Healthy Gators Must Stay Focused

Florida has finished its pre- Christmas bowl practice and will get together on Monday in Tampa to finalize the plan for Iowa. Florida will approach the week prior to the Outback Bowl game with Iowa as normally as possible in terms of practicing. There are plenty of distractions on bowl trips so it is critical to find a way to keep the team focused.

Florida lost Reggie Nelson to an MCL injury last week and his status for the bowl game is doubtful but other than that, the Gators go to Tampa as healthy as they have been all season. The receiving corps could be the key to the football game and the fact that they are healthy bodes will for the Gators.

Iowa is a fundamentally sound well coached football team. They will not "wow" you with scheme or X's and O's. On offense they run zone, power and fairly basic plays. On defense they don't gamble, play good technique and stay in their gaps. Each side of the ball has a couple of stars --- Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge on defense and Drew Tate and Albert Young on offense--- that are capable of being difference makers. Iowa is good on special teams with an all-conference type kicker and a good punt returner.

So what does all this mean and how did they finish 7-4?: First it means you have to be focused and stick to your plan. It means don't over-scheme in your preparation on offense and defense. Finally, what it really means is take care of and focus on yourself. In Florida's eight wins this is what they did: control the ball, don't turn the ball over, play sound defense and be good in the special teams.

At times this season things got away from Iowa. They lost quarterback and leader Drew Tate against Iowa State which ironically has had Kirk Ferentz's number. After getting undressed at Ohio State they found their running game with Albert Young who finished with seven straight 100 yard games. They lost an overtime game at home to Michigan and they missed an extra point in a one-point loss at Northwestern. So this team could be at least 9-2 and obviously played its best football in the last two weeks of the season.

Any more keys to victory for the Gators?: Offensively Florida must be balanced against Iowa. The fact that the Hawkeyes struggled against the pass should not influence the game plan to be one-sided. When UF spreads out they must have some success in the running game and stay the course with it throughout the game. Even if it is moderate success (like against FSU) it will keep the defense on its heels. Defensively the Gators must stop the run. Tate is a good quarterback but it will play into the hands of UF if he throw the ball 30 or more times. Everything in the pass game is off play action and the appearance of run so if the Gators can jam up the run it will be a tremendous help. Remember, two years ago Iowa pushed UF around to the tune of 238 rushing yards and that should be pointed out more than once this holiday season. Florida's defensive line must play like it did against FSU and not like it did versus South Carolina.

The attrition continues at Florida with Skyler Thornton and Dawayne Grace adding their names to the transfer list with Josh Portis. This reshaping of the program will continue to the summer and going into 2006 it should officially be Urban Meyer's team. I have said before as many as ten faces of underclassmen could be gone for next year and I will stay strong on that prediction. I think at least three more will be to the NFL, maybe two more transfers and maybe two guys hang it up or chase another sport. One way or another Florida should be back close to 85 scholarships next season. It's a difficult process for new coaches taking over because you want to build your own team but you don't want to force guys to look elsewhere. The best way for coaches to do that is through playing time and that what has led to the departure of two guys for sure.

Recruiting numbers are unbelievable?: Many folks have always said how easy it could be to recruit to Florida but I think Meyer and his staff have really done the complete sales job. Think about this: Percy Harvin said both USC and Florida run high power offenses that throw the ball a lot. He chose UF and continued to give props to the offense. USC averaged 22 points and 220 yards a game more than the Gators this season. Tell me Meyer did not do a good job selling this kid on what Florida's offense could be. Tim Tebow wanted to go somewhere that needed a quarterback and he could play right away. Alabama's quarterback is a senior, while Chris Leak returns for the Gators. Can you say great job of recruiting? He chose Florida. Finally, how about the number of receivers that have committed and there are still some who are going to visit? You can only send five guys out on any given route yet they may have 15 ready to go in 2006. That is good recruiting, selling and imaging of your program. Once again give these guys credit. So far they have gotten the job done. Oh, by the way, since the win over FSU the Gators lead the Noles and Canes combined 13-7 in recruits committing.

It's time for me to give some Christmas Wishes for Gator Football. These are things I would like to see in 2006:

  • Tim Tebow is coming in the spring. Please let him compete for the job it will make everyone better.
  • Play freshmen. The future is now for some of these incoming players, get them in the mix and build for the future.
  • Bubba Caldwell comes back healthy and 100%. If this happens he will be first team All-American.
  • Get your offensive linemen in the right positions for the entire spring practice.
  • Get two linebackers to go with Siler and Everett.
  • I wish that Ray McDonald comes back healthy. Even if he does not play football let him return to good health.
  • The offensive staff will come up with a two minute offense and no huddle offense that they can rely on.
  • The defensive staff will stay in place with no departures. In fact, if the entire staff will stay in place for two straight years it would be invaluable.
  • That all of these committed freshmen actually sign on the dotted line.
  • My final wish is so simple yet at one time taken for granted among many: An SEC Eastern division crown. Remember when that goal seemed secondary to the conference and national title goal? It even fell behind FSU on the goal list for awhile. It's the first step to getting back to the elite. Win the East, play in Atlanta and let Gator Nation engulf the city of Atlanta one more time.

Recruiting top players does matter: If you get top ten recruiting classes consistently you will win. If you get the number one class you may get national titles. In the last four years there have been teams like Texas A&M, Michigan State and North Carolina State who have dipped into the top ten in Scout.com's rankings. But these were just isolated big years and none of these teams has been a player in the national title race or even the BCS. But look at the other teams. We will throw out Tennessee's season this year that bottomed out and you will find the reason these teams are where they are at today.

2002: Texas, Oklahoma, OhioState, Miami and Tennessee.

2003: USC, LSU, Oklahoma, Florida and Notre Dame.

2004: USC, LSU, Miami, FSU and Michigan.

2005: Tennessee, Michigan, FSU, Georgia and Oklahoma.

Every team in these top fives has played in a BCS bowl except for Tennessee and Florida. USC has won two national titles while LSU and Ohio State have each won one. . In 2002, Texas was number one in recruiting while USC was outside the top 10. In 2003 USC was number one in recruiting while Texas was outside the top 10. These two teams have gathered the best players the last three or four years and that is why they are playing for the national title. I know some people down play recruiting even the rankings but the fact remains the teams with the most highly regarded players usually ends up in BCS bowls. If Florida can end up in the top five and stay in the top ten the next few years things will be very exciting in the future of Gator football.

Happy Holidays to all you and your families and many thanks to Ray and the staff at Gator Country for allowing me to be a part of this great site.

Season Greetings from my family to yours!
Brady Ackerman


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