First of all, let me say there’s already been a surreal element introduced into the SECCG, as evidenced by this quote from the Gainesville Sun:
So Meyer is an SEC Championship Game newbie. That’s why he turned to Mark Richt on Monday for some advice. Richt knows this game, half of the matchup for three of the last four years.
“Mark Richt is a friend of mine and we talked about it,” Meyer said. “I wanted to hear about it because Florida hasn’t been there in a long time. I wanted to know about crowd noise and the playing surface, sidelines, all the issues. The hotel, which is right next to the airport.
“I want to make sure we’re right on top of the game. We’re doing the research. We want to make sure we’re right on target. The thing we can’t have is distractions. I just want to make sure we do it right.”
No, it’s not that Meyer is referring to Richt as his friend – although the thought of those two text-messaging each other is a little… uh… let’s just not go there. Rather, it’s the idea that the Gator head coach has to call Athens to find out how to act in Atlanta for the SECCG. Weird. I wonder if Meyer returned the favor by giving Richt some tips on what to do in Jacksonville.
But I digress.
Arkansas is a great story this year. And McFadden is clearly the SEC player of the year. He’s a Herschel/Bo type physical freak. Don’t believe me? Go to YouTube, check out his 80 yard run against LSU and watch him slip into some gear unknown to most mortals to split the safeties downfield for a TD. It reminds me of Walker’s incredible TD run against S. Carolina in 1980 – the one where he just left the defensive back who had the angle to knock him out of bounds grasping air.
Arky is pretty impressive on offense in a lot of ways. The Hogs have the best offensive line in the conference; they’re big and experienced (four seniors and a junior, I think). Felix Jones ain’t exactly a slouch at running back, either. Marcus Monk is as good a wide receiver as there is in the SEC.
However, outside of Monk, the Razorback receiving corps is young and inexperienced. And the quarterback situation has been up and down all year for Arky. Casey Dick was horrible against LSU at year’s end. Robert Johnson was horrible against S. Cal. at the beginning of the year. Mustain, the boy wonder, did go 8-0 as a starter, but that was largely because he wasn’t allowed to do much more than hand the ball off. And even that wasn’t enough to avoid getting benched in favor of Dick when Arky struggled against the ‘Cocks (get your juvenile minds out of the gutter right now).
Arkansas has to have some semblance of a passing game going to have a chance Saturday night, or Florida’s defense will have a free hand to stop the run.
Which leads me to the other great player in this game – Reggie Nelson, who’s been the best defensive player in the SEC this year. He’s fast, fearless and a hard hitter who’ll definitely be playing on Sundays – hopefully, as soon as next year. If he gets to key on McFadden and Jones because Dick can’t make the passing game go, that will be big.
Florida is in the SECCG because of its defense. Great front seven (especially Siler and Everett at LB) that will be able to stand up to the Arky oline, even when the Hogs have the extra blocking in that “Wildcat” mutant Wing-T formation they run to devastating effect, and great safeties. The Gator corners are the weak spots on the defense, but if you have to have a weakness on defense against Arkansas, it might as well be there.
So the Florida defense against the Arkansas offense ought to be a lot of fun to watch. It’s the other matchup that gives me pause.
I really don’t like Urban Meyer’s offense. It’s gimmicky and all finesse. After two years, it’s yet to show that it can dominate a decent SEC defense (Florida won the East without scoring 30 points on any team in the conference). And it’s wasted the considerable talents of Chris Leak and DeShawn Wynn.
But I’m not really sold on Arky’s defense, either. Herring, the DC, runs a high-risk, high-pressure scheme that generates a lot of sacks, but also leaves the DBs in a lot of single coverages. And the Arkansas secondary isn’t that great, IMO. Against LSU, one of their corners put on a display of ineptitude that was only rivaled by what I saw from Cal’s DBs against Tennesee early in the year. Ugly.
In the end, it will come down to whether Arky can pressure Leak enough to throw him off his game. Auburn did, and came from behind to beat Florida without scoring an offensive TD. I just don’t have the confidence that the Hogs can do as well as Auburn did, though.
There are two potential downsides to the Gators’ chances in this game. First, Wynn, Harvin and Everett are all nicked up. Meyer expects Harvin to play. The other two are less certain. Everett being out would be signficant; the Gators just aren’t as good defensively when he’s not playing.
Second, the strangest thing about Florida is that the Gators may have the worst field goal kicker for an elite team in the history of D-1 football. Hetland is something like 3 of 12 at this point and Meyer is having weekly tryouts for the position, which is generally not a positive thing to be doing just before a championship game. Arky’s already beaten one team (Alabama) this year due to a collapse in the kicking game, so you never know if this winds up being something that bites UF in the ass.
Gun to my head time: the Hogs are fun to watch, no doubt. But I don’t think they’re good enough to pull it out without some turnover help. Unfortunately for them, it’s more likely the turnover flow goes the other way. Florida hasn’t been pretty this year, but they’ve only lost one game on a tough schedule and I think they do enough on defense to get it done.
The good thing is that the Gates don’t make it to the BCS title game – Southern Cal does – and we can listen to Meyer do his best Tommy Tubberville impression about how he’s being screwed by The Man. With any luck, all that whining will be a distraction going into the Sugar Bowl and Florida will get embarrassed by a lesser opponent.