If there is one theme Meyer is trying to stress to everyone that will listen, it is the Florida Gators are going to be about the team and not about the individual. Last Saturday night on the field was a great example of teamwork as all facets of the team came together to pull out a huge win on the road over Tennessee. After the game, it was easy to see where the players are putting their focus.
It was a huge celebration in the depths of Neyland Stadium shortly after the Gators pulled off the win despite being down by 10 points late in the contest. It is a place where the Gators lost a lead two years ago and went home with a loss. This time, with a business like approach and trust in their teammates, the Florida Gators pulled together to finish strong and the world took notice.
The Gators are now ranked fifth in the country. The starting quarterback, Chris Leak, is the most efficient quarterback in the entire country. A freshman quarterback was called in to run the ball when the Gators needed some yards on the ground, Tim Tebow finished the night with seven plays and 29 yards of offense. The 6-3, 229 pound bulldozer got four critical first downs in his seven runs on the night. None was more crucial than a fourth and on the Gators last scoring drive that sealed the victory.
The play was set up when Leak was just short on a run after scrambling for first down yardage. Leak dropped back to pass and saw an opening, although he ran for about 15 yards on the play, Leak only covered four yards when he needed five for the first down. Enter Tebow.
The freshman stepped up, and just like he had done all night, he delivered two yards when only one was needed for the first down. Two plays later and Leak connects with senior wide receiver Dallas Baker for the final score of the game. Tebow wasn’t ready to take any credit.
“I was just trying to do what coach wanted me to do and I went in there and tried to give everything I have,” Tebow said. “I was excited. I was just depending on the rest of my team. Our team is really close. Our offensive line is great, I think they won the game for us today, they just opened up the hole and I was able to get the first down.”
The team concept would be reiterated much more before the end of the night.
Senior tailback DeShawn Wynn has been much scrutinized during his time as a Gator. He has always shown flashes of greatness, but he has never really shown the consistency that the coaching staff is looking for at the tailback spot. Saturday, Wynn was one of the most important pieces to the Gator victory. He had 104 rushing yards on the night including some very key runs. Gator fans may forget the run at the Gators’ own goal line on 3 and 19 from the one yard line. Wynn didn’t get a first down, but he took a run inside and bounced it outside for seven yards. It gave punter Eric Wilbur enough room to punt without being at the back of the end zone. The next series the Vols lost nine yards on a sack and were out of field goal range. Another field goal may have been too much to overcome.
Wynn knows he owes a lot to his success to the big guys up front that are blocking for him. Like Tebow and other teammates, he knows it is a team thing and not about I.
“I would love to run the ball behind that line all day,” Wynn said. “I had a good week of practice this week so I was feeling really confident and we ended up executing the run pretty well…We have to go out every week and prove we can run the ball. As long as we keep working like we do in practice, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Senior wide receiver Dallas Baker was one of the big heroes of the night. His two touchdown catches in the second half were brought on after a game of pushing his teammates to get it done.
“I was telling Coach Meyer on the sideline that I only went about 12 plays, so I really didn’t do anything in the first half,” Baker said. “My whole thing was to continue to motivate my teammates.”
The media seemed to want to make this a personal issue for Baker. Two years ago in Knoxville, Baker was called for a personal foul after retaliating in a scuffle with a Tennessee defender. Baker has shrugged off questions all week about the incident and was adamant that it didn’t affect him and was in the past. Instead, Baker’s motivation came from someone else on his team. “It feels great to score two touchdowns,” he said. “I can’t think about two years ago…Our whole thing was for Andre. We wanted him to show everyone he came back strong..”
Andre Caldwell is the junior receiver at Florida that suffered a season ending injury against Tennessee last season. Caldwell has been rehabbing and is starting to look completely healed from the injury.
For Gator Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen, the team concept has sure helped him out in his play calling. He has a lot of weapons now with the Caldwells, Bakers, Leaks, Tebows, and other offensive weapons at his disposal. This game may have been a true testament to that new Gator Reality.
Freshman wide receiver Percy Harvin has quickly become a staple on the offense. He has some unique skills and knows the offense well enough that the staff has designed series of plays for him. Harvin got off to his usual hot start, but came down with an injury that forced Mullen to look elsewhere.
“We had a lot going in making sure we got the ball to Percy and then when he went down, we kind of went with all the different play makers,” Mullen said. “I don’t think one guy stepped up and made a ton of plays but at some point in the game every one of our playmakers made a play and they were all huge.”
Having that many different options that he and the team can count on is something that has made his job a little easier this year.
“That is a big giant relief,” Mullen said. “When you are up there calling the game and they are going to take some people away here and there. At times they took Dallas Baker away and when they did, you saw Andre Caldwell make a big play or (Cornelius Ingram) make a big play. When we got our shots to get it to Dallas, he got the ball at critical times.”
“I was really pleased. I thought Chris Leak came in and really managed the game. He showed some maturity out there to manage the whole game for four quarters.”
For an offense, the epitome of teamwork may lie in the play of the offensive line. Often times, as the line goes, so goes the offense. Mullen has seen the team concept really grow with the offensive line and that in turn is making the whole offense that much better.
“They have come together as a group,” Mullen said of the offensive line. “Those guys walked out onto the field. Those offensive linemen believed they were going to get the first down. That is the key for us. They have really gelled as a unit and that is as important as individual talent anywhere those five guys gelling as one unit.”
It is more like eleven guys. The Gator offense is still a little bit of a work in progress. But each and every step it is becoming easy to see that these players believe in each other. Dallas Baker may leave the University of Florida’s as the school’s all time greatest statistical receiver. Chris leak may do the same at the quarterback position. Odds are when they are asked about those accomplishments, they will say that they were able to perform at that level because of their teammates.