The Florida Gators face their first true test of the season Saturday in Knoxville against a very good Tennessee football team that could be riding an emotional crest. The Vols have gotten some unexpected good news this week, enough to give them a real lift but Coach Urban Meyer isn’t worried about emotions. He just wants the Gators prepared to win.
The Volunteers lost starting cornerback Inky Johnson for the season during their game with the Air Force Academy Saturday, a scary injury that produced some gruesome reports. Tuesday, however, Johnson showed up to practice along with defensive tackle Justin Harrell, who was also projected to miss the rest of the season after he tore a bicep tendon in last week’s win over Air Force. Doctors told Harrell Monday that he can’t hurt the arm anymore than it already is, so he’s been given the okay to play Saturday night. Just having the two starters there at practice supposedly was enough to provide a huge emotional lift for the Vols.
Emotions are fine, but Meyer is far concerned more about Tennessee’s personnel than he is their emotional peaks and valleys.
“I don’t worry about an emotional lift, I worry that he’s a great football player,” Meyer said after the Gators practiced Thursday. “He’s a guy that is hard to block.”
Whether or not Harrell will be able to contribute is something Meyer can’t answer. He finds it a little difficult to believe that Harrell would play if he only has the use of one arm in the game.
“Injury is the worst part of the profession, and the worst part of playing,” Meyer said. ‘We wish him the best. I don’t know how severe the injury is that he can do it. They wouldn’t play him if he couldn’t play with two arms.”
The Gators may get their own emotional lift from a pair of players returning from injury. Wide receiver Bubba Caldwell and defensive tackle Ray McDonald both went down with injuries last year against Tennessee but both are healthy and ready to go Saturday night. Caldwell has come all the way back from a broken leg while McDonald, who injured a knee in that game last year, had double knee surgery back in January. For those guys, this game may mean a little more. “I think it is very important,” Meyer said. “Those aren’t just sprained ankles that they went through. I heard (McDonald and Caldwell talk about that) too, but I haven’t brought it up. I think how you win the game is when the foot hits the ball who is the most prepared team is going to win. Everyone has their own motivation to play. Ours is to win the SEC.” Meyer expects some very tough match ups to occur Saturday night. Tennessee has a set of very big receivers with a lot of talent that will be trotted onto the field. Conversely, Florida has two new cornerbacks that will be facing these receivers. It is much the same thing for Florida’s receivers and Tennessee’s secondary.
“The two quarterbacks, the two corners, and the safeties will be an intriguing match-up,” Meyer said. “(Robert) Meachem, (Jayson) Swain, and (Bret Smith), they have three very good receivers.
“Our offensive line and their defensive line and our corners matching up against their receivers will be intriguing. I feel very good about (the play of the offensive line).”
Meyer will also get freshman quarterback Tim Tebow on the field Saturday. Tebow has had a strong start to his career so far and Meyer recognizes that he has had two strong weeks of practice.
“He’s going to play, he had a good week,” Meyer said of Tebow. “That first week he was sick as a dog, but he’s had two good weeks.”
Just when Tebow makes his debut on Rocky Top is up in the air. For Meyer, the situation has to be right, particularly if it’s in the first half.
“Wait and see, I don’t want to commit,” he said. “He certainly could be, he has earned that right and is playing very well.”
Meyer explained Thursday why he usually defers kick offs when he wins the coin toss. It is all about field position with Meyer and he evidently holds the defense in high regard thinking they will keep the opponent’s offense at bay.
“We defer almost all the time,” Meyer said. “We are a field position team. I’ve done it many times where we have taken the ball, but only if we are trying to get something accomplished. Normally we defer.”
With the new clock rules and the clock starting when the ball is placed instead of when the first play of a series starts, minutes are deleted from the game. Meyer doesn’t see something like that affecting his thinking, especially in a game like the one coming up on Saturday.
“I thought about that,” Meyer said. “Not in a game like this. These are two sledge hammers. You have to be smart. Don’t worry about possessions in this one. We need to win the game. Just like all SEC teams, possessions aren’t going to come into play. It’s who take cares of the ball and who plays better defense and who makes a couple of plays.”