Gators will play it safe


Florida's head football coach, Urban Meyer, right, talks over a play with quarterback Chris Leak (12) early in the first quarter during Saturday's game at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla. on Oct. 29, 2005. Florida won the game 14-10.

Star-Banner Photo/NYTRENG, Bruce ACKERMAN
Published: Monday, October 31, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 31, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
Urban Meyer is still committed to his spread option offense and all that goes with it. The reverses. The shovel passes. The empty backfield. The option.
At some point in the future, we'll see all that stuff again, Meyer said Sunday.
But for now, maybe for the rest of this season, it appears the Florida Gators are going to be running a scaled-back version of the spread. Maybe a very scaled-back version.
Meyer, who came to UF with a Spurrieresque reputation for offense, has gone conservative.
"This is new to me," Meyer said. "Am I satisfied scoring two touchdowns in a game? I'm not comfortable with that. But I am comfortable with winning and putting our players in the best possible position to win. If that means being more conservative (that's what we'll do).
"With the hand we're dealt right now (with the lack depth and playmakers) and the nature of the SEC (this is where we are). Alabama is undefeated, and in their last two (SEC) wins they scored only one touchdown. Is that what we want to become? No. Do we want to win games? Yes.
"In my first year at Utah we were 10-2 and we beat Utah State 3-0 and won our bowl game 17-0. Winning cures everything. I'm comfortable with winning and with our players having an opportunity to win."
Then Meyer is certainly comfortable with UF's latest performance - a 14-10 upset of Georgia in Jacksonville on Saturday.
During UF's bye week, Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen evaluated the spread and the Gators' offensive personnel and retooled the offense for the Georgia game.
Many of the spread option elements were benched in favor of some more traditional schemes, such as two backs in the backfield, incorporating the fullback and the tight end into the offense and having quarterback Chris Leak go under center at times.
The changes seemed to fit UF's personnel better - especially Leak, who is a dropback passer - and the Gators generated enough offense to pull off the victory.
UF probably will keep this basic offensive look for the rest of the season, but Meyer said that doesn't mean the Gators have given up on the spread elements such as the shovel passes, reverses and the triple option.
"No, we'll see those," Meyer said. "It depends on how the defense is playing us. When you're playing teams with as much speed as LSU and Georgia, running laterally doesn't make a lot of sense unless you're matching their speed.
"We're certainly going to keep some spread elements. It depends on who we're playing. There were a lot of plays that were not run in that game (Saturday)."
In Saturday's victory, the Gators ran only one option play and attacked Georgia's defense with more of a north-south running game between the tackles. The strategy produced results, with tailback DeShawn Wynn running for a career-high 109 yards and redshirt freshman Markus Manson adding 51 as UF rushed for 153 yards.
"It's more of a downhill game," Meyer said. "Arkansas did a great job running downhill (against Georgia two weeks ago) because their linebackers are so fast. It depends on how a team is playing you."
Meyer not only has adjusted his offense to fit his personnel, he's tweaked it to give the Gators a chance to succeed in the SEC, where the defenses seem to be dominant this season.
Meyer, however, hasn't given up on his spread option attack or the plan to make the Gators a high-scoring offensive team one day. For now, though, he's just doing what he has to do to try and win games.
He's gone conservative. "Ultimately, we have to generate much more offense than we have this year," Meyer said.
NOTES: Meyer said one of the key changes on offense Saturday was playing Billy Latsko at fullback and having him block for Wynn and Manson. "I didn't realize what a good football player he is. You try to take your best football players and get them on the field. He has great blocking technique. He's a very good blocker. At some point we're going to hand him the ball. He's a great young man," Meyer said. ... After going through much of the season without a dominant tailback, it appears the Gators might have two who can play now in Wynn and Manson. "My initial reaction is that is about as well as two tailbacks can complement each other. I'm real excited about Markus Manson. He really hit it and he dropped his shoulder pads on the safeties and took care of the football. Those two played very well. They really complement each other well," Meyer said. ... Junior Reggie Nelson made his first start at free safety, replacing sophomore Kyle Jackson, the starter in the first seven games. Jackson did not get into the game Saturday. "(Jackson) is going to play. Reggie Nelson played very well and we didn't play much nickel (where both Nelson and Jackson could have been on the field at the same time). It was more of a base game. (Jackson) is still a very valuable member of our team. He's a great kid," Meyer said. ... Meyer said Saturday's victory alleviated some of the pressure - for at least a few hours. "It's back on. That one's over. That pressure is off for about six hours and it's back on. That's whether you're undefeated or 6-2. That's the nature of the beast," he said.
Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com

UF FOOTBALL on Page 7C

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UF FOOTBALL:

Jumps three spots to No. 13

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1 USC8-0

2 Texas8-0

3 Virginia Tech8-0

4 Alabama8-0

5 Miami6-1

15. Florida6-2

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