Trapping the Gators

With speedsters it likes to isolate in the middle of the field, Florida figures to give the Sooners all they can handle too
December 29, 2008

WHEN HE arrivedin Gainesville in early 2005, Florida coach Urban Meyer vowed to assemble"the fastest team in America." Four years later his offense—which ledthe SEC in scoring (45.2 points a game) and total offense (442.4 yards)—is, infact, built on world-class speed. A dozen Gators (seven on offense) haveclocked 4.4 seconds or less in the 40, and of Florida's school-record 79 TDsthis season 47 were scored by one of those speedsters. When the Gators are onthe move, players fly down the field like cars on the autobahn. "When Iwatched video of them, at first I thought it was in fast-forward," Georgialinebacker Rennie Curran said before Florida ran circles around the Bulldogs ina 49--10 victory on Nov. 1.

"I was blownaway by their speed and athleticism," says Mississippi defensivecoordinator Tyrone Nix, whose team handed the Gators their lone defeat of theyear, a 31--30 setback on Sept. 27. "You can't stop them. You can only slowthem down."

Here are the keysto putting the brakes on the Florida attack:

TAKE AWAY THERUNNING GAME

The biggestmisconception about the Gators is that their offense is modeled after thepass-happy teams of the Steve Spurrier era. "Everything they do is based ontheir running game," says Nix, whose unit blitzed on nearly every down andheld quarterback Tim Tebow to a season-low seven yards on 15 carries. Meyer,however, uses the speed to create mismatches on the ground. Since the loss tothe Rebels, Florida, led by the freshman tandem of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey,has rushed for 263.6 yards a game (fifth in the nation over that span) and 6.6yards per carry (first). The Flash 'n' Dash, with its steady diet of endarounds and jet sweeps, thrives on misdirection. "You can't afford tooverpursue," says Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bruce Fowler,"because if one guy isn't somewhere he's supposed to be, it's going to takeabout two seconds for them to find the end zone. You have to minimize theexplosive plays." Easier said than done. This season the Gators had 16 runsof 30 yards or longer.

DON'T BE FOOLEDBY THE WINDOW DRESSING

In Demps, Raineyand wideout Percy Harvin, Meyer has speedsters who catch the ball as well asthey run with it, and he aligns them in a multitude of formations. The goal: toisolate his playmakers and get them to open space in the middle of the field.The Sooners can't become mesmerized by all the Gators' configurations (CBSanalyst Gary Danielson calls it "window dressing"), and they must bephysical. Oklahoma middle linebacker Austin Box and All-America defensivetackle Gerald McCoy will have to play big inside.

KEEP TEBOWGUESSING

What makes theGators so tough to defend is that even in an empty backfield set, they can runthe ball with Tebow—a fullback playing quarterback—taking a shotgun snap. Heruns the zone-read option masterfully, so the Sooners' challenge is to createpresnap confusion by disguising how many players they plan to keep in the box.Oklahoma must recognize quarterback draws and force Tebow to throw. "You doeverything you can to make Tebow uncomfortable, because the offense runsthrough him," says Nix. "Make them earn every yard. After that, all youcan do is hope for the best."

PHOTOBOB ROSATOCUTTING EDGE Rainey is part of an electric ground game that Oklahoma must respect.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)