“Sluggish” is how Coach Urban Meyer described the Florida Gators Wednesday practice. While that may not sound encouraging, particularly with Tennessee coming to town for Saturday’s SEC showdown at The Swamp (3:30 p.m., Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, CBS-TV), it’s only the middle of the week. If Meyer is still thinking sluggish on Thursday, then there is trouble.
“We’ve got some more work to do,” said Meyer, who is 2-0 against Tennessee for his career, 6-0 in rivalry games (Tennessee, Georgia and FSU) and 15-0 at The Swamp. “We’re facing a good team.”
There is plenty of work for the Gators this week. They’re breaking in a new starter at wide receiver with senior Bubba Caldwell sidelined with a sprained knee; they’re still trying to raise the level of play in the secondary; and they’re trying to prep a very young defensive line for what is expected to be a ball control assault on the ground by the Volunteers.
Three practices haven’t brought many smiles to Meyer’s face, but he doesn’t expect to be smiling quite yet.
“You don’t have to be feeling good yet,” said Meyer. “Tomorrow when I walk off the field this team has got to be feeling great about themselves.”
What Meyer will be looking for on Thursday is a team that is confident about its assignments. That will show up in the way they leave the huddle and go to the line of scrimmage.
“When a play is called — ‘ready break’ and they go to the line of scrimmage — and they’re thinking about their assignment there’s a good chance when you’re facing a good opponent you’ll fail because you’re not reacting,” Meyer said. “We had too much of that today. I saw guys thinking, where do I get lined up and what do I do?”
The Gators could have gotten away with that in the first two games. Western Kentucky and Troy are not on the same level with the Tennessee Vols, almost always well coached and in the hunt for the SEC championship. The athletes at Tennessee are among the nation’s elite and Meyer knows they’re way above average.
If the Gators are still thinking about what to do instead of reacting, Meyer says they will be in trouble.
“Against a good player you won’t survive,” he said. “Against an average player you beat him because you’re more blessed than that guy. We’re not there yet. Tomorrow we have to be there.”
For Florida’s young players, Meyer is hoping that they will have that tingly feeling again when it’s time to take the field Saturday. They felt the dry mouth and the chill bumps that first game against Western Kentucky, but he wants them to feel it again. This is Tennessee, a huge rival, and this game should take the excitement level to a new pitch.
“I want them to be excited,” said Meyer. “I want them to hyperventilate a little bit, I want them to gasp for air and I want them to play as hard as they can and that’s going to happen. That happened in the first game against western Kentucky. The atmosphere [Saturday] is going to be a touch different.”
NO-HUDDLE VOLS: Tennessee is spreading the field more this year but the biggest change in the offensive scheme is the no-huddle approach that offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe has installed. The no-huddle is designed to keep the game flowing at a faster tempo while making it difficult for defensive units to substitute.
With the defensive line, there shouldn’t be delays for substitutions since Coach Greg Mattison has a substitution rotation going on nearly every play. Tennessee’s way of doing things shouldn’t take much adjustment since Troy used a similar approach last week.
“We practice that all the time,” he said. “We practiced it last week [for Troy].”
One by product of the no-huddle is what Meyer called “stemming,” something he’s seen Tennessee doing a lot in its first two games (loss at Cal, win at home against Southern Miss).
“They’ll quick tempo you and they’ll try to stem you,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of stemming going on Saturday. That’s when you give a fake cadence and then the defense shows you what they’re in so it’s going to be a little bit of a chess match Saturday.”
IMPRESSIVE FRESHMAN: Carlos Dunlap, the 6-7, 290-pound defensive end from Charleston, South Carolina, continues to amaze Meyer and his coaching staff. Dunlap, who ran back kickoffs in high school last year, has tremendous speed to go with a wide wingspan and leaping ability. Troy discovered that Dunlap is a real problem for a punter, too, when the big guy crashed through the middle of the line and blocked a punt last week.
“He’s a freak,” said Meyer. “He does things that a lot of people can’t do. He’s got over a 35-inch vertical jump.”
Not only is Dunlap finding success on the playing field as a true freshman, but he’s also doing well in the classroom.
“That’s a different dude now,” said Meyer. “I love him. He’s working hard in school. We had our academic meeting today and he’s got a lot of good stuff about him. He’s gonna have a good future here.”
GOOD PRACTICE FOR ANDERSON: Markihe Anderson, sidelined game one and most of game two with a sprained MCL, had what Meyer termed a good practice Wednesday. The sophomore corner is Florida’s best cover guy and he’ll be needed Saturday to help slow down Tennessee’s passing game, led by quarterback Erik Ainge.
Since Anderson hasn’t played much in the first two games, Meyer knows his cornerback’s excitement level is going to go through the roof — perhaps too high — so he’s got a remedy in place.
“I told Drew Miller when he gets that look on his face, you’re in charge of calming him down because he’s going to be excited,” said Meyer.
RESPECT FOR THE SWAMP: The Gators don’t practice in The Swamp. Meyer says it’s a matter of respect. He wants his team to view the stadium as their place of business.
“The reason I really wanted to come to Florida was because of that stadium,” said Meyer. “I sat and wanted to be there in the 90s watching them [the Gators] play, then I got finally got there and walked in there. You don’t go in there and start scrumming around.”
Meyer wants his team to take a serious attitude about the stadium and that turf. He wants them to respect it as the place where they win football games, not the place where they iron out mistakes. That’s why practice is for practice fields only.
“That was not a hard decision,” he said. “That was a right decision too. I think when the kids go in there they know it’s business.”
Meyer’s attitude is that Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is the greatest venue for a college football game in the country.
“That stadium is different,” he said. “That’s different than any stadium in the country.”
He expects his team to have a similar attitude, too.
“I would be disappointed if they didn’t say it’s the greatest stadium in college football and I know they enjoy playing in it,” he said.
BETTER DAY FROM THE TWOS: Meyer was disappointed in his second unit play on Tuesday, particularly the offensive line. He got a better effort from the twos on Wednesday.
“The twos were a little better,” he said. “I saw Carl Johnson (redshirt freshman tackle) did better today and Marcus Gilbert (redshirt freshman tackle) did better today.”
STEALING SIGNALS: Because of the recently exposed flap in the NFL where the New England Patriots are accused of illegally video taping the defensive and offensive signals of opponents from behind their bench, Meyer was asked if stealing signals is done at Florida.
“We always look and we don’t video it,” he said. He added that watching the opponent’s sideline to see if there is a way to figure out the signals to the team on the field is something his coaches do.
“There are a few games that we’ve gotten the signals and that’s an advantage,” he said.
The Gators use very few signals to their offensive team. Instead, the offensive players wear wrist bands that have the plays numbered on them. The Gators do use sideline signals to the defensive team mostly, although against Tennessee, the defensive team might go with the wrist band approach.
“When you face a no-huddle team, our guys have a tendency to wear wrist bands,” he said.