Gators receive Meyer's message loud and clear


Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 11:34 p.m.
To break a streak of three straight bowl losses, all Florida had to do was take incredible chances, get some lucky breaks and hold on by the seat of their collective pants.
But it's better to be good, then lucky, than to not show up until halftime and have all of the bounces go against you.
For the last three seasons, Florida has ended with a shoulder-slumping loss that sometimes defied description. Any momentum that had been built during the season was snuffed out by the second day of January.
That's why this game meant so much to Urban Meyer and it was clear he got the message through to his players.
The most impressive thing about Monday's game was the passion and the energy that Florida delivered to a bewildered bunch of Hawkeyes. But this is an Iowa program built on trust, the same kind of trust that Meyer is working to build with his team.
So you knew they weren't going to roll over.
And in the end, Florida got the biggest break of the game, an offsides call that nullified a recovered onside kick by the Hawkeyes. Instead of flashbacks to the Vanderbilt game, the Gators were able to kneel the game into submission.
One thing about being around the Iowa players this week, you understand how they are so successful. And they finished with class.
"Don't put this on the refs," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "They played better than us. That's what should be written in the papers."
It was Greenway who was called offsides on the kickoff. From the press box, I immediately thought he was offsides. Replays showed my weak eyes may have been wrong.
But the bottom line is that we learned a lot about Meyer on this perfect afternoon. He seems to get the breaks that plagued the previous coach. And the man isn't afraid.
He showed it in the first half when he went for a touchdown when it seemed the smart thing to do was to set up a field goal. Had the pass trickled off Dallas Baker's hands and Florida went in at the half up 17-7 instead of 24-7, we'd all have been questioning the call.
Instead, Baker made a sensational catch with one second to play.
There's a fine line between gutsy and gullible, between daring and dumb. When a play like that works, people start talking about your bravery. When it doesn't, they start wondering if there are ping-pong balls rattling around in your head.
But the gutsiest call was still to come. With momentum shifted to Iowa and Florida facing a fourth down on its own 19, Meyer called for a fake punt. This on the same field where Ron Zook was vilified for calling a trick play three years ago.
His didn't work. Meyer's did. Billy Latsko made the first down on a twisting run allowing Florida to kill some more clock.
"He's got some big ones," cornerback Vernell Brown said. "If I was a coach, no way I'd have tried that."
Meyer has a way. He has a swagger, an air of confidence that he is trying to instill in his players. It takes more than a year to build that, to build the trust that he finally feels is there with some of his players.
Not all of them. Meyer this week made it clear that there was still too much "me" on this team during the season. And when he was asked about Chad Jackson not breaking the single-season receiving record, he banged his fist on the podium.
"We won the bowl game," he said. Rather loudly. Meyer has learned a lot about Florida, about SEC football, about the players who made this a season that was good but could have been great. Those life lessons aren't going away.
There are still, as he said after the game, holes in the boat. Just not as many.
There is still a lot of plugging to do. But this has been a season of exploration. It was a season where the seniors who had been through so much became the first to beat their three big rivals and win their bowl game.
Sure, Florida got some breaks. When you get a call against the opposition for "disconcerting signals" you know the football gods are smiling on you. That last call, hey, you've seen a few of those go against the Gators in the past.
Fearless and fortunate. Once he gets the right players in here and the holes are all plugged, there's no telling what might happen.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at dooleyp@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5053.

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