FLORIDA OFFENSE IN-DEPTH
By: Mark McLeod
Two freshmen. Three plays. One touchdown. That's exactly what big play wide receiver Percy Harvin and quarterback Tim Tebow delivered in the second quarter of the Auburn game. You could have heard a pin drop among the Auburn alumni gathered at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Harvin took an end around for 14 yards and was hit out of bounds by Auburn's Jonathan Wilhite adding 15 yards to the play. Harvin took another handoff around left end for 35 yards. Tebow finished things off with a 16 yard run to give the Gators a 17-8 lead.
Harvin had four carries for 72 yards in the first half. Tebow just the one carry for the touchdown. The freshmen lightning rods who combined to average 17.6 yards per carry spent too much of the second half on the sidelines.
Harvin had just one additional carry, which was blanketed by the right side of the Auburn defense, so he cut back left and tried to make a play. It resulted in a six yard loss. Tebow had two second half carries for two yards. He did not throw a pass in the game.
Coaches are obviously a competitive lot by nature. But, some seemingly fuel the fire more than others. We witnessed this often with former coach Steve Spurrier. If you beat him in your last meeting- you were sure to get his best shot when you met again.
Meyer and staff have proven to have a tank full of shall we say, counterinsurgency themselves. The Gators have exacted revenge on the two teams they lost to (Alabama and LSU) last season. One more remains and that's against the Ole Head Ball coach himself.
"The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" is once again under fire…. this time by the presidents of the respective schools. Oh, please. Will somebody tell Michael Adams and Bernie Machen that changing the banner does absolutely nothing to change the behavior. They should start with a smaller challenge. Conquer the alumni of both schools who attend Bike Weeks in Daytona. And let's not forget to address those students who pack their coolers for Panama City Beach, Daytona Beach, or Key West during that rotgut practice known as spring break. They'd be better served passing out brochures providing the locations and times of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to anybody holding a cocktail in their hand outside of Alltel Stadium.
The Border War rages on…The teams in this series can't agree on anything. Georgia says they have a 46-36-2 overall record against the Gators. Florida maintains the Bulldogs hold only a 45-36-2 record. The overall Georgia record states that they beat Florida 52-0 in 1904 in Macon, Georgia. However, the University of Florida didn't field a team until 1906. Isn't determining the actual record a more realistic challenge for Adams and Machen?
From billy goats to Bulldogs…Georgia's first mascot was a goat. Yep, a goat. Newspaper reports state that a goat with red U. G. on each side was on display in Atlanta for the Auburn/Georgia game on February 20, 1892. Auburn fans chanted, "Shoot the billy goat" throughout the game. The Tigers won the game 10-0 and there is no recollection of the billy goat appearing at another Georgia game. Bang!
The Big Nasties
As we know, Florida lost the battle of field position, big plays, turnovers, special teams, and penalties on the plains of Auburn, Alabama.
Georgia comes in losing two of their last three games, with the victory over a struggling Mississippi State (2-6) team. But, this is Georgia week and if the past has taught us anything it's a lesson about paper versus reality. Statistics, recent history, and pre-game analysis translates into much of nothing. Florida head coach Urban Meyer doesn't want to hear any such talk either. It's exactly what he means when he coined the term, "Florida nonsense".
"We're not a very good right now ourselves," Meyer said. "We've played our worst game of the year two weeks ago. So, we've got a lot of work to do ourselves. We were blown out. We were beat up. And we didn‘t play very well."
Left tackle Phil Trautwein (6-6 308) entered the season with very limited experience. Six starts later, the junior who is charged with protecting Chris Leak's blind side continues to be singled out for praise by Meyer. Trautwein was named offensive player of the game for his play against LSU where he graded out at 84%. He was also named co-offensive player of the game by the Florida coaches for his effort against Tennessee. He graded out at 88% with seven knockdowns against Kentucky and also made the champions club for his play against Alabama.
The Gators are finally healthy at offensive guard. Their projected starting guards prior to the season opener were Jim Tartt (6-3 315) and Ronnie Wilson. Both give Florida a physical, rather punishing presence. However, Tartt has been slow to return from shoulder surgeries. He still does not have the range of motion and seemingly experiences tightness in the shoulder. The sophomore has toughed it out at left guard where he has started every game. Once he regains full motion in that shoulder, the Florida coaches expect him to become one of the leagues dominating guards. He is a real road grader.
Florida lost Wilson (6-3 312) on August 12th to a broken ankle that required surgery. Wilson had performed very well throughout practice and like Tartt, displayed the nasty attitude that coaches love. Wilson played 44 plays as a reserve against LSU and graded out as a champion. It remains to be seen if he cracks the starting lineup this week or he once again comes off the bench.
Florida's two best linemen are center Steve Rissler (6-3 306) and right guard Drew Miller (6-5 305). The pair played together at Sarasota Riverview High School. They were among the most sought after recruits in the state. Rissler is Florida's elder statesman with sixteen starts. The senior moved over from guard where he player last season. Rissler was named co-offensive player of the game after his performance against Tennessee and graded out very high against Kentucky, Alabama, and LSU. Miller, a junior, made a name for himself as an Olympic lifter at Riverview. He told me that helped him tremendously with the transition to the collegiate level. Miller has started fourteen games in his Florida career. He was also named to the champions club for his work against Kentucky, Alabama, and LSU.
The loss of Wilson forced the Gators to move Drew Miller back inside from right tackle. They moved reserve Carlton Medder up to right tackle in an effort to get their five best linemen on the field.
Medder (6-5 315) was seemingly lost last spring. However, he noted that a change had to be made. The redshirt junior worked very hard in the weight room- the result being a stronger, more physical lineman. Medder graded out high against Tennessee, earning membership in the champions club. He had a most pleasant surprise on the front. However, he did not make the champions club the past two weeks against Kentucky and Alabama. His efforts in practice coupled with Ronnie Wilson's availability will determine his status to hold down the right tackle position.
Overview: The availability of Ronnie Wilson should provide the Gators with more flexibility. Perhaps they'll even kick right guard Drew Miller out to right tackle and use Wilson in the right guard spot.
The line opened several big holes two weeks ago. The Gators ran for 171 yards on 28 carries, 6.1 yards per carry. There were several rushes that failed in the second half on third down though. On the season, Florida has rushed for 157.7 yards per game, 4.7 yards per carry. After a week of rest, they should be ready to knock people off the ball.
The line will have to keep their heads on a swivel whenever Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow are in the backfield. They are significantly quicker than the veteran players they will replace.
I believe that fullback Billy Latsko provides one of the keys to this game. Latsko is always a key element in the Gators success and that should not change this weekend. He is a devastating blocker and will be counted on greatly as Florida looks to establish the running game. Don't be surprised if the coaches get him a touch in this one.
The strength of the Georgia defense is the front seven. Like Florida, they have 19 sacks on the season. They trail only Florida and LSU in run defense. Sure, they limited Tennessee to 3.4 yards per carry and Vanderbilt to 3.5 yards per carry. But, have they faced a team with a better running attack then Florida? No.
SLIGHT ADVANTAGE: Florida
Quarterback Chris Leak (6-0 207) has completed 110 of 172 passes for 1503 yards. Leak has thrown an SEC best 15 touchdown passes (tied with Andre' Woodson) and six interceptions. He struggled in the second half of the Auburn game hitting only 5 of 12 passes for 54 yards and a key interception. There were a few times where it appeared receivers were open, but Leak seemingly locked onto another receiver. Leak was 4 of 5 for 54 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
He has been very good this season, but at times struggles to look elsewhere for another receiver. Leak is 14th in the country in passing efficiency. A Florida win would leave him one victory shy of leading this team to a December date in Atlanta as the Eastern Division champions.
True freshman reserve quarterback Tim Tebow (6-3 229) earned the SEC Freshman Player of the Week against LSU. Tebow brings a whole new aspect to the Florida offense that forces defensive coordinators to spend time preparing for him. Tebow is the Gators second leading rusher with 246 yards on just 44 carries, a hearty 5.6 yard average.
Senior DeShawn Wynn (5-11 238) is close to full speed. Wynn, who injured his knee three weeks ago averaged 5.2 yards per carry against Auburn. Sophomore Kestahn Moore (5-10 212) is also banged up. Moore has run for 211 yards on 42 carries, an average of five yards per attempt. Both are also solid receivers out of the backfield.
The unsung hero of this offense is senior fullback Billy Latsko. He is an outstanding blocker who gives Leak additional time to throw, Wynn and Moore the ability to get past the linebacker, and is often spotted downfield knocking around a defensive back to clear a path for the Florida receivers. Latsko (5-10 232) provided a huge spark to the offense with a key 18 yard reception against Alabama. He provides yet another headache for defensive coordinators.
Florida has a pair of athletic tight ends. Junior Tate Casey (6-7 240) has several starts under his belt and teams with Cornelius Ingram (6-4 225) to provide a terrific one-two punch. Casey is a big target who played baseball with the Gators baseball squad. He made the national highlight circuit with his receptions of Tebow's double-pump, jump pass in the back of the endzone against LSU. Ingram played basketball for the Gators and is one of the most athletic tight ends in the nation with speed and running ability galore. Ingram has hauled in eight passes for 100 yards. He picked up 38 yards on a big play against the Vols.
The Gators have one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the country. They can flat torch you when they opt to go four or five wide. The leader of the group is senior Dallas Baker (6-3 207) who leads the team with 35 receptions for 556 yards (15.9 ypc) and six touchdowns.
Fellow senior Jemalle Cornelius (5-11 185) has 17 receptions and brings a tremendous 19.1 yards per catch average with him. He has a lot of quickness and wiggle. Cornelius has three touchdowns. The third starter is junior Andre Caldwell (6-1 203) who was lost for much of the season last year. Caldwell was a little rusty in the season opener against Southern Miss, but is now the Gators second leading receiver with 23 receptions for 213 yards and three touchdowns.
True freshman Percy Harvin (5-11 180) is expected to see significant playing time. He had suffered a high ankle sprain against Tennessee. Harvin has blazing speed and has hauled in 10 catches for 163 yards (16.3 ypc), while rushing for 158 yards on just nine carries- 11.3 yards per carry.
The Gators reserves don't have the experience, but aren't lacking in speed and talent. True freshmen Jarred Fayson (6-0 202) and Riley Cooper (6-3 206) have made an immediate impression and will see playing time. Both are fast, fluid, and usually have good hands.
Overview: Florida will work this week in getting additional touches to Tebow, Harvin, and Cornelius. Baker, Casey, Ingram are ready too. And don't forget Andre Caldwell, who is playing his best football since breaking his leg against Tennessee over a year ago.
The Bulldogs haven't faced a team with as many playmakers this season.
I do believe there will be a breakout of sorts for the Florida offense. For weeks we've seen some quick hitting plays, long drives, and some infusion from playmaking freshmen. I think this is the week we see more of the spread option.
Analysis: The Gators recorded only 45 offensive plays. That works if big plays, big play defense, and special teams earn you additional scoring opportunities. But, that isn't realistic. Besides, it forces you to make the most of each and possession.
In the second half, the Florida offense punted three times, fumbled twice (one was a bad call), and threw an interception. Six second half possessions- zero points. Furthermore, the Gators only hit on one of seven third down conversions.
Some changes are coming.
There will be more Harvin and Tebow. Harvin should line-up at tailback, h-back, and possibly even quarterback. They have to get the ball in his hands seven or eight times. Another player who should see more action this weekend is Jemalle Cornelius, who did not have a reception against Auburn.
The Gators must eliminate costly turnovers, stupid penalties, mental breakdowns, and win the field position battle. They have suffered flaws in each of these areas, but have been able to overcome them.
Field position and penalties have hurt the Gators too often this year. That must be avoided on the road. Those penalties have placed them into third down situations often. Florida is 36 of 76 (47.4%) on third down conversions. They dropped from 10th to 16th nationally.
Georgia has given up 67 second quarter points and 73 points in the fourth quarter. Ouch.
Florida 34 Georgia 13
GEORGIA DEFENSE IN-DEPTH
The Bulldog defense has been a fixture of Mark Richt football in Athens, but after shutting out South Carolina and UAB, criticism of the defense has been flowing in Athens. Tennessee's second-half explosion was the catalyst for much of the blame, and the Dawgs have been trying to put the pieces back together ever since.
Georgia's interior line has been experiencing growing pains this season. Florida native Jeff Owens and true freshman Kade Weston have been in the middle of the defensive line for more of the season, but seniors Ray Gant and Dale Dixson have played a fair amount, too. Gant, however, has been banged up all season long. Those four and true freshman Geno Atkins make up the rotation. Weston will start, but a healthy Gant could play a lot of downs.
Quentin Moses and Charles Johnson are likely the most-talented pass-rushing combo in the SEC. However, they disappeared for a short while before Georgia's win over Mississippi State. In that game Johnson made the game-winning play in forcing a fumble in State's last possession of the game. Johnson also added a sack to his effort. Moses recorded two sacks last week. Moses leads the team in quarterback pressures, but has been hard on himself; he expected more this season. Their backups are Roderick Battle and Marcus Howard – both are smaller, but quicker than the starters.
Injuries: Ray Gant (back).
Analysis: Georgia's defensive ends had better play well – Leak is a sneaky player to sack. Getting pressure on him might be the name of the game against the Gators. Keeping Gant as healthy as possible is also a key for the Dawgs.
A versatile group, Georgia's linebackers are interchangeable. The problem this season, however, is that the group is struggling to tackle well. Georgia had problems tackling West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl last season, but they were given a pass when the Mountaineers proved to be so explosive. However, missing tackles against the likes of Ole Miss and Mississippi State are another thing.
Tony Taylor is the best-playing linebacker for the Dawgs right now. Anywhere the ball is, expect to see Taylor. Taylor has 48 tackles in the last three weeks. He also has two consecutive games with an interception.
Analysis: Georgia's linebackers are not the fastest bunch in the world, so they need to wrap up when they get their hands on the ball carrier. Stuffing the run, which Georgia did not do at the start of last season's contest with the Gators, is critical to stay in the game. Florida has run for at least 100 yards against every conference opponent this season with the exception of LSU – they ran for 97 on the Tigers. Georgia has prevented only South Carolina and Mississippi State from the 100-yard mark.
Irritable might be one way to describe the feeling of the Georgia secondary right now. The Bulldogs are ranked 28th nationally, but have given up important passes of late – including two fourth-and-fives late in the game against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
Tra Battle and Kelin Johnson have been hearing for at least three weeks now about how much bigger and badder Greg Blue, Thomas Davis and Sean Jones were than they are now. To say they are tired of it is an understatement.
Still, Paul Oliver has had an outstanding season thus far. Across from him is a bit of a question this week. Bryan Evans, a Jacksonville native, started last week against Mississippi State, but struggled all day. The regular starter Ramarcus Brown has been dealing with a hamstring injury. Brown has had a steady season so far, but coming off an injury may be hard to deal with.
Injuries: Ramarcus Brown (hamstring)
Analysis: Stopping Chris Leak and the talented Florida receivers is a must. This group has been criticized of late, and this game is their chance to prove the doubters wrong. Battle and Johnson may be smaller than former Georgia safeties, but they are the heart and soul of the defense. If they have a good game Georgia will have its chances to make game-changing plays on defense.