Meyer Gives High Grades to the Defense

Saturday's defensive effort by the Florida Gators against South Carolina wasn't just good, it was great. For weeks, people have been trying to get Urban Meyer to make the comparison between this year's defense and the 2006 defense. He still hasn't done that, but he gave this last performance a pretty big compliment.

The Gators held South Carolina to just 173 yards of total offense and they forced four turnovers. The Gamecocks converted just one third down in 15 tries, and were held to less than three yards a play.

"Arguably, it was one of our best defensive efforts since this staff has been at Florida," Meyer said during his Monday press conference. "I want to commend Charlie Strong and his staff. I watched that tape several times because it was an excellent effort with a lot of excellent players, but also and I don't say this often, but I thought it was an excellent game plan, mixing it up with five-man pressure, six-man pressure then drop eight and drop nine."

Last week, Meyer was worried about the multiplicity of South Carolina's defense, but it was the multiplicity of the Gator defense that stymied the Gamecocks' offense.

"I would be very disappointed if a team played us very vanilla with four down linemen and didn't mix it up and we didn't score 60 points on them," he said. "The thing that Charlie has improved on so much, he's doing a great job of keeping them off balance. First, it's great effort then great talent and then is he giving these kids a chance to succeed and he is right now."

The defense allowed the Gators to dominate South Carolina in field position, and they also scored Florida's first touchdown and set up the second.

A long list of players graded out as champions led by Brandon Hicks who played his best game as a Gator. Justin Trattou, Carlos Dunlap, Jermaine Cunningham, Ryan Stamper, Brandon Spikes, Joe Haden, Will Hill and Ahmad Black also graded out as champions. But the performance by Hicks is a perfect example of what defensive coordinator Charlie Strong has done so well this season.

"He's one of the better players on our team and it all happened within the last couple of weeks because he was floundering there for a while," Meyer said. "He has a hard time grasping the defense. He's exactly what you go out and recruit, he's starting to get some confidence and Coach Strong has some confidence in him right now."

It wasn't just the defense that shined. So did the special teams and the offense. Meyer said it was the best team performance of the season.

Among the list of offensive champions was Tim Tebow, Kestahn Moore, Louis Murphy, Riley Cooper, Emmanuel Moody, Deonte Thompson, Jason Watkins, Phil Trautwein, Carl Johnson and both of the Pounceys. Obviously, Percy Harvin and his 173 yards of total offense was the performance of the game.

"Percy is going to have a great career at the next level," Meyer said. "I've already been approached about how he can be used, and I think a lot like the way we use him. I don't know if he has the body to handle 25-30 inside the tackles kind of game. You like to get him more involved in the pass game. He's in the right offense and the right place to use him the way he can be used because he's just dynamic. This last game we motioned him across and that brought two guys across with him, which let Tebow run for 15 yards."

With Harvin's success against the Gamecocks coming on the ground, the question remains is Harvin a receiver or a tailback. The Gators are going to try some thing to get him more involved in the passing game.

"We might use him a little more on the outside," Meyer said. "When he's lined up inside, it's easy to bracket him with a linebacker and a safety, on the outside it's hard to double a guy. There's a chance we'll do that. I think he's both. We're doing what we have to do to win games."

The Gators now turn their attention to the Citadel, which will give the Gators a chance to get healthy before matchups with Florida State and Alabama and get the backups some more game experience. Even though the Gators should roll past the Bulldogs, Meyer has a lot of respect for the school and the program.

"One of our coaches is a graduate of the Citadel," Meyer said. "I have a lot of respect for them. There was a time and I still do hope that my son goes to a military academy or a place like the Citadel. Tim Higgins' father is the head coach over there and I always loved Tim Higgins. He's always going to be a Gator."

The Gators will also get a chance to recognize their seniors before the game on Saturday. This is a group that helped Florida get back to Atlanta twice and win at least on national championship.

"There are times that a senior class is worthy and there are times when they are not worthy," Meyer said. "I got blasted for saying that. There are certain seniors that deserve the recognition for the way they represented this school, and this group of seniors is going to be very emotional for our staff. We have three goals at the University of Florida - graduate, compete for championships, and play in the NFL, check, check, and check. Every single one of these guys has accomplished their goals. They are phenomenal people and are going to have a lot of success."

One senior who hasn't posted the big numbers this year, but will always have a special place in Meyer's mind is Kestahn Moore. The hard-nosed tailback has seen the speedier guys jump in front of him, but he continues to be a prominent leader on the squad, and Meyer thinks his football career may not be coming near an end.

"We're going to try to get him more involved," Meyer said. "I think he has a career in the NFL. I really do. It's not as a tailback, but it's as a 3rd down guy, a guy that can block, a guy that can catch and a guy that can contribute on special teams. I had a player at Utah Quinton Ganther, he's in his fourth year in the NFL, he's making a ton of money and hasn't taken one carry. But he's on every special teams play and is that valuable. I think Kestahn is that kind of player."

The leadership of the seniors has helped to develop one of the tightest-knit football teams in recent history. Meyer said the chemistry is high on this team, and maybe one of the highest in all of his coaching career.

"The greatest example is when Major Wright blocked a field goal and the entire team led by the Pounceys just mauled him on the sideline because they understand the effort and the appreciation they have for each other," Meyer said. "You see it in the locker room and on the practice field. You see them competing and it's one of the better ones I've been around."

Meyer said developing top-notch chemistry isn't easy.

"You have to recruit it," he said. "You have to have character on your team. You can build it, but there's no easy way to do it. I've been a coach for 25 years, and how many great chemistry teams have I had, maybe three or four. I see coaches say it, but they're just babbling."

Another head coaching job opened up yesterday when Syracuse announced that it was firing Greg Robinson. Two members of the Gator staff – Steve Addazio and Dan Mullen – have connections to the Orange. And with Florida's success this season, all the assistants could be hot commodities during the offseason.

"I'm very well aware of that," Meyer said. "You don't leave Florida for another spot. It has to be a head coaching job or to the NFL for lots of money to help your family. I'm in favor of bettering your family, but I also think this is the best place to work.

"We have some very talented staff, and there are people sniffing around. They are very professional just like our players, so I think the first thing is to beat the Citadel just like our players and then get out and recruit."

Notes

  • On the 2004 Utah team wanting to practice – "It was a bizarre group I had out there. You almost couldn't break them. This group is close to that. You won't see them sprinting out to practice on Tuesday. On Thursday, yes, you can see that magic and the guys bouncing around. Their legs are fresh, and it's a great sign."

  • On Deonte Thompson – "He's becoming a heck of a player. He's gotten that I should have 40, 50, 60 catches out of his head and he's working on acceleration off the ball and getting open down field. He's practiced very well. He comes from an area where everyone expects you to be an all-American in your first year, and he didn't handle that well."

  • On the 2004 Utah team – "I was a big proponent of the playoff in 2004. Any given day that team could have beaten any team in the country. Could that team have just survived the schedule we just played, no."

  • On President-elect Barack Obama possibly looking into a playoff – "He needs to go meet with Jeremy Foley. I'm glad to see he's interested. Anytime a President-elect puts focus on sports, I think that's a good thing. It might not be the right thing to do, but that's for some other people to decide."

  • InjuriesMatt Patchan suffered a hip pointer during practice last week, so he sat out most of the South Carolina game.


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