January 7, 2009

Gators line ready to prove its worth again

MORE: How Florida will win | How Oklahoma will win | Coaches break down contenders

MIAMI — While Oklahoma's defense has been playing the "no respect" card more than any other unit in the days leading up to the BCS Championship Game, Florida's offensive line also feels it has something to prove.

Earlier this season, the Gators were overshadowed by a veteran LSU line that features tackle Ciron Black and guard Herman Johnson. The Gators outgained LSU 475-321 and outrushed the Tigers 265-80 in a 51-21 victory.

In the SEC championship game, Florida faced an Alabama team that featured consensus All-America tackle Andre Smith and star center Antoine Caldwell. Florida outrushed Alabama in that 31-20 victory.

Now Florida matches up against an Oklahoma offensive line considered among the nation's best. Guard Duke Robinson, tackle Phil Loadholt and center Jon Cooper lead a line that has allowed just 11 sacks this season. Florida has given up 16.

"We feel like we're one of the best offensive lines in the nation," Florida senior tackle Phil Trautwein said. "It feels like every week we're always the second-best on the field. That just motivates. Versus Alabama, they were saying [their line] was No. 1, and our coaches motivated us, saying, 'They think they're better than you. Go out there and play.'

"We just use that as motivation. They have supposedly the two best offensive linemen in the nation, so we're just using that as motivation. We're just trying to go out there and prove them wrong."

Trautwein and Co. already have won the respect of their coaches, if not the rest of the college football world.

"This is the best offensive line I've been around, and I've been around some really good ones," Gators coach Urban Meyer said.

Meyer said one of the main reasons the Gators and Sooners are in the title game is because of the lines.

"You keep hearing about [Sam] Bradford and [Tim] Tebow, and what you're really going to see is probably the two best offensive lines in America going against each other," Meyer said. "There's the reason for the success those quarterbacks have. It's not the scheme."

Oklahoma will start four seniors and a junior on the line Thursday, while Florida is expected to go with two seniors and three sophomores.

Florida hopes speed kills

Meyer and his players have made a big deal about wanting to be the fastest team in the nation, and they may have reached their goal.

True freshman running back Jeff Demps is the fastest high school sprinter in history – he clocked a 10.01 in the 100 meters in the spring and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in the event. But redshirt freshman running back Chris Rainey beat Demps in an impromptu race over the summer, and those two, wide receivers Percy Harvin, Deonte Thompson and Louis Murphy and cornerback Joe Haden all reportedly run the 40-yard dash in under 4.3 seconds.

Meyer gets Florida track coach Mike Holloway to work with his skill-position players and Holloway is especially proud of the speed shown by Demps, Rainey, Harvin and Thompson. "Those four guys, if they were just regular track guys, not football players, they'd be one unbelievable 4-by-100 relay," Holloway told USA Today. "They could challenge for the 4-by-100 relay title at the NCAA championships."

Meyer said the way Florida's spread offense utilizes the speed is what it's important.

"Speed running into a big pile of people and getting tackled is not utilizing speed. … We try to match that speed against some inferior speed and let them go to work in the open field," he said.

Oklahoma has noticed Florida's speed on film.

"This is a team that you'd be naοve to say you're faster than," OU defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.

Venables then was asked if he's ever left the field as a Sooners assistant saying an opponent's speed was too much to handle. "I don't know," he said. "I don't know. Not very often."

Politicking coaches

Meyer said he has no problem with Texas' Mack Brown, USC's Pete Carroll and Utah's Kyle Whittingham lobbying for their teams to be No. 1.

"That's absolutely what they should do. … You don't really understand the whole mechanics, investment and passion these coaches have," Meyer said. "[If a coach didn't lobby for his team], that's not a good coach. Of course they should do that."

Leading the way

While his stats don't match what he put up in 2007, Tebow said he has become a much better all-around quarterback this season. One reason is his leadership skills. He said his skills have improved, mostly because he now knows more about each teammate.

"Some people need a pat on the back, some people you need to push a little bit more. … What you see out of really great leaders is maybe they don't do their best but they make other players play better," he said. "That's something you see out of good leaders and something I've tried to do."

Special advantage?

Florida looks to have an advantage in special teams, especially when considering that Oklahoma will be without injured running back DeMarco Murray, a big-time weapon on kickoff returns.

Oklahoma has allowed four kickoff-return touchdowns, and Florida has one of the nation's best return men in Brandon James.

"What this game is all about is making a team drive the length of the field and not giving them short ones," Meyer said. "I think that's what's going to be the difference in this game."


Meyer said senior tight end Cornelius Ingram won't play Thursday, though Ingram has indicated he will dress for the game. Ingram, a senior, missed the season with a torn ACL. … Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney was an Iowa assistant when Bob Stoops played there. McCarney remembered a summer job that Stoops and his brother, Mike, now the Arizona coach, had back then. "[They] were in the painting business when they were playing and were graduate assistants [at Iowa], and they painted my parents' home, a couple of rental properties of my parents. Obviously, neither one of them has to do that anymore," he said. … Meyer said the 33-day layoff between games doesn't bother him, saying it has allowed Florida's injured players to get healthy. " If we had to play a January 1st bowl game, we would not have won that game," he said. "January 8th gives us another chance."

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