January 7, 2009

Harvin's unique skills could be difference

MORE: How Florida will win | How Oklahoma will win | Who has the edge?

MIAMIGeorgia coach Mark Richt calls him a "mismatch." Florida coach Urban Meyer dubs him "the most dynamic playmaker in the country." Alabama cornerback Javier Arenas says simply, "He's a great player."

All are correct in their assessment of Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin, who will be the most electrifying and dangerous player on the field Thursday night at Dolphin Stadium during the BCS Championship Game.

"He's a speed guy who has great hands," Oklahoma strong safety Nic Harris said. "Ultimately, we have to make sure we make tackles in open space."

That's easier said than done. Harvin is unlike any weapon Oklahoma has seen this season. He's more explosive than Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, more fleet than Texas' Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley and stronger than Missouri's Jeremy Maclin. It's no overstatement to say Harvin is the nation's deadliest combination of receiver and runner.

"If he was a tailback on somebody else's team, he'd be a 200-yards-a-game guy," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "If he was at Texas Tech, he'd be doing everything Crabtree's doing and more.

"He's a special player that can catch, get open, run with it. He can do it all."

Harvin has rushed for 543 yards and nine touchdowns and has 35 receptions for 595 yards and seven TDs despite missing two games. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Harvin is his ability to get in the end zone, which is the ultimate stat. He has scored a touchdown in each of the past 14 games he has played, the longest such streak in the nation.

One of the burning questions leading into the title game is Harvin's health. He missed Florida's SEC title game victory over Alabama with an ankle injury, and he's still dogged by it.

"I'm at 90 percent," Harvin said.

But he said that's nothing new.

"I've been that way most of my career," he said. "I'll take 90 percent any day of the week. It is what it is. Of course, I wouldn't want to be hurting this much, but at the same time, you've got to play with the cards you're dealt. I wouldn't want to take anything back. If I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing."

BY THE NUMBERS
Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin is arguably college football's most dynamic dual threat, and may be the deadliest weapon the sport has seen since USC's Reggie Bush (2003-05). Harvin has 313 touches from scrimmage in his career and has averaged 11.5 yards per touch. Following is a look at his career numbers as he aims to lead the Gators to their second national title in the past three seasons:
RUSHING
YearNo.Yds.Avg.TDs
20064142810.43
2007837649.26
2008615388.89
Totals1851,7309.418
RECEIVING
YearNo.Yds.Avg.TDs
20063442712.62
20075985814.54
20083559517.07
Totals1281,88014.713
Even if Harvin is just 90 percent against the Sooners, that may be good enough to continue to weave the multi-dimensional magic that has defined his career and been on full display this fall.

In a 31-30 loss to Ole Miss – the Gators' lone defeat – Harvin displayed his receiving skills by grabbing a career-high 13 passes for 186 yards. In a 56-6 dismantling of South Carolina, Harvin ran for a career-high 167 yards (including an 80-yard scoring jaunt) and two touchdowns on just eight carries.

"The biggest thing with him is his versatility," said an NFL director of college scouting. "He can play in the slot, he can play running back. He is so explosive. When you watch him run, he is at a different speed. And I have seen him go across the middle and take hits. I've seen him block. I'm not sure he's not tougher than Reggie Bush."

Ninety percent, 75 percent, 50 percent … it doesn't matter. Harvin will command the respect of an Oklahoma squad that ranks 62nd in the nation in total defense (359.1 ypg) and is tied for 58th in scoring defense (24.5 ppg). With OU having to worry about Harvin, receivers such as Louis Murphy, Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper and running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps conceivably should have room to make big plays.

"You can go down our lineup and we have five or six dudes that can go under 4.2 [in the 40-yard dash]; we've got seven or eight dudes who can do 4.3, and it just goes on down," said Harvin, part of an attack that ranks 17th in the nation in total offense (442.4 ypg) and No. 3 in scoring offense (45.2 ppg). "We've got a lot of playmakers. When we put it all together, it's actually fun."

Harvin has been a star from the moment he arrived as one of the nation's top recruits from Landstown High in Virginia Beach, Va., in 2006. The helmets of Florida freshmen are lined with a black stripe at the beginning of fall camp, and the stripe remains there until they have made a significant impact in practice. Harvin was the first player in his class to have the black stripe removed. And he hasn't stopped impressing.

"I think everyone knows how I feel about him," Meyer said. "I have done this for a long time, and I've seen him do things I've never seen anyone else do."

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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