Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I remember the first time I ever became keenly aware of who Sean Taylor was, as a football player. It was against FSU in a torrential downpour. I was up in Tallahassee visiting friends for the Miami-FSU game and braved the inclement weather and a brutal hangover to go watch one of college football's best rivalries. I expected to see a close, hard fought game between two powerful and talented teams. What I got was a one man show. Sean Taylor had three interceptions that day (it could've been 6) and returned one for a touchdown on the wettest, sloppiest field I'd ever personally seen a game played on. For his part, Taylor was the biggest, most physically impressive safety that I'd ever laid eyes on. Bigger than most linebackers, with the speed of a tailback, and instincts for the safety position that only the greats possess. I was in awe on his talent on that wet Saturday afternoon and had watched him (and even rooted for him) intently ever since.

Today, I'm just saddened that he'll never get the chance to see his daughter grow up or, really, to grow up himself. I'm 30 and haven't begun to figure out my life. Sean Taylor died last night at the age of 24. I don't know where he is now but, in my mind, he'll always be splashing into the endzone on the sloppy field at Doak Campbell in October.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

We're still in this?!!

The gods of college football are awfully strange sometimes...especially the meth snorting dieties who rule the SEC. Why do I say this? Have you noticed that Houston Nutt still has a job over ten years after first being hired at the University of Arkansas? What about how Les Miles keeps pulling magic out of his ridiculously oversized hat on the way to what feels like a National Championship game appearance for the dumbest coach this side of Rich Kotite? I'm truly perplexed by the way that things shake out on a weekly basis in the SEC. Perhaps nothing exemplifies the wild and wooly action of the nations premier football conference more than the fact that, once again, Steve Spurrier will face his alma mater this weekend with a chance to ruin their season.

During his first year, Spurrier upset Florida in Columbia and denied first year coach Urban Meyer the chance to win an SEC Championship in Atlanta. Last year, Florida's National Championship hopes were saved by the slimmest of margins as Florida blocked three kicks to preserve a victory of Spurrier and South Carolina in The Swamp. Come this Saturday, Florida will face off with its former head coach again in Columbia with Florida still clinging to the hopes of a return trip to Atlanta and a second straight SEC title. Florida needs some help along the way, Auburn needs to beat Georgia on Saturday and Tennessee needs to lose one of its remaining two SEC games against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Nevertheless, the fact remains, for the University of Florida to win the SEC East title in 2007, they must defeat the program's first Heisman trophy winner and the modern day architect of its football program. No matter what the coaches and players involved tell you, this game will always be special, so long as Spurrier is standing on the opposite sideline. Does it have the same feel as the initial matchup in 2005, or of Spurrier's return to the Swamp last year as the enemy? No. Does it change the surreal feeling of seeing the man who returned glory to the University of Florida football program try and take his alma mater down a notch in the SEC standings. Not in the least.

As for the actual game, well, it should be interesting. (Isn't every SEC night game this year?) It's a night game in Columbia which always produces a raucous atmosphere, and the Gamecocks are coming off an embarrassing loss to Arkansas that saw them give up approximately 1500 yards rushing to the measty combo of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Fortunately for South Carolina, Florida's two leading rushers are a wide receiver and a QB/Baby Rhinocerous who's limited by a sore shoulder. Florida couldn't take advantage of Carolina's weak run defense if they wanted to. And trust me, Dan Mullen has no use for running straight at opposing defense as he much prefers to trick people to further prove his offensive genius. On the other hand, South Carolina looks like they'll be without the services of safety Emmanuel Cook and corner Captain Munnerlyn (That name is so ridiculous if you introduced yourself to someone using that moniker you're likely to be laughed out of the room) so Florida should be able to throw the ball effectively. However, Florida needs to keep their young and extremely beat up defense (They're starting a true freshman converted guard at DT for the second straight week) off the field in order to prevent Spurrier from executing the "death by papercuts" offensive strategy he has employed so effectively against Florida in their two previous meetings. So Florida's going to have to find a way to sustain long drives on South Carolina through running the ball and using the short to intermediate passing game, neither of which have been strengths of the Gator offense in 2007.

I'm less than confident that a young Gator defense won't be outwitted by Spurrier and the Gamecock offense multiple times come Saturday evening. I called this loss in September after watching the secondary (and defense in general) struggle and I've seen little to make me change my mind up to this point. However, I also predicted a loss to Kentucky for these very same reasons and ended up wrong due to an offense that was nearly unstoppable in Lexington. Florida's gonna need Tebow and Harvin and all the rest of their spectacular skill position players to have great games if the Gators are to escape Columbia with a win and their division title hopes alive late Saturday evening. It also might help if they could find a way to conjure up a little more of this kind of magic.

I just watched that clip about five times in a row. That never, ever gets old.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Two of a Kind...

I’ve resisted writing much about the Florida Football team this year for a number of reasons. Chief among them was the extreme amount of youth and inexperience that this team possessed, especially on defense. However, after watching nearly every one of the teams many flaws be exposed on Saturday against the University of Georgia, I felt the need to address some things.

First, I’m tired of hearing Florida fans complain that Mark Richt and Georgia showed “a lack of class” when they decided to rush the field following the game’s first TD. As the guys at EDSBS put it, “The word class means nothing–it’s unquantifiable, it’s fuzzy, and it’s all too often cited by the team picking their teeth up off the turf following a game.” You know what? They’re right. If Florida didn’t like what Georgia did, then they should’ve come out and shut down Georgia for the rest of the afternoon and wound up being the team doing the real celebrating. You know, the kind you do after you win the game.

Unfortunately, Florida’s defense was exposed as both weak against the run and tentative against the pass. This, in my experience, is the worst possible combination for a defense. Florida’s young corners are afraid to get beat deep so they routinely give up 10-15 yards of cushion to opposing wideouts. Yet, these cushions are largely ineffective because Florida’s safeties, Seniors Tony Joiner and Kyle Jackson, react late and take extremely poor angles. This has resulted in the Gator defense being eaten up by teams attacking the middle of the field in the intermediate passing game. What makes this so troubling is that Florida has also shown a penchant for giving up the long ball (TDs of 84 and 53 yards vs. UGA) as well. Of all the factors contributing to the porous Florida secondary, none is more frustrating than the play of Kyle Jackson. The corners are young and will get better (or they won’t be starting next year) and Tony Joiner has always been a linebacker in a safety’s body, but Jackson is quite possibly the worst free safety that I’ve ever seen start at the University of Florida. His play on Saturday was so bad that Gary Danielson tired of calling him out for mistakes by the middle of the 4th quarter. He just stopped blaming Jackson for continually blowing plays for fear that he might drive the poor kids mother to suicide. Jackson’s lackluster play shouldn’t come as a surprise though, this is a young man who’s now lost his starting position not once, but twice (First to Reggie Nelson and earlier this year to the now injured Major Wright, a true freshman) during his time at Florida. In all my years of Florida Football fandom, I’ve never seen a player’s fortunes change so dramatically. He was the #2 safety in the nation coming out of HS. By the middle of his freshman year he had taken the job of a senior (Cory Bailey) and looked like a star in the making, especially after a two int performance against South Carolina late that year. However, he completely fell apart in the Bama and LSU games (highlighted by insincere tackling and poor coverage angles) early in his sophomore season and that was essentially it for him. He lost his job to Reggie Nelson later that year and then to Major Wright this year after back to back horrible performances vs. Tennessee and Ole Miss. Kyle Jackson wasn’t the only reason this Gator defense got torched on Saturday (the D-Line got no pressure and the Linebackers were consistently out of their lanes) but he was the most egregious offender of all the defensive players for Florida. It sounds strange to say that you’ll be glad when a true freshman safety returns, but that’s exactly how I (and most Gator fans) feel about the return of Major Wright.

Finally, in an effort to spread a little of my hatred fueled blame, I turn my attention to Kestahn Moore, or as I’ve referred to him in this spot before, Smiley McFumbles. At this point, the nickname has gone beyond being funny and ironic and become a plague upon the Gator Nation. He’s become pre-Coughlin Tiki Barber sans the game breaking ability. In the last three games he has: Fumbled in LSU territory late in the 3rd quarter, dropped a wide open pass in the Kentucky endzone, fumbled deep in UGA territory and dropped a direct snap in UGA territory. (Which doesn’t even cover the block he missed on 4th and 2 against UGA that allowed UGA to blow up a reverse to Percy Harvin). Can anybody explain to me why he still is worthy of being on the field with the first team offense at this point? Clearly Urban Meyer cant, as he benched Moore for most of the UGA game and spread his backfield carries out amongst Percy Harvin and Brandon James. Meyer has promised more carries at tailback for Harvin this week against Vanderbilt and I think he’ll handle the bulk of the carries at that spot from here on out. Moore has been given numerous chances to excel at a position of relative weakness for Florida and has consistently underperformed. In fact, his play has been so below average that its left Florida fans yearning for the days of DeShawn Wynn. Which, I can assure you, few Florida fans ever thought they’d do. I even joked to some friends on Saturday night that Meyer was probably text messaging Wynn as we spoke with messages like “Miss U” and “Ur great. Call me.” Sadly, I wasn’t completely joking. Moore’s incompetence hinders the entire Gator offense and is by far the biggest problem with the current Gator offense (though there are others: Inconsistent O-Line play, cute playcalling by Dan Mullen inside the opponents 30, a lack of involvement by secondary playmakers such as Ingram, Fayson, Cooper). That’s why the impact of USC transfer Emmanuel Moody can’t be underestimated for Florida Football. If Moody is even half as good as his rep suggests, he’ll be able to take some of the running load off of Tebow’s shoulders, thereby allowing Tebow to focus on his development as a passer. Furthermore, if Moody can carry the ball 15 times a game (hardly yeoman’s work) then defense will have to honor him which will open up more running lanes for the likes of Harvin, Caldwell, James and even Tebow. That is when you will see the true spread option offense. Right now its less than its at less than its full capability because there is no tailback to employ as a primary ballcarrier.

Unfortunately, Florida is stuck with Moore for the time being and Meyer and Co. are going to have to decide if the risk of a game changing fumble(s) is worth the risk of getting Percy Harvin and Brandon James banged up while they try and form a competent tailback combo. Clearly, neither of these options are preferable but I, for one, would much rather have ball security and game breaking ability at tailback over inconsistency and turnovers. If Moore ever wants to be a contributor at Florida again (He’s a junior…Yay!), I’d advise him to spend the offseason bulking up and becoming a fullback. He’s already the lead blocker on kickoff return and Florida’s losing fullback Eric Rutledge to graduation this year. There’s room for Moore as a blocking fullback who catches the occasional pass out in the flat. There’s just no more room for his mistakes at tailback.

If you can’t tell by now, I feel that there are a number of problems with the current Gator Football team. Many of these can’t be corrected right away (Three healthy DTs is a huge area of concern from here on out) but a number of these can be corrected by eliminating two players from the gameplan. It may sound harsh and reactionary but, if you’ve watched this team play enough this year then you know its true. Both Moore and Jackson have been good students, hard workers and a credit to the Florida Football program. They are not, however, deserving of any more playing time in their current positions. Florida has 3 losses and is (more than likely) looking at a date in the Citrus and Outback bowls. Now’s the time to build for the future and the future doesn’t include Moore or Jackson.