Meyer Ready for a Healthy Team

The Florida Gators limped, sneezed, and sweat through a ten point win over SEC rival Tennessee on Saturday. It was a game that saw the Gators show up without every bullet in the chamber so to speak. Happy with the win, Meyer is ready to put it behind him, find some more depth at receiver and prepare for the Gators' first road game of the season. He met with the media on Monday to discuss.

Meyer started out his Monday media conference with the usual 'Plan To Win' break down. For the most part, his team met their goals to come out victorious.

The Gators had a sub-par day tackling on defense, but otherwise it was a pretty good day. They held Tennessee to 13 points and really just two scoring drives in the game.

"I thought we played a little below our standards, but I was very impressed," Meyer said. "Coach Strong has a little bit different opinion. I think when you take it all in account as far as illness and Brandon Spikes didn't play at his ability level to get out of their win...and I have much more respect for the personnel that we faced. I think No. 2 (Montario Hardesty of Tennessee) is a great back. I am glad he is a senior and I want to get him out of this league, he is a heck of a player."

"Turnovers, we aren't where we need to be. We had two again and we created two. That is a negative right now and we have to get that fixed. It isn't from lack of effort, we will get that done."

"Red zone...we were pretty productive. I was very impressed with our kicker, Caleb Sturgis. He didn't just make the field goals, he pounded them. He earned that right in practice and we will open that up again this week."

"Kicking game...we hit eight of ten goals and our guys played well."

"Our third down percentage is at a very high rate. It was at 62 percent and we are darn near 70 percent conversion rate on the year."

Meyer announced the players that graded out the best for the Tennessee game, the Champions Club.

"Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins and we had co-players of the game in Ahmad Black and Ryan Stamper. They played very well for us," Meyer said of his defensive unit.

"Mike Pouncey, Maurkice Pouncey, David Nelson, Brandon James, Marcus Gilbert, Riley Cooper, and Tim Tebow," Meyer said all graded out Champions. "Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey were co-players of the game."

For what most fans deemed an ugly win, the Gators had to rely on a patchwork offensive skill unit to get by in the game. Since fall camp began, wide receivers Paul Wilson, Carl Moore, and Andre Debose have been lost to one kind of injury or another. Last week, starting receiver Deonte Thompson was sidelined with a pulled hamstring and he missed the game Saturday against Tennessee.

It has kind of reminded Meyer a lot of 2005 when the Gators lost a handful of receivers and then lost starter Andre Caldwell for the year during the Tennessee game.

"I am not sure there is any school that had three guys go down all dynamic guys...Carl Moore, Andre Debose, and Deonte Thompson, and still win that game," Meyer said. "Five years ago that the offense was in reverse real fast when we lost the receivers."

The Gators got a push from running backs Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody when they were asked to step it up Saturday. The need was there as even more offensive skill guys went down late in the week.

"I think this is where Rainey real stepped up, he played his best game as a Gator," Meyer said. "Jeff Demps who was sick and Emmanuel Moody, right now we are finding play makers. David Nelson played too many plays and was involved in special teams we are trying to evaluate that. Riley Cooper got dinged up early, Aaron Hernandez was not the same player that he was. So, our tailbacks and quarterback kind of took that game over."

"Like I said five years ago, with all those receivers out of the game, we are all looking at each other saying 'Where do we go now?'"

The prognosis looks a little better this week for at least three of the above ailments and a fourth in starting defensive end Jermaine Cunningham who was one of a few that had flu symptoms with Demps and Hernandez.

"Deonte is probable, but you know hamstrings," Meyer said. "We even had our track guy come over and work with him so they are doing the best they can. He wants to play, he was broken down last week. We need Deonte."

"Hernandez is good to go, he also has a hyper extended knee. He didn't practice yesterday , but will be good to go tomorrow. Jermaine Cunningham is still not well and Demps is much better. Coach Billy Gonzales has 104 today, so we sent him home."

The flu is a big concern in sports these days and a few college teams have had serious issues with it. The number wasn't great but hitting three starters was a serious thing on Saturday. Meyer says they take plenty of steps to make sure the flu is guarded against as easy as they can. It isn't anything that should affect them getting ready to play any particular team.

"It doesn't effect our preparation," he said. "I just wear these guys out with their hygiene. I really have a lot of confidence in our training staff and I don't think there is much more we can do."

Starting middle linebacker and Butkus Award nominee Brandon Spikes was also ailing Saturday with a sprained Achilles tendon. It certainly looked to affect his play. Meyer thinks Spikes is healing nicely so far.

"Someone told me statistically he is down a little bit, because he wasn't in very much of the first two games," Meyer said. "He is going to have a great year for us. I saw him outside and he is feeling much better. You just have to be careful...those things can linger."

When Spikes had to leave the field, linebacker Ryan Stamper moved over from the weak side and played in the middle. Stamper played very well on the day and leading the team in tackles with 12, the only sack of the day for the Gators, had three tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.

"I am not sure you win without a guy like that," Meyer said of Stamper. "He is also on punt and our right hand man. The fact that he was elected captain before he was even a starter here. He is a guy that is the face of the program, he is tremendous. He is a really good player and holds the whole deal together."

Missed tackles were an issue Saturday and Meyer feared there were likely at least 10 in the game. He didn't have the numbers handy, but he believes it will get better and isn't concerned about it.

"I think we faced the best running back we will face all year," Meyer said. "He is tremendous. That isn't a reason to miss tackles, we just need to get a little better. Spikes was in and out of the game and we just have to get a little better. Our pursuit wasn't great either, for whatever reason."

Meyer gave the two reasons defensive players miss tackles.

"Number one, it's the personnel you are facing," Meyer said. "Percy Harvin made a lot of people not tackle well. There are other guys that don't have the same ability. I thought we faced one of the best backs we will face. He is a tremendous talent.

"It was the first time we have played a true running team. This team turned around and handed the ball off a lot to number two and 11, two really good backs. Personnel is the first reason when there are errors and the second is we need to get back to fundamentals...On Tuesday we will have a tackling drill.

Meyer made sure to give Tennessee credit for keeping the Gators to only 23 points in the game. Florida was favored by 29 points at kickoff and the Tennessee defense has some quality personnel and always has according to Meyer.

"The year before, Coach Chavis did a nice job as well," Meyer said. "The common theme is great players. They certainly did a nice job against Florida. Tennessee has done a nice job every year. I think the common denominator is tremendous personnel.

"The thing is we ran for over 200 yards against a very good defense. We made a decision in the second half to pound the football and get away with a win, because of health at receiver and because of the way the game was going."

One guy that pounded the football was quarterback Tim Tebow. Tebow carried the ball 24 times for 76 yards on the day. Without three sacks, Tebow had 105 yards on the ground. Meyer wants to get away from using Tebow so much on the ground, but at this time, he has to rely on his Heisman Trophy winner.

"He is the crutch right now," Meyer said of Tebow. "When the game is tight right now, everyone knows who we want to put the ball in his hands. He is really successful with it. We are going to watch it closely. We can't just beat him to a pulp. A lot of that was not designed."

One way to help Tebow is to establish the running game with the running backs. Florida ran well on Saturday from the running back position. Rainey, Demps, and Moody had a combined 128 yards on just 16 carries. Meyer seems ready to start to lean on these guys a little more.

"We will be doing it a little like Percy Harvin," Meyer said. "When we had Percy, we would say give him the ball this many times. We are getting close to that but haven't done that yet. We just kind of managed the game and go. Demps, Rainey, and Moody are good. We are getting close to making sure they touch that ball. You don't have to be a genius to figure out the strength of our team right now. We have a big offensive line running off the ball and a freak quarterback that just takes the game over. Is it perfect? No. But, until we get a full compliment of receivers playing at the level we need them to play at, we have to do what we need to do to win."

The injuries and illness to receivers this weekend brought out a real issue with this Gator team. The depth seems prominent everywhere except at receiver. Florida really needs to find some young receivers to take some heat off of the offense and make plays. Meyer is going to start watching more intently at the young receivers in practice.

"That is what we did yesterday, Sunday is our development day," Meyer said. "We sat down David Nelson he had a sore leg. Riley Cooper didn't practice because of his feet and a pinched nerve. They all have talent, it's just time to go play. One of those guys is going to have to fill the void this week. We are going into it as Deonte is going to play, but we have to get that next guy in the game.

Meyer and company ran the Banzai, no-huddle offense a great deal on Saturday. At times Tebow could come up to the line right away and call a play. That is okay, but he isn't looking for Tebow to take on too much.

"He does sometimes," Meyer said about calling an audible at the line in the no-huddle. "Sometimes we will give him a play and he will put us in the right place. We thought about that and I think he is comfortable with the way it's going right now."

the Banzai worked well for almost one complete drive on Saturday. The Gators drove 54 yards to the Vols two-yard line before Tebow fumbled it away. Until that fumble it was a great drive using the hurry up mode according to Meyer.

"The classic drive was that third quarter, we basically went to the no-huddle. I called the play action pass on the ten yard line when the ball got away from Tim. ...that was 'No Mas' if we get it in there. That is the best that has looked against a very good opponent. We just kind of took them out of their game plan."

Meyer changed up the place kicker this week and sophomore Caleb Sturgis unseated returning kicker and senior Jonathan Phillips. Meyer said Sturgis has been doing well and it was time for a change after Phillips missed a couple of kicks already this season. Sturgis performed well hitting 3 for 3 field goals and both extra point attempts. Meyer talked about why it was time to start Sturgis who also has kickoff duties.

"Just his maturity," Meyer said. "I love that guy. I love guys that get real serious and he is a professional. He is a kicker. He goes to college to get a great education and kick the football. Someone said that he hit an extra point on the (top level). That is the word on the street. He kicks that ball well.

"We chart every kick, just like every position. Everything is graded. Who starts this position or that position. We finally have some depth. Caleb actually out kicked him slightly during training camp, but Jonathan earned the right to play. He missed a field goal and an extra point. Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we chart all the kicks. We have done that before her and the best kicker goes and kicks.

Meyer hates the turnovers, but says they will just have to work through them and he trusts his guys.

"I am always worried about that," Meyer said. "There is only a couple of things you can do and that is put the game in the hands of the guys you trust and fundamentals. Tim got a little loose with the ball. Moody had one a couple of games ago but that was not because of bad fundamentals, someone just put a hat on the ball. We do ball security for five minutes every day and we will have a stronger emphasis on it right now. I think Tim has to get a little tighter with the ball."

Meyer and the Gators move on to face Kentucky this weekend in Lexington. Meyer is actually happy to get on the road and likes being there with his players.

"I think it is a great time to go on the road because we are 1-0 in the SEC," he said. "...At times you get more focused. One of my favorite things is getting on an airplane with my guys. It's a real close knit, focused group and that is the best part of it. The crowd noise will be an issue and we will work on that Tuesday and Wednesday. Some of these guys really enjoy going on the road, closing it down, and doing our best."

Don't expect Meyer to rest anyone that is close to 100 percent and is a valuable part of the team. Kentucky can beat anyone and he knows all to well that is an approach he can't take as the head coach at Florida.

"That would be one of the major errors in coaching history if I do that, because you will go lose," he said of sitting possible players that could play and help. "That will get you out of the profession. You go as hard as you can. The good thing is we have a mature group and there isn't a whole lot of cheer leading going on. We have to get better and go play."

Meyer has always admired Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks, Brooks has done things at Kentucky not many could have expected.

"With all due respect, they weren't good," Meyer said of the pre-Brooks Wildcats. "When we first got here, they were bad. Rich is a good friend of mine and what he's done up there is one of the great coaching jobs in America. I would put them up in the top third in the SEC as far as talent."


Fightin Gators Top Stories