The Florida Gators are looking to turn the famed “War Chant” against Florida State this week. In a weekly practice tradition, the Gators play the opponent’s fight song or annoying music with obnoxious crowd noise to simulate game time noise. This week it is the incessant droning of the “War Chant” the Gators are using to keep the team alive and make sure they can work through the noise.
From outside the gate the media can hear the chant along with the loud static like crowd noise blasted over several speakers at practice. The team is using everything they can to simulate game time atmosphere. One can surmise that it just may get the Gator’s blood a little hotter to have to hear this all week. Gators’ Head Coach Urban Meyer said it’s just part of a regular work week.
“It’s just crowd noise,” Meyer said. “We do that every time we go on the road. It’s a noon game so I am not sure how loud it will be, but it’s Florida – Florida State so we need to be ready for the crowd.
This week is different though. This is the in-state rivalry where everyone knows each other and they want to beat each other like no other. The noise and the opposition may help with the practice quality.
“We had a great practice today, great tempo,” Meyer said. “Our guys are going to be ready to go. We just have to have a great Wednesday.”
Tuesdays are called “Bloody Tuesdays” because of the amount of work and contact done at practice every week. As usual, they let it all hang out today.
“We had a lot of contact today offense vs. defense,” he said. “We haven’t changed our routine, Wednesday we go against the scouts. But Wednesday is a hard day and then we back off Thursday.”
In Meyer’s mind, this is the game when the Gators took off last season. After a hugely disappointing loss to South Carolina last season, the Gators actually really practiced well from that point forward. It seems to have carried all the way through till now.
“Wednesday after the (South Carolina) game was a lot of fun last year,” he said. “Remember we had the bi-week before the FSU game. When we lost in Columbia I was really disappointed in that team but they worked extremely hard those two weeks. I saw something happening and ever since that game we’ve had an excellent run.”
The good practices hopefully will lead to a good showing on Saturday and Meyer knows his team will have to play good to win in Tallahassee. Meyer talked about a few key components to winning the game on Saturday.
“(FSU has) done a nice job of not giving up blocked punts,” Meyer said. “They are traditionally a punt block team and have won many games for years on special teams. We have created that here where they expect to win games like that. I think that will be the difference in the game.
“Can we move the ball against them and take care of the ball? I think (Eric) Carr and (Chris Davis) are going to be the guys we need to take care of. It is going to be can we cover those two, can we keep (Lorenzo) Booker in front of us and certainly special teams like a year ago. I bet every game we have had, special teams have been the difference and this will be no different.”
Reggie Nelson is up for the Bronco Nagurski award for the Nation’s best defensive player and the Jim Thorpe award for the nation’s best defensive back. Meyer has been very forthcoming with his compliments for his star free safety this season. Still, he recognized today to the team and the media that these are team awards and gave a great example of such after practice.
“From ‘91-2000 (at Florida) there were 12 award winners or finalists for the major awards, the Thorpe, Belitnikoff, Heisman, and Nagurski awards,” he said talking about the glory years of Florida football. “Since 2001 there have been two, Alex Brown and Keiwan Ratliff. That tells you right there that these are team awards. If we weren’t a very good team, I don’t care who Reggie Nelson is he wouldn’t be a finalist. If we want to get this thing going we should have those guys every year. We should have more than one at a place like Florida. But, he is a big part of why we haven’t given up many big plays.”
Nelson has always been that star player for the gators since his arrival last season. The same cannot be said for much maligned running back DeShawn Wynn. Wynn was almost a non factor when Meyer arrived last season. His size, speed, and power were some things they really wanted to utilize, but he always seemed to let something get in the way of actually producing on the field.
This season Wynn has over 600 yards and has almost tripled the next closest running back on the team. He has been a steadying influence in the offense a lot this season and at times has really stepped up to the plate and delivered when needed.
“He is a completely different person on the practice field, in the way he handles himself, and even off the field with some of the things he’s doing,” Meyer said about Wynn. “I admire guys that change. I admire guys that recognize there is a problem, address the problem and fix it. I don’t know if he’s perfect but he’s done a good job of fixing the problem. In some big time games even when he was less than 100% we gave him the ball. We wouldn’t have done that a year ago. I admire what he’s done, he’s changed completely.”
One newcomer that has really stepped up and had a good season is kick and punt returner Brandon James. James has returned three punts for touchdowns this season and had two of them called back. He has had a few more called back from penalties where he had good returns. Meyer thinks James is getting a raw deal.
“Even the ones that called back were very questionable,” Meyer said about the penalties on the punt returns. “There was a 25 yard return called back on Saturday and we turned it in and it came back and they said there was no foul. It’s amazing.”
Meyer understands what a tough job the officials have, but he knows where he stands on a foul that isn’t exactly seen by the official.
“I think that is the hardest foul to call because there are 22 bodies running around and all of a sudden you see a guy and not sure if contact was made,” Meyer said. “I asked the guy ‘are you sure you saw that because the kid told me he didn’t?’ On film I could see where the guy could make that call but there was no contact being made. Those are really difficult calls to make and I would rather them not make it unless they see the contact.
When asked if the referees probably anticipate a penalty on returns more than most places, Meyer said, “More than probably any other play.”
He also doesn’t have a problem with the overall job of the officials in the conference. Meyer is not in favor of having regionalized officials.
“I think we are fine,” he said. “I think overall they do a hell of a job.”
Injuries have been pretty kind to the Gators this year. They haven’t been totally void of the aches and pains of playing a tough schedule, but for the most part the Gators are a healthy team. Senior wide receiver Dallas Baker is nursing a slightly sprained MCL, but is expected back at practice tomorrow. Meyer went through the contingency plan in case Baker isn’t full speed.
“Dallas should be fine, he has played a lot of football, but we also have Bubba (Andre Caldwell) playing his position as well in case he can’t go,” Meyer said. “(Baker) did not practice, he just jogged but they told me he will be available tomorrow limited and then Thursday pretty good. That is probably the main or second main position when we throw the ball. (It probably means) more work for (Jarred) Fayson and more work for Percy (Harvin) at the H position because we moved Bubba to X. (Riley) Cooper will play a little more active role in the offense. ”
All of this flexibility wasn’t there last year at this time for the Gators. Cooper, Fayson, and Harvin are all true freshmen providing valuable reps this season. Caldwell missed most of the season due to injury and so the choices were just not there for the staff. Meyer says they will be looking to do the same with this next recruiting class at the wide receiver position.
“The thing is we are going to lose three of them,” Meyer said. “We still need to sign a bunch. We need 12 scholarship receivers and we aren’t there yet. We’ve run this offense for six years and we need 12 scholarship receivers. You are going to lose some and then some others can step up and play. We are still two recruiting classes away from filling it up.”
Linebackers Earl Everett and Brandon Siler have been banged up lately. Both missed the game against Western Carolina with injuries, but both are expected to play near full strength on Saturday. Meyer loves the play of freshmen linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe, but he doesn’t think they are quite ready to start in this game.
“I think Coach Strong is, but I’m not,” he said about being ready to play the youngsters. “Not against this team. With (Lorenzo) Booker and some of the speed they have I am not comfortable thinking they will be of the same caliber as Siler and Earl. Earl did everything except when we went live and the same as Siler. ”
One bright note about Tuesday’s practice is fellow freshman linebacker A.J. Jones was back at practice and taking part in contact drills. Jones broke his foot early in the season.
“A.J. Jones is back at practice,” he said. “He is getting to be full speed. He had his first full contact practice today and it is good to have him back.”
But the overall injury report was fairly good.
“I think we are going to be alright,” said Meyer.