Leak Saved His Best For South Carolina

There’s no doubt that Jarvis Moss, the SEC’s Special Teams Player of the Game, saved Florida’s 17-16 win over South Carolina with a block of an extra point and then a field goal on the final play of the game. There would have been no game to save, however, if Chris Leak hadn’t come up with perhaps the best game he’s played at quarterback in the Urban Meyer era.

Leak, who completed 19 of 27 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown, made critical plays in the fourth quarter to lead the third-ranked Gators to 10 points and a come-from-behind win over the upset-minded Gamecocks. Florida is still very much in the hunt for a national championship because Leak saved his best when the 9-1 Gators needed it the most.

“How do you evaluate a quarterback?” Urban Meyer asked Monday at his weekly media day. “Whatever it takes to get a first down … whatever it takes to score a touchdown … I thought he played his best game.”

Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen added, “Quarterbacks are judged on leadership and winning. Chris led us to two fourth quarter drives to win a game. He did what we had to have to win the game.”

On Florida’s 80-yard drive for a game-tying Chris Hetland field goal, Leak completed all four of his passes for 63 yards including a 28-yarder to Cornelius Ingram to convert a third down and a six-yarder to Bubba Caldwell to convert another third down into a first down.

On the 80-yard drive that produced the game-winning touchdown, Leak had two critical running plays and a 19-yard completion to Percy Harvin. He had a 17-yard run on an option play off the left side of the South Carolina defense and he ran a quarterback draw on third down to get Florida a first down at the South Carolina 12.

“On third down and seven he tucked the ball at the end of the game, made a guy miss and made the first down,” said Mullen.

Meyer was impressed with Leak’s cool when the game was on the line.

“You evaluate him on the intangibles and how he performed,” said Meyer. “He made a quarterback draw and he had some other choices but he got six yards, the last two on his own, and he checked into the read play and he got 17 yards, an aggressive 17 yards.”

Mullen said that Leak took over the game as a leader, too, and that was something the Gators needed to pull off the win.

“I’m up in the booth, but I was told about his demeanor on the sideline,” said Mullen. “He had the look that he was going to win the ball game.”

While Leak has had games with better statistics, Mullen said that stats don’t always tell the story. Leak’s stats were pretty good, but you can’t necessarily measure by stats what he did in the fourth quarter Saturday night.

“As a quarterback is your best game is do you take a difficult situation and have the tremendous toughness and leadership to pull it out for the team,” said Mullen. “That’s what I think he helped us do and to me, that’s why it’s his best game. I think he walked off the field feeling as confident as he ever has.”

* * *

Mullen felt that Florida had a good offensive game that could have been much better without a couple of drive-killing mistakes.

“We averaged nine plays, 50 yards every time we had the ball,” Mullen said. “We did a great job on third down converting to keep ourselves on the field (Florida was 7-13 for the game on third down, 2-2 on fourth down). We had some guys that made some plays.

“When you’re playing that way and you get only seven possessions in the game, each one is valuable. There were some critical errors on two of the drives. We had a holding penalty that killed a drive and Tim and Percy had some tricky ball handling (early snap that hit Harvin in the shoulder pad, Tebow had to fall on the ball 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage) but that was the exact same play Tim scored on to win the game.”

Mullen said it was just a matter of bad timing. It’s a play that is run every day in practice and Tebow and Harvin have executed it perfectly hundreds of times.

“It’s a play they run over and over in practice,” said Mullen. “We had some motion with it and some timing got messed up.”

* * *

Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales will get a chance to evaluate some of his young wide receivers Saturday against Division I-AA Western Carolina. Western Carolina comes into the game with eight straight losses and it’s the last game of the season, so the Catamounts have nothing to play for. Florida expects to let its seniors get a few snaps in since it’s the last game they’ll ever play in The Swamp, and then the youngsters will take over.

Gonzales knows he has some talented young guys and he’s eager to see them on the field.

“Riley Cooper is one that’s really ready to get the ball thrown his way,” said Gonzales. “He’s big, fast and he can really catch the ball. He’s been playing on special teams for us and doing a great job there but he should get a chance to play some at wide receiver Saturday and it will be good to see what he can do with the ball in his hands.

“Louis Murphy is another one. He’s got a lot of ability and he’s been on the field for special teams. We think Jarred Fayson has a lot of ability and David [Nelson] needs to get on the field, too.”

Gonzales said the young guys do very well in practice but they play behind some very talented players, three of which will be playing their last game in The Swamp — Dallas Baker, Bubba Caldwell and Jemalle Cornelius.

“We see how hard the young guys work in practice but practice isn’t the same as games,” said Gonzales. “I’m ready to see what these guys can do in game conditions.”

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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.