UF needed every drop of Swamp fuel

Published: Sunday, September 18, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 18, 2005 at 2:27 a.m.
It has been awhile since the residents of The Swamp felt like this at the end of a big game.
Drained and tired but ready to go out.
Smelling of sweat and not really caring.
Hoarse and feeling like all of that yelling and screaming accomplished something.
After so much misery in big home games, The Swamp returned Saturday night. It was loud like someone turned on a leaf blower and held it to your head. It was ear-piercing and seat-rattling.
And the Gators needed every decibel.
Because with a sputtering offense and two of its best players injured, these Gators found a way to win a game they had been losing recently.
This was supposed to be a return to the way Steve Spurrier used to beat the Vols. Instead, it was a flashback to the SEC pre-head ball coach.
Florida won with defense and special teams. Boring? Hardly.
Not when your defense limits the No. 5 Vols to seven points. Not when the special teams make three of the biggest plays in the game.
Not when every drop of sweat on a stifling night was accompanied by an equal amount of emotion.
No. 6 Florida didn't win because of Urban Meyer's offense. It won with an offense that was sometimes conservative and dominated up front. It won with an offense that floundered and fluttered, committed way too many penalties but didn't turn the ball over.
Meyer the mastermind has had better nights. But Meyer the special teams coach had a great night.
It started with Dee Webb's block of a field goal, a play that - along with instant replay - saved Meyer's rear after he went for it on fourth down on his own side of the 50.
"I thought, 'What the hell let's go block them and get three inches. We're the University of Florida,' " Meyer said. "We'll do it again next week. That's who we are."
A fumble recovery on a dropped punt led to an important field goal. What happened later in the third quarter led to another.
Earlier in the game, Florida blitzed its outside blocker on a Tennessee punt. Meyer was baiting the Vols and they bit. He had the outside blocker blitz again, but also had Tony Joiner cheating over if the Vols faked the punt.
They did, Joiner almost picked it off, giving UF the ball at the UT 31 and as much as the offense struggled to do it, it managed to get the field goal that made it a six-point lead.
"Tony Joiner and I talk every time," Meyer said. "I told him, 'Tony, they're going to try it. Cheat a little early.' It's a punter throwing it to a gunner. We'll take that chance."
Finally, the offense came alive for a 68-yard drive that ended with the most important field goal of all, the one that gave them a nine-point lead.
And then, they turned it over to the defense.
Meyer admitted after the game that his defensive coaches saved a lot of coverage packages for this game. The Gator defenders confused the two Tennessee quarterbacks and gave up only 147 yards.
They made big play after big play and they stopped Gerald Riggs Jr. just enough to make a difference.
This was supposed to be a team that would pile up points with the Meyer offense and its bevy of receivers and a veteran quarterback. It was supposed to be a team with a questionable defense that had little depth.
But this is a team that is led by its defense.
The offense has a long way to go - "a million miles" Meyer said after the game. The offensive line can count high enough to express how far it is from efficient. And with Andre Caldwell out for the season, the task of cranking up the "Spread 'n' Shred" has been made even more difficult.
But with a defense that is playing this well - really this well for the last seven games - the offense has been given a reprieve.
The Swamp, on the other hand, needs no fine-tuning, no tweaking. There is no room for improvement.
It returned with a vengeance. So did old school football. The only thing high-tech about this game was the instant replay rule.
Instead, it was a game that took us back a long way to a not-so-distant past - back to the days when Florida beat Tennessee at home. Back to when Florida headed to Kentucky with a leg up on the Vols in the East.
Back to the day when there was no tougher place to play than Gainesville.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053. You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.

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