TIGER RAG PREVIEW: Florida Gators

Today is the fourth installment of a 15-part series in which Tiger Rag previews LSU's opponents and other members of the SEC. Today, we spotlight Florida. Tomorrow, we focus on the Georgia Bulldogs.

Urban Meyer solidified his place in the record books last season, claiming the 2006 national crown in just his second season as head coach at Florida.

 

The Gators blew through the second half of the season a year ago, finishing with a record of 13-1, including a seven game win-streak to close out the year that was capped with blowout 41-14 victory over top-ranked Ohio State to claim the National Championship.

 

Going into the 2007 season, the Gators will be without several players that played a key part in their championship run, including standout quarterback Chris Leak, receiver Dallas Baker and nine defensive starters, but will still be loaded with enough talent to be favored as the eastern division's representative in the SEC championship game.

 

Even with the losses, Florida is in a position to be dominant once again, ranked as the preseason No. four team in the country and bringing in the nation's top recruiting class.

 

Sophomore phenom Tim Tebow should be a more than capable starter at quarterback in Leak's absence. As a true freshman, Tebow completed 22 passes for 358 yards and five touchdowns and was the Gators' second leading rusher with 469 yards and a team-best eight touchdowns.

 

The receiving side of the Florida passing game lost two top wide outs during the off-season in Baker and Jemalle Cornelius, who accounted for 1,443 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago.

 

Senior Andre Caldwell will be the leader in the receiving corps this season, after finishing second on the team in catches last year with 57 receptions for 577 yards and six scores.

 

Also returning at receiver for the Gators is sophomore Percy Harvin, who accounted for 427 yards and two scores a year ago. If Florida chooses to play four receivers again this season, the probable candidates for the remaining two spots will be juniors Cornelius Ingram and Louis Murphy, both of whom scored touchdowns in 2006.

 

Senior Tate Casey will return as the starting tight end after catching six passes for two touchdowns as a junior.

 

Also returning with Casey on the offensive line are seniors Carlton Miller and Phil Trautwein at the tackles, senior Drew Miller at right guard and junior Jim Tartt at left guard. The four returning linemen give the Gators one of the biggest fronts in the SEC, with each player weighing in at over 300 lbs.

 

Sophomore Eddie Haupt could be the lone new starter on the line, filling in the open spot at center, though Florida may opt to move the more experience Ronnie Wilson from guard to fill the void on a line that allowed for Gator runners to average 160 yards per game on the ground in 2006.

 

Leading the running game in the backfield this season junior Kestahn Moore, who rushed for 282 yards last year. Harvin also looks to repeat as a contributor in the rushing attack, while Tebow, who compiled nearly 500 yards on the ground last season; could run even more as the regular starter this fall.

 

Florida's defense was among the best in America last year, allowing just 72.5 yards per game and eight total touchdowns on the ground and 182.9 yards per game through the air for just 10 touchdowns.

 

Since then, however, the Gators have lost nearly all their defensive starters, however, including the teams' leading tackler in linebacker Earl Everett and secondary leaders Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith. Smith accumulated eight interceptions and two blocked kicks last year, while Nelson was responsible for six interceptions and was a first round draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Florida will also be without the majority of last season's defensive linemen, four of which were chosen in this year's NFL draft.

 

Returning to help lead the reloading effort on the front four is end Derrick Harvey, who led the team with 11 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. Filling in the gaps in the trenches looks to be Javier Estopinan and Clint McMillan at the tackles, and sophomore Darryl Gresham Jr. at the other defensive end.

 

At linebacker, the Gators do not have any starters coming back in 2007, but will have young talent in sophomores Ryan Stamper and Brandon Spikes.

 

Incoming freshmen Lorenzo Edwards, Brandon Hicks and John Jones may also have an immediate impact at linebacker, ranked the Nos. 1, 15, and 8 linebacker recruits in the country, respectively.

 

The Gator secondary also took a hit this off-season, losing four starters to either graduation or the NFL.

 

The lone returnee in the defensive backfield is senior strong safety Tony Joiner, who racked up 50 tackles, two interceptions and one safety last year.

 

Joiner will be accompanied in the 2007 secondary by senior free safety Kyle Jackson, who saw time in every game a year ago.

 

Newcomers Major Wright and Jerimy Finch at safety and Ahmad Black at cornerback will also compete for time as true freshman, each ranked among the best recruits in the country.

 

On special teams, junior Jonathan Phillips returns at Florida's kick off man, and will likely take over place kicking duties in the absence of Chris Hetland. Phillips went 5-5 on extra points last season, but may end up forfeiting the job to Joey Ijjas, who split time on kickoffs in 2006.

 

Sophomore Bobby Kane seems the heir apparent at punter, but will have to out perform incoming freshman Chas Henry, scout.com's top rated athlete at the position.

 

Handling returns a year ago was Brandon James, who will likely repeat in the role as a sophomore this season. During his freshman campaign, James returned 21 kicks for an average of 18.2 yards and 33 punts for an 11 yard average and one touchdown.

 

- Matt Dearman

 

 

QUICK FACTS

FLORIDA GATORS

 

All-Time Series vs. LSU: Florida leads 28-22-3

First Meeting: 1937, LSU 19, Florida 0

Last Meeting: 2006, Florida 23, LSU 10

 

Location: Gainesville, Fla.

Stadium: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (88,548)

Head Coach: Urban Meyer, 21-4, 3rd year; 61-12 overall, 6 years

 

 

2006 IN REVIEW

 

2006 Record: 13-1, 7-1 SEC (1st East)

Final '06 Ranking: 1st AP, Coaches, BCS

Returning Starters: 8; 6 offense, 2 defense

Last Bowl Appearance: 2007 BCS Championship Game – Florida 41, Ohio State 14

Last Conference Championship: 2006

 

 

2006 STAT BREAKDOWN (SEC/NCAA)

 

Total Offense: 396.1 ypg (2/19)

Rushing Offense: 160 ypg (3/38)

Passing Offense: 236.1 ypg

Scoring Offense: 29.7 ppg (2/T-23)

Total Defense: 255.4 ypg (2/6)

Rushing Defense: 72.5 ypg (1/5)

Pass Defense: 182.9 ypg (6/33)

Scoring Defense: 13.5 ppg (2/6)

 

 

RETURNING LEADERS

 

Rushing: Tim Tebow – 89-469, 8 TD, 5.3 ypc, 33.5 ypg

Passing: Tim Tebow – 33-22, 358, 5 TD, 1 Int., 25.6 ypg

Receiving: Andre Caldwell – 57-577, 6 TD, 41.2 ypg

Tackles: Tony Joiner – 59

Sacks: Derrick Harvey – 11

Tackles for Loss: Derrick Harvey – 13

 

 

2007 SCHEDULE

 

Date                 Opponent                                 '06 Result

S-1                  WESTERN KENTUCKY           ---                               

S-8                  TROY                                ---

S-15                TENNESSEE                        W, 21-20        

S-22                at Ole Miss                         ---       

S-29                AUBURN                             L, 17-27         

O-6                  at LSU                              W, 23-10

O-20                at Kentucky                       W, 26-7          

O-27                vs. Georgia (Jax)                 W, 21-14                    

N-3                  VANDERBILT                       W, 25-19                    

N-10                at South Carolina                 W, 17-16                    

N-17                FLORIDA ATLANTIC               ---                               

N-24                FLORIDA STATE                   W, 21-14

 

 

The Florida Perspective

 

Offense at a glance:

 

The offense proved to not only be fine, but potent. It is loaded with firepower that will operate behind an experienced offensive line. The front five lost one starter, so senior guard Drew Miller moved to center. After struggling in the first few weeks of practice, Miller had the role down by the Orange and Blue Game.

 

At receiver, senior Andre Caldwell returned for his senior season and has been moved to the outside after lining up in the slot. Sophomore Percy Harvin takes over the slot role, and will be the go-to-guy. Junior Cornelius Ingram proved this spring that he can be a big-time SEC performer. The converted quarterback to tight end showed he's more comfortable with his role.

 

Wideouts Louis Murphy and David Nelson also emerged as strong options for the Gators, and early entrant Aaron Hernandez, who was the top high school tight end last year, also had a great spring.

 

After Chris Leak's departure, Tebow eagerly stepped in as the leader of the offense and proved he can be the dual-threat quarterback that everyone expected him to be. He completed 17-of-27 passes for 216 yards in the spring game while tossing three touchdowns.

 

In the end, the only true problem for the Gator offense is in the backfield. Sophomore Mon Williams emerged as an early favorite, but suffered an ACL tear in his knee that will sideline him in 2007.

 

Junior Kestahn Moore became a more powerful back and showed that his field vision has improved and is the frontrunner for the starting job.

 

 

Defense at a glance:

 

The defense improved during the spring, but there is still a long way to go. On a positive note, the line returns junior Derrick Harvey at defensive end, who put up huge numbers in the BCS title game against Ohio State. Sophomore Jermaine Cunningham solidified the other end spot, and redshirt senior Clint McMillan and redshirt junior Javier Estopinan will fill the middle with sophomore Brandon Antwine.

 

The linebacking corps is completely new, but highly regarded. Sophomore Brandon Spikes takes over the Mike spot left vacant by Brandon Siler. Spikes is a big, physical player who will eventually take over the leadership role on defense. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Stamper came into his own, earning a starting spot and sophomores Dustin Doe and redshirt freshman A.J. Jones will also contribute.

 

The secondary has to deal with the loss of All-America Reggie Nelson at free safety, but strong safety Tony Joiner is back for his senior season. Joiner has the maturity and patience to work well with his younger surrounding cast and with senior Kyle Jackson, the safety positions will be solid.

 

The cornerback position dealt with some lingering injuries, but by the Orange and Blue Game, a couple of players proved they can handle the job. Redshirt junior Markus Manson moved from tailback to cornerback and adjusted nicely. Sophomores Markihe Anderson and Wondy Pierre-Louis also had strong springs, but they could be pushed by true freshman Joe Haden.

 

- Chris Chmielenski, Fighting Gator Magazine


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