 So.
#6 Willie Jones 6-1 248 Jr.
#59 Neefy Moffett 6-1 245 Fr.
Luckily for the Seminoles, the unit with the most talented entering the 2005 season has also been the healthiest. Headlined by starters A.J. Nicholson, Buster Davis and the fan-favorite, Ernie Sims, the FSU linebacker corps is deep and talented. Both Nicholson and Sims were two of the ten finalists for the Butkus Award and have been solid all year long. Nicholson currently ranks No. 5 in the conference with 82 total tackles. As mentioned before, Timmons may see some time at defensive end Saturday but the South Carolina native has been a valuable linebacker as well – particularly on special teams where he has blocked two punts and recovered another.
Seniors Sam McGrew and Marcello Church also act as fourth and fifth starters for linebackers coach Kevin Steele and neither provides too much of a drop-off from the starters. True freshman Geno Hayes, who was at one time a Tennessee commit, has been turning heads in recent weeks through not only special teams work but through increased minutes awarded in game situations. Expect the Greenville native to see significant action Saturday. The same can be said for fellow rookie Derek Nicholson, the younger brother of A.J., as well.
#54 A.J. Nicholson 6-2 235 Sr.
#34 Ernie Sims 6-0 220 Jr.
#39 Marcello Church 6-1 230 Sr.
#83 Lawrence Timmons 6-3 240 So.
#10 Geno Hayes 6-2 210 Fr.
#37 Rodney Gallon 6-0 210 Fr.
#7 Buster Davis 5-11 237 Jr.
#44 Sam McGrew 6-3 230 Sr.
#55 Derek Nicholson 6-2 228 Fr.
The Seminole secondary is a unit that started off on the wrong foot – or knee rather. When rising junior Antonio Cromartie, a preseason All-American, was lost for the season with a knee injury over the summer, FSU coaches knew it would be a challenge at the cornerback spot. Instead, things moved pretty well as redshirt freshman cornerback Tony Carter performed beautifully and inexperienced senior Gerard Ross showed some skills as well.
But then things seemed to unravel slowly as the squad struggled mightily in the Tribe’s first loss of the season at the hands of Virginia. While Carter has been a pleasant surprise despite his inexperience and small 5-foot-9 frame, Ross struggled and was ultimately benched in favor of sophomore J.R. Bryant. Redshirt freshman Trevor Ford missed significant time with a neck and shoulder injury but has slowly played his way back into game shape over the course of the last two outings. As for Ross, the Jacksonville native has since been lost to a season-ending knee injury meaning that FSU only has four relatively healthy cornerbacks available.
At safety, it’s a bit more stable with senior Pat Watkins and Kyler Hall holding down the starting spots. Sophomore safety Roger Williams, who has seen his playing time increase steadily throughout the year, is known for his hard-hitting ways but showed his soft hands against Clemson in the last game – laying out for an interception. Walk-on Anthony Houllis and freshman Darius McClure will also see some action Saturday.
#15 Tony Carter 5-9 160 Fr.
#18 J.R. Bryant 6-1 181 So.
#21 Trevor Ford 6-1 194 Fr.
#29 Michael Ray Garvin 5-8 179 Fr.
#22 Pat Watkins 6-4 210 Sr.
#41 Kyler Hall 6-1 201 Sr.
#8 Roger Williams 6-1 205 So.
#46 Anthony Houllis 6-0 208
#24 Darius McClure 5-11 205 Fr.
#42 Kenny Ingram 6-6 208 Fr.
Without any question, the FSU offensive line is the epitome of the term “plagued by injuries”. Everyone knew that the line would have its question marks heading into the 2005 season with a new position coach in Mark McHale but what wasn’t known was how bad of a hit the unit would take in the injury department. While the Tribe managed to make it through the first few games with only one injury (senior center David Castillo missed two games with a foot ailment), it’s been mind-boggling ever since.
Against Wake Forest Oct. 8, fifth-year senior guard Matt Meinrod – a vocal leader on the offensive side of the ball – was lost for the year with a broken leg. Fast forward two games and rising sophomore John Frady – Meinrod’s replacement and Castillo’s replacement at center – is lost with a shoulder injury against Duke. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, starting right tackle Cory Niblock was lost for the rest of the year with a knee injury on the last play from scrimmage in the blowout loss to Clemson.
Now that the dust has settled following a bye-week, McHale’s unit limps into the Swamp with a new starter at right tackle in Ron “lucky” Lunford. The senior big man was the starting right guard in place of Frady but now must slide over. In his place will be redshirt freshman Cornelius Lewis. The unit is the absolute thinnest it has been in recent memory.
#63 David Castillo 6-2 304 Sr.
#52 Dumaka Atkins 6-4 315 Fr.
#68 Jacky Claude 6-4 300 So.
#66 Cornelius Lewis 6-4 328 Fr.
#74 Geoff Berniard 6-8 335 Fr.
#79 David Overmyer 6-5 299 So.
#72 Ron Lunford 6-5 358 Sr.
#75 Mario Henderson 6-7 307 Jr.
The Florida State passing attack has flourished – for the most part – this season. With veteran leaders in Chris Davis and Willie Reid along with a stable of talented youngsters such as De’Cody Fagg, Greg Carr and Rod Owens, Seminole fans have had a lot to cheer about – in the wins.
Despite poor showings in the two-consecutive losses, the FSU aerial attack ranks No. 1 in the ACC at 290.6 yards per game. Davis has shown glimpses to Seminole coaches and fans and opposing defenses alike why he was dubbed “Peter Warrick II” coming out of St. Petersburg Catholic High School in 2002. With his shifty moves and quick feet, he has become a valuable offensive weapon. Reid has been just as reliable but injuries have kept him battered and bruised all year long. Fagg is an emerging FSU star and before he was lost for three games with a shoulder injury against Virginia, the Quincy native was the leading receiver. He made his return to the lineup against Clemson but was a non-factor in his first game back.
As for the youngsters that have everyone in Tallahassee giddy, none of them has been more valuable than Carr. The lanky 6-foot-6 freshman is just one touchdown away from tying former Seminole Warrick Dunn’s rookie record of scores in a season with 10. The Reddick native has proven to be the go-to-guy for the long ball but has seen his production suffer when the o-line struggles to give the quarterback time. Sophomore Joslin Shaw and freshmen Fred Rouse, Kenny O’Neal, Rod Owens and Richard Goodman are all part of the very deep rotation that sees action on Saturdays.
#5 Chris Davis 6-0 180 Jr.
#26 Willie Reid 5-11 190 Sr.
#81 De’Cody Fagg 6-3 220 So.
#89 Greg Carr 6-6 203 Fr.
#4 Keny O’Neal 6-1 195 Fr.
#80 Joslin Shaw 5-10 183 So.
#1 Fred Rouse 6-4 195 Fr.
#85 Richard Goodman 6-0 175 Fr.
#86 Rod Owens 6-0 170 Fr.
While the FSU passing game has had its successes, the Seminole ground game has had none. As a surprise to just about everyone, the tailback tandem of Leon Washington and Lorenzo Booker thought to be feared by everyone at the beginning of the season has had an abysmal year. With the struggles of the offensive line to generate any significant running lanes, the Tribe has become almost a one-dimensional team in regards to offense. In fact, Booker, who was starting for the second game in a row in place of Washington (ankle), picked up the first 100-yard performance by an FSU running back of the season against Clemson. As a unit, the Noles rank No. 11 in the ACC in rushing at just 110.0 yards per contest (despite the struggles, FSU still ranks No. 1 in the ACC in total yards).
Washington, is still not 100-percent healthy following the bye-week but should get the start as he has made vast improvements in recent days. In 2002 as a freshman, the Jacksonville native busted off his coming-out game against UF with 134 yards on 26 carries. Current freshman Antone Smith, the Pahokee native, who spurned the University of Miami on National Signing Day this past February, may also see some carries Saturday. As a backup to Booker in the last two games, the 5-foot-9 speedster has shown glimpses as to why he was considered the top prep tailback in the country last year.
#3 Leon Washington 5-9 202 Sr.
#28 Lorenzo Booker 5-11 195 Jr.
#23 Antone Smith 5-9 190 Fr.
#30 Lamar Lewis 5-9 200 So.
#36 James Coleman 6-0 260 Sr.
#35 B.J. Dean 5-11 258 Sr.
#32 Joe Surratt 6-1 255 So.
In the city of Tallahassee, the quarterback debate will continue to rage on. After four years of what was considered inept quarterback play, Garnet and Gold followers everywhere watched as two talented redshirt freshmen battled it out in preseason camp for starting honors against Miami come opening night. Winning that battle was Drew Weatherford, who went on to snap the six-game losing streak to the Canes and lead FSU to a 5-0 record. The Land O’Lakes native now leads the ACC with 244.0 passing yards per game but his play-making skills have begun to be questioned in the two-consecutive losses. And despite throwing 13 touchdowns this year, he has tossed 14 costly interceptions.
Enter: Xavier Lee. The former Mr. Football award winner in Florida has been put in a difficult predicament this season. After injuring his shoulder to conclude preseason practices, the Daytona Beach native has had a rather disappointing year with 27-of-57 passing for 466 yards and three scores in limited action. The 6-foot-4 athlete has shown some glimpses, however, with his knack for evading the pass rush and his uncanny arm strength. Until Lee is given the opportunity for more playing time, Seminole fans everywhere will continue to wonder what type of player he can be.
#11 Drew Weatherford 6-3 220 Fr.
#9 Xavier Lee 6-4 230 Fr.
#13 Tommy Keane 6-2 203 Jr.
Florida Offensive Preview (By Mark McLeod)
Through the years, the Florida/Florida State game has provided the country with a plethora of explosive offensive performances. However, the passing games in both of these offenses are in the process of undergoing a complete overhaul behind center. Florida quarterback Chris Leak has the experience, but looked the part of a redshirt freshman two weeks ago holding the ball too long and missing open receivers.
Leak seemingly had a breakout game against Vanderbilt three weeks ago. Yes, it was Vanderbilt. Regardless, anytime he leads all rushers with 67 yards on just 12 carries making wise decisions to run for open ground instead of trying to force a throw it’s a huge positive.
He didn’t follow that up with the type of performance expected of a third year starter with a division title on the line. While, Leak was certainly not to blame for the loss to South Carolina, he did little to lead his team to victory.
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 protecting Leak, allowing 24 sacks in just seven games. In fact, ten of those sacks had come in the three games prior to the trip to Georgia. Seemingly improved, the Gators gave up only one sack in each of the past two games before the wheels fell off two weekends ago in Columbia, South Carolina. Leak was sacked five times, which included a coverage sack and mental mistakes he made holding on to the ball too long.
This is an improved offensive front in many ways. 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.
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.
#68 Mike Degory 6-6 304 Sr. 3L Melbourne
#79 Steve Rissler 6-3 310 Jr. 2L Sarasota
#76 Tavares Washington 6-4 320 Sr. Sq Greenville, MS
#67 Drew Miller 6-5 310 So. 1L Sarasota
#63 Jim Tartt 6-3 315 Fr. Sq. Sopchoppy
#74 Randy Hand 6-6 310 Sr. 3L Ft. Myers
#72 Lance Butler 6-7 315 Sr. 2L Lexington, NC
#75 Phil Trautwein 6-6 310 So. 1L Voorhees, N.J.
#77 Jason Watkins 6-6 300 RFr Sq Lakeland
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 versus Vanderbilt. 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. Rissler and Washington have solidified their roles as the starters at guard. Center Mike Degory and tackles Randy Hand and Lance Butler have performed well as the season has progressed. .
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 Mississippi State, LSU, Georgia, and South Carolina. That was not the case against a poor Vanderbilt secondary.
Dallas Baker has emerged as the Gators go to guy. Baker has hauled in 39 passes for 512 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Despite limited action since breaking a rib and puncturing a lung during the Vanderbilt game, he is ranked eighth among SEC receivers in receptions. Baker should be much improved this Saturday.
Chad Jackson (72-727, 8 TD’s) leads the conference in receptions per game (7.20) and is third with 72.7 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.
#84 Tate Casey 6-6 242 So. 1L Longview,Tx.
#8 Chad Jackson 6-1 205 Jr. 2L Hoover, AL
#81 Dallas Baker 6-3 204 Jr. 2L New Smyrna Beach
#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 has great quickness and good acceleration after the catch. JCorn is the Gators third leading receiver with 26 receptions for 326 yards and a score.
Tight end Tate Casey had not been used as often as I expected. He has improved his blocking and was open twice against South Carolina deep, but was missed. Casey has seven catches for 61 yards and a score.
Wide receiver/Quarterback/outfielder Gavin Dickey (1-17) has good hands and sound running ability after the catch, as evidenced by his starting role on the kickoff receiving team. However, he is not getting the ball in this offense.
Kenneth Tookes has gotten more playing time down the stretch. The coaching staff liked his additional efforts in practice and he is indeed seeing a significant role. He has five catches for 40 yards.
Injuries: Andre Caldwell (knee), Jemalle Cornelius (ankle), and Dallas Baker (broken rib/punctured lung) Caldwell is out. Baker continues to improve.
Analysis: Dallas Bakers’ injury was not something the Gators needed. He was really hitting stride when he was popped while going d\to the playing surface in the Vanderbilt game.
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.
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 SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Fast forward one week, and Leak’s struggles replayed like a bad B movie.
His unimpressive play manifested against Mississippi State and LSU. His mechanics, which had been awful, were much improved against Georgia. The mental meltdown returned in the form of looking downfield too long, not sensing the pressure of a pass rush, and failing to run when the opportunity presented itself.
Leak has hit on 191 of his 306 attempts for 2150 yards. He has 16 touchdown passes and has run for six more. Among SEC passers, Leak is third in total offense and ranks fourth in passing.
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. You might see him a little more often this weekend.
#12 Chris Leak 6-0 210 Jr. 2L Charlotte, NC
#4 Josh Portis 6-4 210 Fr. HS Woodland Hills, Ca.
#2 Markus Manson 6-0 210 RFr. Sq. Tuscaloosa, AL.
#21 DeShawn Wynn 5-11 236 Sr. 3L Reading, OH.
#33 Kestahn Moore 5-10 205 Fr. HS Arlington, Tx.
#42 Billy Latsko (FB) 5-10 230 Jr. 2L Gainesville
Junior DeShawn Wynn would appear to be the starter at running back Saturday. You can bet that he’ll split time with Manson and Moore though. Wynn has 110 carries for 571 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has two scores catching the ball out of the backfield.
Freshman Markus Manson picked up the 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 then injured DeShawn Wynn. Manson has great quickness, speed and usually finds the open lane after coming through the middle. He has run for 318 yards on 66 carries.
True freshman Kestahn Moore (34-202 2 TD) is the other half of this rushing tandem. It appears that he is getting better and better each week. Moore has a nice blend of quickness, speed, and some power. Moore is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
Injuries: DeShawn Wynn (shoulder)
Analysis: Leak has to demonstrate leadership without mentally checking out of this game. He has to understand where his receivers are at all times. He has missed too many.
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. Meanwhile, South Carolina gave the Gators opportunities deep, but they couldn’t hit the home run ball.
Florida Defensive Preview
Two weeks ago, former Florida coach Steve Spurrier beat the Gators by effectively running the ball on first down. The Kickin’ Chicken took the ball out the hands of quarterback Blake Mitchell, who had hit just one of six, and handed off to running backs Mike Davis and Daccus Turman. The duo combined for 78 yards on just 12 first down carries and a pair of touchdowns. Spurrier denied his alma mater a shot at an Eastern Division title in the process.
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 18 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss and six 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.
Despite struggling to return from the knee injury, it appears that McDonald will play on Saturday and get an MRI next week. It's doubtful that he'll have much of impact in the game other than providing the Gators with another experienced lineman, who can give the others a blow on the sidelines.
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. Expect to see Cohen bouncing between end and tackle with Jarvis Moss in his place.
#44 Marcus Thomas 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Jacksonville
#93 Steven Harris 6-4 281 Jr. 2L Miami
#98 Clint McMillan 6-1 282 So. 1L Oviedo
#99 Lutrell Alford 6-2 290 So. Tr Gainesville
#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.
Jacksonville native Marcus Thomas is playing the best football of his Florida career. He went out of the Vanderbilt game with a back problem. However, he returned to action against South Carolina and secured six tackles, including two tackles for loss, two sacks. And a quarterback hurry. Thomas had totaled six tackles against Georgia, including one for a loss when the ‘Dawgs had driven inside the Florida twenty yard line. He also graded out champion. On the season, he has recorded 37 tackles, including 9.0 for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble, and three 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 (60) and tackles for loss (10). Mincey also has 3.5 sacks and six quarterback hurries. The senior was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week following the win over Georgia when he racked up seven tackles, a tackle for loss, and quarterback pressure, and pass knocked down. He has the speed, power, and quickness to force mistakes from a tackle.
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 is out with a knee injury. Marcus Thomas (back) is probable.
Analysis: The Gators have held opponents to 102.7 yards rushing per game, good for 14th nationally. They were anything but stellar against the run in Columbia. Florida had only added one sack in games against Georgia and Vanderbilt. They added three against an average at best South Carolina front.
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 nation in fumbles recovered with six. He is third on team in tackles (63), 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.
#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 Mincey, for the team lead in tackles with 60. Everett also has a pair of tackles for loss and a sack. He had a career high 14 tackles against LSU. He led the Gators with eight tackles against Carolina.
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: 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 has recovered from a thigh injury.
One of the reasons the Gators are third in the SEC 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.
Florida’s corners have usually played 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 continues to be a huge loss 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. Webb was caught looking too long in the backfield in zone situations against Vandy. He was flagged repeatedly for pass interference two weeks ago against Carolina, although a couple of those were extremely questionable. 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 30 tackles on the year.
#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
#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 either safety or nickel. 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 39 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 reinjured the leg against Vanderbilt, buit appears to be full speed today. Herring has 47 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.
Expect to see true freshman cornerback Avery Atkins from Daytona Beach Mainland this weekend according to head coach Urban Meyer. With the loss of Brown, the lackluster play of Kyle Jackson, and Florida State’s four receiver set, Atkins should figure to get some much deserved work.
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 +16. That must sit well with Florida State bringing in redshirt freshman Drew Weatherford, who has been known to give as well as he receives.
The loss of Vernell Brown and nagging injuries to key defensive personnel makes this one even more difficult.
Florida Special Teams Preview
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 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.
Prior to the Carolina game, punter Eric Wilbur had been sensational and has nailed punts that have kept the opponent bottled up with 17 of his 42 kicks downed inside the twenty yard line. He also had a fake punt go for 20 yards against Georgia. He is averaging 40.7 yards per kick. Wilbur has only had one kick blocked.
Wilbur was unspectacular two weeks’ ago having his worst outing this season.
#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: Prior to the Carolina game, 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 punting. Wilbur is currently sixth 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.
STAY TUNED - Tomorrow we'll have the winners at each position by school....