He has installed a spread-option offense that was all the rave in the pre-season. But, at times this year, the offense has been put to test with quarterback Chris Leak's apparent discomfort in running the offense. Leak, a more typical drop back passer, has had to make adjustments to effectively run this offense. With each passing week, his mastery is becoming more and more evident. Despite this scenario, one thing that can not be contested is the results of the offense- namely, a 5-1 overall record and a 3-1 record in the SEC.
Aside from 31-3 loss to recently anointed Sports Illustrated cover team Alabama, the Gators have outscored their opponents 173-61. This overwhelming disparity is rooted in offensive outputs reminiscent of the old Fun n? Gun style of the Spurrier era and a surprise defense that continues to hound offensives from every position.
Florida also has the benefit of playing both Tennessee and Alabama. This gave them the opportunity to shore up any remaining holes against quality opponents as they enter week seven of their season.
From the start, the Gators have been an interesting team to watch.
They began the season with 32-14 victory over Wyoming. The score does not properly illustrate the control they possessed in that game. With the game in hand, Florida pulled back the reins. Leak was 26-34 with 320 yards and three touchdowns. But most impressive was the record Leak set. His 17 consecutive pass completions broke the old record of 16 held by Steve Spurrier. That could prove symbolic as Meyer ushers in his own way. Also, receiver Chad Jackson had career bests with 10 receptions, 138 yards, and four touchdowns. For the game, the Gators garnered 411 yards in 70 plays.
The result of the Louisiana Tech game was no different. They amassed 431 yards while holding Tech to 162 yards. This game saw the emergence of the questionable running game. DeShawn Wynn had 101 yards and three touchdowns.
Redshirt sensation Markus Manson picked up 68 yards on ten carries in the fourth quarter alone.
Those games were merely a tuneup to the Gators? third contest against Tennessee.
Even though it was early in the season, many predicted that the loser of this game would eliminate themselves from SEC East contention. Also, this was Meyer's first true matchup.
Florida won in unconvincing fashion 16-7. The ironic thing was the defense?s role in the outcome. Three special team gaffes by the Volunteers led to three Gator field goals. The defense also held Tennessee scoreless for the final 39:29 of the game. The only Florida score was a sweep to Andre Caldwell. Later in the game, Caldwell injured himself and is slated to be out 4-6 weeks.
The Gators bounced back the following game by putting up 49 points against Kentucky. The offense exploded in the second quarter with 35 points. In the first half Leak was 21-26 with 298 yards and four touchdowns. Also, Jackson had nine catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Jemalle Cornelius garnered eight catches for 138 yards. Wynn continued to churn up defenses by scoring four touchdowns.
These victories made a statement and Florida was anticipating a good match with Alabama. Unfortunately for Gator fans, Alabama is playing like Bear Bryant is still on the sidelines. Florida lost 31-3 and were never in the game. Brodie Croyle connected with Tyrone Protho on the first play from scrimmage to set the tone. The Gators only score came with 7:32 left in the first half with a 37 yard field goal by Chris Hetland. This marks the first time since 1992 that Florida did not score a touchdown. Alabama?s dominance can be attributed to the front four of the Tide defense. Leak went 16-37 and was sacked four times. The D-line also held Wynn to 47 yards on 12 carries.
Florida was sluggish in the first half but wound up beating Miss St 35-9.
This brought Florida to 5-1 making this the first time since 2001 that the Gators won five of their first six. The defense amassed six sacks, three turnovers, and two safeties. The offense responded with 480 yards. They passed for 289 yards and ran for 191. Receiver Dallas Baker grabbed a career-high seven passes for 123 yards and one touchdown. After two Leak interceptions in the first half, they regrouped at halftime and showed up in the second half to put the game out of reach.
These games show what positions must perform to help the Gators win.
Obviously it begins with Leak. When he is able to orchestrate the offense, the results are immediate. This is seen in their five wins. But when he is hurried or rattled, the success wanes. He worked in the offseason to improve his knowledge of the offense and increase his role in offense management. He is well on the way to mirroring his SEC leading numbers from 2004. Through this week, Leak has thrown for 1,563 yards and 10 touchdowns.
To Leak's advantage, the running game is turning around. Wyatt has finally met expectations and Manson logs necessary carries and yards to spell Wyatt. Their success helps the offense because the offensive scope greatly expands when the running backs are on the same page. Last week, this facet was evident as Wyatt and Manson were involved in the passing game. Leak used the backfield as his final look on many plays, dumping the ball off to a streaking back for positive yards.
One thing Leak does not have is a lack of targets. The wide receivers are among the best in the country. Andre Caldwell will likely be out for the LSU game but the duo of Dallas Baker and Jackson is a formidable one two punch. Jackson already has 39 catches and eight touchdowns. Baker also has emerged with a seven catch, 123 yard performance against Miss St.
The offensive line is led by the much touted Mike Degory at center. Lance Butler will play at left guard and Lance Butler will line up at left tackle. Jim Tartt should start at right guard. Next to him will be Randy Hand at right tackle.
For a defense that was riddled with questions about depth and experience, they have played an important role in Florida?s success.
This begins with the defensive line. A presence all season, they have repeatedly wreaked havoc on offenses across the country. In the Tennessee game, they harassed starter Eric Ainge to the point where he was replaced by Rick Clausen. Ainge was 14-29 for 147 yards and Clausen was 2-5 with zero yards. They also plugged the holes, containing Gerald Riggs to 86 yards on 17 carries. Defensive end Jeremy Mincy leads the defensive line.
He had 10 tackles and two sacks against Miss St. Next to him at tackle is Steven Harris. Marcus Thomas will play the other tackle while Joe Cohen mans the other end.
The linebackers are showing their worth with a combination of run stopping and pass protecting. Earl Everett is showing his maturity. His six tackle performance last week set the tone for the linebackers. Brandon Siler will line up at middle linebacker as he looks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. He provides much of the duel threat activity. Last week, he had four tackles, two pass breakups, and one sack. And highly touted but unproven Todd McCullough looks to shed his reputation at strong side linebacker.
The secondary is slowly developing into a threatening backfield.
They are led by safety Jarvis Herring. He is a threat all over the field.
Against Miss St, he had four tackles, a sack, and forced Omar Conner into an intentional grounding penalty that resulted in a safety. The other safety Kyle Jackson also recorded an interception. The corners are led by Dee Webb. In 2004, he grabbed three interceptions. The weak link in the secondary is corner Vernell Brown. Look for whichever receiver he guards to be the main target of JaMarcus Russell.
Special team play is an integral part of Florida's famous field position.
Eric Wilbur averaged 42.3 yards per punt last season. Against Miss St, he had six punts of 284 yards for a 47.3 yard average. He also placed five of the six inside the 20. Kicking duties are held by Chris Hetland. He scored nine of Florida's 16 points in the Tennessee win. They have a wealth of options for returns. Vernell Brown is the primary return man but five others are also listed as returners. They include Webb, Jackson, and Manson.
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