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This is Coach Urban Meyer's first Florida-FSU game so the pre-game hype is something he'll have to get used to but he's already familiar with the recruiting battles. Meyer put together an excellent first recruiting class last year on short notice when he came to Florida full-time immediately after Utah's Fiesta Bowl win over Pitt. He won and lost a few head-to-head battles with FSU in weeks heading up to signing day including a memorable effort to save Jon Demps for the Gators' class when it appeared that the freshman from Pensacola was about to sign with the Seminoles.
In the months that have followed signing day 2005, Meyer and his staff have plunged headlong into recruiting with extraordinary success. In so many cases the Gators and Seminoles compete for the same players. Because Bobby Bowden has been at Florida State since 1976, the Seminoles have certain advantages but Meyer and his staff have made tremendous inroads in the state of Florida. Nationally, Florida's staff has used its past experience to elevate the Gators to serious contenders for some of the top talent in the nation. Meyer knows how critical a win over Florida State can be for momentum going into the final two months of recruiting the class of 2006.
A win would be the second straight over FSU, but more importantly, the game is being played in Gainesville and there will be an extraordinarily large contingent of recruits in town as well as a national television audience. Earlier in the season when the Gators beat Tennessee in The Swamp and then Georgia in Jacksonville, Meyer saw a positive bounce in recruiting momentum so he knows how vital it will be for Florida to come away with a win.
"When we beat Tennessee we had a bunch of them [recruits] here," said Meyer at Sunday morning's teleconference. "It was very positive after the game obviously, phone calls that week and the ones that were here remembered it well. The same thing when we beat Georgia, a positive outcome … the phone calls, the atmosphere, just the tone of the coaches' voices and I think that has so much to do with recruiting, especially the eleventh game of the year.
"If you win this game, it just sets a tone for the offseason program but also for recruiting in the atmosphere and attitude in how you go after them."
The excitement during a big win at The Swamp and then the post-game atmosphere in the locker room, on the campus and in Gainesville all plays a part of the process that impresses recruits to make a favorable decision to choose the University of Florida. Saturday, The Swamp will be filled with more than 90,000 fans and if it's a typical Florida-FSU game, there will be electricity in the air from start to finish.
"Guys will bounce around here pretty good if you win that game," said Meyer. "That's what recruits like to see."
It isn't just the recruits, though, that will be affected by the outcome. Meyer knows how critical this offseason will be for a team that will be facing perhaps the most brutal schedule in school history next season. The momentum of a win over an arch-rival on the final game of the season always has a lingering effect.
Because it will be Senior Day, Meyer also feels a need to send out Florida's 11 seniors the right way.
"I think it's critical in recruiting, I think it's in critical in chemistry of your team," said Meyer. "Everyone's talking about next year and the offseason but I also think it's critical to send a group of seniors out. I've always felt that way, that these seniors have been through a lot and they didn't have success they envisioned coming to University of Florida. They can finish with a pretty good record if they take care of their business.
"I'm more into taking that approach. There are some guys who have invested a lot in the program. There are some good people who are playing their last game in The Swamp, and I think it's really important to play as hard as we can to get them some success."
A win would also give the Gators their first undefeated season in The Swamp since 2000. Meyer has made it a point of emphasis this year that it is critical for the Gators to re-take The Swamp and establish home field dominance once again. Florida is 5-0 at home this year but only 18-7 at home from 2001-2004.
"This used to be a stadium where the Gators never lost and so there was a big emphasis on that," said Meyer. "I know the players enjoy playing at home and the coaches love being at home.
"I have great respect for this great stadium. Let's take care of business. We've got to fight like crazy at home."
INJURY UPDATE: Dallas Baker will not be 100 percent due to the broken rib suffered in the Vanderbilt game. Meyer said that Marcus Thomas is improving and should be okay.
Of concern is defensive end/tackle Ray McDonald.
"Ray McDonald still about half speed and I don't see that one changing drastically," said Meyer.
FLORIDA OL VS. FSU DL: Florida State comes into the game leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in sacks with 34 which ranks the Seminoles seventh in the nation in that category. Florida, on the other hand, has given up an alarming 31 sacks.
"Their speed on defense is as good as I have seen," said Meyer. "They have three terrific linebackers and their defensive line one of the top five in the country."
Emphasis in practice will be for Chris Leak to get rid of the ball more quickly to negate the FSU pass rush.
"I'm very concerned," said Meyer. "Their defensive line is their strength and they're extremely fast. To think we can hold the ball 4-5 seconds … that probably won't happen. We're gonna get rid of the ball and work our tails off this week in practice."
Florida protected Leak well against both Georgia and Vanderbilt, but South Carolina got to him five times. Most of the problems at South Carolina were not offensive line-related, however.
"Some of those sacks were on others than the offensive line," said Meyer. "I can take three of them off the top of my head that had nothing to do with the offensive line. They had to do with getting rid of the ball and the running backs that protect him."
If Florida decides to move the pocket against FSU to try to buy more time for Leak, then Leak also has to make better decisions on the rollout.
"We actually ran a play action pass with him to get out of the pocket [against South Carolina] and he pulled up," said Meyer. "You gotta stay on the move and we took a sack. You have to get rid of the ball and if it's a break contain play, especially with the speed we're going to face this week, either get rid of the ball or run it."
PRACTICE PLAN FOR THE WEEK: The Gators are coming off their second bye week of the season. The last bye week was before the Georgia game and Florida used that to implement a game-winning plan against the then unbeaten Bulldogs. Last week's practices were spent putting in game plan but also getting the team healthy and ready to go this week.