VETTEL: Gators Win to End Decade Drought

A six-and-oh start doesn’t seem like it should be all that unique, but today’s win over LSU gives the Florida Gators its first such start in ten years. The ’96 Gators went on to make it a 10-and-0 start before falling to FSU in Tallahassee. While it won’t be easy to win the next four, I’m sure not going to bet against it.

Florida’s win over LSU is likely to vault the Gators into the top three of the national ranking and possibly number two. The Gators might be as balanced as any team in the nation and made some tremendous plays in all phases of the game.

It was a game that saw or should I saw HEARD The Swamp at its best in a long, long time. It was a noisy, passionate crowd from the get-go and they got more than their money’s worth.

Total Team Effort

The Gators got excellent play across the board to defeat what is a fine LSU football team. Offensively they overcame another heavy day of penalty yardage to score three touchdowns against the SEC’s top rated defense. They put just enough pressure on JaMarcus Russell to force LSU’s quarterback to throw three interceptions. The special teams were almost flawless until allowing Eric Wilbur’s punt to be blocked in the final four minutes.

Once again the Gators showed poise and toughness, overcoming falling behind for the fifth time in six games. The Gators got a huge break with the score tied at seven when LSU fumbled near the north end zone. After a three-and-out Ryan Smith intercepted Russell at the Florida 28.

Then, in what is becoming a weekly ritual, Florida puts together a big touchdown drive late in the first half, this time going 72 yards in nine plays culminating in a goofy looking but brilliantly conceived jump pass from Tim Tebow to Tate Casey with just 22 seconds remaining in the half.

The Gator special teams had a great moment to start the second half when Early Doucet muffed the kickoff, had it knocked into the end zone giving the Gators a safety and a 16-7 advantage. After the free kick Florida’s offensive coordinator Dan Mullen pulled off another beauty, faking a Tebow wrong and having the rookie QB throw a TD strike to Louis Murphy. Florida was up 23-to-7 and all that was left was two LSU field goal tries… one bad, one good.

Youth Was Really Served

The Gator senior class has gotten a ton of praise in the first month-plus of the season and with good reason. The 22-member group has not only done the important leadership things off the field, they have been very productive on the field as well.

But this game was not about the old folks. Florida’s performance was dominated by several younger players, some of whom had hardly been heard from before Saturday afternoon. Let’s look at some of those performances.

Louis Murphy —– During last fall practice I thought Murphy had the best combination of physical attributes among the rookie receivers and that view was shared by many. However Murphy has had some issues off the field and has gotten in his own way of developing as a player. But there he was checking in late on the play where Tebow faked the run and threw deep. No reason for the Tigers to be concerned about a guy who has not caught a pass all season, is there? Apparently so.

Riley Cooper —– This little used true freshman made the special teams hit of the year causing the safety on the first play of the second half, Cooper is a very physical guy and I suspect he will step right into the rotation at receiver next year… unless Doc Holliday can sneak him across the line to play some safety. (Urban Meyer was asked about that after the game on his post-game radio show and answered quickly, “We have four seniors we’re losing a wide receiver, he ain’t going anywhere!”

Tony Joiner —– Yeah, I know he’s a starter and a junior but when do people talk about Florida’s strong safety? Well, they’re going to have to start now. Joiner may be overshadowed by fellow safety Reggie Nelson, but he had an excellent game breaking up two passes, making five tackles and icing the win with an interception in the end zone just one play after LSU blocked a Florida punt.

Ronnie Wilson —– Wilson and Drew Miller were the Gators’ best linemen before the big guy got hurt in the pre-season. Wilson returned to action against LSU and the Tigers are wishing his re-hab had taken another week. Wilson looked to be playing great ball and demonstrating his well documented enthusiasm. Florida’s constantly improving offensive line will get even better with redshirt freshman guard in there.

Tim Tebow —– Granted, he’s already made an impact, but until Saturday he had not thrown a touchdown pass. The double-clutch jump pass at the goal line was as amusing as it was important. But the laser he threw to Murphy off the run fake shows how explosive this offense will be in the future. He ran hard, he blocked hard and he reached another level as a college football player/icon in the making.

Party Pooper Time

Okay, everyone is euphoric, but let’s keep it in perspective, at least just a bit. Florida remains the most penalty prone team in the SEC, this time being flagged 14 times for 102 yards. LSU on the other hand picked up just 30 yards in flags. While the disparity is hard to understand (apparently it is impossible to hold UF pass rushers) that doesn’t excuse the mistakes Florida keeps making. Multiple false starts and illegal formations at home are inexcusable. Does EVERY decent return have to have a penalty? Reggie Nelson’s late hit on a defenseless receiver could have led to a touchdown. Those things can come back to haunt you if you don’t quit.

Chris Hetland remains oh-fer-2006 in field goals and you gotta think the inability to make kicks has the potential to bit the Gators in the butt as well.

But I promise you just about every team in the nation would trade their problems for Florida’s. No deal.