It is week three of Florida’s four-game murderer’s row gauntlet and for the first time in this stretch that could determine Florida’s post-season status the Gators will have a full arsenal of weapons at their disposal. Coach Urban Meyer announced after Thursday’s practice that Percy Harvin and DeShawn Wynn will both be back at full speed for Saturday’s game at Auburn (7:45 EDT, ESPN).
The second-ranked Gators (6-0) have been without Harvin, the Southeastern Conference’s most dynamic freshman, for all but a few plays since game three of the season when he suffered a high ankle-sprain at Tennessee. Harvin did get to touch the ball for three plays in last week’s 23-10 win over LSU — two passes for 18 yards and one run for nine — but this week he will be good to go full speed which means the Gators will be using him in the slot, at tailback and out wide. Harvin has 10 catches for 163 yards and one touchdown and nine carries for 92 yards so far.
Wynn hasn’t played since the first series of the second half of the Alabama game a couple of weeks ago. The senior tailback was just getting cranked up with a 15-yard catch and a 15-yard run. At the end of the run, an Alabama player rolled over his knee while he was on the ground. Wynn missed the rest of that game and all of last week’s contest with LSU. He is Florida’s leading rusher with 354 yards and he is averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
Meyer knows the Gators will need all their available weapons against a tough Auburn defense that held LSU to just a field goal a few weeks ago. Having Harvin back in the lineup is a real plus since the talented freshman demands a double team because of his speed and ability to make things happen any time he touches the ball.
“I think he will be [back] Saturday,” said Meyer Thursday afternoon. “As a matter of fact, he’ll be 100 percent for the first time in three weeks. We haven’t had a tailback and we haven’t had Percy Harvin which is kind of significant.”
Wynn, who done limited work in practice the last couple of weeks, got in his first serious practice time since the Alabama game on Thursday.
“He did a lot today and actually he brought his pads out and we did a little contact work,” said Meyer.
The timing of their return is perfect since Meyer has missed Harvin’s game-changing ability and Wynn’s ability to pound between the tackles. Harvin has the longest offensive play of the season, a 58-yard touchdown pass against Central Florida in game two. Wynn was working on his third straight 100-yard game when he went down with the injury against Alabama.
The return of Wynn and Harvin capped off what Meyer called “a very good week” of practice. The Auburn game will be Florida’s third straight game against SEC West contenders. After Saturday’s game, the Gators will enjoy a bye week before returning to face SEC East foe Georgia at the annual showdown at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.
“The bye week is coming at a good time next week,” said Meyer, who added “we’re going to spill it this week.”
Having a week off to regroup and recharge the batteries is critical, especially for a Florida team that has played four bowl teams from last year plus Tennessee in the first six games.
“This is that time of the year when some teams are probably real fresh,” he said. “Other teams that play four quarters of football each week it’s kind of difficult. We’re in that phase right now.”
Meyer said the gauntlet of tough games is something he’s used to. Although the caliber of competition when he was at Utah wasn’t as tough as he sees in the SEC he said “it’s all relative.”
The difference at Florida and at Utah is the caliber of the players that he has on his roster and the caliber of players on the teams he faces.
“I’ve never had players like this top to bottom,” he said. “[At Utah] we had Cal and Oregon some of those types back to back and then we had Air Force so it’s all relative but it’s not the same quality of teams [in the SEC] though.”
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Auburn offensive coordinator Al Borges likes to mix things up and get some balance in the offense, but Meyer said there’s no question what is the key to stopping Auburn. The Tigers have a great wide receiver in Courtney Taylor (25 catches, 300 yards) and a steady, veteran quarterback in Brandon Cox (76-123, 1,017 yards and five touchdowns), but it’s not a secret that the real key to halting the Auburn offense is corralling tailback Kenny Irons (108 carries, 514 yards, three touchdowns).
“I think Kenny Irons is the premier player and I don’t know if number one (backup tailback Brad Lester) is going to play but they have two excellent backs,” said Meyer. “The key is going to be if we can tackle Kenny Irons.”
Auburn will be playing without its starting center, Joe Cope, and Meyer said that could be a tough loss.
“They lost their center and any time you lose a center you have some issues and the kid they lost is a good player,” he said.
The Tigers have one of the best guard tandems to be found in the SEC in Tim Duckworth (6-4, 310) and Ben Grubbs (6-3, 314).
“Their guards are really good,” said Meyer.
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Cornerback Ryan Smith, who is tied with Reggie Nelson for the Florida team lead with four interceptions, is nursing a groin injury but Meyer said it’s more of a precaution than anything else.
“He had it when we were at Utah we’re just being precautious,” said Meyer.
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Senior defensive tackle Marcus Thomas will be doing double duty for the foreseeable future as part of the consequences of his two-game suspension for testing positive on a marijuana test.
“For a long time,” said Meyer when asked how long Thomas will be doing morning sessions with defensive line coach Greg Mattison along with practice in the late afternoon. “Coach Mattison basically has to do two-a-day practices and it just wears him out but we’re just fine. We’re going to have to give him [Mattison] some rest next week.”