Last week the Florida Gators spent their practice time on offense preparing for Western Kentucky’s 3-4 defensive front. This week, it is back to a more traditional 4-3 look that the Gators expect from Troy (Saturday, 6 p.m., Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Pay Per View). The change from an odd man to an even man front is subtle, but it takes some re-adjusting at the start of a practice week.
“We went from three down to four down and that always confuses guys a little bit,” said Florida Coach Urban Meyer after the third ranked (coaches’ poll) Gators finished Tuesday’s practice.
Meyer calls Tuesday practices during the season “Bloody Tuesday” because the Gators scrimmage hard. That’s the practice day when Meyer has the team going full contact against the scout team which simulates the offense and defense of the next opponent. It’s designed to be a tough practice that sets a tone for the rest of the week.
“Bloody Tuesday was hard, it was long,” said Meyer. “It was not very good but we’ll be better tomorrow.”
The Gators are getting ready to play a team that’s definitely a step above Western Kentucky, which was Division I-AA last year. Troy finished 8-5 in 2006, won the Sun Belt Conference and won its bowl game. The Trojans had Arkansas on the ropes for awhile Saturday night in their season opener before the Razorbacks big offensive line wore them down in the second half. Arkansas led 23-17 at the half before taking control behind its big, powerful offensive line. The Razorbacks rushed for 350 yards to open their season with a 46-26 win.
Troy ran for 162 yards and threw for 214 against Arkansas. The Trojans revolve their offense around Belle Glade native Omar Haugabrook, last year’s Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year. Haugabrook completed 61 percent of his passes last year for 2,401 yards and 21 touchdowns. Against Arkansas, Haugabrook was 15-43 for 204 yards and a touchdown. Haugabrook is a dangerous runner who has to be accounted for on every play. He rushed for 38 yards against Arkansas and was sacked only one time.
Florida has to tighten up its pass defense to counter Haugabrook. Last week, Western Kentucky completed 15 of 21 passes against the Gator defense and the Florida secondary didn’t register a single pass break up or interception. Troy will spread the field like Western Kentucky but unlike the Hilltoppers, who try to balance their attack, the Trojans are more of a throw first team.
As Florida prepares this week, Meyer has the Gators working on silent count snaps on offense.
“We’re practicing silent cadence and so on offense there wasn’t much rhythm,” said Meyer, who used the silent count extensively last year when the Gators visited Neyland Stadium. He will make a determination Wednesday if Florida will use it in the game Saturday.
“If it’s not clean we’re not going with it,” he said. “. It’s much different when we had to play at Tennessee last year. The team we’re playing — Troy — is good so we’re not going to screw around with this if it’s not ready by tomorrow.”
On defense, the Gators will be working with five and six defensive backs on the field a good bit of Saturday’s game to go against Troy, which will go four and five wide on a regular bases.
“On defense, it’s a team that throws it 51 times a game so we’re doing some different stuff,” said Meyer.
Florida’s nickel and dime defensive backfield looks might have taken a hit Tuesday. Junior corner Markus Manson left practice early with his right foot propped up.
“Sprained ankle, the extent I don’t know yet,” said Meyer.
Meyer said that sophomore corner Markihe Anderson, who missed the Western Kentucky game with a sprained knee, was back at practice Tuesday. Anderson is Florida’s most experienced corner and was penciled in as a starter before the knee injury a couple of weeks ago.
“He practiced but he’s not game ready yet but it’s only Tuesday,” said Meyer. “He’s going to play. How much? We’re going to see.”
The Gators will likely show a different look at defensive tackle with the return of Lawrence Marsh from a one-game suspension and increased playing time for true freshman Torrey Davis.
“Marsh and Torrey Davis will play a little bit more but it still hasn’t been set yet,” said Meyer.
Also returning from a one-game suspension will be sophomore kick returner Brandon James, who will assume his familiar role as the deep man on both kickoffs and punts. James might also factor into the Florida offense as a ball carrier or a pass receiver.
“He’ll carry the ball,” said Meyer. “He had a good day today.”
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While the Gators are giving Meyer good effort and good attitude in practice, he is not ready to concede the team is anywhere near where he thinks they should be after one game.
“I’ve never really been where you want to be,” he said. “I thought our team would be a little more advanced than we are then you realize who’s playing for us [lots of freshmen and sophomores]. It makes sense but it’s not where you want to be. That’s a bad day when you say … if I ever say it look at me like I’ve got six heads. You’re never where you want to be after week one. Not even close. Not even last year.”