There was some rough sailing early this season for the Florida Gator offense. The Gators are 4-0 and in the top 10, but a stagnant offense through the first three games dampened a lot of the hopes of fans. A big offensive game this past weekend opened some eyes, but the Gators understand that this is Alabama week. For Michael Pouncey, it is one big hurdle on the way to Atlanta.
In the first three games of the season, Florida's offense couldn't get out of its own way. After tweaking a few things, the Gators steam rolled over Kentucky and looked like a different offensive team in the process. Florida center Michael Pouncey has been a part of the short evolution of the offense so far this season and knows things need to continue like they were going last weekend.
“We were all on the same page and got lined up right,” Pouncey said about the contrast between week four and the previous three. “John Brantley had a great game, Trey Burton came around and emerged as one of our great players. We are just playing all as one right now.”
It couldn't come at a better time. The Gators still have every single goal in front of them this year, but maybe the biggest obstacle of the season looms this weekend when they travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the number one Alabama Crimson tied.
This week of practice is absolutely crucial for this game and the entire season.
“We need to have a great week of practice, prepare the right way, and do all the right things,” Pouncey said. “We need to be the most prepared team on the field.”
There is little doubt this game is important. After last season's debacle in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, the bad taste in the mouth has lingered on and been a source of inspiration to prepare for this 2010 season.
“I think every Florida fan has this game circled,” Pouncey said. “But, it's one game out of the season and we based the whole off-season on getting to Atlanta. Obviously, we have to beat one of the best teams in the SEC to do that. We have to go out there and play like we do any other team.
“That loss was a big loss because it was for a championship game. Alabama is on our schedule and obviously an SEC game, so we have to play great.”
There has been an underlying theme as to why the game last year was so devastating for Florida. Head coach Urban Meyer talked about it earlier in the day and all the superstar treatment his team received leading up to the game last December. It is something Pouncey and the gang learned from.
“We just had too many distractions,” he said. “We got too busy with all the hype instead of going out and doing what we needed to do and being the program that we are. This week we need to have a good week of practice and go out there with the right mindset.
“It makes you play better knowing you got beat last year and you want to prove something. We are going to go out and play real hard.”
One caveat to the fire that burns for the guys that lost a year ago is the relative youth of this Gator team and a lot of the players haven't been through some of the tests. Pouncey isn't worried about it; the young guys at Florida know what being a Gator has been about for the last several years.
“It was embarrassing and all of our young guys understand what Florida is all about,” Pouncey said. “It's obviously about winning championships. This is the biggest game of the year, a championship game, and we need everybody to play good.”
The time has come for the young guys to not play like young guys anymore and the older guys to make sure they are still headed in the right direction.
“We have four games under our belt and a lot of our young guys have matured a lot, especially the ones that everyone noticed playing,” Pouncey said. “Starting with senior leadership, we have guys that have been around here a long time, we have to show them the right way.”
Through all of their own issues and demons, the Gators have to face a truly great team. Alabama hasn't lost a game since the Gators beat them in Atlanta during the 2008 season. They are number one for a reason.
“They have a great defense and a great coordinator,” Pouncey said. “He throws a lot of defense at you. Obviously they have great players.”
One of the great players is junior defensive end Marcell Dareus. Although he is somewhat injured, Pouncey knows Dareus is still an animal on the field.
“He's a great player,” Pouncey said of Dareus. “We believe he's a first round draft pick. He's very strong, a sound player, and their best player on defense.”
Despite the talent, there is a confidence starting to brew with this team. Pouncey talks about the ability of the offense to make plays, even with the best of teams on the opposite side of the ball.
“I don't want to say that we can't because if we don't move the ball we won't win the game,” Pouncey said. “I think we can move the ball against anybody.”
This game conjures up memories of the 2007 game on the road against LSU. That Florida team was learning the ropes with a new quarterback in Tim Tebow as well. LSU was ranked No. 1 and the Gators were ranked in the top 10 that day too. Although a loss for Florida, there was little doubt the Gators left everything on the field that day. Pouncey expects the same.
“They are the best team in the country right now and playing like it,” he said. “We have to go out there just like in '07. In '07 we lost that game, but we went out and played a tough game. As long as we go out and give everything we've got, I will be proud of it.”
The fans are going to be just as rowdy as that night as well. Alabama fans have had a lot to cheer about lately and every week in Tuscaloosa, it is something to be aware of.
“They have a great fan base,” Pouncey said. “Any time you go to an away game and playing in those big time games, you have to be fully prepared.”
The irony of this huge game is that it may just be a precursor to a rematch later in the season. If Alabama wins the Western portion of the SEC and Florida the Eastern, the two will meet again for another date in Atlanta in December. Pouncey wouldn't mind that at all.
“I hope so, because that means we will be in the SEC Championship Game,” he said with a smile. “We have one week at a time. Obviously we are facing a great team and we have to be at our best.”
Injuries have been an issue so far with Florida's offensive line. In week one, a huge shuffle up front was caused by a couple of key injuries. After two games of a healthy starting offensive line, the Kentucky game yielded injuries that amounted to all five starters getting dinged up at some point in the game. Pouncey said he and the others will be fine this week.
“I just tweaked my (left) ankle,” he said. “I am walking on it and will be at practice on Tuesday. It was just small stuff (for all the other linemen), nothing big. We just need to go out there at full strength and will have everyone back.”
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