Outback payback


Florida senior wide receiver Dallas Baker hauls in his second touchdown of the day during the second half of the Gators' 31-24 Outback Bowl win against Iowa on Monday at Raymond James Stadium.

ROB WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 11:37 p.m.
With Urban Meyer, it's been all about trust since that very first meeting the new Florida coach had with his players last January.
Trust.
At what stage would a relatively undisciplined group of Gators advance to the point where Meyer could trust them? Where he would have enough faith in them to, say, call a fake punt from his own 19-yard line with less than five minutes to play in a game he desperately wanted to win?
On Monday in the Outback Bowl, the trust was there.
Meyer felt enough of it in his players to make some bold coaching decisions - including that fake punt with UF clinging to a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter - which helped propel the No. 16 Gators to a 31-24 victory over No. 25 Iowa, snapping the Gators' three-bowl losing streak.
"We're an aggressive team," Meyer said. "Earlier in the year we were not as aggressive as we like to be because, to be honest with you, I didn't trust this team. At times, there are still some individuals I don't trust.
"We didn't fake punts early in the year when I didn't trust this team. During that middle stretch I could count on one hand the number of players I trusted. Now, I have a hard time saying who I don't trust. That's a great step.
"I'm really excited (about the future), especially the trust factor. It's a little more there than it's ever been. Not a little bit, a lot."
Meyer certainly showed a great deal of trust in his players with the Gators facing a fourth-and-1 from the Florida 19 with less than five minutes to play and the Hawkeyes owning momentum after trimming a 31-7 deficit to 31-21.
Meyer sent on the punt team, but then called for the fake, with long-snapper James Smith hiking the ball to blocking back Billy Latsko, who broke a tackle and managed to run for five yards and a critical first down.
"I think I spun off a guy and I was just trying to keep my legs going," Latsko said. "Once I got the second effort, then I knew I had it.
"It shows that Coach Meyer has a lot of trust in us and we have a lot of trust in him and that we can execute the plays that are called."
It was a gutty decision to go for the first down, but Meyer said he made it without any hesitation.
"I felt the momentum slipping," Meyer said. "You have (strong safety) Jarvis Herring at left guard, James Smith at long snapper, (safety) Tony Joiner at right tackle and Billy Latsko as personal protector.
"I promised our players that at some point we were going to run that. It's not really hard when your best players are guys you trust. I trust those guys with my family. That's why you go get it and give the ball to your best players."
Meyer displayed similar trust in the closing seconds of the first half, having quarterback Chris Leak take a shot at the end zone with only seven seconds remaining from the Iowa 24.
Leak lofted a pass into the right corner of the end zone and bowl MVP Dallas Baker went up and snagged it and got one foot in bounds for a touchdown with one second to play to give the Gators a 24-7 halftime lead.
"The wind was in our face (making a field-goal attempt more difficult), and I felt Chris was throwing the ball well," Meyer said of his decision to go for the touchdown. "Dallas Baker came a long way (since last January). He's going to graduate from the University of Florida and he's going to pick up where (cornerback and team leader) Vernell Brown left off. That's why we took that shot. Do I trust Dallas Baker? No question."
Baker also caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from Leak with 5:23 to play in the third quarter and finished with 10 receptions for 147 yards and two TDs.
"I'm not surprised (Meyer went for the touchdown in the final seconds of the first half)," Baker said. "If you know Coach Meyer like I know Coach Meyer, you wouldn't be surprised at all."
Baker's second touchdown catch seemed close to putting the game away.
But with the help of a muffed punt by UF wide receiver Chad Jackson, which set up a 4-yard TD pass from Drew Tate to Ed Hinkel early in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes roared back.
Tate found Hinkel open for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 6:59 to play to suddenly make it a 31-21 game.
UF's fake punt helped the Gators burn some clock, but Iowa kicker Kyle Schlicher cut the lead to 31-24 with 1:24 to play.
With no timeouts remaining, the Hawkeyes had to attempt an onside kick, which tight end Scott Chandler recovered inside the UF 40. But the Hawkeyes were flagged for offsides and Schlicher's second attempt was caught by Jackson, sealing the victory.
Replays of the first onside attempt showed the Hawkeyes were not offsides.
"I'm a little biased," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He looked a lot onside to me.
"Credit goes to Florida. They made the plays they had to make."
The Gators now head into the offseason the way they hoped they would - with a 9-3 record and lots of momentum following back-to-back wins over Florida State and Iowa to end Meyer's first season.
"The future is really bright," senior center Mike Degory said. "Any time there's a coaching change, it takes a little bit for the wheels to start rolling.
"Your can kind of feel the momentum in the locker room now where we kind of feel we're unbeatable. These last two games kind of put us back on the map."
You can reach Robbie Andreu by calling 374-5022 or by e-mail at andreur@gvillesun.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top