The top-ranked Gators face their biggest test and the prize they've been chasing all season when they face No. 2 ranked Alabama for the SEC Championship on Saturday in Atlanta. Last year, the Gators were without their most dynamic offensive playmaker in Percy Harvin. This year, they'll miss one of their top defensive lineman, Carlos Dunlap, after he was charged with a DUI earlier today.
"Carlos obviously made a very poor decision," Meyer said after Tuesday's practice. "I have not spoken to him or his family yet. I know you're going to ask me if he'll play. He's not going to play, but I want to talk with him and his family first and go from there."
Dunlap has avoided controversy in his first three years in Gainesville. His effort was questioned after his freshman season, but his great attitude was always there. That's what made today's news so hard to take for Meyer.
"Stunning is probably a good word. Young guys make decisions all the time, and this one is a serious one. It's stunning," Meyer said. "He's a 2.9 GPA. He's never had an issue before. He's a guy that comes from a good family. Yeah, it does [surprise me]."
The Gators have fought through injuries, including a concussion to quarterback Tim Tebow, and other distractions including the accusations against star linebacker Brandon Spikes during the Arkansas game. But Meyer said the veteran-laden team has always found a way to move on.
"We've had distraction after distraction," Meyer said. "This is a rather serious one, obviously. It is a distraction but sometimes this team finds a way to get a little tighter with a distraction. We've had a few of them."
With Dunlap's absence on Saturday, Meyer will turn to a several players that have significant experience. That's one of the benefits of returning the entire two-deep defense from last year's national championship team.
"[Justin] Trattou goes to end except in the ‘Joker'," Meyer said. "Jaye Howard is a guy that will learn some end too because he's a big body and this is a power offensive football team. You need some size in there. The good thing is that we have some depth."
"William Green, he played Saturday. Jermaine [Cunningham] got more snaps than we probably imagined, but we have to watch him because his shoulder is still not 100 percent. He's a tough nut. And Duke Lemmens. They'll all be involved."
Meyer and his staff will need all the help they can get trying to stop Alabama's power run game. But that's not the only thing Bama does well.
"Great returner, both kickoff and punt," Meyer said. "Offense/defense, they're on top of the league. This is two good teams. Florida and Alabama are right there in defensive statistics. It's all 1-2, Florida and Alabama. They're a really good team and what you'd expect to represent the West."
Offensively, the Gators will have some extra help at running back with the apparent return of Emmanuel Moody who's missed the last few games with an ankle sprain.
"Moody is good," Meyer said. "He was almost full speed today. He'll play on Saturday."
- Winning the SEC Championship has been the goal from the beginning of the season, but Meyer said the season's success doesn't come down to one game. "This is a one game shot. You can never take away what's happened this season. That Saturday night was about as perfect as it can get – the effort, the people, the crowd, the Gator Walk. It was a great night. But let's move on. It's championship week here at Florida."
- Tuesday's are known as the toughest practice of the week, and this morning's news didn't impact the effort on the field. "It was a good one. There was good energy. We were on the field turf because of the dome up there."
- The next time Florida faces its in-state rivals, Florida State, Jimbo Fisher will be calling the shots for the Noles. Meyer said he has great respect for FSU's coach Bobby Bowden who announced earlier today that he'll retire after the bowl game. "I'm good friends with Bobby Bowden," Meyer said. "I have a lot of respect for him. I made a comment that you'll never see a guy with those wins, 300 and something. But he's great for college football."
"I think him and JoPa, enjoy it cause you won't see that again. It's at one school, and that long of career on this stage. You won't see it. You just admire a guy that had the stamina to do it the right way. That's the one thing you admire about Bowden is that he's done it the right way."
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