Florida Gator Head Coach Urban Meyer is facing some injury worries on offense these days yet he really likes how his team is preparing for their first SEC Championship game since 2000. The 11-1 and number four ranked Gators will travel to Atlanta (GA) this weekend to face the Arkansas Razorbacks and the team seems to be responding to the challenge.
Meyer said Monday he would treat the team different this week and reward them for making the game. Through Tuesday’s practice that way of approaching the game seems to be paying off in how the team is going about it’s preparation for the contest.
“The attitude is tremendous,” Meyer said about practice. “We have a bunch of guys practicing for a Championship game. Their attitude is great, so that’s the best thing we have going.”
One thing the Gators can take solace in is that they won’t be running on the field-turf for the first time when they play the game on Saturday. The rubberized grass substitute is a staple in Domes around the country and the Gators have a field-turf field as their third practice field that was installed before Meyer’s first season as a coach at Florida.
“Yeah our strength coach was very involved and he was screaming his lungs off that (the Championship game) is the reason we have that,” Meyer said. “I wanted it in there because of the weather issues, but it makes a lot of sense to have that because of the Georgia Dome.”
Meyer is not afraid to use whatever resource he has available to help minimize the transition for his team playing in the game. That may mean calling rival coaches and finding out what they can help with. Such was the case when Meyer called Georgia Head Coach mark Richt (an old friend) this past weekend to inquire about some things that go on in Atlanta.
“I probably shouldn’t have said it, I hear it’s all over the place,” Meyer said about a comment he made at his weekly press conference concerning the conversation with Richt. “I called him up and said tell me about the surface, tell me about the sidelines, tell me about the hotel, and tell me how they treat you. He said to make sure you take care of the people that aren’t traveling.
“We hadn’t been there in so long. I didn’t know who to ask. Some of our guys were there before, but times change. It was just a quick conversation.”
One of the challenges this week will be to stop Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden. The 6-2, 205 pound speedster leads the SEC in rushing (124 yards per game) and scoring this season. Meyer said there is no other runner to compare him to. They try and prepare each week for the different running backs they see.
“We try and develop what kind of runner he is and he is a very distinct runner,” Meyer said of McFadden. He is an acceleration guy. All his long runs are (straight ahead).
“We actually had our secondary come out in full pads today for the first half and did “to the ground” tackle drills…Chuck Heater wanted to get (tackling) in today…That’s going to be how you win this game. It’s a much different angle, if he’s a cut-back runner you stay on the backside hip of the runner. If you stay on the backside hip of this guy, he’s a 10.5 100 meter guy, that backside hip disappears. It is very distinct in how he runs.
With the Gators facing injury at the running back position with DeShawn Wynn, they may have to look to a backup. Meyer gave a list of names that would fill the bill in case Wynn isn’t ready. Kestahn Moore, Brandon James, Marcus Manson and our left handed quarterback.
One name he didn’t mention is freshman tailback Mon Williams who came in at the end of the Western Carolina game and excelled. There are two good reasons why Williams isn’t ready to see game time at running back in a game like this.
“His biggest thing is ball security and knowledge of everything that is going on,” Meyer said of Mon Williams. “I don’t think there is any question about his ability to run the ball. It is his knowledge of pass protection, and if you want to win championships you do not lay that thing on the ground. I don’t see him playing in the game at that position. There are thirteen possessions, you can’t lay one on the ground and win this game.”
Williams is a younger player whose time will come, bit one older player that seems to be making the most of the absence of another is senior defensive tackle Steven Harris. Harris made the switch from the regular defensive tackle spot to the nose guard position up front and played well last week.
“(Harris) is doing really (well),” Meyer said. “He did very well at FSU and played one of his best games. He is a big body guy and a try hard guy that is doing very well.”
Injuries may be the biggest story right now. Three key players missed practice on Tuesday, but Meyer is hopeful they all will return soon.
“Percy (Harvin) (neck) didn’t practice today, DeShawn Wynn (shoulder) didn’t practice, and Earl Everett (ankle) really didn’t practice today,” Meyer said. Joe Cohen (elbow) is fine and practiced full speed today.”
Most thought that Harvin got his bell rung in the game at FSU and was being held out this week because of that. It is actually a neck issue when he was gang tackled by three of FSU’s linebackers.
“It’s really not the head it’s the neck,” Meyer said. “It’s just real sore right now and stiff. I still am (optimistic) and I trust our doctors and its all positive. He will be ready by Saturday, but he has to practice too… Obviously he wants to (practice); we have to cage him down. We will get something out of tomorrow and know more on Thursday.
In the mean time a couple of other freshman dynamos will get a chance to show their stuff this week in practice and try to see playing time.
“Jarred Fayson and Brandon James will get a little more at the position,” Meyer said. “We moved Bubba (Andre Caldwell) around a little bit and Jamelle (Cornelius). We have enough personnel. Its jut a young player with that kind of talent you’d like to practice more.”