Florida Offensive Preview

Mark McLeod of GatorCountry.com provides an in depth preview of the Florida Gators offense, and analyzes how they will match up with the South Carolina defense this weekend. Read inside for full story.

The rigors of a tough Southeastern Conference slate and a twelve game schedule are beginning to take its' toll on the Florida football team. The Gators are banged up and have limited depth along the offensive front, defensive end, and running back This is the time when mental toughness has to be at a premium.

DeShawn Wynn ran pretty well last weekend and appears to be close to full speed. True freshman Percy Harvin has seen time at the position too, but has struggled with a high ankle sprain over the past several weeks. Senior wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius has also been nursing an ankle sprain. He has not been full speed for a few weeks.

The area of greatest concern to the Florida offensive coaches is found along the offensive front. The interior line is beaten up and bruised. Center Steve Rissler (bruised knee), guard Jim Tartt (sprained ankle), and guard Drew Miller (sprained ankle and injured Achilles) are key to the Gators success. All will be playing at less than 100%.

"We are very banged up," Florida head coach Urban Meyer said. "I think that we have had eight or nine guys in a (protective) boot this year with sprained ankles….Right now, Drew Miller is probably the worst of the ankles. Our offensive line is not playing very well. Our offensive line actually played their worst game on Saturday for a lot of reasons. I could give you excuse after excuse, but it's about time we played a little better up front. A lot of guys have not played much football, Ronnie (Wilson) and (Carlton) Medder, and Jim Tartt are all new starters this year and it's game nine, ten, whatever it is- it's time to be a little better."

The Big Nasties

"That's the number one concern on our team right now," Meyer added. "The productivity and ability to practice and develop chemistry on the offensive line. How do you address it? You can substitute people and make changes if you can do that, but we can't. So, the other guys have to get better. That's the number one area of concern, right now."

Left tackle Phil Trautwein (6-6 308) did a heck of a job on Georgia's pre-season All-American defensive end Quentin Moses two weeks ago. Moses finished with a big zero. Zero tackles. Zero assisted tackles. Trautwein was one of only two offensive linemen named to the champions club this past week. Trautwein was named offensive player of the game for his play against LSU where he graded out at 84%. He was also named co-offensive player of the game by the Florida coaches for his effort against Tennessee. He earned champions club award for performances against Kentucky and Alabama. He and center Steve Rissler are the only two linemen named to the champions club for their play against Georgia and Vanderbilt.

The projected starting offensive guards prior to the season opener were Jim Tartt (6-3 315) and Ronnie Wilson (6-3 312). Both give Florida a physical, rather punishing presence. Tartt has demonstrated toughness in returning from those shoulder surgeries. He does not have the range of motion and continues to experience tightness in the shoulder. Overall, Tartt has played fairly well. However, he too sprained his ankle and came off of the bench to play last weekend. Once he regains full motion in that shoulder, the Florida coaches expect him to become one of the SEC's dominating guards. He is a real road grader.

Florida lost Wilson on August 12th to a broken ankle that required surgery. Wilson had performed very well throughout practice and like Tartt, displayed the nasty attitude that coaches love. Wilson returned against LSU where he saw action on 44 plays as a reserve. He graded out as a champion in that game. He started in place of Tartt last weekend.

Two of Florida's best linemen are center Steve Rissler (6-3 306) and right guard Drew Miller (6-5 305). The pair played together at Sarasota Riverview High School. They were among the most sought after recruits in the state. Rissler is Florida's elder statesman with sixteen starts. The senior moved over from guard where he player last season. Rissler was named co-offensive player of the game after his performance against Tennessee and graded out very high against Kentucky, Alabama, and LSU. He and Trautwein were the only linemen to grade out champion the past two weeks.

Miller, a junior, made a name for himself as an Olympic lifter at Riverview. He told me that helped him tremendously with the transition to the collegiate level. Miller has started fourteen games in his Florida career. He was also named to the champions club for his work against Kentucky, Alabama, and LSU. He is really going to have to tough things out this weekend on a badly sprained ankle and Achilles injury. He did so a week ago.

Right tackle Carlton Medder (6-5 315) was seemingly lost last spring. However, he noted that a change had to be made. The redshirt junior worked very hard in the weight room- the result being a stronger, more physical lineman. Medder graded out high against Tennessee, earning membership in the champions club. He has not been as impressive in recent weeks.

Overview: The health of the Miller, Tartt, and Rissler is the major concern. Rissler said that he is 80% and should be much better by the weekend. Miller is the player with the biggest concerns. His ankle is badly sprained and Achilles injuries are always tricky. Tartt should be much better by game time.

For the second consecutive week Meyer challenged the offensive line. This time he stopped short of simultaneously issuing a direct challenge to the offensive coaching staff as well. The mistakes, which have been addressed, must be corrected. Penalties, dropped passes, players failing to carry out assignments, and reserves who aren't making the push for playing time continue to hurt this unit.

South Carolina allowed Arkansas to run for 267 yards (5.3 yards per carry). Vanderbilt and Tennessee ran for less than four yards per carry. The Gators will come in averaging 4.4 yards per carry, but will be hard pressed to do so with a banged up offensive line. We're not even sure if the line will be able to pass protect as well. Again, Meyer said they are coming off of their worst performance.


Skill Positions

Senior quarterback Chris Leak (6-0 207) has finally led Florida to their first Eastern Division championship since he has stepped under center. The biggest question now is can he regain control of his game and make sound decisions?

Leak just hasn't played very well over the past three games. He struggled in the second half against Auburn hitting only 5 of 12 passes for 54 yards and a key interception. It continued once again against the Bulldogs. Leak completed 6 of 12 for 46 yards and another key interception. He failed to alert the staff that he was suffered blurry vision from a blow to the head. Last week in Nashville, Leak completed 18 of 25 for 237 yards and a touchdown. However, he also threw three interceptions- two of them in the second quarter as the Gators could have had a say in burying Vanderbilt. Those first half missed opportunities occurred at the Commodores 28 and 19 yard lines. He was hit on one pick while trying to avoid pressure, but Leak who has never had a presence of feeling the pressure knows that his first obligation is taking care of the football. Furthermore, there were times he went underneath when receivers, especially Dallas Baker, were open downfield. He must do a better job surveying the entire field. Leak's third interception came four plays after Vandy had closed in on the Florida lead. On the season, he has completed 142 of 226 passes for 1,903 yards. Leak is now third in the conference in pass efficiency, twentieth nationally. He is third in the SEC with 17 touchdown passes and has thrown ten interceptions.

True freshman reserve quarterback Tim Tebow (6-3 229) didn't play more often last weekend, but actually dropped back and threw the football for the first time since October 7th against LSU. Tebow earned the SEC Freshman Player of the Week in that game. He just missed a certain touchdown pass to Dallas Baker last weekend, going 1 for 3 for five yards. Tebow is the Gators second leading rusher with 320 yards on just 56 carries, a hearty 5.7 yard average.

Senior DeShawn Wynn (5-11 238) should be full speed this weekend. He did not start last weekend. In fact, Florida's leading rusher didn't even secure his first carry until the third quarter. Fortunately, the coaching staff saw fit to get the ball into his hands, where he helped secure the victory. Wynn has 98 carries for 500 yards (5.1 ypc) and three touchdowns. Sophomore Kestahn Moore (5-10 212) is also banged up. Moore has run for 218 yards on 43 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. Both are also solid receivers out of the backfield. Wynn has hauled in five passes for 48 yards. Moore has seven receptions for 56 yards and a score.

The unsung hero of this offense is senior fullback Billy Latsko. He is an outstanding blocker who gives Leak additional time to throw, Wynn and Moore the ability to get past the linebacker, and is often spotted downfield knocking around a defensive back to clear a path for the Florida receivers. Latsko (5-10 232) provided a huge spark to the offense with a key 18 yard reception against Alabama. He provides yet another headache for defensive coordinators.

Florida has a pair of athletic tight ends. Junior Tate Casey (6-7 240) has several starts under his belt and teams with Cornelius Ingram (6-4 225) to provide a terrific one-two punch. Casey is a big target who played baseball with the Gators baseball squad. He made the national highlight circuit with his receptions of Tebow's double-pump, jump pass in the back of the endzone against LSU. Ingram played basketball for the Gators and is one of the most athletic tight ends in the nation with speed and running ability galore. Ingram has hauled in eight passes for 100 yards. He picked up 38 yards on a big play against the Vols. The pair has combined for 15 receptions totaling 163 yards and two touchdowns.

The Gators have one of the deepest and most talented receiving corps in the country. They can flat torch you when they opt to go four or five wide. The leader of the group is senior Dallas Baker (6-3 207) who leads the team with 44 receptions for 731 yards (16.6 ypc) and seven touchdowns.

Junior Andre Caldwell (6-1 203) who was lost for much of the season last year. Caldwell was a little rusty in the season opener against Southern Miss, but has emerged as the Florida playmaker the past two games. His running ability after the catch was outstanding against Georgia. Caldwell has 39 receptions for 3691 yards and four touchdowns. He carried the ball extremely well on reverses last weekend too. Overall, he has 12 carries for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Jemalle Cornelius (5-11 185) has 20 receptions and brings a tremendous 18.0 yards per catch average with him. He has a lot of quickness and wiggle. Cornelius has three touchdowns.

True freshman Percy Harvin (5-11 180) is one incredible football player. The former U.S. Army All-American has blazing speed and has hauled in 11 passes for 171 yards (15.5 ypc), while rushing for 195 yards on just 22 carries, an average of 8.9 yards per carry. You should see more of him this weekend.

Overview: Arkansas' Marcus Monk torched the Gamecocks for eight receptions for 192 yards. Tennessee's Robert Meachem hauled in five receptions for 106 yards. Monk and Meachem are outstanding wide receivers. So are Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell. Carolina won't be able to contain them any better.

Tennessee is the only team among the national leaders in pass efficiency the Gamecocks have faced. Florida will be the second. Carolina hasn't faced a group of receivers as talented or deep as the Gators.


Analysis: Why hasn't the Florida offense been able to consistently move the football? Coach Meyer said that it would be unfair to blame the offensive line. He stated that it was a multitude of reasons including, penalties and turnovers. He specifically pointed out that the turnovers by Leak cost them 100 yards of offense last weekend against Vanderbilt.

With an offensive front that is so banged up and the erratic (at times) play of Leak, Tim Tebow might be one of the keys to the Gators offensive success this weekend. I'm merely saying that he might play a slightly more significant role this weekend, which would present South Carolina with a very difficult challenge. Tebow has the ability to scramble and throw on the run, which could certainly help the offensive line. His running prowess has clearly been noted.

South Carolina has yet to face a quarterback that does both so well. Vanderbilt's Chris Nickson ran for 70 yards on 14 carries despite a deep thigh bruise that limited his ability to push off and throw the ball. He struggled throwing the ball and was replaced late in the game.

Last weekend, Florida controlled the field position and cut down the penalties that have plagued the Gators far too often this year. The ability to convert on third down must also improve. Florida has only converted 11 of 42 (26%) third down chances in the past four games.

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