Gators Begin to Prepare for Tide

At the beginning of every season, Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators set their goals for the upcoming season, and goal No. 1 is to always win the SEC East and play for the SEC Championship. On Saturday, the Gators will realize that goal when they face Alabama in Atlanta.

Heading to Atlanta, the Gators continue to play their best football of the season. Florida trounced Florida State on Saturday 45-15 for their fifth straight win over the Seminoles. Florida had to do it in terrible weather conditions and facing a hostile crowd.

"Without overdoing it, that's as proud of a football team as I've ever been," Urban Meyer said during his Monday press conference. "Everything was there to distract them. It's a profound statement and I don't usually say things like that, but their effort, their determination, their focus, their relentless play was very well done."

Meyer was especially proud of his defense who was put in poor situations all day. Whether it was a turnover or a long kick return given up by the special teams, the defense held its ground and forced FSU to settle for field goals. Seven defenders earned champion status, including Jermaine Cunningham, Janoris Jenins, Ahmad Black, Major Wright, Brandon Spikes, Ryan Stamper and Carlos Dunlap who earned defensive player of the game honors.

"It was not great defense; it was tremendous defense," Meyer said. "We gave the ball away inside the 20 and held them to a field goal. Those are two huge momentum shifts."

On offense, a long list of players earned championship status, including Louis Murphy, Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper, Carl Moore, Brandon James, David Nelson, Deonte Thompson, Aaron Hernandez, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Moody and Tim Tebow. The entire offensive line – Phil Trautwein, Carl Johnson, Maurkice Pouncey, Michael Pouncey and Jason Watkins – was named player of the game.

On the injury front, Meyer received some very good news. Percy Harvin's status is still questionable, but his chances of playing on Saturday are certainly not grim.

"We had great news in the training room today," Meyer said. "It was very positive with thumbs up including from the player. He had a big smile and thumbs up. He's as competitive a human being as I've ever been around. He plays well in this game. He's made it very clear to me a couple thousand times the last couple days. We're going to boot him and he will not do anything until later this week."

Harvin and his incredible offensive production cannot be replaced, so the Gators will develop two game plans this week – one with Harvin and one without.

"You can't replace Percy, you work around him," Meyer said. "If the cupboard is bare we would have a management problem, but we don't have that problem. … We're not going to change a lot. The big key is going to be the offensive line. But when you hand it to No. 1 the whole stadium holds its breath. The thing is the whole defense focuses on him and I don't blame them, but it opens up things for everyone else."

Should Harvin not be able to go, Florida will look to David Nelson and Carl Moore to fill in his shoes as other people get shifted around. Both Nelson and Moore have stepped up more and more in recent weeks, and Nelson is becoming one of the new faces of Florida football.

"There are certain guys that run from competition; they go some place smaller or some place colder," Meyer said. "There are other guys that go into the weight room and work a little harder. David Nelson is one of those guys. He basically gets into a fistfight underneath a pile to get the football. We then go down and score off of that on-sides kick. He then catches a 28-yard pass. He's got another year of football and he's going to graduate from the University of Florida. The same thing with Stamper. Those two guys are the ones you want to stamp their face on our program because that's what it's all about."

The other area where the Gators may be hurting is at defensive tackle. Meyer will learn more about the status of Brandon Antwine, but he called his chances of playing doubtful on Sunday. Omar Hunter and Matt Patchan are out with injuries and John Brown "is not ready to play." That leaves Lawrence Marsh, Torrey Davis, Terron Sanders and Jaye Howard.

"Marsh is going to be 100 percent," Meyer said. "That tells you a lot about him. He played in that game and played very well for having an MCL sprain. He played at about 70-80 percent and should be 100 percent for this week. Duke Lemmens is going to be back as well."

Again, Meyer said the Gators may look to Carlos Dunlap to play tackle since he's played there some when Florida goes with three-down linemen.

One of the main reasons why the Gators and Alabama are facing each other on Saturday is because of recruiting. The two schools have had the last two No. 1 recruiting classes in the nation – Florida in 2007 and Alabama in 2008.

"Alabama came in and made an impact on recruiting," Meyer said. "The first thing they did was held their in-state guys. You can see that with us and them. If you look at the guys that are playing well it's the homegrown guys. They've recruited very well, but I think we have, too."

One guy that was recruited to Alabama under the old regime is Javier Arenas who is third in the SEC in punt returns.

"I think he's dynamic," Meyer said. "He's ridiculous on punt returns. It's an area that we've done well on but we have not faced a challenge like this one. There are some guys that are fast, but he's electric with the ball in his hands. It's going to have a big impact on this game. Any championship game, field position is big. It's going to be tough to move the ball and every 10-yard increment is going to be huge."

Both teams run contrasting styles of offense. The Gators run the flashier, contemporary spread option whereas Alabama sticks to its traditional, smash-mouth pro-style offense. But Meyer said it doesn't matter what style offense you run, it's execution and fundamentals.

"I hear and I read things from people that really have no idea what they're talking about," Meyer said. "In the game of football, the best team wins. When you tackle well, play good defense, play excellent special teams and execute on offense, you usually win. They tackle real well. They play well on special teams, and they manage the ball on offense. That's usually how you win. Styles, I think it's kind of neat to say those things, but it's if you tackle and execute and I think both teams do that real well."

"The biggest challenge is that their center and left tackle are premier players, and that's coming from our defensive staff," he said. "The offensive line, I think it's the two best offensive lines in the country. All there tailbacks are very physical down hill guys. You try to put an extra guy in the box, but when you do that, you are singled out, and that one freshman receiver is a horse, a real big athlete. I think the team that is most effective running the football wins the game."

If Florida goes single coverage on defense, though, they have two corners that are playing real well. Janoris Jenkins is playing lights-out as a just a true freshman and Joe Haden continues to play consistent.

"We have two guys playing the best football of their careers," Meyer said. "Who is better, Joe Haden or Janoris? They are both very functional guys. You asked me about my quarterback and I have my quarterback. I have my two corners, too. They are great people, they work hard, and represent this school very well."

When it comes to stopping the run, no one will be more important than Brandon Spikes. Spikes, too, is having a great season and will look to shut down Alabama's backfield the same way he shut down Knowshon Moreno from Georgia. Spikes' development of a player has not only improved his own play from last year, but the entire defense.

"Immature guy, but he was young," Meyer said. "He's never been a bad guy. He was so good as a football player in high school he was never really trained. He and Coach Marotti and Coach Strong, the relationship between those three people is phenomenal. When we get on a plane to go see our opponent and all the players play those video games or listen to whatever, Brandon Spikes gets a laptop and turns on the video and watches the opponent the entire time. That's the way Siler was and especially how Coach Strong expects his middle linebacker to play. His maturity level is off the charts."

Siler was of course the center of the Florida defense in 2006 and Meyer is starting to see some similarities between this year's squad and that championship squad.

"Their attack and approach to the game is much different than a year ago," Meyer said. "They are very professional. When we say be here at 2:15, bright eyed, shoulders back, let's learn the game. Today is their day off and today Spikes and the boys will be in here and running the video. That's not some uncle calling about why is he not playing, that's real stuff. Those are the similarities."

As the week goes on, the team will likely see a lot of the 2006 team as motivation for Saturday.

Coach Marotti will do some things later in the week," Meyer said. "We'll have videos going and stuff. I won't do that. I've talked about the '06 team. When I talk about the '06 team there are two things we talk about. First, they are always here. Those '06 guys, we can't get rid of them. They're always here. The '96 guys are always here. The second part is the professionalism of the '06 team."

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