Gators' reality check

Florida coaches will rely on a suffocating defense, ranked No. 2 in the NCAA, and special teams while the offense develops.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
Offensive tackle Randy Hand says the line has to get better.
At some point this season, Florida's offense might find its groove and start flying up and down the field, scoring lots of points and piling up lots of yards, just like Urban Meyer's spread option attack did at Utah.
But it probably won't happen this week. And it may not happen for quite some time.
Because that is not what the Gators do right now. That is not who they are.
Only three games into the season, the Gators have already established a well-defined identity. And it is not the one everyone had been anticipating since Meyer took over in January.
Florida is winning with strong defense and special teams and by taking care of the ball on offense.
The Gators are not winning - and wowing their fans - with their offense.
"It's an identity we're not necessarily proud of, but there is no B.S. in this program," Meyer said Monday. "I'm not going to stand up in front of the team and tell them something that's not true. They know who we are. We better take care of the football if we're going to win.
"If you're scoring 56 points and you turn it over, you (say) don't do that any more and keep going. But we're not that team right now. Do we want to become that team? Sure, there's not a team in the country that doesn't."
Until that happens, the Gators will have to rely on the things that carried them to victory over Tennessee last Saturday night - defense, special teams, no turnovers on offense and winning the battle of field position and time of possession.
For now, forget Meyer's cutting edge offense.
The Gators are going to settle in and play some Woody Hayes ball here for a while.
"We are a field position team," Meyer said. "If our special teams have a bad day, we lose. We cannot have that happen. We're a defense, special teams, field position team. I don't think there's any question.
"When you say a defensive team, our offense plays a role in that our defense won't be real good if we put the ball on the ground (in a bad position) on the field. We want to make sure we continue to take care of the football."
Meyer has made taking care of the football such a priority that he didn't play redshirt freshman tailback Markus Manson and true freshman quarterback Josh Portis in Saturday's game because both have been a little careless with the ball at times.
Turnovers could be devastating for a team whose offense is not consistently producing.
UF's offensive line play was so poor Saturday night it prevented Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen from running much of the offense. Penalties also were costly.
"A lot," Meyer said when asked how much the line play was limiting the offense. "We're going to be OK. I'm glad we're standing here 3-0.
"We have a lot of work to do. There's nothing misleading about what's going on right now. We're taking care of the football, we're getting these drives (that are consuming time). Penalties and inconsistent blocking, those are the two major issues.
"We did not block (Tennessee) very well. We expect more than that, as I'm sure everybody does. They're really good and we didn't block them. I don't think it's a lack of courage or a lack of talent. I think it's a lack of technique."
Senior offensive tackle Randy Hand said the poor play up front against UT took away from the victory for the offensive linemen.
"We're definitely disappointed," Hand said. "We beat Tennessee in one of the biggest wins of your career and it didn't feel as good as I wanted it to feel coming out of the game.
"We have to get better. I'm real happy we won, but we didn't do as well as we needed to. We've got to learn from what we've done wrong."
Meyer said the offensive line will go back to working on basic fundamentals this week in practice.
"We're re-evaluating our practice for the offensive line right now," Meyer said. "We have to go back to fundamentals a little bit. Just some basic footwork and hand placement, some of the things we don't look very good at right now. I don't think there's a personnel answer (by replacing some starters with backups). We have an issue with depth in the offensive line. We just have to get very much improved."
In the meantime, the Gators figure to be somewhat conservative and safe on offense, while leaning heavily on special teams and a defense ranked second in the nation in total defense.
UF limited the Vols to 66 yards rushing (minus-4 in the second half), gave up no plays of 20 yards or longer and stopped Tennessee on 10 of 13 third-down plays. As a result, the Vols offense spent much of the night on its side of the 50.
"I'm not sure I've been around a team that's playing better defense right now," Meyer said. "Is there room for improvement? Yes. But against a team with a great tradition of running the ball, the defense shut them down. It was a tremendous effort."
UF's special teams also came up big. Chris Hetland converted his three field-goal attempts, the Gators blocked a field goal attempt, recovered a muffed punt and safety Tony Joiner broke up a pass to thwart a fake punt attempt in the third quarter. UF's kickoff coverage also was excellent.
For now, this is a defensive team with a strong emphasis on the kicking game.
"I think we know who we are," Meyer said.
Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or

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