Don’t Listen To Herbie Or Corso! UF Will Win.

Maybe we’re stuck in a time warp because all week long the talking heads at the networks have spent way too much time talking about that 7-3 Auburn win over LSU back three weeks ago. Yeah, it was a defensive classic and Auburn definitely shut down LSU’s offense, but really, folks, that was three weeks ago and when we’re talking about life in the Southeastern Conference, that’s eternity.

Three weeks ago Auburn was invincible. Two weeks ago Auburn was looking a little pink around the gills when Stevie Wonder and the Chickens darn near pulled a Thursday night stunner in Columbia. A week ago, Auburn was four-day old fish in the fridge. The Tigers stunk up the joint so bad against the Arkansas pig farmers that a week later the only ones that aren’t offended by the stench are Corso and Herbie, who are both telling us that the Gators are the top ten team most likely to lose this week.

The reasoning? Well, since Auburn was number two when it lost to Arkansas last week and teams ranked second in the nation have not done in nationally televised games this year, the network talking heads — Herbie and Corso included — are saying that since Florida is ranked number two this week it is the Gators’ turn to go down. That is this week’s conventional wisdom.

Don’t you just love conventional wisdom? Don’t you just love it that for a second straight week I’m going to tell you “not so fast, my friends”?

The latest in a long line of excuses this week is that Auburn was looking a week ahead to the Gators and that’s why the Tigers tanked against Arkansas. Yeah, right. If you’re buying into that, there’s a tailback at the Old Coaches Rest Home that’s about 1,000 yards shy of Heisman consideration that I’ll sell you.

Oh, you already know about him. Not buying any Slowrenzo stock today, are you? Can’t say that I blame you there.

Anyway, there’s good reason to suspect that Auburn at number two was almost as inflated as those rankings that had the OCRW skating through the season and playing in Tempe for the national championship. There are a bunch of talking heads and writers still trying to live that one down. Maybe they haven’t paid attention to the fact that since 2000, the Old Coaches Rest Home has lost more games than the Florida Gators (22-20) and if you add the last two seasons, it’s really dramatic — Florida’s 15-3 since 2005 while Sir Bobsalot and those fine students in the future inmate orientation program at the OCRW are 11-7. The Gators are working on an eight-game winning streak. The OCRW is 4-6 in its last 10 games and working on a one-game losing streak.

But, that’s like apples and oranges, the true haves against the recently exposed have-nots. This is Florida-Auburn and it’s an SEC game, which means a real war and not another glorified skirmish in that thing they call the Almost Competitive Conference. Remember when those same talking heads and pundits that are telling us that Gators are in deepest and darkest doo doo this week were telling us that the Almost Competitive Conference is as good as it gets in college football? That’s another one none of those “experts” really wants to talk about these days. You can put a necktie on a pig folks but all you’ve got is a pig wearing a necktie.

So here we are with Florida playing Auburn and the talking heads are trying to think up every excuse why the Gators are going to lose this game starting with the one that Auburn couldn’t possibly be as bad as they looked last week against Arkansas. I’m here to tell you that (a) Auburn is probably that bad and (b) the odds are in Florida’s favor not only to win this game, but hand Auburn a blow the doors off defeat for a second straight week.

Before I go further, I will answer the one pressing question that requires some consideration: Can Auburn win the game? The answer is yes, they can. Absolutely they can. Can they? Yes. Will they? No.

Here’s how they can win it. Florida makes two or three critical mistakes in the first quarter and Auburn capitalizes, scores a couple of touchdowns and forces the Gators out of their game plan. For the rest of the game, Auburn moves the ball well enough for a first down or two every possession and then lets thunderfoot Kody Bliss alter field position drastically with one of those howitzer shots that he launches from punt formation.

They can win it because if they have the lead, quarterback Brandon Cox will not do dumb things that will cost them the football game. Cox is a fine game manager. He’s a guy that won’t lose you a game. He’s also a guy that isn’t going to win you one, either. Give him the lead and he’ll manage the game and take care of the ball. Put him behind and suddenly his arm looks really, really weak. Put him behind this year when he has only one decent receiver to throw to in Courtney Taylor and an offensive line that’s been exposed the last three weeks as being pretty inefficient, and you’ve got your basic recipe for disaster.

So, if the Tigers get ahead early on by a wide enough margin that the Gators will be forced out of their game plan, Auburn can win the game. That’s what they hope for. Did I ever tell you I wished for a Shetland Pony at Christmas for about six years? I never got the pony. Auburn won’t win, either.

Here’s how Florida wins it and wins it big.

First, on defense the Gators take away Courtney Taylor. He’s the only legitimate pass receiving threat Auburn’s got. Take him out of the game and suddenly that offense is very, very one-dimensional. Take the deep ball away with Reggie Nelson in the middle of the field and instruct Mr. Nelson to do that voo doo that he do on Early Doucet last week. Early still hears the footsteps after Mr. Nelson introduced him to the hard scrabble life in his neighborhood. Two plays later Dwayne Bowe was so expecting Nelson to bust his chops that he let the ball carom off his hands and into the waiting hands of Florida’s Ryan Smith. Nelson did bust Bowe’s chops on that play, though. You always pay when you play in Mr. Nelson’s Neighborhood. Let Mr. Taylor venture into Mr. Nelson’s Neighborhood. The Tigers will be one-dimensional very quickly.

Second, now that you’ve taken Taylor out of the game, sneak Tony Joiner in the box so there’s one more Gator to block than Auburn has blockers. Now that he’s up close and personal, let him be a fourth linebacker on one play and Run Blitzer (No relation to Wolf) the next. Make Auburn spend so much time guessing that Kenny Irons is neutralized. Nobody has run on the Florida defense so far. The Gators have a legitimate chance to take the run away from Auburn, too. By the time Auburn figures things out, the Tigers should be far enough behind that they have to chuck the run anyway.

Third, cut Marcus Thomas loose in the middle. Auburn’s starting center Joe Cope is lost for the season so a relative newcomer is going to have to contend with Marcus and Scoop. If the Tennessee line couldn’t handle Marcus and Scoop, the Auburn line darn sure won’t.

Fourth, get Percy Harvin involved early in the game so he’s a serious threat from the get go. Have Mercy Percy stretches the defense sideline to sideline and goal line to goal line and that means he has to be doubled up at all times which brings us to the next important question. Okay, Florida is five wide with Dallas Baker, Jemalle Cornelius, Bubba Caldwell and Cornelius Ingram in there along with Have Mercy Percy. You double up on Percy because he’s too fast and because you can’t simulate what he can do in practice so you must compensate somehow. Maybe you can double up one other UF receiver, but if you do that, it’s like deciding between death and booga booga. Chris Leak should be able to walk to the line of scrimmage, count bodies on the defensive side of the ball and then automatically go to the guy with single coverage.

Fifth, now that you’ve got the defense spread out and wishing they had restrictor plates on wide receivers, the carnage should be worse than when the offensive linemen hit the all you can eat ribs night at Sonny’s. If Florida’s sold the stretch stuff early and often enough, the straight ahead stuff should work well enough that the Auburn D-linemen will look like that pile of bones in the middle of the table at the end of the eat-a-thon at Sonny’s. The only thing missing will be circling buzzards. Maybe the Gators don’t have the straight ahead blocking power of Arkansas but they have the ability to spread the field and create a favorable matchup where the Gators have the Auburn defenders outnumbered in the box. DeShawn Wynn will be back for UF and figure he has a big day.

Finally, let Tim Tebow get into Auburn’s head just enough that it distracts from what Chris Leak can do. Give Tebow a little more rope and let him run a couple of option pitches and throw in a couple of play action fakes with the instruction that if the wide receiver isn’t wide open, make one of those smaller Auburn linebackers understand what it’s like to be standing in the middle of the interstate with a semi bearing down on you. That ought to loosen things up so that Leak can be a surgeon and slice and dice the Auburn secondary when he’s in the game.

Now, remember, Auburn can win this game but for that to happen, the Gators have to fall apart in the early going. If the Gators take care of business early on, this one won’t even be close. I like Florida to take care of business. Knowing they have a week off next week, I like the Gators to let it all loose for a 24-7 win but don’t be the least bit surprised if the Gators score more than 30. Auburn will be lucky to get 10 points.

You could argue about it but you probably will be wrong.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.