Injuries subdue Gators' big win


Tennessee running back Gerald Riggs Jr. is at the bottom of a pile of Gators in the third quarter Saturday. Riggs was limited to 13 yards in the second half.

ROB C. WITZEL / The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, September 19, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 19, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.

At 2 a.m. Sunday, only a few hours after his team's big win over Tennessee, Florida coach Urban Meyer was at wide receiver Andre Caldwell's bedside in the hospital. On Sunday afternoon, Meyer planned to pay a second visit to Caldwell, who was undergoing surgery after breaking his leg in Saturday night's game.

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  • WHO: Florida (3-0) at Kentucky (1-2).
  • WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
  • ON AIR: CBS, 850-AM.

  • The 16-7 victory over the Vols was a huge win for Meyer and the Gators on Saturday night. But the postgame celebration has been a somber one.

    Caldwell is out for the season after fracturing his leg returning the second-half kickoff and starting defensive end Ray McDonald may be out for the rest of the year after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the first half.

    "It's a devastating blow, especially to lose those two guys," Meyer said Sunday. "They are two completely committed football players who bought into your system. That really hurts us. We've got to pick up that rifle and keep going."

    Meyer seems to be taking the injury to Caldwell particularly hard. Meyer said he and Caldwell have developed a close relationship after a shaky beginning.

    "My relationship with him was sketchy at first. We didn't trust each other," Meyer said. "We have great respect for one another now. I love Bubba Caldwell and can say that without hesitation now. He used to be committed to Bubba Caldwell. He's totally committed to Florida football now.

    "We love everything about Bubba. He's going to play football for a long time because of his work ethic and attitude. He's changed his work ethic and turned into a real receiver."

    The injuries to Caldwell and McDonald were not the only factor contributing to the somber mood Sunday. So was the inconsistent, mistake-filled performance by the offense in the victory.

    The Gators were manhandled on the offensive line most of the evening, which limited what UF could even attempt to run against UT's fast and physical defense. UF produced only one touchdown and 247 yards of total offense.

    "It's something we made a big deal about and we challenged our coaches and players," said Meyer, who has won 19 straight games as a head coach. "I'm disappointed. We want second-year production out of a first-year offense and we're not getting it.

    "It's to the point where we need to re-evaluate and make sure we're doing the right stuff. I don't want to panic. The real fact is we basically had two (scoring) drives in the game. The other times (we scored), they were gimmies (following plays made by the special teams).

    "We're certainly not going to panic. We believe we have enough talent to get this thing going. We're going to evaluate that."

    The biggest problem area appears to be the offensive line, which gave up five sacks Saturday night and failed to consistently give quarterback Chris Leak protection and create openings for the running game.

    UF made one change during the game, replacing sophomore Drew Miller with junior Steve Rissler at guard, and more shuffling could be forthcoming.

    "We're going to evaluate the whole thing," Meyer said. "We just have to keep evaluating. I'm not happy at all. We've got to keep improving.

    "I don't think we're blocking people. I don't feel we have command of the line of scrimmage. Whether it's a spread offense or the I-formation or the wishbone, you cannot be effective unless you're controlling things up front and I don't believe we are."

    The offense also hurt itself with a rash of penalties Saturday night, another area Meyer plans to evaluate this week.

    "We had some nonsense penalties we're going to address aggressively this week," he said.

    The offense also must find a way to overcome the loss of Caldwell, one of UF's fastest players and a guy who played a versatile role in the offense as a receiver and runner. Caldwell had 10 catches for 148 yards this season. He also had five carries for 64 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown run off a reverse against the Vols.

    After Caldwell was injured, junior Jemalle Cornelius became a factor at receiver, catching three passes for 51 yards. Meyer said his role will expand, as will tight end Tate Casey's, and that junior quarterback/wide receiver Gavin Dickey could become a key player in the receiving corps.

    "Jemalle's role just doubled, maybe tripled," Meyer said. "Tate Casey is another guy who's going to have to get more involved and Kenneth Tookes' role keeps expanding because he's getting better.

    "Out of those, Gavin Dickey might be the next one (to become a factor). He's doesn't have (great) speed, but he's got some quicks in his game. I can see his role really expanding."

    As for replacing McDonald on the other side of the ball, Joe Cohen, a starter last year, and redshirt freshman Derrick Harvey came into the game Saturday night and played well at defensive end. Sophomore Jarvis Moss also saw some playing time in the second half and should be able to help the depth situation now that he's recovered from a bone infection.

  • NOTES:

    Meyer said he plans to give game balls to UF's weight and conditioning staff. On a hot and muggy night in The Swamp, the Gators made the plays on offense and defense in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. "(Toughness) is something you earn. Our team is earning it. I think we out-toughed our opponent in the fourth quarter. Early in the year (co-defensive coordinator) Greg Mattison said the players are saying practices are harder than the game. If that's how they feel, we're heading in the right direction," Meyer said. ... Meyer said the Gators will not have a letdown this Saturday against Kentucky, which was drubbed by Indiana on Saturday night. "Don't worry about that. We've done this for a while and that's one of our strengths. The Tuesday will be as intense as the Tuesday practice for Tennessee. Are we going to lose focus for Kentucky? No chance," Meyer said. ... Safety Tony Joiner, who broke up the fourth-down pass attempt by UT punter Britton Colquitt in the third quarter, could be seeing more playing time on defense, Meyer said. "His role is expanding. He's a great kid. I love Tony Joiner. I love his intensity. We need to get him more involved," Meyer said.

    Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com

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