Meyer Focuses On Maintaining Momentum For UF

TAMPA --- Ever since the Florida Gators hammered Florida State, 34-7, in the final regular season game a month ago, the Gators have been riding a wave of momentum that has shown itself most visibly on the recruiting trail where Florida is the hot name in the country. Maintaining that momentum is foremost on Coach Urban Meyer's mind as the Gators began their preparation Monday for their January 2 Outback Bowl game with Iowa.

Since the FSU game, Florida has earned a commitment from 14 recruits. It's an impressive haul that includes four five-star rated (by players and six four star players. Florida's recruiting class is ranked second in the current rankings and is expected to finish with the number one ranking.

The momentum is clearly on Florida's side and Meyer wants to keep it going with a bowl victory over Iowa. He's well aware how perceptions play into the momentum factor. By smashing Florida State in that last regular season game, the Gators finished their season at 8-3, assuring Florida of its first season in three years without five losses. It was also the second straight win over FSU, important especially in the recruiting battles.

"We have to prepare well and do everything we can to win this game," said Meyer after Monday's practice at the University of Tampa. "A lot of times that's hard because you work your tail off at the end of the season and then stumble in a bowl game and you have to live with that for eight months so this is a critical game."

Meyer has seen how bowl wins carry over into recruiting and the offseason. He uses Southern California as the perfect example. The Trojans are trying to cap off a record third straight national championship season with a win over Texas in the Rose Bowl. Southern Cal got that ball rolling with an Orange Bowl win four years ago and ever since then, the Trojans have been unstoppable.

"I think college football, not just the game is all about momentum," said Meyer. "USC is the perfect example. Once they had that momentum from recruiting and winning, they kept going and going."

Winning the Outback Bowl would be a good springboard for the Gators, so Meyer is making certain the Gators maintain their focus on the ultimate goal. He wants his team to have a good time but within reasonable limits. He's well aware that there were players who broke curfew and stayed out all night when Florida played in the Outback Bowl against Iowa two years ago.

"It's a fine line," he said. "I trust a good majority of this team. That trust word is key. You trust your coaches to get a good game plan together. You trust your players that they're going to take this game seriously.

"Obviously there have been some issues in the past. We haven't had success in bowl games so we're doing a lot of things we haven't done but this is serious that we compete to go win this bowl game. So, I'm trusting that they'll treat this like we're going to play FSU in the finale."

Because there are no classes to worry about, the practice routine will be a bit different, particularly in the first part of the week. Meyer has had three straight successful bowl victories as a head coach so he's got a bowl routine that he likes to use.

"The first two days we run them more than we usually do," he said. "Just try to get them back and get that Christmas dinner out of them and then later in the week it's exactly the same routine we use if we're playing a home game."

The Gators went through an excellent practice week before they broke camp for four days of Christmas break. Now Meyer knows he's got to get his team focused quickly.

"We've gotta get that edge back," he said.

EVOLVING OFFENSE: Meyer said back during his tour of Gator Clubs that the offense would be geared more to the strengths of the players and less toward the concept of the spread option. He admitted Monday that perhaps the coaching staff didn't do quite as good a job at adapting to the personnel during the season.

"It [offense] is evolving today and I think it's going to evolve a little bit more," said Meyer. "They key is you have to do what your players do well. We've done okay at that. I would barely give us a passing grade if you evaluate how we've adapted the offense.

"You have to step out of your comfort zone a little bit. I've had to do that. I know Dan Mullen's had to do that. Chris Leak's had to do that."

Florida was woefully thin at the wide receiver position so when Bubba Caldwell went down with a broken leg followed by injuries to Jemalle Cornelius (ankle) and Dallas Baker (ankle, broken rib) and a series of dings to Chad Jackson, the Gators had to make changes. Because they didn't have enough healthy receivers to run four-wide sets capable of challenging a defense, Meyer and Mullen tweaked the offense to bring Billy Latsko back from defense to play fullback and incorporated more tight end action.

"The bottom line is that we've added some things to help us have some success," said Meyer, happy that he'll have three healthy starting wide receivers for the first time since the Alabama game the first weekend of October.

"We have three healthy receivers which we haven't had," he said. "I'm anxious to play a game with those guys."

OUTBACK BOWL VETERAN: Co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is helping Meyer with much of the bowl week preparation. Strong knows the Outback Bowl very, very well.

"Charlie Strong is like the poster child for Outback Bowls," said Meyer. "He's been to five or six of them. He knows a lot about them."

Actually, Strong hasn't been to that many Outback Bowls, but he did make it to the Tampa game three times, twice with South Carolina and once with Florida (2003 game with Iowa).

IMPRESSIVE YOUNG LINEMEN: The Gators lose four senior starters on the offensive line so it will be critical for several young guys to step it up next year. The early expectation is that Steven Rissler, who has started some at guard, will move over to center with Jim Tartt, who has battled through injuries, at one guard and Drew Miller, who won the SEC Lineman of the Week during the regular season, at the other guard. Phil Trautwein, who saw a lot of special teams action, will be the early favorite at left tackle.

Last week Meyer mentioned true freshman Simon Codrington as a tackle who has shown a lot of potential. Monday, Meyer said that redshirt freshman tackle Jason Watkins is "making a push."

A pair of redshirt freshmen, Ronnie Wilson (guard) and Eddie Haupt (center) drew Meyer's praise.

"Depth is a concern and that's why in our recruiting we're trying to fill some of that depth," he said.

The Gators have commitments from five-star tackle Carl Johnson (6-6, 345) of Durham (NC) Southern, three-star guard Maurice Hurt (6-4, 344) of Milledgeville (GA) Baldwin County and three-start guard/tackle Jim Barrie (6-5, 305) of Tampa Berkeley Prep. Florida is strongly in the running for five star tackle Sam Young of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, four star tackle Marcus Gilbert of St. Thomas Aquinas and four star tackle Daron Rose of Tampa Jefferson. The Gators are also still in the running for five star tackle Andre Smith of Birmingham Huffman.

GOOD GRADES: When asked about wide receiver Bubba Caldwell, Meyer responded quickly "3.0 GPA! How about that?"

Before going on to answer the question about Caldwell, Meyer added with pride that the Gators had "over 20 guys with 3,0 during the fall."

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