By Lowell Browning
When veteran linemen and newly-place Florida senior center Mike Pouncey declared in the pre-season this fall that, 'these young guys have a cockiness' and went on to add, 'they have yet to do anything on the field for this program and they have a lot to learn for such a cocky bunch' it should have sent hurricane warnings off in the Gainesville area.
The words, coming from a senior who has been a solid producer and leader for the Gators, were words that I could hear, loudly, and I am located along the Kanawha Valley River in West Virginia. One of the most powerful and season-carrying influences is cohessiveness.
How much or how little the young Gators and UF veterans alike formed a true union in the locker-room, practice field, and during Saturday play is only truly known by the players and coaches within the UF squad. Certainly Gator sideline boss Urban Meyer did his best to mesh the 2010 team and, although he is certainly one of the top three coaches in America, the dominating factor in the equation of TEAM PLAY rides on the shoulders of the players.
This year's UF grid team showed one of the marks of individual and unit success and that has not always bode well for the Gators teams. Stats are funny that way. They'll in fact, if you have enough of them to look long-term, they (stats) will show patterns and will jump off of the page at you if you stay within the parameters of choice investigation. Now if they can just mesh and find some leadership from within the player ranks....
A look at the Gators this year shows that there were two Gators, Andre DeBose and Chas Henry, who topped the Southeastern Confrence. DeBose, with a 29.4 yard kickoff return average, pacing the SEC and finishing sixth in the nation. Debose paired with juniors Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps to spearhead a return squad that was the nation's fourth best unit. Henry was the country's top punter, with a 46.41 yards-per-boot average.
While Henry and Debose thrived at the lot, this year's Gators also were in several top 15 positions. Which is rather remarkable for a team that is currently 7-5.
Among some of the accomplishments was the #9 ranking for overall defense.Gator fans may recall that the Florida defense also the ninth-best overall 'D' in the country during a 12-1 season that was capped by a national championship win. The given-up sack total was down this year. UF gave up 30 sacks last year and this year the UF line allowed only 23.
Further, this year's pass defense was the 13th best in the country, finishing higher than the 2008 champion Gators (19th that year). And, the Gators could have bonded like the Brady Bunch this year and the fact that the boy's from the Sunshine State put the ball on the ground 32 TIMES and lost 14 of them.The Gators only recovered six fumbles on the year. Only a UF secondary that intercepted 17 passes prevented the season-ending gained/lost turnover margin from being totally maddening.
The national-best net punting unit is an indicator of hustle and pursuit of the football and normally when a football team has that it's an indication (just as are players who box-out regularly on the basketball court) that roles are understood and things are chemically good with your team. While speed is always key the desire to play til-the-whistle (finishing every play is normally a mark of a good team or a reflection of a team doing the things that it takes. The Gators showed this hustle by recording 311 assisted tackles (their opponents registered on 242) and the Gator hit-squad booked 30 assists on lost yardage play (again more than their opponent's 20).
There are a multitude of fans around the football following nation of ours that will tell you that the 2001-2002 Florida State Seminoles were the best college football team ever and they bulit that squad with ultra-talented recruits and then sold them on playing together. With tremandous results. And this young Florida Gator team could/should take a page from Bobby Bowden's book that saw their rival 'Noles cover the 1997-2001 seasons garner a 44-4 record during that span. A 23 game winning streak was kept alive as the top-ranked Seminoles defeated second-ranked Nebraska, 37-14.
The Seminoles team capped the 2001 year by ripping previously undefeated Big East champ VATech, 46-29, giving coach Bowden his first BCS crown. "We've been very good the last two years," coach Bowden stated to both WLOF and The Orlando Sentinel. "With all of the talent that we've had, our leadership has been ever better. You have to have that in the locker room, on the practice field. That leadership comes from within, daggone, you just have to have it."
The Gator roster this year featured 22 seniors, 15 juniors, 20 sophomores and FIFTY-TWO freshmen.And, youth was served in Gainesville this fall as at least 16 freshmen started or played in played in all 12 games. The Gators have had great recruiting classes for the past several years, and if, and only if, the Gators mesh as a team a get that leadership from among the ranks the Gators will respond from this season enroute to their place among the leading powers of college football. 'Daggone, you just have to have it.'