Thursday Is "Game Ready" Day For Gators

With one more serious practice and then a Friday walk through before the Florida Gators take to the field in The Swamp against Southern Mississippi for their first game of the season, Coach Urban Meyer isn't ready to pronounce his team ready to go quite yet but if Wednesday's practice and attitude are an indicator, they're getting close.

"I think there's a work ethic that I'm really pleased with," said Meyer after Wednesday evening's practice. "We had an excellent practice and we've got to clean it all up tomorrow to get game ready. Tomorrow is game ready day."

Meyer knows his team is eager to take the field against a real opponent --- there's only so much of beating up on each other that a team can take --- but he's very careful about bringing them along during game week.

"You can't play the game on Wednesday or Thursday," he said. "You've got to play it on Saturday."

He knows the cheerleading and rah-rah on the sidelines before the first game isn't necessarily a sign of ready to play. "It's all phony anyway," he said. "They're just trying to get through practice."

What he's looking for is focus on Wednesday and Thursday. Friday is a relaxed day in which the team walks through the game plan. When he wants to see game faces is Saturday morning.

"I like to see an emotional team when Saturday gets here," he said, noting that after taking it easy on Friday he wants to see his team "get up and get juiced up" on Saturday.

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Meyer said there hasn't been a decision yet on whether senior defensive tackle Steven Harris will play in game one. Harris, who was suspended from the team in the spring and throughout the summer while he took care of some personal issues, has been back with the team practicing for most of the month of August and he's listed at second team on the depth chart.

"He's dealing with issues," said Meyer. "I'm 42 years old and I've never had to deal with those issues. In about a year and a half there are issues that he put himself into. That's all his personal business but I kind of like the way this team got around him and I like that he's going to be a graduate of the University of Florida. That means a lot to these players. That means a lot to him.

"If he plays ever, that's not really important in the grand scheme of things. He's a better person because Florida helped him. The University of Florida has helped Steve Harris."

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Meyer stated earlier in the week that he was highly impressed with Southern Mississippi, going back to 2003 when he was the coach at Utah and spent a month prepping to play the Golden Eagles in the Liberty Bowl. Meyer played four top 20 teams that season at Utah but said that Southern Mississippi was the best team he saw all year. He's expecting Coach Jeff Bower's Golden Eagles to come into Saturday's game well prepared, especially on defense.

"There's not a weakness on their defense," said Meyer, who said the way to beat a defense like that is "to have balance. We've got to be able to run the ball and throw the ball."

Florida's offense was rather pedestrian last season, Meyer's first at the helm of the Gators. A season-ending injury to Bubba Caldwell and an assortment of injuries to his wide receiver and running back corps put the Gators in ball control, grind it out mode most of the season. Meyer said that's one are that needs to change this year and he's hoping to get a jump start in game one.

"The thing we have to do is create big plays, something we didn't have last year," said Meyer.

The Gators had long pass plays of 80, 63 and 50 yards in the first four games of the season but in the final eight games of the season, Florida's longest pass play was 42 yards. The Gators had only two 100-yard games by running backs and the longest running play from scrimmage was 50 yards.

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Saturday will mark the first start ever for left tackle Phil Trautwein, the 6-6, 308-pound junior from Voorhees, New Jersey. After two years of working hard to improve every day in practice, getting that first start is a watermark in his development process.

"At first it was frustrating to come to practice every day and go as hard as I could but only getting top play on punt and field goal teams," he said. "I got down on me a couple of times and got upset and frustrated, but I kept finding a way to get through it. I think all that made me better and made me want it more. That's why I'm starting now and I really feel good about what I'm doing."

He feels he makes progress every day because he has to go against a crew of defensive linemen that may be the best group on one team in all of Division I. Trautwein feels he can only improve from trying to handle defensive ends like Jarvis Moss and Ray McDonald.

"Going against guys like Moss and Ray every day only helps," he said. "They're going to be in the NFL someday so working against them only gets me better. I think that's true of the entire offensive line, too. We go against the best defensive line in America every day. I think we're going to surprise people and I think we have a chance to be one of the best offensive lines in the SEC before the year is over."

Trautwein believes that the offensive line will be better this year because this is the second year in the system for all of the starters.

"Coach Meyer always talks that his offensive line is better the second year in his program," said Trautwein. "I think it will be because we know every line call, we know the whole offense. I think we can go at it a lot faster than we did last year. I think we can go at a faster tempo because mentally we're a lot faster than we were."

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