DeShawn Wynn will tell you that he didn’t always practice hard in 2005, Urban Meyer’s first year as the head coach at the University of Florida. He led the team in rushing with 621 yards and scored seven touchdowns, but the effort in practice often left plenty to be desired.
Through Florida’s first two games, Wynn has carried only 16 times but that’s been good for 96 yards and a couple of touchdowns even though he’s playing through a painful neck stinger. As he gets healthier, and particularly with the Tennessee Vols looming on the schedule Saturday night in Knoxville, the 5-10, 230-pound senior tailback knows that a good performance from him would go a long way toward helping the Gators get that first SEC win of the season.
That means he will have to play through some pain this week in practice and probably in Saturday night’s game but he’s ready for it.
“I wouldn’t say I’m fully recovered [from the stinger] but it’s nothing that I can’t play through right now,” said Wynn after Monday evening’s practice. “It’s real physical pain. If it was something mental, it’s something I could push through it which I’m doing anyway. Even though I’ve got the pain, I’m going to have to play with it.”
And playing with it means putting in the effort in practice.
“I wouldn’t say right now I’m ready [to play Saturday],” he said. “I’ve got to have a good week of practice first. I’ve got to practice hard this week.”
That was a problem last year. When Wynn had good practices, he typically had big games but when he had a so-so week when he took a couple of days off, it showed with his performance. Coach Urban Meyer took him aside this summer and showed him the films of games and practice that proved that point.
“Compared to last year there’s a big difference in the effort,” said Wynn. “He [Meyer] made a point to me that if you don’t practice hard it shows in the ball game. A couple of times last year when I had a bad practice I didn’t have a good game so I try every week in practice now to get it done.”
Wynn’s improvement and the continuing maturation of sophomore tailback Kestahn Moore has Meyer saying good things about the tailback position. That’s an area on the team that he rarely had anything good to say back in the spring or during the preseason drills.
“I feel good about him and Kestahn,” said Meyer. “I have not said that around here very often. He [Wynn] has been running harder than he has, even though he has not had a lot of carries. The times he has had carries, he was injured in the first game and in the second game, he was not 100 percent. We need him for this week and I thought Kestahn Moore ran hard as well. He [Wynn] should be healthy and ready to go.”
Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said that he needs good practice weeks out of Wynn and Moore and both of his tailbacks need to show up big Saturday night against a Tennessee team that has one of the better defenses the Gators will face this year.
“I’m hoping he’s back 100 percent and ready to go,” said Meyer. “He and Kestahn are going to have to carry the ball for us to win the game. We’re going to get the running backs the ball and let them get the bulk of the carries this week.”
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The Gators had quite a few players on both sides of the ball grade champion in the 42-0 win over UCF last Saturday night. On defense, grading champion were Ray McDonald (end), Joe Cohen (tackle), Derrick Harvey (end), Steve Harris (tackle), Jarvis Moss (end), Earl Everett (linebacker), Reggie Lewis (corner), Ryan Smith (corner), Markihe Anderson (corner), Marcus Thomas (tackle), Reggie Nelson (safety), Brandon Siler (linebacker) and Brian Crum (linebacker). For the second straight week, the defensive player of the game was safety Tony Joiner. Joiner made a big play in the third quarter when he tackled a UCF running back for a safety.
On the offensive side of the ball, it was noteworthy that all the linemen graded out champion. Making the grade were Carlton Medder (tackle), Tate Casey (tight end), Jim Tartt (guard), Steve Rrissler (center), Drew Miller (guard), Maurice Hurt (guard), Billy Latsko (fullback), Dallas Baker (wide receiver), Jemalle Cornelius (wide receiver), Percy Harvin (wide receiver), Bubba Caldwell (wide receiver), Phil Trautwein (tackle), DeShawn Wynn (tailback) and Kestahn Moore (tailback). Quarterback Chris Leak was the offensive player of the game. Leak threw for four touchdown passes and had a career high 352 passing yards.
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When assessing the plan to win for the UCF game, Meyer took a moment to praise his seniors for their leadership. On one play, in particular, the maturity of one of his seniors showed up big.
On Florida’s fifth offensive play of the game, Leak connected with Harvin on a short drag route across the middle and Harvin turned it into a 58-yard streak down the sidelines for his first collegiate touchdown. Harvin slammed the ball into the ground when he crossed the goal line and was fortunate that he wasn’t flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“One most notable example [of leadership] is when that young freshman Percy Harvin scored a touchdown and threw the ball in the ground,” said Meyer. “We don’t do that here. We throw the ball to the official and we have a rule that you go find a lineman and hug him up. I didn’t have to tell him. I heard Dallas Baker explain that to him. It’s a good indication that some of these old guys are taking the baton and working with the young guys.”
Meyer felt Florida met its objectives in the plan to win on defense, red zone offense, kicking game, time of possession and field position. The one area that the Gators really came up short was in the turnover department where Florida fumbled twice and threw two interceptions while failing to turn over UCF even once.
Meyer described the four turnovers as “very uncharacteristic of us and we’ll be 0-1 in SEC play if we do that again.”
Meyer said that if the Gators come up 0-4 in the turnover battle again it will be disastrous.
“I can’t imagine that we had four turnovers,” said Meyer. “We’ll lose a game [if it happens again]. That can’t happen.”
Three of the four turnovers were by freshmen. Quarterback Tim Tebow had a fumble and threw an interception on a tipped ball. Harvin had a fumble trying to stretch for extra yardage in the first quarter. The other turnover was a Chris Leak pass that was tipped twice. For the season the Gators are minus two in the turnover department. Last year the Gators finished second in the nation in turnover margin.
Defensively, the Gators came up very big, holding UCF to 153 net yards and 56 of those came on the first possession of the game. The Gators held UCF to only three first down conversions on 16 third downs.
“We shut out a Division IA opponent that played in a bowl game, a quality opponent with a three-year starter at quarterback,” said Meyer. “I thought they played very well.”
In the red zone, the Gators were four for five and for the season they have scored eight touchdowns in nine trips to the red zone.
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Leak moved within sight of several Florida passing records with his outstanding performance against Central Florida. Leak now has 9,012 career passing yards, which puts him 28 behind Rex Grossman (9,040) and 236 behind second place all-time Shane Matthews (9,248). Leak has 72 career touchdown passes, just two behind Matthews (74) for third place.
Baker’s four catches moved him to 104 career catches for 1,520 yards and 13 career touchdowns. He is 68 catches behind Carlos Alvarez on the all-time receptions list at Florida. At his present pace of 6.5 catches per game, Baker could have a shot at leaving UF as the all-time pass catcher.