Theme For Week: Win For Seniors

TAMPA --- It is a recurring theme for Coach Urban Meyer, one he's voiced several times already in the last couple of weeks and one he's making perfectly clear to his team --- this is a game that should be won, must be won for the outgoing seniors. Nothing else is as important in this week as the Florida Gators get in their final practices for the January 2 Outback Bowl.

Meyer has proven in his first year at Florida that he is the consummate player's coach. He is in his element when he's working and interacting with his players and it's obvious that the players respond to the presence of their coach. He's formed a particularly close bond with the few outgoing seniors that he inherited when he took over the program a year ago. He wanted to send them out with an SEC championship but that goal wasn't reached. The one goal that still can be reached for this small senior class is to send them out with a bowl victory. It's been since 2001 when the Gators under Steve Spurrier won the Orange Bowl. Of this senior class, only Todd McCullough played in that game. In the previous three seasons the Gators lost twice in the Outback Bowl under Ron Zook and last year they lost the Peach Bowl with co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong running the team.

Meyer has been preaching the cause of playing for the seniors but it wasn't until Tuesday's practice session at the University of Tampa that he really felt a genuine hunger by his entire team. They've bought into playing this one for the seniors and that made Meyer very happy.

"Today I did [see the hunger]," he said. "Up to that point I don't know …we're just trying to get ready to go but today I saw a team that wants to send the senior out. These seniors haven't won a bowl game and to finish your season like this is a heckuva season … to beat your rivals, to beat FSU and then win a bowl game.

"I saw that hunger today. I'm very pleased with it today."

Not only did he see the hunger from his team, he also saw the Gators getting back that edge they showed back on November 26 when they obliterated Florida State, 34-7.

"After today I see exactly where it [the edge] was left off after the FSU game," he said. "I'm very pleased we just have to keep it now and all through the weekend."

Sunday, the seniors will have one last opportunity to take a whack at the blocking dummies.

"We'll have a senior tackle later in the week," said Meyer. "It's their last practice to hit the blocking dummy one last time … their last tackle as a Gator on the practice field. Then the young guys will get up and speak for them, the coaches will speak for them and then they'll speak."

ADAPTING THE OFFENSE: Meyer said that fans can expect to see more of the offense the Gators showed in the second half against Florida State in the bowl game against Iowa. There will be a few more four-wide sets because there are healthy wide receivers once again, but essentially the Gators will go with what worked so well against FSU, which was three-wide sets or two wide with a tight end in motion and a fullback.

The return to health of Dallas Baker (ankle and broken rib), Jemalle Cornelius (ankle) and Chad Jackson (several dings) will allow the Gators to do a few things they haven't been able to do since early in the fall, but it's what the Gators did at the end of the year that will be the offense against Iowa.

"I think mostly we're going to do what we're doing well," said Meyer. "I'm starting to figure out what we do well. I thought the way we played that second half against FSU was a good indication of what we're going to do from here on out. We'll keep some spread element. Obviously when you had them [wide receivers] injured we couldn't play with receivers.

"I forget what game it was but we were flexing Billy Latsko out wide just to make the defense spread out there with you although obviously we weren't going to throw the ball out there. It gives you a little more flexibility."

The offense isn't the only thing that has had to adapt. Meyer said the coaches have had a learning curve, too. He expects he will be a better coach next season than he was in year one at Florida for a number of reasons.

"I'm very comfortable with our support staff where I couldn't say that I was that way before last year," he said. "I'm comfortable the way the offseason is going to go. I know exactly where we are personnel wise exactly as opposed to this time last year when I had a lot of opinions that this guy is great and this guy wasn't very good. It's about 30 percent correct what was told to me. It's time tested now so we know our weaknesses as well as our strengths."

IMPACT OF MIKE DEGORY: Degory has started 49 consecutive games at center after taking a redshirt his true freshman year for ankle surgery. The All-SEC center is quiet and reserved off the field and not always the most noticed player on the field, but Meyer said his impact has been huge for the Gators.

"You won't notice until he's gone," said Meyer, "because he's a guy who's played center for so long and because you've counted on him so long. He's a stable force in there at the premier position on the offensive line … the most accountable position on the offensive line. He's just been steady."

INJURIES AND THEIR IMPACT: Florida's season was severely impacted by injuries to key players like Bubba Caldwell (broken leg), Ray McDonald (knee) and Vernell Brown (broken leg). Caldwell's absence limited what the Gators could do on offense and McDonald and Brown affected the defense.

"The toughest part of any job in athletics is dealing with injuries," said Meyer. "It's not so much because it affects your production but like the young guys who got hurt this year are guys who are the soldiers of our program. They're terrific young men that give everything they got. You talk about Ray McDonald, Bubba Caldwell and Vernell Brown and some of those who got hurt … they're our best players."

The injuries forced Meyer to adapt the team to the available personnel. Because of the injuries some players got a chance to step up.

"When Bubba Caldwell went down someone [Billy Latkso] had to step up," he said. "It was unlikely that he would step in as a receiver but he did a lot of stuff for us.

"Jarvis Moss took over for Ray McDonald and he picked up a lot of his slack. The guy who's really coming on is Derrick Harvey [defensive end who also stepped into McDonald's postion]. He's going to be a really good player here."

DICKEY UPDATE: How long has it taken Gavin Dickey to pick up the offense after spending the entire fall as a wide receiver? Meyer says everything that they're throwing at the fourth year junior he's picking up quickly and doing it with a real comfort level.

"He's going to have more of the package than we thought," said Meyer. "He's grabbing on pretty well. We'll have a plan for him to play but we're also not going to limit the offense. It he goes in to play for some reason or if he has to we want everything available to us. We're not going to limit him."

WYNN WILL RETURN: Tailback DeShawn Wynn, who had indicated that he might make the jump to the National Football League rather than return for his fifth year at UF, has told Meyer that he's definitely going return. It was previously reported that he will make the jump to the pros. Corner Dee Webb and wide receiver Chad Jackson have applied to find out their draft status but they haven't had a definitive conversation with the coach yet.

"A lot of these guys I'm finding out look into it for several reasons," said Meyer. "Number one, because their families want them to and two, because there is insurance I wasn't really aware of but the NCAA, if you're at a certain level, you can have insurance provided that you obviously have to pay for. If you have a season ending or career ending injury, you're protected."

With others who will consider early entry into the draft, Meyer said, "We're going to wait until after the bowl game. We'll focus on the bowl game and then when all the stuff comes from the NFL we'll talk."

RECRUIT SIGHTING: Tight End Trent Pupello of Tampa Jefferson was at the Tuesday practice along with his dad, former Gator offensive lineman Joe Pupello. Trent is a 6-4, 250-pounder rated three stars by He committed to Florida after the win over FSU.

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