Meyer: Practice Paid Off for Gators

For Florida head coach Urban Meyer, preparation during the week is what will pay dividends on Saturday. The Florida Gators had a rough week of practice last week and on Saturday they were able to dismantle Tennessee in every facet of the game. Meyer says he has a team that has bought into the hard work concept.

It is Meyer's fourth year at Florida and he is very happy with the direction his team is headed going into their fourth game on Saturday. It all starts with a coaching staff and up front on both sides of the ball as offensive line coach Steve Addazio and defensive coach Dan McCarney have a talented group of players that are really starting to put things together.

"(It was an) excellent win and am very proud of our guys," Meyer told a press contingent on hand Monday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. "I really love our coaching staff. That game was won because of a competitive team in Knoxville that showed up. It was a result of Coach Addazio and McCarney and the way they went after their players. We made a determination that to win the game we had to play great defense, be a tough outfit, and take care of the ball. Our Tuesday practice was as physical a practice as I have been around. Those kids came out with the coaches believing (in a plan). It was a 106 degree heat index and we ran a 35-play inside drill (tough running drill). We (knew we) had to stop the run and had to run the ball and we did. We went hard on Tuesday to get them ready."

It was another game where Meyer judged his "Plan to Win" and the team passed with flying colors. Playing great defense, winning the turnover battle, scoring in the red zone, winning the kicking game, and winning the battles on third down are all areas that can lead to wins. Meyer was pleased with all of phases of his plan.

The Florida defense gave up one score on the day. Even though Tennessee had the ball three times in the red zone, the Gator defense stiffened and made life miserable for the hapless Vols.

"Tennessee was held to 258 yards and we feel like they have as good as personnel in the offensive line…and their running backs are tremendous players," Meyer said. "To cup the football and tackle like we did, I am very proud of that. 36 percent on third down, we forced three turnovers, and three red zone possessions and they only scored one time. That is an element of toughness."

Florida has yet to turn the ball over this year (knock on wood), and the Gators took three away from Tennessee. Meyer likes the ball security and his defense's attack on the opposing ball carrier.

"We were plus-three for the night," he said. "We are plus-nine on the season and statistical analysis says you win that game."

The Gators missed one scoring opportunity late in the game when they passed on a chip shot field goal, a sign of sportsmanship from Meyer. Meyer has been pleased with his red zone production, but would like to make one more step in a positive direction.

"We were four of four, I don't count that last one," he said of a missed fourth down attempt instead of cheap field goal. "10 of 10 on the year. One thing we are not doing is we have to score (touchdowns). I think (kicker) Jonathan Phillips is doing a great job, but we'd like to be a little better at scoring touchdowns in the red zone."

It is doubtful anyone could be happier with their punting units than Meyer is. Brandon James is the nation's most lethal kick returner and punter Chas Henry may be the best punter in the land.

"We hit 10 of 10 goals," he said of the kicking game. "I don't think we have had this happen before. We hit every goal against a big time opponent in a big time atmosphere."

Meyer's offense has been one of the nation's most efficient for the last couple of years. Continuing strong play on third down is a big time reason for that. Unlike last year, the defense has stepped it up and now both sides of the ball have come up big on third down conversions.

"We were 61.5 percent while Tennessee was 36 percent," he said. "Field position was a tremendous advantage for the Gators."

With all the great play and the big win, there were a lot of "champions" on the day.

On defense, Meyer again singled out the play of sophomore nose tackle Lawrence Marsh and he was the first champion cited.

"Lawrence Marsh, once again it's the coaching and the relationship with his position coach," Meyer said. "He is playing like he is a high energy guy and he is not."

Line mate Justin Trattou also earned champion status. In the secondary Joe Haden, Ahmad Black, and Major Wright all earned the nod, while linebackers Ryan Stamper and A.J. Jones also were also praised.

Starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes earned player of the game on defense for his ten tackle performance.

"Brandon Spikes had 32 production points and relatively speaking that is as good as you get," Meyer said.

The offense wasn't on the field much, but there were a slew of players that graded out well. The passing game wasn't spectacular, but the flow of the game dictated the Gators were going to run the ball. Still quarterback Tim Tebow and a few of his receivers, Louis Murphy, Percy Harvin, Carl Moore, and Deonte Thompson, graded out as champions.

Both tight ends did well and Tate Casey and Aaron Hernandez stood out according to Meyer, enough so to grade champion. Running backs Emmanuel Moody and Chris Rainey also joined in the great play and were rewarded.

According to Meyer it was the guys up front that earned the player(s) of the game. The offensive line has been maligned for the first two games, but came out and opened holes and pass protected well in front of a hostile crowd on national television Saturday.

"The player of the game was the offensive line," Meyer said. "That was (Phil) Trautwein, (Mike) Pouncey, (Maurkice) Pouncey, (Jim) Tartt, and (Jason) Watkins. The average grade out was 86 percent which is why they graded all champions."

Meyer believes his defense is probably playing a little better than he thought they would at this stage in the season. However, it is with guarded optimism that he looks to the rest of the year.

"It is a surprise," he said about the positive play of his defense. "I think the chemistry on defense is where we need to be. But we played three young quarterbacks right now but played some tremendous running backs. I think we have played tremendous run defense. I am not sure we have been challenged in throwing the ball."

He also knows that his offense and special teams have been a large part of why the defense has played well this early in the season.

"Great defense is a result of taking care of the football," Meyer said. "A great example was when Charlie Strong was in charge against Miami in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. I counted five times that the defense jogged out at midfield to play defense. You can't play defense at mid field. Great defense is not allowing your opponents offense to start at midfield. That is why we put such an emphasis on ball security, on punt coverage, and kickoff coverage."

Right now there is a lot of competition on defense and Meyer knows that is helping some of his young guns play better. Sophomore defensive ends Justin Trattou and Carlos Dunlap are in a real battle as well as junior cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis and freshman Janoris Jenkins. Junior linebackers Dustin Doe and Ryan Stamper as well as others are still in competition mode.

"They are both very much improved," Meyer said of Trattou and Dunlap. "Justin has always been high energy…he is up to 260 now and is a grown man and is playing real hard. Derrick Harvey played 70 plays a game and would get worn out. I like the rotation there. Both of those guys played 40 something plays and (I like it).

"It will be a game time decision (for the start between Jenkins and Pierre-Louis). I would say in this game Janoris out-performed Wondy. But, Wondy is an invested guy. The best thing is we do have competition. Stamper-Doe, Trattou-Carlos, the running back position, there will be some position battles. There was a time that no mater how you graded you had to start. This is good."

Two players that Meyer singled out as having grown up a lot in the off-season and leading up to this week were sophomore tight end Aaron Hernandez and senior place kicker Jonathan Phillips. Both have been huge assets and big in wins this season for the Gators.

"He's almost a grown man," Meyer said of Hernandez. "He has really matured. He is a product of (strength coach) Mickey Marotti, (position coach) John Hevesy, and of the University of Florida. He is at the right place at the right time. He came here as a young child and has really grown up. He plays like it, walks like it, talks like it. I am really proud of him.

"I have a lot of confidence in him," Meyer said of Phillips who is four for four on field goals this season. "He's a young person that has earned his stripes. I put him in the same category as Aaron Hernandez. He is a product of a great strength program of a great University, of mat drills. The guy is talented."

The Gators seemed to come out of the contest with Tennessee relatively injury free. However, Meyer did say that starting junior defensive end Jermaine Cunningham and linebacker Ryan Stamper will be limited this week.

"Cunningham will be out till Wednesday," Meyer said. "Stamper will be out till Wednesday…both are probable."

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