Time To End Spurrier Eclipse On UF Program

This is the moment every Gator has dreaded since the day that Stevie Wonder said he’s heading to Columbia to teach the Chickens how to fly. Steve Spurrier is coming to The Swamp to coach against the Florida Gators. You never thought you’d see that day, did you? It’s okay if you admit that you’re a teensy bit nervous, too, because the boy still can coach.

The good news is that you can ratchet down the nervousness to more manageable levels. There’s no way that South Carolina can keep the Gators out of Atlanta this year. Last year, Spurrier’s first in Columbia, the Chickens pulled off the upset, beating Florida and preventing the Gators from going to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. No matter what happens Saturday at The Swamp, Florida will be in Atlanta this year. The East Division title has been clinched. So you don’t have to worry about that.

But there’s plenty at stake and it’s not just about where Florida will be playing in the postseason although that’s more than just a minor little detail. Yeah, if the Gators win they’re still in the hunt for the national championship and if South Carolina wins, you can kiss any chance of that good-bye. No way a two-loss team plays for all the marbles.

No, this is more important than winning the national championship. Much more important.

With Urban Meyer running the show and recruiting the way he is, you can bet the ranch and any cash you’ve hidden away in a can in the back yard that the Florida Gators are going to win a national championship or two in the not so near future. If you don’t believe me, then check out last year’s recruits then take a look at who’s committed this year and who’s in for an official visit this weekend. Not only do the Gators have the most impressive single game visit list in the country here this weekend, but there are four and five-star players clamoring to get those last eight or nine spots left in the class.

Now do some simple math. Add last year’s class with what the Gators are going to get this year and what do you have? You get a team that has an abundance of talent, plenty of speed, some big guys that can block out the sun, a lot of fast guys, some defensive guys that can knock people into next week, some more fast guys, quarterbacks that can throw and some very fast wide receivers that can catch, some very fast running backs and some very fast defensive backs that can cover people.

Did I mention that Urban Meyer has said several times that he intends to make the Florida Gators the fastest team in the country?

So figure it’s only a matter of time before Urban gets his first national championship. The Gators have NEVER had anyone that can recruit like this coach and this staff.

Okay, so if it’s a given that the Gators will get a national championship eventually, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is the long shadow of Stevie Wonder. He’s the only Florida football coach that’s ever won an SEC championship that counted and he’s also the only Florida football coach that has ever won a national championship. He’s the winningest coach in Florida history and he not only won a Heisman Trophy, he coached the only other Gator in history that won one.

This isn’t a shadow, folks. It’s a total eclipse of the sun and the sooner Urban Meyer whips Stevie Wonder’s butt, the sooner the Florida program shines brighter than those pants that former LSU defensive coordinator Carl Reese says Spurrier used to wear.

Win and Spurrier’s still there, still the greatest Gator in history if you consider all the playing and coaching accomplishments combined. Nothing will ever change that. But win and Spurrier’s no longer invincible. He becomes a mere mortal, someone simply trying to do something that nobody else has ever done up in Columbia, which is make the Chickens consistent winners.

And that’s bigger than winning a national championship, although it’s a natural born fact that Urban Meyer can kill two birds with one stone this weekend. Win and not only is the eclipse gone but the Gators are still in the hunt to be the Big Kahuna of college football this year. Urban can go two for two Saturday and that’s a really big deal.

But winning won’t be easy. You can figure that Stevie Wonder, being the evil genius that he is, will do something radical like alternate Syvelle Newton and Blake Mitchell at quarterback just for the pure hell of it. He knows he’s facing the best defense he’s seen all year and that means he just might have to shake things up a whole lot. Syvelle’s a spread guy that doesn’t mind taking off running. Mitchell’s a sitting duck in the pocket but if he’s got time, he can throw a fade and post corner route with the best of them. You go alternating quarterbacks and at some point the defense gets confused at the most inopportune moment (see Dougie to Quezzie 1997 against the SOW).

Sidney Rice is awake now, too. He was in a mild slumber most of the season but now that it’s November and the pro scouts are watching closely, he’s awakened. Gotta put up some big numbers in November to secure a first round contract next April in the NFL draft. Rice is 6-4 and the Gators don’t have a corner taller than 5-10 so you can bet the rule of thumb for the South Carolina quarterbacks is aim high. The other South Carolina receivers may not be thoroughbreds like Rice but they aren’t Shetland ponies, either. They’re really good but the key is still Rice. stop him and you’ve gone a long way toward stopping the South Carolina offense.

How do you stop Rice? One good way to do it is make sure that Newton and Mitchell spend a lot of time on their butts. There’s nothing like a good old fashioned pass rush to make the secondary look really good. If someone can get some push up the middle, then Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss can spend as much time in the South Carolina backfield as tailback Cory Boyd.

Defensively, the Chickens aren’t bad at all and Jasper and Casper Brinkley are both pretty good players. The way to take South Carolina out of its defensive rhythm is run it straight up the gut enough that the safeties have to creep in to help the linebackers, then throw it over the top off play action. The South Carolina corners are pretty good when they’ve got help from the safeties. The idea is to take the safeties out of the game and the guy that can make that happen is DeShawn Wynn, who’s healthier now than he’s been in awhile.

If the Gators get the running game going with Wynn, then Dallas Baker can do his thing in the middle of the field and South Carolina has nobody capable of covering him. Actually there isn’t anyone in the SEC capable of covering him but somehow, he disappeared for a few games. He’s back as everybody that watched the Vandy game knows. Getting the ball in Baker’s hands has to be the main priority once the running game gets going. A couple of X-factors in the passing game are Percy Harvin, who says he’s healthier than he’s been since UCF, and Cornelius Ingram, who’s going to be matched up with a linebacker.

Getting the running game going might also mean it’s Tebow Time. If you’re the type that wagers a little bit of your cold hard cash then bet a few bucks that when Tim Tebow comes into the game, he’s got more than just running on his mind. Remember that pass to Louis Murphy against LSU? So here’s the deal. When he comes in the game, if the Chickens go nine in the box, he’ll play fake and throw it. If they cover the receivers, he’ll rip off a few runs.

If there’s a distinct edge for Florida it’s on special teams and this is where you can expect the Gators will be the ultimate difference maker. A punt block or a punt return by Brandon James — this game sets up perfectly for one or both of those things to happen.

South Carolina won’t go down easily and if the Gators come out flat, they could find this an ornery bunch of Chickens. Given all that’s at stake and the recruiting implications, bet on it that Urban Meyer won’t let this team come out flat.

Here’s guessing that the Gators end the Spurrier eclipse and keep the national championship dream alive to a tune of something like 27-17.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.