As he was walking by a group of writers waiting for the bulk of Florida’s football players to finish practice Monday evening, senior tailback DeShawn Wynn responded with “guaranteed” when asked if he’s going to be playing Saturday when the Gators visit Auburn. Wynn didn’t practice full speed on his injured knee Monday, so running backs coach Stan Drayton has to have other options available.
“We’ve got to be prepared for running back by committee,” said Drayton after the Monday practice. “You always have to prepare for that when you have a guy coming off an injury. That’s football. That’s why you have scholarship athletes. They’re here to step in and step it up if someone can’t go. If DeShawn’s ready, great, if not we’re not panicking. We’ve got a plan in place.”
Wynn, who leads the Gators with 354 rushing yards through six games, didn’t play in Florida’s 23-10 win over LSU. He hurt his knee on Florida’s first possession of the win over Alabama the week before and has been listed as “questionable” ever since.
“DeShawn could go,” said Drayton. “We have a plan for him and we’re hoping he’s ready to go but if not, those other guys behind him have to step it up.”
Sophomore Kestahn Moore was the starting tailback for the Gators against LSU. He had 36 yards to lead the team in rushing as part of one of those by committee efforts. Quarterback Tim Tebow had 35 yards while slot receivers Jarred Fayson (3-11), Bubba Caldwell (2-11) and Percy Harvin (1-9) saw reps at tailback along with freshman Brandon James (1-0).
The Gators also have third year sophomore Markus Manson and freshman Mon Williams ready to go. Manson was prepped and ready to go last week but Drayton says the situations just weren’t right to get him in the game and get the ball in his hands.
“The opportunity just didn’t present itself,” said Drayton. “He’s doing things in practice and he’s getting better at them. There are things that he has to continue to work on. He’s not ready to be the full time back but there are things he can do that can help us. He’s definitely a safety measure for us right now.”
The hope is that Wynn will be the go to guy at tailback Saturday but even if he is, Drayton says the Gators have a stable of athletes that they plan to use.
“You look and we have a tank full of talented young men,” he said. “It’s amazing that each of them brings something different to the table. We’re really blessed with a lot of versatile athletes that we can use in a lot of different ways.
“When you’ve got a Percy Harvin that you can run on the perimeter and know he can get you nine or ten yards or maybe a lot more … or a Jarred Fayson that can make people miss and he’s another one that can take it a long, long way … a Branden James that can run a kick back like he did against Tennessee but can also come in and make people miss when he takes the ball in the backfield … things like that help us. We just have to play to the strengths of our team which is having so many athletes and we have to find ways to get the ball in their hands. We can game plan them in but the other team has to game plan to stop them.”
Florida will be facing an Auburn defense that gave up 277 yards rushing against Arkansas in a shocking 27-10 loss last week. Auburn had held LSU to just three points but Arkansas used its big offensive line to cut gaping holes for its running backs. The Razorbacks had two running backs go over 100 yards in the game.
“We’re not going to be overconfident based on what we saw Arkansas do to them,” said Drayton. “We know they’re a good defense. We’re going to have to use all the weapons we have in our running game Saturday.”
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Punter Eric Wilbur was named the Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week and quarterback Tim Tebow was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for their performances in the win over LSU.
Wilbur averaged 51 yards per punt and three of his punts left LSU with rotten field position inside the 20. Florida’s first touchdown was set up when LSU’s Chevis Jackson muffed Wilbur’s shortest punt of the day, a 42-yarder.
Tebow had a hand in all three Florida touchdowns. He ran for a one-yard touchdown, threw a one-yard touchdown pass to Tate Casey and then threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy.
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Meyer credited the kicking game with making the difference in the outcome against LSU. The Gators won the field position battle with both punts and kickoffs and they got a score with a safety.
“The kicking game I think was the difference,” said Meyer. “This game was 199 yards of field position won where we plussed our opponent and when you are talking about 200 yards, that’s significant. That’s the way we want to play especially in a game like that.
“We hit eight of ten goals. I can’t remember this ever happening but we hit six game breakers. The six game breakers are we scored a safety, we blocked a punt, we caused a turnover, we recovered a turnover, we downed a punt inside the ten, and we had a 60-yard change of field position … 11 times this year we’ve made our opponent start a drive inside the ten yard line. We won the battle of field position and once again our field position was exceptional for most of the game.”
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Meyer announced that Javier Estopinan is definitely out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Estopinan started at defensive tackle the last two games but his greatest contribution was on special teams.
“We admit here all the time that there are certain players you like and there are some you don’t like at all,” said Meyer. “Javier is one of those you don’t like, you love him. He is a representative of this great university, a good student, a good person, comes from a great family, extremely unselfish. He was one of my special team ace players. He went in and started at the defensive line two weeks ago, graded out a champion and then blows his knee out. That’s the hardest part of this, especially one of the guys you like. He’s a tremendous kid. We have to get him back. It’s the second knee injury he’s had. You don’t wish that on anybody but a guy that is completely invested like that who’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. We’re going to have to suck it up because he’s a big loss.”
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Champions on offense were redshirt freshman guard Ronnie Wilson, who was making his first start ever after coming back from a broken ankle suffered in August, Carlton Medder, Steve Rissler, Jemalle Cornelius, and Dallas Baker. Meyer said that Tim Tebow got honorable mention because he didn’t play enough plays. Player of the game on offense was left tackle Phil Trautwein.
On defense, the champions were Ray McDonald, Joe Cohen, Steve Harris, Tony Joiner, Reggie Lewis, Brian Crum, and Brandon Siler. Co-defensive players of the game were cornerback Ryan Smith and free safety Reggie Nelson, who graded out 100 percent.
“Reggie Nelson played maybe the best game I’ve seen a defensive player play,” said Meyer. “…100 percent gradeout, five of five, he had three big hits, three tackles and two caused interceptions. ESPN or someone asked me about the energy level he plays. We did not have that a year ago. You can count Brandon Siler, Tim Tebow, Reggie Nelson, and Tony Joiner are guys that are emotional football players. We call the other ones fish … you know the kind of fish who just flop around in the locker room. We had too many fish and we are starting to change fish that don’t flop around anymore and Reggie Nelson is a big part of that.”
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The Gators have allowed only 16 points in the second half through six games, one third quarter touchdown and three fourth quarter field goals. This was a team known for its late game collapses just a couple of years ago. Meyer said the Gators are a tougher team this year than they were last year or before that. He credited the seniors on the team for changing the posture from soft to tough.
“I think it says something about the 22 seniors,” he said. “Everyone has a role on this team and I think it says something about investment. Certainly we have great respect for our strength coach and coaches. We have the best in the country in what they do. We don’t just lift weights; we train them mentally and physically. It’s a different team than it was a year ago. They’re stronger. I kept hearing the players say, ‘Get this thing to the fourth quarter.’ They said it in Knoxville and they said it here too.”
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Brandon Siler says the two-quarterback system the Gators are using works very much to Florida’s advantage. He also believes that quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow are both comfortable with the way things are going.
“It creates a lot of problems because it’s like game planning for two whole different teams,” said Siler. “You have two totally different styles that complement one another. It’s like playing two whole different teams. It’s going real good and it’s real hard on defenses I can tell you that.
“I think everybody saw from the beginning when Tebow got here and saw how talented he was — you know all of us are confident in Chris and know Chris can get the job done — but when we saw that Tebow is capable of playing it was like hey, we can get him in there too and it will work out just fine. They both play and I think they both love the way the offense is being run. It’s working for us so far.”