Wolverines expose Gators' weakness
Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 12:46 a.m.
The loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday likely will linger through a long offseason.
Maybe that's a good thing for a Florida team that obviously needs some work.
"We'll just use this as motivation to work harder and get better," Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow said. "(The loss) definitely takes some of the positive (out of the season)."
The 41-35 loss to the Wolverines was revealing. It showed that the problems that persisted through the middle part of the season are still there — the biggest being the Gators' inability to cover receivers or rush the passer, which are directly related.
In Tuesday's game, the defensive front failed to put consistent pressure on Michigan quarterback Chad Henne and the young cornerbacks looked lost trying to cover the UM receivers. The result was 373 passing yards and three touchdowns surrendered.
"We expect more out of our corner play than that," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "That's one of the areas where we're going to have to improve greatly. We may have to change up some coverages and do some things to help those guys out. And recruit.
"That's an area that's subpar right now and we've got to get that fixed quickly. The good news is they're all young, they're all coming back and they're all going to be developed as we get going. That development starts immediately. It's all freshmen and sophomores playing cornerback at the University of Florida right now. We're going to get some things corrected."
The youth and inexperience at cornerback are part of an overall maturity issue on a team that will have only a handful of seniors again next season, Meyer said.
"Last year we graduated a bunch of players and a bunch of players moved on to the National Football League," Meyer said. "We thought we had some answers early on. It took us a while to figure out we don't, and some young guys that we were counting on to play were not living up to the standard we expect. I'm hoping that changes. If it does. ... our goal is to be the New England Patriots of college football.
"I make that real clear to our players. You see a guy like Randy Moss go in there and he's a model citizen who plays his tail off and hugs his teammates after he scores. That's appealing to me. That's what we want to be.
"We have enough personnel to get that going if we just take care of each other and have good chemistry. That comes with maturity."
In his postgame news conference, Meyer also said he will be evaluating the coaching his players are receiving. He did not say there could be changes on his staff.
"I don't think we coached very well in certain areas," he said. "I want to just watch and evaluate and make sure we're doing the right things."
Humbled by the loss, the players say they're ready to do what it takes to develop into a more complete team in the offseason.
"There are a whole lot of areas where we have to improve," sophomore middle linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "The loss is very disappointing because I thought we had made some strides. But it opened our eyes to make us see how hard we have to work this offseason.
"We've got to learn from this. We've got a lot of growing up to do. It's time for us to man up. When we need a play to be made, someone has got to stand up and do it."
No one did when it mattered most Tuesday. Not even Tebow, who failed to move the offense on two consecutive possessions in the closing minutes.
The Gators went four-and-out on consecutive potential game-winning drives in the final 4:12.
"Obviously, my goal is to get a lot better," said Tebow, who completed only 17-of-33 passes for 154 yards. "And on the last drive (in the future), drive down and have a game-winning touchdown.
"This is just going to motivate us to work harder in the offseason."
In the meantime, it's on to recruiting and waiting to hear if tight end Cornelius Ingram and defensive end Derrick Harvey will be returning for their senior seasons.
Harvey has been projected as a possible first-round draft pick by some, so there's a good chance he will not be back.
As of Tuesday, Ingram said he had not received his paperwork back from the NFL. He said he was going to discuss his impending decision with Meyer on Wednesday.
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