The Gators' start-to-finish passion is a significant story not because of the challenges Urban Meyer's team will face in the weeks to come. No, Florida's lunch-pail work ethic is worthy of mention because it is the defining element of this special team. Aside of anything else the history books may say about the 2006 Gators, their hunger to succeed will always remain their most enduring--and endearing--characteristic. The group that snapped a six-year title drought--and which deserves, as a result, a lasting place in the collective memory of the Gator Nation--has attained a 10-1 record to this point in the season by working relentlessly and passionately.
This team has not been elegant or brilliant; it has stumbled and struggled on many occasions; it has often been its own worst enemy. But through it all, this team's work ethic has never wobbled, wavered or waned. Sheer persistence, found in an undying desire to earn every small piece of real estate, has enabled these Gators to win games past Florida teams would have lost. On Saturday, there was none of the white-knuckle anxiety that characterized the previous fear-filled finishes against Eastern Division foes. But even with a sleepy-start kickoff, a small-fry opponent, and the Noles of Florida State looming a week later, this team--true to the best angels of its gridiron nature--played with passion and purpose on Senior Day at the Swamp. That the Gators hustled, hit and hollered with typical tenacity is a tribute to Urban Meyer and an entire roster of young men that has taken his teachings to heart. Against the Seminoles next Saturday (this piece, while being an "instant anal ysis" of the Western Carolina game, must also serve as an "instant perspective" on the FSU holy war as well), Florida partisans need not worry one bit about the effort level the Gators will bring to Tallahassee.
On the other side of effort, though, lies execution. If the Gators are to avoid an ambush upset next week in Doak Campbell Stadium, they will need to be appreciably sharp while offering some looks that can throw Florida State's defense off balance. The only way the Seminoles can possibly hope to compete with the Gators is for UF's offense to drown in a sea of turnovers and general ineptitude. On Saturday, the relatively clean execution displayed by Florida's offense was one very encouraging sign. But on a bigger and more urgent level, the real story of the Gators' offense was provided by third-wheel quarterback Jarred Fayson... with an emphasis on the term "wheel." Fayson, you see, has many of them.
After seeing Fayson run wild against Western Carolina, Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen can now throw three different styles of offense at the Seminoles. Chris Leak's passing and Tim Tebow's bull-headed power running game are the two longstanding looks the Gators can give to FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews. But now, Bobby Bowden's longtime assistant will also have to account for a third brand of ball: the speed-rushing shotgun-spread attack showcased and shepherded by Jarred Fayson.
Meyer and Mullen want to have those permutations of plays that can sew confusion in opposing defenses while setting up big plays in the second halves of games. Fayson has just increased the total possibilities for variations, tweaks and wrinkles that could pay big dividends in Tallahassee. The running of No. 11 overshadowed, on Saturday, the competent passing of No. 12 and the all-around field generalship of No. 15. This development, provided by the legs of Jarred Fayson, puts Florida in very good stead heading into the annual armageddon against the hated rival in the state capital.
There was a neat sense of balance at work in Florida's win over Western Carolina on Senior Day. One big story from this game showed why this Florida team--especially its seniors--will be lovingly remembered as the hungry bunch that never stopped working hard. The other big story--admist the feel-good tributes (and the attributes that gave rise to them; can't spell "attribute" without "tribute")--pointed to future success in the Gators' final, fateful football fights this season.
In one afternoon, the Gator Nation witnessed two supremely significant snapshots: the continuing presence of a work ethic that has already branded this team as special, and the emergence of a playmaking third quarterback that could make the rest of the season even more triumphant. Not bad for a home finale at Florida Field.