When practice was canceled last Tuesday because of heavy rains and lightning, it threw off the entire week of preparation for the Florida Gators. A week later, Coach Urban Meyer does not ever expect that situation to repeat itself. Generally, Tuesday is the single most important practice day for the Gators because it sets the tone for the entire week.
“That [practice cancelled] won’t ever happen again,” said Meyer after practice Tuesday afternoon as the Gators get ready to host Alabama at The Swamp on Saturday. “That’s not fair to our players or coaches. That’s the first time it’s ever happened [in my coaching career]. We came in on Wednesday and we weren’t able to watch tape. A lot of times you put in things on Tuesday to evaluate it and take a lot of things out or add to it. That was a coaching error on my part.”
The Gators do their heavy contact work on Tuesdays. Last week when there was no heavy contact on Tuesday in preparation for Kentucky, the game planning and practice scheduling was thrown off and it showed Saturday night when the Gators faced the Wildcats. For much of the game, Florida seemed a step off or just out of synch.
To prevent the disruption of future practice Meyer said there are some alternatives but canceling practice is not one of them.
“I’m not sure the answer is other than you have to send them home or have them come back or have them wait around,” he said.
Florida is one of the few truly big time programs that does not have an indoor practice facility and Meyer said that will be changing. He said he has talked with athletic director Jeremy Foley about some sort of practice facility for inclement weather and added, “We’re going to get it … we talked about it, a bubble or something. We need something to practice.”
There were no weather issues this Tuesday and Meyer said the practice was very good in terms of effort although not a particularly great practice.
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Linebacker Darryon Robinson no longer has the term walk-on attached to his name. The senior from Gainesville Eastside was awarded a scholarship Monday evening.
“He deserved it,” said Meyer. “If you do everything right on and off the field, eventually it’s going to pay off for you. He’s going to graduate in December so it was the right thing to do. He’s helping us with special teams and he’s a great young person.”
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At his Monday media gathering, Meyer talked about the need to create more turnovers. The Gators are minus-two in that category through four games, a year after they finished second in the nation in turnover margin. The Gators have picked off five passes this year but they haven’t stripped the ball and recovered a fumble yet.
Meyer said the Gators work hard on teaching the defensive players to strip the ball and aggressively go after the football but so far things just haven’t worked out.
“You teach them to tackle the football a little bit, be more aggressive, you see guys coming through and knock the ball out of there,” said Meyer, who believes that there is a direct link to getting to the opposing quarterback and turnovers.
“The correlation between hitting the quarterback, that’s how we emphasize it, especially force the quarterback to fumble, force interceptions, making quick throws,” Meyer said. “The best way to force turnovers is to be aggressive and hit people. I feel like last year we were creating a lot more fumbles. I’m not sure why we’re not because we’re still playing very aggressive. I can’t imagine that you can do much more than we have, we just have to knock a few out of there.”
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Meyer is expecting a rowdy, loud atmosphere at The Swamp Saturday for the nationally televised SEC contest with Alabama. Last year, the environment at Tuscaloosa was totally electric and Meyer wants to not only duplicate, but surpass that.
Having a rowdy, deafening atmosphere also is a big selling point with recruits and there will be plenty on the Florida recruit benches in the south end zone Saturday.
“I can’t wait to see the environment this week and we have a bunch of recruits coming in,” said Meyer. “They pick these games to come to and not the smaller games.”
Meyer said that the wins over Tennessee and Florida State were huge factors in the recruiting wars where the Gators nailed down a class that ranked as high as first but no lower than second by nearly every recruiting expert.
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Redshirt freshman guard Ronnie Wilson won’t be able to play a full game Saturday but he will bet into the game. Wilson is back practicing after suffering a broken ankle back in August. He missed all of last season recovering from surgery so he’s eager to see some action again.
“I’ve been hurt since my senior year in high school so it seems like I’ve been around football a lot but I haven’t really played it,” said Wilson.
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Secondary coach Chuck Heater is well aware of Alabama’s wide receivers, Keith Brown and D.J. Hall. Brown leads the SEC in pass receptions with 26 for 402 yards and two touchdowns while Hall is averaging a whopping 22.1 yards per reception on his 11 catches, three of which have gone the distance.
Against Florida last year, Brown had two catches for 83 yards including a 63-yarder for a touchdown in the third quarter in Alabama’s 31-3 win over the Gators in Tuscaloosa. Heater says the Alabama wide receivers earned his respect with their play last year and the way they’ve opened the season this year.
“I like their guys a lot,” he said. “They killed us last year. We certainly respect them. I like what they’re doing with their quarterback (John Parker Wilson) and their receivers we know all about from last year.”
Heater said Alabama did a much better job of executing its game plan last year than Florida did on defense.
“They were better prepared and they got the job done and we didn’t,” he said. “They are a very well coached unit. We’ve got a lot of respect for the level of talent they have at Alabama and how well they are coached. We will have to play very well Saturday.”
The Gators gave up 26 completions in 38 pass attempts against Kentucky last week, but Heater said the most important statistic is what it said on the scoreboard: Florida 26, Kentucky 7.
“The bottom line is are you winning and keeping people out of the end zone?” said Heater. “The ultimate statistic is did you keep people from scoring? We could improve and we need to improve, but we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping people out of the end zone.”
Florida ranks eighth in the nation in total defense. In pass efficiency defense, the Gators are number 17 in the nation.
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Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen is quite familiar with Alabama’s base 3-3-5 defense but he’s quick to note that Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Joe Kines doesn’t just stick to one look.
“They’re always throwing different stuff at you,” he said. “They give you three down and four down fronts and moving people all over the place. You always have to make sure you’re sound and while you’re doing that you’re trying to make sure your matchups are set that you’re not mismatched. We’re always trying to find advantageous matchups for the offense. You have to do that and be sound with all the different movement the defense is doing.”
Mullen saw the 3-3-5 look all the time when he was with Meyer at the University of Utah.
“It’s something that we got to see a lot of when we were in the Mountain West Conference,” he said. “It’s the base defense of every team we saw out there, I think. Any time you’re in a three-down front with eight guys walking around all over the place you have to figure out which ones of those eight guys are coming after you.”
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Just because Alabama tailback Kenneth Darby is not off to his typical blazing start doesn’t mean that Meyer has lost even an ounce of respect for the senior. Darby, who could become Alabama’s all-time leading rusher this year, is averaging only 58.2 yards per game through four games. He’s got 233 yards on 77 carries, a most untypical 3.0 yards per carry. For his career, Darby has 2,722 yards and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
In last Saturday’s 24-23 loss to Arkansas, Darby carried 26 times but managed only 64 net rushing yards.
“Arkansas does an excellent job but he’s still that same back,” said Meyer. “I think they [Alabama] have a couple of new linemen … that Andre Smith is going to be a great player … is a great player already. I think they have played some pretty good teams and they may have struggled a little but he’s still the same kid.”
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Senior wide receiver Dallas Baker says the emphasis for the Gators this week is giving 100 percent effort, something he says was lacking in last year’s game at Tuscaloosa.
“It seemed like it was a totally different Florida team that was out there [last year],” Baker said. “Nobody was really giving effort. Our main focus this year is giving effort from the first play to the last. We have to use what happened last year … some guys maybe pulled up a second too late. Last year we didn’t give great effort. This year our whole thing is give effort.”