SCOTTSDALE, AZ — For the next 48 hours, the preparation for the second-ranked Florida Gators is all between the ears. Saturday afternoon the Gators went through their final full-scale practice in preparation for Monday’s Tostitos National Championship Game against unbeaten and top-ranked Ohio State. After Sunday’s walk-though, the next time the Gators hit the field will be Monday.
After Friday’s media day which took up a full three hours of their time, Coach Urban Meyer was looking for Florida to rebound with a strong Saturday practice and he got exactly what he was looking for.
“We got right back on focus, right back on schedule,” said Meyer, who called the Saturday practice “terrific.”
Saturday’s practice was also a special time for Florida’s 21 seniors who participated in the Senior Tackle. The seniors hit the tackling dummy their last time as a Florida Gator one by one. After hitting the dummy, one by one, the seniors listened as one underclassman and their position coach told the rest of the team how much the senior had impacted their lives.
“We have 21 seniors and it was a special day,” said Meyer. “Every one of those seniors has contributed in a great way to this team and that was a great experience for them.”
Last year at the Outback Bowl, Meyer initiated the tradition of the Senior Tackle, a very emotional time for the players about to represent the Florida Gators one last time. Because the Gators had really come together as a team so late in the season and it was a handful of seniors that were the glue that held the team together, that was a very special time for Meyer. This year’s Senior Tackle may not have been quite as emotional but Meyer said it was a great time.
“I think last year was real emotional especially at the end with Todd McCullough, Jarvis [Herring], Vernell [Brown] and [Jeremy] Mincey but this was a real emotional one,” said Meyer.
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On the injury front, tight end Tate Casey is still limping from a high ankle sprain but he will be playing Monday night in a limited capacity. Safety Tony Joiner is still not 100 percent but he’ll be playing also.
“Tate Casey will play in the game,” said Meyer. “It’s a limited role but he’ll play in the game.”
Cornelius Ingram and Jason Watkins will handle the tight end assignments for the Gators against Ohio State.
Joiner suffered a high ankle sprain early in Florida’s win over Arkansas in the SEC Championship Game. He’s rehabbed well and he’s practiced well since the Gators got to Arizona.
“He practiced real well today but he’s not at full speed yet,” said Meyer Saturday.
Joiner will spend a lot of time with Florida’s training staff between now and Monday.
“That’s two more days to get him right,” said Meyer.
Redshirt freshman Dorian Munroe will spell Joiner.
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Meyer thinks Ohio State’s offense is as well balanced as any the Gators will face this season. The Buckeyes have outstanding weapons on the outside in Ted Ginn and Antonio Gonzalez, a breakaway back in Antonio Pittman and the Heisman Trophy quarterback in Troy Smith.
Meyer isn’t sure the Ohio State offense can be stopped but he does hope to slow it down and keep big plays to a minimum.
“You’re not going to stop that offense,” Meyer said. “All good offenses you’re not going to stop but our defense has done a great job of keeping the playmakers in front of them. If Teddy Ginn and Gonzalez get behind us and if Pittman breaks a long one we’ll have a real hard time winning the game. If we keep the ball in front of us, it will be a really good game.”
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Meyer’s list of priorities are God, family and the Florida Gators. Some of the perks of his job give him a few extra minutes with the family as he discovered during his first year on the job.
On the Friday night before the Gators hosted Tennessee in 2005, Meyer’s young son Nate had a baseball game going on. While his players were occupied, Meyer asked the policeman that is assigned to him for a favor.
“That police car … are you allowed to take that anywhere?” Meyer recalled. “He said ‘yeah’ so I said let’s jump in it and go to my son’s baseball game and watch him hit for a couple of minutes and then come right back. The cop said ‘I’ve never done that’ so I said, let’s go.
“So we jumped in it, hit the siren and went about 90 miles an hour. I had a police escort in, watched him hit twice and then left and went back to my team. That’s what’s nice about Florida … a small town you can do that.”