Gators Prepare for First Road Challenge

The improvement Florida showed from week one to week two can be credited to multiple things. The second half saw an offense finally start to find its identity, but the improved play wouldn't have been possible without young players being more comfortable in their second game. That comfort level will be challenged this weekend in Knoxville.

The success Urban Meyer has achieved at Florida in road games came because of a change in philosophy. After his first season in 2005, Meyer's team lost three road games. They decided to reevaluate everything the team did on the road.

"The other concern is we have a lot of new players getting on that plane and heading to Knoxville," Meyer said. "So much of what we do around here is routine. That's a major concern. I'm trying to fight myself right now on how to get that done and not take away from preparation time.

"The worst thing that can happen is someone show up and forgot their tie, someone forgets their ID on the plane or goes to their room when they aren't supposed to go to their room. That just messes everything up as far as routine. We take that real serious around here."

The young players will be experiencing their first road games of the season, but Meyer gets a sense that his team already understands what is at stake. The conference opener is important because of the momentum it gives the winner.

In the first two games of the season, Meyer found himself in an environment where he was forced to get his team excited.

"There is a lot of cheerleading that goes on the first two games," Meyer said. "You find yourself being a coach that has to motivate and cheerlead. You don't have to do that now."

There will be some different elements to help the young players understand the rivalry. The freshmen class has players from all regions of the country, and not all of them grew up with an understanding of the Florida-Tennessee rivalry. In the past, James Bates and Lawrence Wright spoke to the team about the importance of this one game.

"We always have someone come in and speak about the Tennessee rivalry with our players. It's someone who has great emotion about the rivalry and college football. At the end of the day, it's preparation time until when the foot hits the ball."

A crowd of 107,000 is overwhelming for experienced players, but they will do their best to help the young players along. The Gators have to get over the environment early in the game because Meyer sees a talented team on the other sideline.

"There are a lot of concerns, and number one is the personnel we're facing," Meyer said. "It's SEC personnel from top to bottom. They've got some dynamic players and some young players. They have some of the same issues we have as far as lack of experience. Make no mistake about it, they're every bit as talented as most teams in the SEC."

CHAMPIONS: Offensive champions were Emmanuel Moody, Maurice Hurt, Trey Burton and Marcus Gilbert. Jeff Demps and Mike Pouncey were co-offensive players of the game. Demps was an easy choice, but not only because of his play with the ball in his hands.

"He probably played his best on punt return," Meyer said. "He's the guy we put on their best cover guy, and he was nowhere near the entire day. To say that he played his best snaps on punt return, that was the kind of effort he gave."

The defensive champions were Janoris Jenkins, Justin Trattou, Duke Lemmens and A.J. Jones. The defensive player of the game was Ahmad Black, who made 14 plays out of 15 opportunities.

EVALUATING TENNESSEE: Just as the Gators did against USF, they are forced to scout a Tennessee team that has a new coaching staff. Instead of watching tape on Derek Dooley's Louisiana Tech teams, the Florida coaches have spent time watching tape of the coordinators.

Meyer broke down film on the special teams of Texas Tech, where their special teams coordinator came from. The Tennessee defensive coordinator came from Boise State, so Meyer has focused on their defensive schemes over the past few seasons.

Regardless of what film he watches, Meyer sees a team that hung with Oregon for the first half. Lack of depth hurt the Volunteers in the second half, but Meyer knows they have the talent to win any game.

"They outplayed thoroughly, up and down the field, Oregon," Meyer said. "Then Oregon wore them out. Oregon didn't play particularly great, but they certainly wore them out in the second half and made some big plays."

TIGHT END EVOLUTION: Aaron Hernandez and Cornelius Ingram were players that the Gators couldn't ignore. As much as Meyer didn't love the tight end position, he had to find a way to use them. Now he can't imagine his offense without the tight end.

"At Bowling Green we didn't have one," Meyer said of the tight ends. "At Utah, we did not. We wanted to spread the field. We were educated a little bit in this conference when Chris Leak was our quarterback."

The emphasis of the spread offense is to base it around what his players can do. Meyer complimented Tate Casey for his contributions to his early Florida teams, and then they found elite playmakers to produce at the position.

"I did hate them, until you get guys like Hernandez," Meyer said. "I do understand the speed and athleticism of the defensive lines that we face. It's much different."

INJURY REPORT: Chris Rainey "got dinged pretty good" on Saturday and suffered a concussion. Meyer said they will know more later this week, but he is expected to play Saturday.

James Wilson's knee is still swollen, but he should be back for Wednesday's practice.

QUARTERBACKS NEED IMPROVING: John Brantley has thrown four touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first two starts, but Meyer wants more. He hasn't thrown more than 200 yards during a game yet, and that is the next stat that could change.

"I made the comment about a career high being 170 yards," Meyer said. "No, he's got to be a 200-plus yard passer. He's doing a better job. So much of playing quarterback is getting us in the right protection and making the right check. It's nice when you're at home and everything quiets down. Now we're going to really see on the road."

Trey Burton is solidified as the team's backup quarterback. He is also seeing the field in multiple other roles. Meyer sometimes has to remind himself that if Brantley went down, Burton would be the next guy off the bench. The temptation to get Burton more involved at other positions is there, but losing him to any injury isn't worth it.

"He's a very intriguing guy and our backup quarterback," Meyer said. "I'd like to have him on every special teams, but we won't do that. He simply starts on kickoff for us. We'd like to have him in there for every play on offense, but that's your guy if something happens (at quarterback). He's not fast enough, he's not big enough and he's not strong enough yet, but he's a football player. You'll see him more and more involved."

Meyer said Burton made a few errors during his time at quarterback against USF. They will clean them out while watching film. The coaching staff will also soon begin preparing the game plan for the Tennessee game. Knoxville is where Tim Tebow made his first big play, and it wouldn't surprise Meyer if Burton did the same.

"Now we have to decide, do we do that on the road in front of 107,000 people?" Meyer said. "We did that with that other quarterback (four) years ago and he did okay. We'll find out about (Burton). Trey is a tough nut."

DEMPS IMPRESSED MEYER: Meyer knew the type of player they were getting in Jeff Demps back in high school.

While Dan Mullen put in the heavy work on bringing Demps to Gainesville, Meyer had one conversation with the running back's high school guidance counselor before he was sold.

"You find out so much from a guidance counselor when you walk in," Meyer said. "He works non-stop, he's extremely serious and mature. He struggles in this, but he knows he struggles in this. The reason we took him is because that guidance counselor looked at me and said, 'This kid is an A1A.' He knows his weaknesses, and he's going to work his tail off. And then also the speed."

The speed is what caught Meyer's eye from the beginning. When Demps did choose to attend Florida over Tennessee, the track program also got a boost.

"We made him faster, though," Meyer said. "Mickey Marotti is taking credit for that. He came here at 10.5, now he's 9.96. For recruiting, put that in there. We make guys faster."

GILBERT IMPROVES: Marcus Gilbert has been an anchor for the Florida offensive line in the last two seasons. He played right tackle last year before sliding to left tackle this season. Some players would struggle with the move, but since Gilbert bought in to the system years ago, he has surprised the coaches.

"He was a guy that had one foot in, one foot out for about two years," Meyer said. "We were getting ready to throw his butt out because he didn't buy into the academics, the workload or the expectations. Coach Addazio and him have a father-son type relationship. He's one of our most consistent linemen.

"He's one of those great stories that comes when you have a great mom and dad, which he does. Obviously with the God-given tools, he's one of our most consistent players."

SHOVEL PASS INCONSISTENCIES: The inside shovel pass to Aaron Hernandez was a weapon that provided big plays in championship games and torched Florida State last season. Two games into this season, the Gators are struggling with it.

Meyer blames the uncertainty at offensive line, where multiple players are moving around. They are also searching for a player that can run it with consistency.

"We misread it one time," Meyer said. "The threat of the quarterback carrying it out, because it's really a triple option play. The shovel is just one part of it. We've got to work on Johnny getting more acceleration to the outside to get the shovel key and pitch key. If the shovel key takes it away, you're on the pitch key, which means it's triple option.

"We have to have that play. That's one of those triple option plays that you just need."

HEAT TOOK ITS TOLL: Meyer called Saturday's game against USF one of the hottest he has experienced. He referenced the 2005 game against Mississippi State as being close, but what made Saturday so bad is that Meyer thought he was already adjusted to the Florida heat.

The stands of the stadium remained full into the fourth quarter, something Meyer was thankful for.

"If there's a way we can buy 93,000 game balls and give them out to our fans," Meyer said. "I think Jeremy's going to do that. It's $20 a pop or something. Our fans deserve a game ball. It wasn't just that they were there, it's that they created issues for our opponent. On behalf of our staff and team, we'd like to thank them. That was the real deal."
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