UF-UGA: In-depth look at the Florida Gators

It's been one of those years for the Florida offense. For the first four weeks they felt as though that Spurrier era swagger was back. One quarter into the Alabama game, a numbing sense of reality hit home. It seemed as though Lynn Amedee took over the headset as the offensive coordinator.

The Gators have played two seasons. They've compiled a perfect 5-0 record against teams (Wyoming, Louisiana Tech, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi State) that have a combined 13-20 (.394) record. They have suffered through a pair of losses to Alabama and LSU, who together sport a 12-1 (.923) record.

Offensive Line

Florida spent much of the off week trying to shore up their pass protection problems and run blocking schemes. The Gators have clearly struggled in pass protection, allowing an SEC worst 24 sacks in just seven games. Ten of those sacks have come in the past three games. And while some of them can be traced to coverage sacks, there remains a significant problem up front since that whistle blew to start the Alabama game.

Offensive line coach John Hevesy utilizes a zone blocking scheme that asks a lot of their offensive front. The inexperience and injuries at guard have been a major source of frustration.

Outland and Rimington Trophy candidate Mike Degory is the rock of the Florida offensive line. The senior center has the intellect, intensity, and inertia to get things moving positively. Degory battled minor injuries to his knee and ankle two weeks ago, but appears to be ready to go.

Center
#68 Mike Degory 6-6 304 Sr. 3L Melbourne

Guards
#76 Tavares Washington 6-4 320 Sr. Sq Greenville, MS
#79 Steve Rissler 6-3 310 Jr. 2L Sarasota
#63 Jim Tartt 6-3 315 Fr. Sq. Sopchoppy
#67 Drew Miller 6-5 310 So. 1L Sarasota

Tackles
#74 Randy Hand 6-6 310 Sr. 3L Ft. Myers
#72 Lance Butler 6-7 315 Sr. 2L Lexington, NC

Florida has played musical guards throughout the 2005 season. Four players (Tavares Washington, Steve Rissler, Jim Tartt, and Drew Miller) have rotated in an effort to find permanent starters at both positions. Who will start Saturday is anybody's guess.

Rissler is the guy the coaches feel should challenge for Degory's position next spring. He saw reps as the backup center in August and little else. However, their inability to find players to nail down the spots, coupled with injuries forced Rissler into the rotation.

Junior college transfer Tavares Washington played sparingly in 2003 and was redshirted last season after suffering an injury during the summer. The senior has battled some minor injuries including an elbow injury against Alabama. Washington started against LSU two weeks ago, and now appears to be at full speed.

Redshirt freshman Jim Tartt has the powerful build and on the field anger management issues that O-Line coaches love. However, Tartt has been slowed by a shoulder problem that was surgically repaired just before the season. He also lacks the necessary experience, but his physical attributes will continue to get him playing time. Tartt figures to be a serious challenger in the spring and the coaches hope that his fellow linemen take on his aggressive persona.

The Gators return three solid seniors at center and tackle. Mike Degory, Randy Hand, and Lance Butler, who have several starts among them the past two years. Hevesy thought it best to switch Hand and Butler, with Hand now manning the left tackle position.

Hand and Butler are fine. Both did a pretty sound job against the Tigers two weeks ago. You can bet they'll be ready this weekend.

Injuries: Jim Tartt (shoulder), Mike Degory (knee/ankle. All should be able to go Saturday.

Analysis: The question, What was accomplished over the past two weeks? I could speculate all day long, but as practices were closed, what would be the sense in that. We won't know the answer until the first half of Saturday's game.

Receivers

A talented group of wideouts- Chad Jackson, Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker, and Jemalle Cornelius- were supposed to be among the most dangerous group in the country. Just as it did with the rest of the Florida offense, things looked ahead of schedule to Coach Urban Meyer. That is, until the trip to Tuscaloosa.

Florida's talented receiving corps lost Caldwell to a broken leg in the Tennessee game and Jemalle Cornelius rolled his ankle against the Tide. To complicate matters, the receivers found getting separation from the Crimson Tide secondary to be a difficult task. That appeared evident at times against both Mississippi State and LSU as well.

The Gators wideouts have at times run routes that were wrong. There were other times that Leak and the receiver were not on the same page. There are other routes that seemingly take too long to develop in the speedy SEC. Those are things that shouldn't be happening in game five, six, or seven.

Dallas Baker has emerged as the Gators go to guy. Baker (31-431, 2 TD's) has outstanding speed and strength. He is not a guy a defensive back can hope to bring down consistently with a shoulder pad. Baker is fifth among SEC receivers in yardage per game.

Chad Jackson (52-558, 6TD's) is another strong receiver that requires special attention. He leads the conference in receptions per game (7.43) and is second with 79.7 receiving yards per game. Despite his glowing stats, I would say that Jackson too has struggled somewhat to get away from opposing defensive backs the past three games.

Tight End
#84 Tate Casey 6-6 242 So. 1L Longview,Tx.

Wide receivers
#8 Chad Jackson 6-1 205 Jr. 2L Hoover, AL
#81 Dallas Baker 6-3 204 Jr. 2L New Smyrna Beach
#6 Jemalle Cornelius 5-11 190 Jr. 2L Fort Meade
#17 Gavin Dickey 5-11 205 Jr. 1L Tallahassee
#28 Kyle Morgan 6-2 225 Sr. 1L Melbourne

Florida's third leading receiver is the man affectionately known as JCorn. The Ft. Meade native has hauled in 16 passes for 239 yards. He has great quickness and good acceleration after the catch. He played quarterback in high school because he was such a talented athlete.

Tight end Tate Casey has not been used as often as I thought, but considering the Gators blocking woes, that should change. Casey (3-28) is an exceptional talent and should be utilized. He had a costly drop or two early in the season, but that is uncharacteristic of Casey.

Kyle Morgan has proved to be an outstanding blocker, which is demanded in the Florida offense. Throughout practice sessions the past couple of years, Morgan demonstrated great hands and a possession receivers' ability. However, he had not recorded a catch this season.

Quarterback/outfielder Gavin Dickey has good hands and tremendous running ability after the catch. He didn't get many reps early in the season, but he has seen a boost in playing time since the injury to Caldwell.

Don't be surprised to see the Gators use one, two, or possibly three talented freshmen. Nyan Boateng has good hands and is blessed with tremendous speed and the abilityu to make people miss him after the catch. Louis Murphy was part of a state championship relay team, and there is no question why he was part of that group. Coach Meyer has said for weeks that All-American David Nelson is competing for playing time and has improved his blocking ability. The 6-6 Nelson has outstanding hands.

Injuries: Andre Caldwell (knee) and Jemalle Cornelius (ankle). Caldwell is out. Cornelius should be ready.

Analysis: I would be very surprised if Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen and receivers coach Billy Gonzales hadn't made a few changes to help the receivers utilize their athleticism and speed to beat the man coverage. It has been obvious that there has been some miscommunication on routes between Leak and the receivers. Some of those were definitely a wrong route run by receivers. That was certainly addressed.

Furthermore, I would be shocked if Tate Casey and reserve Billy Latsko weren't used more in pass protection to slow down the blitz. Obviously, the numbers haven't been on Florida's side when they empty the backfield go five wide against the blitz. Leak can't take much more punishment and one of the ways they'll have to employ is using a tight end on occasion.

Backfield

Quarterback Chris Leak has been shaky to say the least since the Gators took the field in Tuscaloosa. He struggled against Mississippi State and LSU due to a shoulder injury suffered against the Crimson Tide. I definitely believe that his confidence has been shaken from the stirring he has received the past three games. His mechanics have been awful, which is unusual for Leak. Furthermore, the ailing shoulder has seemingly given him cause to question his passing ability, after he overthrew receivers the past three ballgames. You can bet coaches Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen have worked to strengthen Leak's confidence.

Leak (126-214, 1575, 10 TD's and 4 INT) is the fourth rated passer in the conference in passing and third rated total offense leader. He has proven that he can bounce back as he did several times last year. However, Leak has to get protection and open receivers.

Freshman quarterback Josh Portis is an outstanding runner. He is the second leading rusher on the Florida team with 26 carries for 159 yards (6.1 yards per carry). However, defensive coordinators have duly noted that Portis doesn't throw the ball when he is in shotgun formation.

Quarterback #12 Chris Leak 6-0 210 Jr. 2L Charlotte, NC
#4 Josh Portis 6-4 210 Fr. HS Woodland Hills, Ca.

Running back
#21 DeShawn Wynn 5-11 236 Sr. 3L Reading, OH.
#33 Kestahn Moore 5-10 205 Fr. HS Arlington, Tx.
#2 Markus Manson 6-0 210 RFr. Sq. Tuscaloosa, AL.

Coach Urban Meyer says that he has finally found a tailback, and thy name is DeShawn Wynn. The senior had at times been tentative to fire off of the ball, such as the goal line rush against Bama. Wynn also hasn't demonstrated the speed to get to the corner. His most successful runs have been up the middle, where he uses his cutback ability to get into the secondary. There is no question that he has improved.

Freshmen Kestahn Moore (26-128, 1 TD) and Markus Manson (26-146) are the Gators top two reserves. Both have adequate size and more speed and quickness than Wynn. I'm surprised that Manson hasn't played a larger role in the Florida offense.

All three of these backs have proven to be able receivers out of the backfield. They have combined for 13 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

One are that has to be addressed is blocking. Again, I would expect some help in protecting Chris Leak. He certainly can't continue the pounding if Portis isn't ready. Sound familiar?

Injuries: Chris Leak (shoulder)

Analysis: Bye weeks can be a struggling squads' best friend, and that certainly appears to be the case for the Mighty Gators. They needed an extra week to digest the loss to LSU and work on correcting the numerous little things that have plagued this offense before boarding the buses for the annual trip down 301 to I-10 for the World's Largest Cocktail Party.

Florida Defensive Preview

There is no better story on the Florida defense than that of reserve defensive end Jarvis Moss. The six-foot six All-American had pain in his lower abdomen and struggled to put on weight since his arrival from Texas. He weighed just 218 pounds this past spring, hardly the necessary weight to compete in the rough and tumble Southeastern Conference.

A series of tests failed to turn up anything positive that might solve his problem. Doctors were baffled, and Moss was disillusioned with the process and football. As the tests continued, Moss painfully contemplated quitting football. Finally, a test revealed something bizarre. Moss had a staph infection in his pelvic bone. He apparently contracted the infection after a cortisone shot before a high school game in Denton.

Moss immediately went on antibiotics. Florida trainers began pumping nutrients into him and Moss was actively working out and had regained a healthy appetite. He grew to 240 pounds in six weeks.

Defensive Line

Moss did not see action in Florida's opener against Wyoming. In fact, he played little in the Gators next two games. However, he is coming on strong. Moss has recorded nine tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He has also forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, and broken up a pass. Moss is super quick with tremendous speed. He also has plenty of intensity, probably pent up frustration for the many months in which he suffered through the pain of the staph infection. He is a future star, who is quickly making his presence known.

The Florida defense has also received a boost with the return of defensive end Ray McDonald. RayMac as he is affectionately known throughout Gator Country injured his knee in the Tennessee game. McDonald said that he is about 80% and hopes to be able to help the Gators gain an advantage this weekend.

When McDonald went down, the Gators simply dropped former defensive end Joe Cohen down at defensive tackle. A fullback in 2003, Cohen is playing the best football of his defensive career. He attributes part of his success to the coaching staff who introduced him to new techniques for getting off of the blocks and making plays. He picked off a pass against LSU and had a limited return, proving that his days as a running back are indeed over.

Tackles
#44 Marcus Thomas 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Jacksonville
#93 Steven Harris 6-4 281 Jr. 2L Miami
#98 Clint McMillan 6-1 282 So. 1L Oviedo
#99 Lutrell Alford 6-2 290 So. Tr Gainesville

Ends
#20 Joe Cohen 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Belle Glade
#57 Jeremy Mincey 6-4 265 Sr. 1L Statesboro, Ga
#95 Ray McDonald 6-3 285 Jr. 2L Belle Glade
#94 Jarvis Moss 6-6 245 So. Sq. Denton, Tx.
#91 Derrick Harvey 6-4 260 Fr. Sq. Greenbelt, Md.

Jacksonville native Marcus Thomas is also playing the best football of his Florida career. Thomas has totaled six tackles for loss and has a sack. Thomas has a terrific first step and has the lateral speed loved by defensive coordinators. Thomas is second on the team in tackle for loss with six.

Defensive end Jeremy Mincey is having an All-SEC season. He leads the Gators in tackles (44) and tackles for loss (7.5). Mincey also has 3.5 sacks. He has the speed, power, and quickness to make things happen.

Defensive tackle Steven Harris has 11 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Harris began his career at Florida as a defensive end, where he has played the past two seasons. Harris has a pretty good first step and pursues well laterally. He dropped down last spring and continues to gain experience.

Reserve defensive end Derrick Harvey came to Florida as the top defensive prospect on the East Coast. Harvey has good quickness, speed, and he appears to be gaining some much needed on the job training.

Injuries: None

Analysis: Getting McDonald back and Moss' rapid improvement is huge for Florida. They really very little depth here and simply couldn't afford to lose another player. Performance wise, this is the best group on the team, as the Gators have held opponents to 95 yards rushing per game, while leading the SEC in sacks with 23.

Linebackers

Florida middle linebacker Brandon Siler has been a tremendous blessing since his arrival from Orlando last season. He stepped up for the injured Channing Crowder and earned the national Freshman Defensive Player of the Year award.

Siler hasn't suffered a sophomore slump. He is third on team in tackles (40), tackles for loss (5.5), and fourth in sacks with three. Siler has it all- size, speed, quickness, and he packs a punch when he arrives on the scene.

He can also cover. Siler has broken up four passes and has one interception this season

#40 Brandon Siler 6-2 239 So. 1L Orlando
#30 Earl Everett 6-2 231 Jr. 2L Webster
#47 Todd McCullough 6-5 233 Sr. 3L Jacksonville

Weakside linebacker Earl Everett is one of the most underrated linebackers in the conference. Everett has tremendous instincts which blend perfectly with his quickness and speed. He too packs a wallop. He is second on the team in tackles 42. Everett also has a pair of tackles for loss and a sack.

Everett has been very effective in coverage as well. He is tied for the team lead with two interceptions, has knocked down one pass, and forced a fumble.

Strongside linebacker Todd McCullough is a Jacksonville native, who played at the legendary Bolles School. He has played (as a true freshman reserve) under Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, and now Urban Meyer. There is not much that McCullough hasn't seen in his years in the SEC. He missed the 2003 season due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. McCullough has 20 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and an interception this season.

Injuries: Brandon Siler (ankle-probable), Jon Demps (knee-out).

Analysis: Florida has two outstanding linebackers in Siler and Everett, but no quality depth. Think that I'm kidding? Florida has just four scholarship linebackers on the active list. Keeping these guys healthy is a must. True freshman Jon Demps was getting some work as a reserve at the MIKE and had been improving, until he was lost to a knee injury.

One of the reasons the Gators are second in total defense is because of Slier and Everett's ability to play the run and pass equally, so well. Everett has lined up on the

Secondary

Florida's corners have played very well this season. Vernell Brown really came on when practice started in August, and he hasn't let up since. Despite being vertically challenged (that's means short- for those Tennessee fans who are reading about the top teams in the East) Brown has not been schooled by taller receivers. He has outstanding athleticism and quickness. He has intercepted one pass and broken up five others. Brown leads all defensive backs with 30 tackles.

Jacksonville native Dee Webb was one of the most sought after cornerback prospects in the nation three years ago. He has gotten better each season. If there is one knock on Webb, it would be his hands. He has had several near picks go through his hands. Webb has broken up a team high seven passes this season, while picking just one.

Cornerbacks
#15 Dee Webb 5-11 190 Jr. 3L Jacksonville
#16 Vernell Brown 5-8 165 Sr. 2L Gainesville
#4 Avery Atkins 5-11 189 Fr. HS Daytona Beach
#22 Reggie Lewis 5-10 195 Jr. 2L Jacksonville

Safeties
#46 Jarvis Herring 5-11 205 Sr. 3L Live Oak
#32 Reggie Nelson 6-1 175 Jr. Tr Melbourne
#3 Kyle Jackson 6-1 200 So. 1L Jacksonville
#19 Tony Joiner 5-11 200 So. 1L Haines City
#49 Terrance Holmes 5-11 202 Jr. 2L Glassboro, NJ

The Gators will start Reggie Nelson at free safety for the first time this weekend. Nelson has been a big play guy since he was at Palm Bay High School in Melbourne. I felt that Nelson was the best overall player in The Sunshine State three years ago and, based on his early season play, deserved more than a role in the Florida nickel and dime packages.

Nelson has 23 tackles, including four tackles for loss and is tied with a team high four sacks. He has also force a fumble on a punt and recovered one as well. He is the ultimate playmaker.

Kyle Jackson had been the Florida starter at free safety, but struggled at times to get over against Alabama and LSU. I have no doubt that he will see significant action in this game though.

All-SEC candidate Jarvis Herring has played pretty well this year. Herring has 26 tackles, including two sacks, and two tackles for loss. He has picked off one pass from his strong safety position.

Injuries: Nick Brooks (knee)

Analysis: Florida leads the conference in turnover margin. That could very well play a big role this weekend with the absence of Shockley. The Gators are third in the SEC in pass defense, giving up 176 yards per game. Most of that has been courtesy of big plays.

The presence of Reggie Nelson should be felt by the Florida defense. The guy just makes things happen. This is a very good secondary.

Florida Special Teams Preview

Special teams play is usually a huge factor in determining the outcome of big games. Ask Bobby Bowden, who will forever hear those two little words, wide right. Florida received superb special teams play against Tennessee and that most certainly helped seal the Gators victory.

Special teams

The Florida special teams play has been largely impressive, as well as, unimpressive at the same time. Here is the breakdown. The kickers have been outstanding, with the exception of kickoffs. The return game has been disappointing, especially since the loss of Andre Caldwell, who broke his leg returning a kick against the Vols. The coverage has been inconsistent. They have produced some great plays, while allowing the opponent good field position other times.

Punter Eric Wilbur has been sensational and has nailed punts that have kept the opponent bottled up with 13 of his 37 kicks downed inside the 20 yard line. He is averaging 42.4 yards per kick. Wilbur has only had one kick blocked.

#10 Eric Wilbur (P) 6-1 195 Jr. 2L Winter Park
#39 Chris Hetland (PK) 6-0 185 Jr. Sq. Leesburg
#43 James Smith (LS) 6-1 225 Fr. Sq. Gainesville
#16 Vernell Brown (PR) 5-8 165 Sr. 2L Gainesville

#2 Markus Manson (KR) 6-0 210 Fr. Sq. Tuscaloosa
or
#18 Tre McCollum (KR) 5-8 178 Jr. 1L Miami
or
#6 Jemalle Cornelius (KR) 5-11 190 Jr. 2L Ft. Meade

Walk-on place kicker Chris Hetland has been spectacular. The Leesburg, Georgia native participated in six plays the past two years, and has hit on each of his eight attempts. Hetland has hit two from inside the thirty, three from inside the forty, and three from inside the fifty. His long is from 47 yards out against Wyoming. Hetland hit three field goals against Tennessee.

Vernell Brown has not had a return for more than 22 yards, and averages just six yards per punt. In his defense though, Florida sends the team after the punter, so his opportunity when the return is on is limited. The Gators have blocked one punt this season.

The Gators are struggling in kickoff returns. It would appear that Cornelius might not be the guy, since he is still nursing a high ankle sprain. There are other guys who are capable of bringing the ball back.

Analysis: Caldwell led the Gators with a 31 yard kick return average. That has diminished significantly since, as Florida now averages just 20.5 yards per return. That is one area the Gators wanted to shore up during the bye week.

Wilbur and Hetland should be big factors in this game. Florida will need a strong performance from both of these guys.