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AUBURN, Ala. -- Emmanuel Moody said Monday that God, not Gators coach Urban Meyer, would decide whether Moody deserved to crack Florida's tailback rotation. At some point this week, Meyer must have climbed to the top of Space Mountain -- or maybe it was Big Thunder Mountain -- and come down bearing a stone tablet that read "Thou shalt hand off to No. 21." Moody made his debut as a significant piece of Florida's offense in Saturday's 30-6 win at Tennessee, and it appears he may have been the missing piece.
The Gators already had national championship-caliber special teams. Returner Brandon James proved that again Saturday with a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown. Florida already had a steadily improving defense, and it seemed that group got quite a bit better in the two weeks between wins against Miami and Tennessee. Florida already had a defending Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback (Tim Tebow) and the most electrifying offensive weapon in the country (Percy Harvin). All the Gators needed to put USC, Georgia, Oklahoma and the other national title contenders on notice was a running back who could take some pressure off Tebow. That back is Moody.
Moody, a transfer from USC who sat out last season, didn't post mind-blowing stats. He carried nine times for 55 yards (6.1-yard average), but most of those yards came from runs that started between the tackles. Those runs keep a defense honest. They set up play-action passes. They allow smaller, faster backs such as Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps to get the ball in space, where they have a chance to break a long run. Most importantly, those nine carries represented nine times Tebow did not get hit. Last year, Tebow would have had to gain all those yards. That pounding takes a toll, as Florida learned last year when Georgia controlled Tebow, who was nursing a bruised shoulder suffered the previous week at Kentucky.
If Moody can average four yards per carry running mostly between the tackles, opposing defenses will struggle against Florida. How would you defend the Gators? If you load the box, Florida will throw short to tight end Aaron Hernandez or go up top to Harvin or Louis Murphy. If you lay back, Moody, Tebow, Rainey and Demps will grind you into dust. To make matters worse for the other SEC teams with designs on a title, Florida got lucky with its schedule this season. Unlike 2006, when the Gators ran through a meat-grinder to a national title, Florida avoids Alabama and Auburn. Georgia, Alabama, Auburn and LSU all must face one another head-to-head, leaving Florida with fewer chances to fall victim to SEC-on-SEC cannibalism.
Speaking of eating your own, we may have watched the end of an era today in Knoxville. Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, a former Tennessee player and the dean of SEC coaches, may have sealed his doom. The knock on Fulmer used to be that while his teams came into games flawlessly prepared, Fulmer and his staff couldn't make proper in-game adjustments. Saturday, Tennessee looked as if it hadn't watched a second of Florida tape. After James swung the field-position balance against the Vols in losses to Florida in 2006 and 2007, it would seem logical that some Tennessee coach would forbid the kickers from putting the ball within 20 yards of James. What did the Vols do? They kicked it straight at him. That's just one example. Another is Tennessee's final drive of the first half, a Jackson Pollock painting of a possession that included poor play-calling and poor clock management and ended with an interception in the end zone on fourth-and-goal.
Fulmer has done so much for Tennessee's football program. It's a shame he probably won't get to leave on his own terms. But unless things get a lot better quickly -- and that doesn't seem likely with upcoming games against Auburn (next week), Georgia (Oct. 11) and Alabama (Oct. 25) -- the Tennessee faithful won't allow that to happen. Yes, Fulmer did sign an offseason contract extension that lasts through 2014, but the Vols will pass the hat to raise the $5 million buyout if necessary.
Gotta go, Nova (the eagle) just landed on the 50-yard line here at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium and devoured two live mice. SEC football: It's fannnnnnnntastic.