The Florida Gators take on the Tennessee Vols Saturday in a huge showdown of SEC Eastern division powers. The stage is set for two undefeated and highly ranked teams to battle and Gator Head Coach Urban Meyer believes it will be very important for his team to get off to a good start.
The Gators struggled last year when opponents got off to an early lead. Add that to the road woes where the Gators lost all three games to opponents played at their home field and it is easy to see why Meyer feels it is important to start strong and finish. Meyer thinks he has a different team than last year—one that can battle through a little adversity. Until that happens, he would like to see things go right from the beginning.
“I think it is critical,” Meyer said of a fast start against the Vols. “It depends on what kind of team you’ve got. If you have a tough team you will battle back and fight. We will get their best shot. You are going to be in a storm for the first part of that game. If we are a tough football team we will be resilient and hang in there.”
“I have been a part of some teams that aren’t fazed when they got down seven points or it was even or it wasn’t going well. This team last year couldn’t bounce back, so I am anxious to watch this team.”
Meyer really likes the level of attention and hustle he is getting from the players in practice. So far this is just another game on the schedule for most. It will probably pick up a little the later the week goes, but he likes the attention to detail he sees on the whole squad.
“We had a very workman approach today like we did yesterday,” Meyer said. “Tomorrow the pads come off. We added a few wrinkles offensively and defensively so they are so focused on doing their job right, so there isn’t a lot of rah-rah. Guys are focused and going hard. We have had only one bad practice (this season), last Tuesday, but we have had good ones other than that. Today was another good one.”
“We had great tempo. Guys are very conscientious about coming in and watching tape. I challenged them. They need to know their opponent. They came in and studied their opponent today because I tested a few of them. They know who he is and how he plays. We need to get that done in big games.”
This isn’t a game for young guys to learn on the ropes. Meyer has a veteran laden team and he plans on leaning on those veterans to do the bulk of the work on Saturday. The true freshmen that have been playing well in the Swamp will have to prove their worth to get on the field this weekend. However, he isn’t going to let youth get in the way of putting players on the field that can help his team win.
“I am anxious to see,” Meyer said about reactions from the freshmen on the squad. “I think some will handle it better than others. The big time guys will handle it just fine and the guys that aren’t quite prime time players yet might struggle.
“I’m comfortable with some of them but not all of them. That is a tough environment for the first (road game). I am hoping I see it at practice this week and that is people are ready to play.”
One freshman Gator fans may see more this game than expected is freshman running back / returner Brandon James. Meyer seems to love the ability that James has on the football field and said he may see the field more on special teams besides just being a kickoff return man.
“Brandon looks pretty good,” Meyer said of James. “He has a chance to be our starting punt returner too, he looks pretty good.”
One player Meyer isn’t worried about, even though he hasn’t had much work this year is senior place kicker Chris Hetland. Hetland had a great game last year against Tennessee and basically was awarded a scholarship based upon his performance. He has yet to attempt a field goal this season, but Meyer isn’t worried.
“We do situations, but its nothing like a game,” Meyer said about preparing Hetland for this game. “I am not as worried about that as much as others. Chris has made some big field goals for us. He is a good kicker he’s a senior, and he’s been in the arena.”
As far as who will hold the ball for Hetland, that is still to be determined. The Gators have missed three extra points this year and two were from bad holds. Meyer should know that soon enough.
“Not yet,” he said on a decision about the holder. “It’s probably going to be Butch Rowley, but I’m still not exactly sure.”
The offensive line, as young and inexperienced as it is, has graded out very well in the first two weeks of the season. One of the bigger surprises is junior Carlton Medder. He is one of the recruits in the heralded 2003 recruiting class that didn’t look like he would ever play a major role for UF. Now he will be on the road for his toughest test of his career and in a place he probably used to dream about being in. He will start the game at right tackle.
“He has been doing really (well),” Meyer said of Medder. “If you told me last year he would be our starting tackle, I would say no he would not be. His whole work ethic and he has changed his whole body and his demeanor. A lot of times, when you know you aren’t going to play your work ethic isn’t there. He was behind those other seniors last year and there was no chance he would play last year. He had a chance to get a starting position now and he did.”
Meyer also addressed what he perceives the maturity of his ball club. Questions arose about Dallas Baker’s silly penalty at Tennessee two years ago that allowed Tennessee enough room and time to make a long field goal at the end of the game and take the game away from the Gators. Meyer sees this Gator group as a much smarter and wiser group.
“We’re a completely different outfit,” Meyer said. “We are a football team that is going to play extremely hard. We aren’t going to have silly penalties, we better not. That’s not going to happen.”
Health wise the Gators are in pretty good shape. Of course, backup linebackers Jon Demps and A.J. Jones are out for the season with knee and foot injuries. True freshman safety Bryan Thomas is not quite ready, and may end up red-shirting after too much longer. Starting offensive guard Ronnie Wilson was finally off crutches today and Meyer certainly noticed his presence at practice today.
“It looks good to see him out there,” Meyer said of Wilson. “It’s another week or two weeks. If I was a doctor, he’d be good to go.”
Other than that, Jemalle Cornelius was taken away early after practice for being a little light-headed. It wasn’t very hot but extremely humid today. Meyer wasn’t worried about Cornelius.
“He got a little light headed out there,” Meyer said of Cornelius. “We just wanted to get him in and get him out of the sun.”