Better efficiency at practice key to turnaround, Meyer says

Florida coach Urban Meyer waits to run on the field before the Gators' football game against Mississippi State University in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010.

Andrew Stanfill/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, October 25, 2010 at 7:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 25, 2010 at 7:44 p.m.

During Florida's bye week, coach Urban Meyer had enough time to immerse himself in the Gators' problem areas. So much so that he greeted the media at his Monday news conference with a laundry list of "severe" issues his team needs to get fixed as it heads into the Georgia game Saturday.

Some of those issues include poor play execution, a lack of big plays, turnovers, passing efficiency and inadequate red-zone performances.

Manning a team suffering through a three-game losing streak and looking up in the SEC East standings for the first time in a while, Meyer said the key to righting so many of Florida's wrongs will be better efficiency at practice.

"The intent is not to assess blame. The intent is to get better and improve," Meyer said. "The first thing you have to look for is if there's a lack of execution, why? The first thing you ask is are you getting it done in practice?"

But where do the Gators begin?

Execution is stressed every day by coaches and players, but little has changed in the past three games.

Florida has 14 turnovers through seven games after giving the ball away 16 times all of last year.

And after starting the season 16-for-16 in the red zone, the Gators are 3 of 11 during their losing streak.

With two weeks of work, Meyer said he's looking to find the "competitive excellence" Florida has lacked for the first time since 2005 — Meyer's debut season atUF.

That means efficient use of allotted practice time, continuously taking reps at game speed and becoming more disciplined in engineering plays.

It also means players must be more accountable for their mishaps in practice.

After last week, senior linebacker Brandon Hicks said he's seen a dramatic change in how practices are conducted. Before, only coaches dished out criticism to players. Now, Hicks said players, regardless of age, are starting to become more vocal. Having players delivering more advice during practice helps develop trust, Hicks said.

"It's more team chemistry going on," Hicks said. "We need it the most. I wish we would have had it at the beginning (of the season).

"It's coming together, but I wish it came a lot faster than it did."

Quarterback John Brantley, who's 117.9 passing efficiency is nearly 50 points lower than what Meyer wants and expects, said he welcomes player-on-player criticism, but wants it to stay constructive.

"Of course, you want to get on those guys, but we try to make each other better," Brantley said. "If I mess up I want somebody to get on me. Not even just my coach, anybody."

Meyer said he noticed subtle changes in some of his players' practice habits last week.

He saw it in how players responded to coaching, the way injured running back Jeff Demps is "killing himself" to get healthy and how senior center Mike Pouncey executed a block 12 yards down field then went for another 25.

But it won't be enough until he sees that same determination in games.

"It doesn't look like us out there," Meyer said. "It doesn't look like 'bang.' I want to have the thud. We all want that."

Meyer's most important task this week is getting the offense to resemble its former self as it undergoes "quite a bit" of modifications after heavy evaluation during the bye.

While he did not divulge the changes, Meyer said they will be tailored to eliminating poor execution and generating bigger plays.

For a program known for creating game-changing offensive plays, the Gators have come up almost empty in that department, especially when running the ball. Meyer said his backfield hasn't generated a "big play" since week two and has just four on the season.

He attributed the backfield's struggles on injuries to three tailbacks, poor protection, bad perimeter blocking and the lack of execution.

"I'd be hard pressed to say that we haven't had more big plays than any school in the country the last few years," Meyer said. "That has to be addressed."

Despite all of Florida's shortcomings, there's still hope.

Winning their final three conference games means a return to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game for the Gators.

Evaluation and improved work ethic during the bye week was step one to salvaging the season. Starting this practice week where the last one finished is the next.

"I'm hoping that I come out and watch practice (Monday) and it looks like the University of Florida," Meyer said. "I think we're all hoping that, but I'm really hoping that."

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