Gators Give All-Around Effort

The regular season may not be ending the way Urban Meyer would have envisioned, but there are lots of reasons for optimism on the future of Florida football.

The Gators (9-3, 5-3 SEC) are not playing for any championships this season, and they most likely lost their chance at a BCS berth with the outcomes of Saturday's football games. But Florida's offense has developed into an unstoppable machine, and the once maligned defense is showing signs of maturity.

Florida captured its fourth consecutive win over their in-state rivals, beating Florida State 45-12 in front of 90,664 at The Swamp on Saturday night. In doing so, the Gators went for 541 total yards – their second best total of the season. They also held the Noles to only 287 yards, which was the defense's third best effort of the season.

The defense has been the biggest question mark all season, and with their best cornerback Joe Haden sidelined with an ankle sprain, it was another big concern on Saturday. But Wondy Pierre-Louis and Jacques Rickerson both rose to the occasion, holding Florida State to just 188 yards passing. Rickerson had three tackles and two break ups while starting in Haden's place.

"Those guys played their hearts out," Urban Meyer said after the game. "Joe Haden couldn't play because of his ankle, but Jacques made play after play. Our secondary coach is very pleased. I looked at him and told him he did it again. He did it with Vernell Brown. He did it with Ryan Smith and Reggie Lewis, and now he did it with Jacques in a big time atmosphere."

The Gator defense also held Florida State to less than 100 yards rushing. Freshman Justin Trattou had a huge game at defensive tackle as the Gators were able to put pressure on Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford and posted a pair of sacks.

"Our guys did a good job," Meyer said. "I think Justin Trattou is going to be a phenomenal football player. I think Coach Strong, Mattison, Heater and Doc came up with a great game plan, and obviously it worked."

The Gators held strong on third downs, allowing the Noles to convert only three times on 12 tries. They also kept Florida State out of the end zone, holding them to four field goals – one of which was from 60 yards out.

"To hold them to three field goals that was tremendous," Meyer said. "I can't say enough about our defense. I think that was the first time that I can say they've grown up. Some guys are playing very well."

But for the fourth consecutive game, the offense stole the show. Florida finished the regular season by scoring 45 or more points in its final four games and was once again led by sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow completed 19-of-28 passes for 262 yards and also rushed 13 times for 89 yards.

"He's a great football player," Meyer said. "I can't say enough about him. He's one of the finest football players in America."

Tebow is surrounded by great playmakers, though, and on Saturday everyone got involved in the offense. Four different receivers caught four or more passes, and Percy Harvin didn't miss a beat after missing the last two games with migraines. Harvin carried 16 times for 157 yards in addition to five receptions for 67 yards.

"He's a phenomenal football player," Meyer said. "He's as competitive as the day is long. He's a strong runner."

Cornelius Ingram led the Gators on the receiving end, catching five balls for 75 yards.

"CI played tremendously," Meyer said. "Louis Murphy is back after he had a bad game against South Carolina. Once again, it just leaves us with plenty of options calling plays."

Tebow accounted for five touchdowns – three passing and two rushing. Two of his passing touchdowns were to Murphy who caught four passes for 58 yards. But it's Tebow who made one final push at becoming the third quarterback from the University of Florida to win the Heisman Trophy.

"I like to talk about championships and those kinds of things and obviously we didn't win one," Meyer said. "I'm not a big individual award guy. I think Tim is one of the best football players in the country, but I haven't watched all that much. I know I saw that tailback against LSU the other day, and he's pretty good. My opinion doesn't matter, but if I had a first round draft pick, I kind of like the guy I got."

Now that the Gators face more than a month before they play in a bowl game, Meyer and the coaching staff will hit the recruiting trail to try and fill in Florida's holes. A dominating win like Saturday over Florida State can go a long way in securing the top talent in the state of Florida.

"I have to recruit my rear end off over the next month," Meyer said. "We are not a good program right now. We're playing pretty good football right now, and we have some good young talent. But when we only have five seniors playing and a small senior class next year, we have to go and recruit the mess out of this place."

Notes

  • Meyer only plans two practices for this upcoming week and will gradually increase the practice schedule as Florida prepares for its bowl game. Said Meyer, "We're going to give them some time off. But if you let a center go without a shotgun snap for more than three days in this type of offense, you've got some problems."
  • Offensive guard Jim Tartt left the game with a sprained ankle. Meyer expects him back by the bowl game.
  • Despite Florida's recent dominance, Meyer still believes this is one of the best rivalries in America. Said Meyer, "The good thing is it didn't take a turn like these stories I've heard about ugly things happening, cheap shots at quarterbacks and all that stuff. My three year experience has been nothing but positive. Obviously, we've won the games."
  • If Tebow wins the Heisman, Meyer said it will a large credit to his supporting cast. Said Meyer, "You want to see a bad quarterback – put a bunch of bad players around him. We allowed one sack against that group. Tim will be the first to tell you, if you want to see a bad quarterback, put bad players around him, but we don't have that here."

    Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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