Loss at LSU sparked change to UF's offense

Published: Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
It was late and it was only going to get later.
The emotional low point of his first season had come only hours earlier in Baton Rouge, La., where tears were spilled by players in the locker room and their coach in the dingy interview room.
"I kind of forgot about that," Urban Meyer said Monday.
Nobody else has. It was a draining day spent trying to get an offense to work.
"Jarvis Herring, who I became very close with ... When you care about a player and you care about what he's done, to see him - he was a wreck," Meyer said. "His life was ruined there for a minute."
When Herring, a senior safety, broke down after the game, Meyer carried that weight across the hallway where he lost it himself. He now says he learned - especially when the jabs, digs and T-shirts started flying - to take a moment to compose himself before speaking to the media.
But he learned a lot more. That's why he was up working as Oct. 15 turned into Oct. 16. Meyer called his offensive coaches to his home after the plane landed, grabbed every possible blank canvas he could find including napkins and started working on Florida's new offense.
"We put in a lot of plays that night," he said. "It was a late one. I was grabbing things to draw on.
"It did change. We decided to try to move the chains and play great defense. We were in a tough situation (at LSU). They blitzed us, hit our quarterback a lot. Was (Chris Leak) put in a bad situation? Certainly."
What happened at Tiger Stadium a year ago was a wake-up call of sorts for Meyer. Alabama had humiliated the Gators two weeks earlier, but it wasn't until the LSU game that it became clear that something had to change.
Leak was battered by the blitzing LSU defense all day. He was sacked four times and pressured on almost every throw. There were 30 of them, only 11 which were completed. Florida had 11 first downs for the game and only 206 yards of offense.
The most painful part was the fourth quarter when LSU scored to take a 21-17 lead with 12:35 to play in the game. The defense, which came up with five turnovers in the game, kept getting the ball back for the offense, which kept doing nothing with it.
In Florida's four possessions after LSU took the lead, the Gators had more penalties than first downs and never sniffed the Tigers' side of the field. And a lot of us walked out of the press box not so much impressed with LSU's defense as unimpressed with the Gator offense. It was, in a word, pathetic.
UF kept going to five-receiver formations when there weren't five capable receivers in white jerseys. Not only was it easy for the Tigers to cover Kyle Morgan and Gavin Dickey - sometimes with a single defender - it freed them up to blitz.
The result was a Florida offense that looked as if it was going against a defense with 13 or 14 players on the field. The crowd consumed every negative play for Florida and spit it back out as new energy.
It made for a depressed flight home and a late night for the coaches.
Meyer and his staff not only put some new running plays into the offense that night, they also put fullback Billy Latsko back into the game plan and worked on leaving a tight end in to block. The hybrid offense had been re-worked again and the Gators spent the bye week installing the new stuff.
What has followed has been a very nice run for Meyer and the Gators. Since that miserable day in Baton Rouge, Florida has won nine of 10 games including wins over Georgia, FSU, Iowa, Tennessee and Alabama. The offense has changed again with the arrival of more playmakers, but some of the elements that were introduced during that late night last October are still part of the system.
A lot has changed. Maybe it took a loss that painful to bring the team together in Meyer's first season.
"It was a pretty sad atmosphere," said receiver Jemalle Cornelius. "You could tell the team was hurting."
So was the coach. The Gator Nation found itself fragmented again. The grousing was deafening.
It has eased up since, even though there are certainly still concerns about Florida's offense heading into this week. Because one thing hasn't changed in a year - LSU's defense is really good.
Contact Pat Dooley at 374-5053 or dooleyp@gvillesun.com. Dooley's columns appear Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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