Injuries, Winning, Not BCS Concern Meyer

The morning after the Gators manufactured their ninth win of the season, blocking a field goal on the last play of the game to preserve a 17-16 victory over South Carolina, nobody was talking about Division I-AA bottom feeder Western Carolina, Florida’s next game on the schedule. Instead, it’s all about the BCS and can the Gators make it to Arizona for the national championship game.

The Gators are 9-1 and very much in the thick of the BCS race now that Auburn, California and Texas all took their second loss of the season. With Western Carolina limping into town next Saturday buried in an eight-game losing streak and arch-rival Florida State closing in on rock bottom after a 30-0 drubbing at the hands of Wake Forest, it would seem the Gators have a very good shot at heading to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference Championship Game with an 11-1 record. A win in the SEC title game and it would be very difficult for the people in charge of the BCS to exclude Florida in the national championship game on January 8.

There are factors in the BCS rankings that the Gators cannot control. They can’t control the polls or the people who vote. All they can do is continue to win and that requires maintaining their focus.

“I have no concern over that,” said Meyer in his Sunday morning media teleconference. “I guess I probably should because I might affect standings and the human element in involved in all this BCS stuff but I’m more worried about we played two true freshman linebackers at the end of the game against South Carolina.”

Florida found a way to win against South Carolina with star linebackers Brandon Siler and Earl Everett unable to go full speed in the final quarter. Siler, whom Meyer said talked the staff into letting him play, has a sprain and partial tear of his medial collateral ligament (MCL), while Everett has a sprained ankle. When the Gators were trying to keep South Carolina out of the end zone in the final three minutes of the game Saturday night, true freshmen Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe were on the field.

There are other issues with depth that Meyer has to worry about. At defensive end, he’s got Jarvis Moss and Derrick Harvey going just about every play of the game. Neither one of them got a sack Saturday although Moss was in on eight tackles, blocked two passes at the line of scrimmage, broke up a pass in coverage and blocked an extra point and a field goal. It was his block of Ryan Succop’s 48-yard field goal on the last play of the game that preserved the win for the Gators.

“No sacks, no turnovers and you win a game, that’s hard to do,” said Meyer.

Then there were the self-inflicted wounds on offense. South Carolina’s defense never really stopped Florida. The Gators had the ball seven times, scored two touchdowns and a field goal on three of the drives and then committed a grievous error that stalled or completely halted the other four drives.

Florida missed a field goal after a sack stalled out one drive, had a holding call negate a pass play that would have given UF a first down on the South Carolina six, had a drive killed when a center snap and motion man Percy Harvin collided and an interception. An intentional grounding call on an ill-timed call for a pass off a reverse by Bubba Caldwell cost Florida a shot at a touchdown, even though the Gators did get a field goal out of Hetland to finish out the drive. Even with all those mistakes, the Gators put up 401 yards and moved the ball inside the South Carolina 40 on every possession.

And still the Gators won the game and they’ll certainly move up in the BCS standings. They aren’t the pretty choice given the way they’re playing but they are winning and that’s all that matters.

“You hear some of the coaches are so consumed by the BCS and then they fail to win the game,” said Meyer. “I can’t let that happen to myself and our staff. I told our staff to watch and if I start to worry about that, stop it. We’ve got enough issues here like every school in the country. Auburn, Cal and Texas obviously have issues they have to deal with, too.”

Meyer said he doesn’t have time to worry about the BCS because he’s coaching special teams and dealing with Florida’s offense. His focus is Western Carolina this week, Florida State the next. Everything else will have to wait.

“To play Ohio State before we play FSU wouldn’t be right,” said Meyer, who said this week his focus will be holding the Gators to “find a way to win our tenth game.”

Winning against Western Carolina shouldn’t be all that difficult. It’s a game that Meyer will probably have a chance to unload the bench and let a lot of redshirt freshmen and sophomores see the field for most of the game.

It’s a game that won’t help the Gators with the BCS numbers, but Meyer scoffs when he thinks about that.

“Someone wants to take a shot at our schedule, have fun doing that,” he said. “I’ll compare it against anybody else’s.”

So this week, he expects to stay with the same plan he’s had all season — control the things he can control and let everybody else worry about other matters.

“There’s nothing I can control other than making sure our staff is working hard and our players are working hard.”

* * *

Saturday night, Meyer said that Chris Leak played his best game at quarterback. Sunday morning, Meyer was even more impressed with his senior quarterback. Leak completed 19 of his 27 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown, but it was his contributions with his feet on Florida’s game-winning touchdown drive that made the biggest impression on Meyer.

On that 80-yard scoring drive, the Gators rammed the ball down South Carolina’s throat on the ground. Tailback DeShawn Wynn carried three times for 14 yards, Leak carried three times for 29 yards and Tebow carried twice for 18 yards including a 12-yarder for the touchdown that tied the game at 16-16 with 3:03 left in the game.

Leak had two critical runs on the drive, one a 17-yarder that was off an audible at the line of scrimmage and the other an eight-yard run for a first down on a quarterback draw. Meyer was most impressed with the checkoff at the line of scrimmage that set up the long run.

“The one he pulled and ran for 17 yards on that final drive he checked to that play,” said Meyer. “A year ago there’s no chance that happens. In prior years it was all check from the sideline and Chris never had to check a play.”

* * *

Cornelius Ingram impacted the game with three catches for 50 yards. He had an outstanding run after the catch on a 28-yard play in the fourth quarter to help set up Hetland’s 22-yard field goal that tied the game at 10-10. Meyer said that Florida needs to get Ingram even more involved in the offense.

“I think he’s a very good receiver but I think he can be a great H/tight end,” said Meyer. “I think he played very well yesterday.”

Ingram is starting to see some plays at the tight end position where he’s lined up in a three-point stance and he will continue to see plays as a H-back that goes in motion.

“His best chance for us and for his future is as closed player which is a tight end that can create matchup nightmares for linebackers that have to run with you,” said Meyer.

* * *

Meyer felt that offensive coordinator Dan Mullen had a good game calling the plays for the Gators although he said there were “about two or three [play calls] that I would evaluate to take back.” One of the plays that Meyer didn’t like was the attempted pass off a reverse that wound up a 16-yard loss that cost Florida a shot at a touchdown. It was supposed to be a throwback play where Caldwell pulled up and threw back to Leak, but South Carolina wasn’t fooled by the play.

Otherwise, Meyer felt the play calling was very good.

“The throwback to the quarterback was the one,” he said. “The one where it [the snap] hit Percy Harvin, that was just a lack of execution. That was a great call. That was a power by Tim Tebow that’s averaging about eight yards every time he does it. On third down and three so there was nothing cute about direct snap to a 230-pound quarterback and running it down hill.”

Meyer couldn’t fault the play call on the Leak interception, either.

“The one throw, the down the field interception, there was nothing cute,” said Meyer. “We were trying to throw the ball down the field and make a play. We had a plus. We thought our guy was better than the guy covering him.”

* * *

Meyer continues to burst with pride when the conversation turns to Jarvis Moss. Everybody knows the story about how he fought for two years through a bone infection that wasn’t diagnosed properly until Meyer became the head coach at Florida. But, there were other problems too, and Meyer says that Moss has overcome them all to become a model citizen on and off the field.

“I’m awful proud of him,” said Meyer. “He had a lot of issues in his world, a lot of issues that probably won’t be told unless he wants to tell them. He’s a guy that I like to have around my family. He’s a guy that I like to have him stand up in front of the team and I couldn’t say that a year and a half ago. He’s a guy that had a lot of issues. I’m awful proud he’s on our team and I think he’s going to be a great success in life because he’s turned his not just football life but his whole life around.”

* * *

On the injury front, Meyer said he and the staff made a mistake by allowing Siler to talk them into letting him play.

“Brandon Siler has an MCL, a second degree sprain tear,” said Meyer. “It was probably a mistake in playing him. He talked us into it and he didn’t play very well. I watched the film already and it was probably a mistake but it’s hard to keep a tough guy like that out of the lineup. Like a lot of the kids, they’re so invested in the program. They’re dinge dup but they’re going to go.”

With Western Carolina on the schedule it won’t be necessary to play Siler this week so he can let the knee heal so he can be available for the FSU game in two weeks.

Everett’s sprained ankle isn’t so bad. Meyer said he will be fine this week.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.