It was 98 years ago when Florida first met The Citadel on the gridiron in Jacksonville with the Gators winning the game 6-2. When the Gators meet the Bulldogs Saturday (1:30 p.m., Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Pay Per View) for the 14th time, they will be paying homage in the pre-game ceremonies to one of The Citadel’s finest, the man you all know as “Mr. Two Bits.” On the final home game of the 2008 season, 86-year-old George Edmondson will retire his yellow shirt, orange and blue tie, searsucker pants, saddle oxfords, whistle and “two-bits” sign as the Gators square off with his alma mater.
For most Gators, Florida football has always been associated with Edmondson, who started leading cheers at Florida games after World War II. Edmondson may have been a Citadel man, but there was never any mistaking his love for the University of Florida, which bestowed an honorary degree on him.
This will also be a very special day for the Florida senior class. The 2008 senior class has gone 40-9 (.816) overall and 24-8 (.750) in Southeastern Conference play. They helped the Gators win a Southeastern Conference Championship, a national championship and they will compete for another conference title in December. This is their last game at The Swamp so allow me the opportunity to recognize them on Gator Country for what they have meant to the Florida football program. Kudos to Curtis Carr, Tate Casey, John Curtis, Jamaal Deveaux, Javier Estopinan, Andrew Fritze, Brad Heirs, Cornelius Ingram, Andrew Johnson, Bobby Kane, Kestahn Moore, Louis Murphy, Kyle Newell, Jonathan Phillips, Kyle Pratt, Butch Rowley, James Smith, Jim Tartt, Greg Taussig, Phil Trautwein, and Jason Watkins for a job well done.
Kevin Higgins, in his fourth season at The Citadel, has a 76-49-1 overall record in his 12-year coaching career and he’s 20-24 in four seasons at The Citadel. The father of former Florida walk-on Tim Higgins knows the Florida program very well. He credited Florida head coach Urban Meyer with his hands-on steering of the program when we spoke on Wednesday.
“Coach Meyer does a great job at Florida and one of the things that impressed me was when Tim was at Florida and tore his ACL, it was Coach Meyer who called and talked to me about it,” Higgins said. “I don’t think that I’ve ever heard of a head coach doing that. I don’t know if I’ve done that. He was in touch and wanted to make certain that we had the information.”
Meyer and his staff are coaching as well as any group in the country. Florida is playing at an exceptionally high level offensively, defensively, and on special teams. I will always vote for a superb head coach who surrounds himself with outstanding assistants.
THE CITADEL OFFENSE VS. FLORIDA DEFENSE:
The Citadel has four starting offensive linemen who have at least four years in the program. The left side of the offensive line features redshirt junior tackle Daniel DeHaven (6-5, 295) and redshirt senior guard Jacob Bryant (6-0, 275). Redshirt senior Clay Muirhead (6-2, 285) is the center. Redshirt junior tackle Thomas Suggs (6-4, 270) and sophomore guard Cory Pope (6-2, 285) will attempt to hold down the right side. The Bulldogs are seventh in Southern Conference rushing for 127.5 yards per game. They have allowed 21 sacks in 371 pass attempts this season.
The Bulldogs run the spread offense without a significant run-option threat. What does that mean? The Citadel has the balanced attack, but quarterback Bart Blanchard (6-0, 200) 100 carries on the season for an average of just 1.7 yards per carry. His longest run of the season has gone for just 16 yards. Blanchard has completed 204 of 339 passes for 2,420 yards. He has thrown 19 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
All-American junior wide receiver Andre Roberts (5-11, 175) is one of the most talented skills position players in the land. Roberts has 90 receptions for 1268 yards and 14 touchdowns. He leads the Southern Conference in both receptions and receiving yardage. Roberts is a dangerous punt returner who took one to the house last week in a win over Chattanooga.
The Citadel also starts receivers are Joshua Haney (5-10, 185) and Scott Flanagan (6-1, 185). Haney is the H-back and the Bulldogs second leading receiver with 33 receptions for 407 yards. Flanagan has 28 catches for 313 yards in the Z position. Neither has a touchdown reception this season. Senior tight end Taylor Cornett (6-4, 240) has caught 22 passes, three for scores.
A pair of freshmen lead the Bulldogs in rushing. Asheton Jordan (6-0, 206) and Terrell Dallas (6-0, 205) have combined for 871 yards and seven touchdowns. They have caught 29 passes collectively out of the backfield.
Florida enters the game with the nation’s fourth best scoring defense. The Gators are fresh off a 56-6 whipping of South Carolina. Defensive tackles Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders teamed up with Jermaine Cunningham and Justin Trattou to hold the Gamecocks to 53 yards on the ground, while sacking Carolina quarterbacks four times and recording eight tackles for loss. If he isn’t able to unseat Trattou in practice this week, Carlos Dunlap will receive serious time in the rotation.
The Florida linebackers will be Brandon Spikes, Brandon Hicks, either Ryan Stamper or Dustin Doe. Outside linebacker A.J. Jones was out last week with an injury and it’s hard to imagine Jones unseating him based on Hicks play. It will be interesting to see how middle linebacker Brandon Spikes gets the team up for an inferior opponent.
Talented freshman Janoris Jenkins or true sophomore Joe Haden will draw the assignment of blanketing Roberts. The Gators will run a bit of nickel against the Bulldogs spread. Markihe Anderson and Wondy Pierre-Louis will see plenty of playing time. The Florida safety rotation of Ahmad Black, Major Wright and Will Hill have played extremely well.
Enormous Edge: FLORIDA
FLORIDA OFFENSE VS. THE CITADEL DEFENSE:
Florida’s offensive front should face little challenge going up against defensive ends Dewitt Jones (6-5, 290) and Kevin McCaskill (6-4, 257) in the Bulldogs 3-4-4 scheme. Nose guard Terrence Reese (6-0, 275) will struggle against Maurkice Pouncey. The Citadel has given-up 2,122 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. If opponents average 4.6 yards per carry, what might the Gators running attack, which is ranked 15th nationally, averaging 213 yards per game accomplish?
Middle linebacker Jordon Gilmore (5-11, 220) leads The Citadel in tackles with 89. Jonathan Vest (5-9, 185) and Mel Capers (5-9, 175) can help in coverage, but will be overmatched when they step into the box. True freshman Tolu Akindele (5-10, 205) has played sparingly.
The Citadel allows an average of 190.3 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown only three interceptions, which is good news for Tim Tebow and John Brantley.
The Florida offensive line has been absolutely dominant over the last six weeks. The Gators are ninth in red zone efficiency. We might see Jim Tartt starting at left offensive guard, since it is senior recognition day. Carl Johnson has a sprained knee and would probably benefit with rest for Florida State, Alabama, and the bowl game.
Quarterback Tim Tebow should play five or six series at the most before giving way to John Brantley. Tebow is in the Heisman Trophy race, although I think that he is behind the quarterbacks of the Big 12 South. It would obviously help his cause to account for a couple of touchdowns on the ground and perhaps two more through the air to help his cause before giving way to Brantley.
Percy Harvin was named the AT&T National Player of the Week for his 167-yard rushing performance against South Carolina. Meyer hinted that the staff might move Harvin outside, so that opponents down pinch him inside. It will be interesting to see if they do that this weekend or wait until the trip to Tallahassee.
Expect to see a lot of reserves in the game Saturday and it’s always good when they aren’t forced to sit on the ball and are allowed to play.
Enormous Edge: FLORIDA
It’s been six years since an opponent returned a punt for a touchdown against The Citadel. I have a feeling that Florida return specialist Brandon James might change that this weekend. He’s definitely due.
Roberts has returned three of his 26 punt returns for touchdowns, so the Florida coverage team will have to be very careful. Again, Roberts is an All-American who is extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Jonathan Phillips has hit nine of his nine field goal attempts. Punter Chas Henry has been equally superb, averaging 42.5 yards per punt, which is fourth best in the SEC. The Gators lead the SEC in net punting, however, at 37.7 yards.
This one won’t be difficult at all. The Gators continue to roll along, looking for a date with Florida State in Tallahassee.
FLORIDA 62, THE CITADEL 7