During the recent induction ceremonies for the Pro Football Hall of Fame that included Gator great Emmitt Smith, one of his Hall “teammates” – former Redskins offensive guard Russ Grimm – spoke about being moved from linebacker to center by the late University of Pittsburgh offensive line coach Joe Moore.
“He knew I wasn’t happy – I didn’t like the transition,” Grimm recalled. “But he called me in one day, sat me down, talked about it, told me that I was a footbll player and I should play whatever position that they thought I was best capable of playing. He told me that playing offensive line, there’s no greater feeling that to be able to move a man from Point A to Point B against his will. I tried it, I liked it and I was playing offensive line.”
Grimm, of course, was talking about what Urban Meyer made reference to Sunday on his weekly television show about Florida’s offensive line following Saturday’s 38-14 victory over South Florida at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“If we get full strength, we could have one of the best offensive lines in the country,” Meyer said. “We imposed our will in the fourth quarter.”
“Impose our will …” Great football teams do that with their offensive and defensive lines. After chasing B.J. Daniels for most of the first quarter, the Gators’ defense started closing off his avenues of escape, forcing him to beat Florida with his arm rather than his legs. Daniels couldn’t, as his passing line – 5 completions in 20 attempts, four interceptions – showed.
Of course, the four interceptions – including a 35-yard return for a touchdown by defensive end Justin Trattou – wouldn’t have occurred without the guys in the trenches – the defensive line and linebacker—doing the heavy work
“Imposed our will …”
But there was not a better example of it than Florida’s offensive performance in the second half. Held to just 42 yards on 11 carries and 157 yards total on 33 plays, Florida added 209 rushing yards (on 26 carries) and 266 yards total (on 35 plays) in the second half because of improved offensive line play.
The Gators’ starting offensive line, from left tackle to right tackle, was Marcus Gilbert, Carl Johnson, Mike Pouncey, Jon Halapio and Mo Hurt. Guard James Wilson, injured in the opener, did not practice Saturday and did not play, while tackle Xavier Nixon, who did not play against Miami as he was still recuperating from preseason knee surgery, was healthy again but being brought along slowly.
By game’s end, Nixon was back at left tackle, Gilbert back at right tackle and Hurt back at guard. Another lineman on the temporary injury list, left tackle Matt Patchan (broken wrist), is getting close to a return, so that should bode well as Florida begins its SEC season this Saturday afternoon at Tennessee (3:30 p.m., CBS).
“I got to watch Tennessee (against Oregon, which won 48-13 in Neyland Stadium last Saturday night),” Meyer said. “They played Oregon close (at least for a half – the game was tied 13-13 after the first 30 minutes).”
Indeed, the early injuries to Nixon, Patchan and now Wilson have allowed Meyer and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Steve Addazio to see others in action – center/tackle Nick Alajajian, center Sam Robey, guard-tackle Kyle Koehne, guard Jon Harrison and tackle David Young – and that bodes well for the future, immediate and down-the-road.
“One thing about our backs,” Meyer continued. “Since we’ve been here (beginning in 2005), that’s the hardest we’re run.”
Junior speedster (and reigning NCAA 100-meter champion) Jeffery Demps dazzled the Bulls with his quickness and moves, running for a career-high 139 yards on 11 carries, catching a dump pass from quarterback John Brantley in the second quarter and running 21 yards and returning two kickoffs for 95 yards, including a 54-yarder that set up Caleb Sturgis’ early fourth-quarter 22-yard field goal that gave Florida a 31-14 lead. Senior Emmanuel Moody gained 54 yards on 14 carries, sophomore Mike Gillislee had 29 yards on four carries and a touchdown and freshman Mack Brown had 23 yards on three carries.
A lot of the yardage came out of the I-formation, where Brantley took a direct snap from Pouncey and handed off, allowing the back to follow Florida’s pounding offensive line.
“We’ve got a much more traditional running game, and they are working hard,” Meyer said of his offensive backs under the direction of assistant Stan Drayton, who might have provided the best video of the day as he ran down the sidelines behind Demps on his 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Indeed, Florida’s second-half dominance did a lot to take the sour taste from the Gators’ mouths following their 34-12 victory over Miami (Ohio) that included three lost fumbles. Saturday against South Florida, the Gators produced no lost fumbles and no turnovers, for that matter.
“(After Miami) I’ve been trying to figure out who we are as a team,” Meyer said. “I did find out we handle ourselves very professionally in practice. That’s why you see highlights this week which are much better than what we showed a week ago.”
MUTUAL ADMIRATION: If hasn’t taken long for head coach Urban Meyer to be impressed with new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and vice-versa.
“Charlie Strong (Florida’s former defensive coordinator who is now head coach at Louisville) is one of my closest friends,” Meyer said, “First, Teryl is a family man. He has a genuine care for the players. He’s very proficient in the Xs and Os. We needed someone to come in and mesh with Dan (McCarney) and Chuck (Heater) and not be selfish. He’s doing a fine job.”
Austin on his new boss? “Coach always says, ‘We do what we do,’” he said. “We’re going to be an aggressive defense. I tell my guys this is really fun, but we need to work hard to make it fun.”
GATOR KUDOS: Meyer believed the combination of the heat (an index way over 100) and Florida’s fans enabled the Gators to rally for the win. “If there’s a game ball to be given, it’s to our fans,” Meyer said. … “We’ve got to keep improving on our career highs,” Meyer added. … “John Brantley is a competitor. He’s going to get better. He worked his butt off last week in practice and we saw the results.” … “Getting in our car and going home felt good,” Meyer said. “I was texting some of our players. They told me they felt good about the game.” … “Justin Trattou is one of my all-time favorite Gators,” Meyer said. “Look how he runs hard into the end zone.”
5-0 VERSUS VOLS: When Meyer arrived in Gainesville, he identified Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State as “rivalry” teams the Gators needed to dominate. Only a loss to Georgia in 2007 mars what is currently a 14-1 record.
“I was educated on the Tennessee game six years ago,” Meyer said. “Everything changes around this facility. Tuesday’s practice is going to be fun.”
INJURY UPDATE: It was revealed that junior slot Chris Rainey suffered a mild concussion, which is why Janoris Jenkins field punts in the second half and ran one back 30 yards. Rainey is listed day-to-day (but then aren’t we all). His place Saturday was shared by redshir==Andre Dubose and true freshman Robert Clark.