IN-DEPTH: Gators vs. Western Carolina

Western Carolina provides the perfect medicine for a Florida defense that has suffered unexpected losses and injuries. The Gators will have to move things around a little bit to cover for the loss of defensive end Jarvis Moss and that transition is made easier with this glorified practice game.


The hometown favorites will come out with familiar faces along the defensive line, some in different roles. Expect the Gators to start Ray McDonald and Derrick Harvey outside and Joe Cohen and Steve Harris inside. Three seniors and an up-and-coming sophomore is hardly a recipe for failure at this level. They’ll get some time to gel before the trip to Tallahassee.

The contest against an overmatched opponent spells additional playing time for Clint McMillan, Brandon Antwine, and Lutrell Alford inside. Things are a bit cloudier outside with the injury to true freshman Lawrence Marsh, who was about to lose the redshirt. Marsh broke his hand and will not play this season. Fellow freshman Jermaine Cunningham (6-4, 225) will see action at the rush end.

Florida has problems at linebacker too. Middle linebacker Brandon Siler will be replaced by true freshman Brandon Spikes (6-3, 240). Weakside linebacker Earl Everett (6-3, 224) is also injured and will be a game time decision. That should mean plenty of playing time for true freshman Dustin Doe (6-0, 215), Darryon Robinson (6-0, 226), and possibly Ryan Stamper (6-2, 226).

The Gators defensive problems are still of little concern because Western Carolina is just horrible. Just ask the other members of the Southern Conference.

Dead last in scoring offense. Dead last in total offense. Dead last in red zone offense.

Things can’t possibly get much worse, right?

Well, the Catamounts are down to one relatively healthy quarterback, senior Bennett Swygert, who missed several early season games with a high ankle sprain that has already been re-injured and a walk-on Andy Horn who has not taken a snap in his career at WCU. Swygert ranks 75th in Division I-AA pass efficiency numbers. He has only thrown 87 passes this season, six going the other way.

They rank near the bottom of the Southern Conference in rushing (111.1 yards per game) and passing (164.2 yards per game). Those numbers reflect the #85 and #84 rankings in Division I-AA. The Western Carolina quarterbacks have only completed 53% of their passes with nine touchdowns and six interceptions.

“The Best of the Catamounts” would include a video with lots of Mike Fudge (6-0, 200) clips. The senior tailback needs just 43 yards to eclipse 1,000 yards on the season. He accumulated 2,330 career rushing yards. Their offensive line allows a sack every 19 attempts.

Wide receiver Michael Hines is a pretty good player in his own right. Hines has 58 catches for 460 yards. Unfortunately, he averages only 7.9 yards per catch. Are they certain they’re not referring to GC Publisher Ray Hines who sports a 10.0 forty time? (PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Make that a 4.33 time when someone’s about to mess with my beloved coffee!)

The Florida defense wasn’t very good the last time out. In fact, Florida head coach Urban Meyer called it the worst defense of the year. They allowed 410 yards of total offense to the old head ball coach. Some of it is understandable as the Gators adjust, but it’s never acceptable.

“It’s all personnel driven, I think you take a Brandon Siler, he’s the quarterback of the defense,” Meyer said. “You take him out of the defense and he doesn’t practice all week. I think that’s part of it. I think we faced two teams that threw the ball fairly decent and we gave up some passing yards. I don’t know if we’re regressing. The last two weeks I don’t think they’ve played great defense. I think that our guys up front are playing too many snaps and that’s a product of the issues that we’ve dealt with. That’s the way it is. We just need to keep fighting and develop some of those young guys and get them ready to go.”

They’ll certainly have that opportunity.


La fiesta de pumas

This is the story of two teams headed in very different directions. Third ranked Florida has reason to improve and remains in the national title hunt. The Western Carolina Catamounts have dropped eight in a row and after the final whistle blows, will hang their equipment in their lockers for the final time this year. Let La fiesta de pumas begin.

The Gators will exit the tunnel in the south end zone with an offensive line that is expected very close to full speed, a veteran quarterback who played his best overall game in two years, and a running back who graded out champion.

Meanwhile, the Catamounts lost big defensive tackle John Martin (6-2, 315) to a knee injury one week ago and did not play last weekend. Fellow run stopper Felipe Foster (6-2, 300) has not played in five weeks since injuring his left knee. Defensive end Marcus Nelums (6-2, 215) suffered a concussion and had not practiced or played in the two weeks prior to the Appalachian State game.

The status for each of these players has not yet been determined. The results have been disastrous. Western Carolina has allowed 244.6 yards rushing per game over the past five outings. They have only recorded four sacks this season. Total. That is not good news considering the Gators are getting healthy.

“The good news is we were much more banged up last week.” Florida head coach Urban Meyer said. “We made it through the offensive line. I think they’re going to be full speed this week. They were certainly not full speed last week.”

Despite an ankle sprain and Achilles injury Drew Miller played one of his best games of the season. The junior graded out at 82% with four knockdowns. Left tackle Phil Trautwein was the only other Florida lineman who graded out champion last weekend. This figures to be a golden opportunity for the reserves to get game experience.

The Catamounts are led defensively by senior middle linebacker Shelton Gaffney (6-0, 230) who has 79 tackles. Weakside linebacker Kadeem Morgan (5-11, 210) is second on the squad with 65 stops. No player has recorded more than one sack. No player has recorded more than two quarterback hurries. Why go on, this defensive front is poor at best.

Things aren’t much better in the Catamounts secondary where cornerback Carlton Bailey (5-10, 185) tested his sprained foot, but was unable to go last weekend against ASU. He has struggled with the injury for a month and a half. Strong safety Mitchell Dukes (6-0, 185) started last weekend despite a badly sprained ankle, but was unable to return for the second half. He’s probable, but certainly won’t be at full speed against the Gators.

The Southern Conference is a run oriented conference. Only Elon College has passed for an average of more than 200 yards per game. They completed 25 of 34 for 305 yards and three touchdowns against the Catamounts a few weeks ago. Western Carolina is in for a great awakening.

“Chris Leak played his best game,” Meyer said. “I think he played one of the better games that I’ve seen a quarterback play. The interception he threw was not his fault. It was a receiver that did not do his job. How do you evaluate quarterback? Whatever it takes to get a first down, whatever it takes to get a touchdown. And I thought that he played his best game. He checked ourselves out of three plays and got us into the perfect play. He did it himself and I think that he played real well. (Completed) 19 of 25 for 254 yards, seven carries for 19 yards. Early in the game he sidestepped a linebacker and threw the pass to Dallas Baker. He underthrew the touchdown pass to Dallas, but overall I think overall played well.”

The only playmaker who appears to have been slowed by injury is wide receiver Jemalle Cornelius. We’ll see if he is ready to go on Saturday. With a porous defensive front, a running game gone wild, and Leak much improved- this is a gold mine for the Florida skills position players too. We should get a tremendous opportunity to look at the future of this program. Tim Tebow, Riley Cooper, Jarred Fayson, David Nelson, Cornelius Ingram, Mon Williams, Brandon James, and Louis Murphy figure to secure significant playing time.

Analysis: This sets up as one of those good for the soul games. The Gators needed a breather after a tumultuous schedule. This game also should provide the reserves with some much needed playing time, while resting the starters after what amounts to nothing more than a warm-up.

Field position was a problem last time out. The offense was forced to drive the ball down the field. That won’t be a problem this Saturday. In fact, there shouldn’t be any problems on Saturday. Enjoy the day off Eric Wilbur. If everybody on both sides of the ball doesn’t grade out champion there is no excuse to renew their scholarship. The only possible question is…

Will Western Carolina really be up for this game beyond the opening kickoff? This is their last game in what has been a frustratingly disappointing season. In their past three games they’ve been outscored 87-16. The Catamounts were only able to muster a lone touchdown against Wofford College (6-4). Liberty University (5-5) shut them out 21-0. Top ranked I-AA Appalachian State (10-1) ripped them 31-9. Western Carolina scored their only touchdown with six minutes left in the game.

Furthermore, the average attendance during a Catamounts game during the 2006 season has been 13,752. “The Swamp” has had larger crowds during the Open week. Think they’ll be able to tune out the 80,000 additional fans? I don’t.

Enjoy “La fiesta de pumas” Gators. Enjoy the week before the always emotionally charged trip to Tallahassee and the battle for a conference championship makes for a relaxing end upon completion of the SEC regular season In honor our next opponent…

Florida 537,500 Western Carolina 0