When people talk about the Florida receiving corps this year, the conversation usually starts with Dallas Baker and Bubba Caldwell, two guys who have already passed the 1,000 yard mark in the Gator careers. Two games into 2006 the next name is Percy Harvin. The PH Factor injected a dynamic, explosive element into the Florida offense with 201 combined yards rushing and receiving on just 13 touches.
Off to the side you have senior Jemalle Cornelius, the quiet, unassuming veteran who Florida Coach Urban Meyer knows can be another major weapon in the Gator attack. Cornelius may not even be the most talked about Cornelius in the Gator receiving corps; that honor likely goes to Cornelius Ingram. Yet it is Jemalle Cornelius whose average of 25.8 yards per catch is the best on the Florida team.
Cornelius has caught 37 passes as a Gator, and with ten regular season games to go appears certain to join the 1,000 yard club. His five career touchdown receptions have been exceeded only by Baker (13) on the current Florida roster.
Saturday night was another productive one for Cornelius who grabbed three passes for 74 yards against UCF. Afterwards he talked with me (and other media guys) about the Gator offense seemingly firing on all cylinders.
LV: Jemalle is that what the Florida offense is supposed to look like?
JC: That’s exactly how it’s supposed to look. We got a lot of stuff done tonight. We gotta cut down on the turnovers and penalties and stuff like that, but we got a lot of guys making plays and that’s what offense is all about.
LV: Did you come in expecting to have this big of a game against UCF?
JC: Yeah. We felt like we didn’t play as well as we could have in the first week, but we just put that behind us and prepared really hard in practice. We wanted to make sure we’d come out and do what we know we can do to get this offense rolling.
MG: Coach said you guys did a lot of two minute drill
JC: I think it went well. With the new clock rules you don’t get many possessions. So we gotta make sure we get in and out of the hurry up offense so we can take advantage of the possessions we get.
LV: Does the hurry up help you also take more advantage of your speed since everything is happening faster?
JC: Yeah, definitely. When you do that you can take advantage of defenses getting tired. That’s just another advantage for us to use and it worked great for us.
MG: Is that the best you’ve seen Chris Leak?
JC: He was on tonight; that’s one of the best displays of offense I’ve been involved in since I’ve been here, definitely. We’ve set the bar now and we have to make sure we keep going and keep performing week in and week out.
MG: How nice was it to see Bubba out there catching touchdowns?
JC: Oh man I felt good for him. When he caught the first one he scared me a little bit because he stayed down a little bit, but it felt good to see him come back and battle through all the stuff he had to go through. I feel like he’s ready to go now that he has all the jitters out of the way.
MG: Did he seem like the same Bubba?
JC: He had a great week of practice and I know he was real anxious to out there and make some plays. I think since he’s got some under his belt now he’ll be ready to go.
MG: When you guys are making big plays that certainly makes this offense go and make some sparks out there.
JC: That’s what it’s all about. We try to make sure we make plays. Coach Meyer tries to get the ball in our hands a lot, and when he does that we gotta be able to make the play.
MG: Eleven different guys caught passes tonight and five caught passes for over 20 yards. How much does having so many options help in creating the big plays?
JC: Having that depth we can get guys in and out of games and keep people fresh. Most of the time when a receiver’s fresh and they can run that’s when they’re more likely to make plays. Now that we got a lot of fresh bodies out there you even see freshmen making plays and that’s what we need.
After just two games, the Florida Gators have seen five different receivers and four different runners produce plays of over 20 yards. The big play potential is now clearly established heading into SEC play. While maintaining the pace of seven or eight 20-yard plays a game is unrealistic against SEC defenses, managing three-to-five is not. And those three to five plays will determine just how far this team goes in 2006.