Prayer took center stage in the final eight seconds of mayhem that remained on a Saturday night in "The Swamp". Did the Florida head coach, who is aptly named after a Pope, sprinkle holy water on six-foot six Jarvis Moss who blocked the two kicks that provided the Gators margin of victory in Florida's 17-16 victory?
Moss, a native of Denton, Texas has battled his own demons and won. Two years ago, he suffered an infection in his pelvic bone resulting from a high school injury that not only prevented him from gaining the necessary weight to play at this level, but actually hindered his ability to stay in shape. As doctors tried to determine his problem- coaches, teammates, and even Moss himself suffered lapses in confidence.
Doctors finally found the infection and prescribed an aggressive antibiotic. Moss quickly gained 30 pounds and by the end of last September emerged as a force off the Florida bench. His play was so superb by season's end that Moss was named a first team All-SEC selection in August.
Obviously, his stellar play continues today. Is there any doubt that Moss earned Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week?
He said afterward that it was his best football game ever. You certainly didn't need the to witness the pandemonium that followed Moss' block of Ryan Succop's 48 yard field goal attempt as time expired to understand why.
Jarvis Moss was the Gators second leading tackler today with eight stops and he also knocked a Blake Mitchell pass down at the line of scrimmage. He blocked Succop's point after that kept the Gators down by only six points. After the Florida offense rolled out an 11 play, 80 yard drive that culminated with a 12 yard touchdown run by reserve quarterback Tim Tebow- the Florida defense once again bent, but did not break. Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier brilliantly moved his team into position, but it was his alma mater that so appropriately finished things off. Moss stepped up into a gap provided by Steven Harris and Ray McDonald, leapt and swatted Succop's 48 yard potential game winner to the side with his left hand.
Moss' play reverberated throughout the 90,703 masses who were gathered at "The Swamp" and secured Florida's national title hopes with a 9-1 overall record. What an incredibly exciting game.
Meyer seemingly needs an Olympic pool filled with holy water in which to immerse his team as the Gators battle their own demons and those fired at them by their Southeastern Conference brethren. Every time it appears that the Florida offense is finally achieving continuity by moving the football, along comes another mental mistake, sprained ankle, or turnover that seemingly causes the staff to collectively shake their heads. Today, they moved the football, but self-destructed before finishing the job. The holy water was needed most for a defense that missed tackles, suffered through sore knees, and shoulder stingers.
This was a contest where the offense needed to establish itself. Like it or not, this is not the same Florida defense with Marcus Thomas was manning the middle. South Carolina averaged 4.8 yards per carry. That's well above what the fifth ranked run defense had only allowed (2.5 yards per rush) prior to his absence. Obviously, linebackers Brandon Siler and Earl Everett not at full speed hurt as well. The Florida offense effectively moved the football rolling up 401 yards of total offense on 61 plays, but it was once again spectacular special teams' play that won the ballgame.
While were at it, can we please immerse the return teams who block for Brandon James in holy water. Another electrifying return (55 yards) called back for a senseless penalty. Instead of starting with the ball at in South Carolina territory, the Gators were backed up at their own 8 yard line.
Quarterback Chris Leak looked much better overall. He hit 19 of 27 for 254 yards and a score. He under threw his receivers a couple of times, threw a costly interception, and checked himself out of another first down run that the Gators desperately needed. To his credit though, Leak came back to demonstrate solid leadership and ran the ball effectively, making sound decisions on the Gators fourth quarter touchdown drive. It appears that Leak is back on track.
Penalties have been a big part of Florida football since The Spurrier Era. The head ball coach returns and provides the Gators with some much needed relief courtesy of 10 Carolina flags. The Gamecocks contributed to Florida's 28 first downs with three via penalty. Defensive back Fred Bennett held up the Florida receivers twice and the Carolina defensive staff added to their own misery with a pair of substitution penalties. None were bigger than the false start penalty called on Carolina left tackle Jamon Meredith. Mitchell hit Rice on a pass play that went to the Florida 7 yard line. The penalty brought everything back to the 39 yard line.
Florida had a couple of very costly penalties of their own. Offensive guard Jim Tartt's holding penalty put the Gators back in a 1st and 20 situation, nullifying a Leak to Andre Caldwell 29 yard pitch and catch. Strongside linebacker Brian Crum created havoc with a facemask penalty that allowed Spurrier and the Gamecocks to start at the Florida 28 yard line. The Gamecocks scored five plays later.
South Carolina free safety Stoney Woodson is a former teammate of Florida freshman A.J. Jones. Both played at Middleton High School in Tampa. Woodson tried to convince Jones to sign with Carolina. Jones told last spring with a wry grin that just wasn't going to happen. Another former Middleton player, O.J. Murdock seemingly did not make the trip. He was arrested at Macy's in Tampa for shoplifting last month. His girlfriend, a Macy's employee, was also arrested. Apparently, the pair shoplifted $425 worth of Macy's inventory and were charged with third degree grand theft. He obviously needs some serious professional help. Murdock desperately wanted to be a Gator. One weekend during his senior year, Murdock told me that the family was loading the car for his official visit to the Florida campus. However, it appeared that he wasn't even invited by the Florida staff. Grades were seemingly an issue. Hopefully, somebody can reach this young man and redirect him to focus on self-improvement.
Florida co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong deserve a pat on the back. You had to wonder if the Florida offense hadn't scored too quickly with 3:03 left on the clock for Spurrier to set up one of the nation's best field goal kickers for the game winner. What had been a tremendous Gators' defense throughout the season was struggling. The Gators didn't record a sack, turnover, and tallied only one tackle for loss in the game. Yet they kept Carolina from securing the touchdown or getting any closer to field goal range. Granted the Gamecocks entered with the worst red zone offense in the conference, but a motivated Steve Spurrier usually spells trouble for opponents. The Florida coaches went to the blitz on two of the final three plays and pressured Carolina quarterback Blake Mitchell. It simply doesn't get much sweeter than this.
Percy Harvin was deadly on those drag routes and running out of the backfield. The Gamecocks didn't cover Caldwell or Dallas Baker much better. Speed destroyed the Carolina defense. The rough stuff didn't sit too well with them either. DeShawn Wynn was unstoppable today rushing 12 times for 90 yards. The 7.5 yard average was his best against a conference opponent this season. Furthermore, the Carolina secondary struggled to bring tight end Cornelius Ingram to the ground. He secured three receptions for 50 yards today.
Much of that credit belongs to an offensive line that survived a gut check. Drew Miller, Steve Rissler, and Jim Tartt were not among the healthiest members of the human race in "The Swamp" today. Ditto the efforts of Brandon Siler, Earl Everett, and Joe Cohen who also played through injuries.
Are you pleased with the Florida Strength and Conditioning program? If absolutely isn't your answer- you're probably in the minority. Several Florida players are playing through injuries and supporting their teammates. The job that Mickey Marotti, Matt Balis, and staff have had a tremendously positive physical and mental effect on this team.