No. 1 UF welcomes pressure

Urban Meyer yells at his offense Saturday in Jacksonville.

Rob C. Witzel/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 5:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 5:15 p.m.

A year ago, the Florida Gators came together and turned their season around following a loss to Ole Miss.

Florida had another Mississippi moment a week ago, one that apparently has had a similar bonding effect.

This one came in the immediate aftermath of a sloppy, turnover-plagued victory over Mississippi State. Instead of quarterback Tim Tebow getting up and giving an impassioned speech like he did after the Ole Miss defeat, Urban Meyer, some assistant coaches and the leaders got up and had some words that turned into a passionate, clear-the-air meeting in the locker room minutes following the Gators' 29-19 victory over MSU.

Meyer launched the Mississippi moment when he stood up and told his players he failed them when he called for a pass out of the end zone late in the fourth quarter that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

"It was a very passionate locker room," Meyer said Sunday. "I didn't let it go. I was right in the middle of it. (Defensive coordinator) Charlie Strong and others were, too. I'll give you a visualization of what went on. I stood up and said I put this defense (in jeopardy). I failed.

"It was like that fake punt against Arkansas (in the 2006 SEC Championship Game). If it had not worked that would have been a dumb decision. I started it. Then (junior offensive guard) Mike Pouncey got up and said, 'I have to play better.' There was no finger-pointing. It was just guys saying we have to get better. It was a very positive exchange. It wasn't two guys or four guys, it was a team."

Seven days later, the refocused and rededicated Gators went out and played their best game of the season, thumping arch-rival Georgia 41-17 to clinch the Eastern Division title.

After Saturday's victory in Jacksonville, senior middle linebacker Brandon Spikes told a reporter that he and Tebow had a little "skirmish" following the MSU game that the two leaders had worked out.

Meyer said Sunday there was no skirmish between Tebow and Spikes, and that he did not deliver a "no finger-pointing" speech to his players last week.

"There was no finger-pointing speech and no altercation," Meyer said. "After the Mississippi State game it was a very passionate locker room about how we can play better. But there was no altercation whatsoever.

"That's absolutely incorrect. It was a bunch of guys taking fault for not playing well. It was the head coach saying he shouldn't have called a play from the four-yard line. It was all positive."

Whatever went on in that post-game locker room in Starkville, it seems to have brought this team together, sort of like last year's Mississippi moment did.

The Gators haven't lost a game since that setback a year ago. Based on Saturday's performance, maybe they're ready to make another strong run down the stretch like they did last season on their way to the national title.

"I do think that at some point in February, you do reflect on moments in the season (that were a turning point)," Meyer said. "But our focus is on Vanderbilt. One thing you have to admire about this team (is its ability to stay focused). You look across the country and Texas does such a good job of focusing and playing each game. Cincinnati, I flip on the TV, and they have the ability to really stay focused.

"The reason our kickoff unit and punt unit were the best they've ever been at Florida (in the win over Georgia) is because of attention to detail and great focus. If we can maintain that, we have the chance to win the next game."

In an effort to keep that focus, Meyer said the Gators will not make a big deal about clinching the division. There's too much football left to be played before there will be any celebrating.

"To represent the East (in the SEC title game) is a great honor," Meyer said. "But you won't hear much about that this week. It won't be talked about today. I just think we're a really poor football team when the focus is on anything other than preparing for a very talented team. We will make sure we get that down as close as we can."

Meyer was asked if his team might be ready to go on a roll similar to last season.

"I'm hoping. But you don't know that," he said. "The focus is on trying to get better. That's absolutely what we do. Last week the ship was sinking. That's what I kept hearing. The boat was getting holes in it. It absolutely does not.

"We've got good guys who go really hard. I hope we hit a stride. But we have no time to worry about that. We have to practice hard on Tuesday and Wednesday."

The pressure that has been building around this team since the preseason is still present after Saturday's convincing victory, Meyer said. But the Gators welcome it.

"I kind of like the urgency," Meyer said. "I love pressure and our players love pressure. Saturday's game was as pressure-packed as any I can remember around here.

"If you want to relieve pressure, transfer somewhere and have some fun and play. If you want to play in pressure-packed situations on TV every week, you're at the right place. I hope there's all kinds of pressure on us this week."

NOTES: Meyer said he will know more today about the injuries to tailbacks Chris Rainey and Mike Gillislee. Rainey injured his shoulder, while Gillislee appeared to possibly strain a hamstring against Georgia. ... Meyer praised the play-calling of offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, and said the Gators likely will be lining up some in the I-formation the rest of the season. "I think we're going to move forward with that," Meyer said. "One thing I will say about the offense is Steve did a great job mixing up the run and pass early in the game. The second half, we didn't play as well. In the first half, as far as keeping a talented Georgia team off balance, we were right on target." . ... Meyer said he will talk to Spikes about several altercations he had on the field with some Georgia players. "He's a very emotional player. I'll have a very serious talk with him," Meyer said.

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