The big question for the Florida Gators as they have begun their preparation for the BCS championship game against Ohio State in Glendale, Arizona on January 8 is just how to prepare? Because there is an extra week added to the preparation agenda, Florida’s coaching staff has to find a way to ensure that the team peaks at just the right time.
By the time the Gators play the game, they will have had five full weeks off since they beat Arkansas for the SEC championship. Ohio State is facing an even greater problem because the Buckeyes finished their season the week before Thanksgiving. Since the advent of the BCS, teams that make those top tier bowls are accustomed to playing their game the first three days of January but the championship game is a brand new idea, formulated by the BCS with the hope of staving off a playoff agenda. It’s an extra game after the four major bowls set on a Monday night, a full week after the traditional January 1 bowl date.
The extra time presents extra challenges for coaching staffs which have to get players in game shape both physically and mentally. Urban Meyer has proven more than capable when it comes to preparing a team for a bowl game (he’s 3-0) but the extra time allotted for this game has made him re-evaluate how he goes getting ready for the extra game.
After practice Thursday, before heading out to do some in-home recruiting visits, Meyer said he’s divided the practice agenda into three phases.
“Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong and Dan Mullen and I met,” said Meyer. “We’re going to treat it with three phases. First phase starts Monday. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Second phase will be when they get back from Christmas. And then they get New Year’s Day off and the third phase will be game week. So we’re going to try to go with three game weeks.”
Meyer wants to give the Gators plenty of time to recover from the aches, pains and weariness of a 13-game season but he knows he also has to prepare them to play the game of their lives against an unbeaten Ohio State team that is an 8.5-point favorite going into the game. Too much rest and the Gators come in under-prepared. Too much work and they’ve spent energy that they will need to win a game.
“I worry about burning them out,” said Meyer. “When we play well is when we’re really fast. We’ve played well near the end of the season so I think we’ve done a good job not killing them. I was worried about that with this heat, and because we worked awful hard. We’ve played very fast the last two games, FSU and then the championship game. Our key is we need to be in shape, so we’re going to blow them out early and then get their legs back and be real fast for the game. For any chance we have in this game we have to play real fast.”
Critical to the preparation is getting some of Florida’s dinged up players back to good health and full speed. When Florida finished the game against Arkansas a couple of weeks ago, the Florida sideline wasn’t exactly a M*A*S*H unit but things were close to the critical stage.
Meyer went down his injury list with a rather optimistic tone to his voice.
“Earl Everett (sprained ankle) didn’t practice but will be fine,” said Meyer. “Tony Joiner’s coming along great (high ankle sprain). Ray McDonald (hyperextended elbow) ran today. Drew Miller’s not practicing (assorted dings, ankle sprain) but he’ll be fine. Jim Tartt’s practicing (ankle, chronic shoulder). Percy [Harvin] is good (sore neck).”
The extra time should be quite beneficial for tailback DeShawn Wynn, whose chronic shoulder injury has slowed him considerably in the last several games. Wynn has also battled through some knee problems this year.
Meyer says that the DeShawn Wynn of 2006 has fought through the shoulder issues. He’s not so sure that the DeShawn Wynn of two seasons ago would have done that.
“I wasn’t here but I would have bet he wouldn’t have played through it,” said Meyer.
In spite of the shoulder that “every time you hit it, it re-injures it” Wynn has given the Gators great effort. Meyer says the stats don’t always tell the total story with his senior tailback.
“He maybe didn’t have the statistics of a great year, but when he played he’s been good,” said Meyer. “He’s done a lot of things maybe people don’t see. His protection’s a lot better than a year ago and his effort, so it’s a completely different person.”
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Meyer is proud of the 12 football players that will be marching across the stage Saturday with their newly earned University of Florida diplomas. There will be an extra surge of pride for Meyer when Dallas Baker’s name is called out.
Baker was on the verge of flunking out of Florida when Meyer arrived. After some heart to heart talks with Meyer, Baker decided to turn things around in every phase of his life including the classroom. Because he had gone to prep school then had to sit out his first year at Florida due to academics, he was always considered an under-achiever. He admits he even questioned his own ability to do well in school.
Meyer convinced Baker that he could succeed in school and since then he’s been the model of consistency. He’s earned at least a 3.0 every semester and now he will have a college degree. Saturday will be very special for Dallas Baker.
“Like I said about the SEC championship, they may have to make me leave,” he said. “I don’t know, I’m just excited. That’s all I’m talking about. It feels like Christmas is coming on Saturday. I’m very excited.”
Baker said the day will be emotional but he’ll try not to break down although it might be hard when he sees his parents.
“A lot of my friends, they are coming up, so I don’t want them to see that side of me,” he said. “Maybe later on with my mom and my stepdad.”
Meyer said that Baker’s determination to succeed has made stand out in this group that is graduating.
“I’m proud of a bunch of them, but yeah, Dallas,” said Meyer. “There’s a special place in our heart because I know how far he’s come.”