September 25, 2008

Vaughn respects Gators, but not intimidated

Cassius Vaughn admits he underestimated Tim Tebow a little bit last season prior to Florida's visit to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

There's no chance of that happening again Saturday when Ole Miss (2-2 overall, 0-1 in the Southeastern Conference) travels to Gainesville, Fla., to face the fourth-ranked Gators (3-0, 1-0) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

"Tebow is a good player," Vaughn said. "He won the Heisman, so all respect to him. He did what he had to do to get a win, and we can't do anything but respect him and just go on from there. But it's a new year."

Last September, Tebow passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more to hold off the Rebels' upset bid in a 30-24 Florida win. Tebow had 166 yards on 27 carries and completed 20 of 34 passes for 261 yards.

"You never expect a quarterback to be as powerful as he is," Vaughn said. "It was kind of eye-opening. There was all the hype we heard about him, and he lived up to it. Now that we know and we're prepared for him, it should be a great game."

In other words, Vaughn and the Rebels respect and admire Tebow, but they refuse to go The Swamp intimidated.

"You always want to go in with a positive attitude," Vaughn said. "Our coaches have put us in a position to go out there and beat them and to contain him, too. We praise him all day, but we should have a pretty good gameplan for him."

If anything, there is danger, Vaughn admitted, of focusing too much on Tebow and not enough on Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Deonte Thompson, Aaron Hernandez and the rest of the Gators' skill players.

"We have to take care of what we have to take care of," Vaughn said. "We can't worry about what they have on offense. We just have to go out there and contain them. If we stop them and they don't score, it's a win for the Rebels. We can't just focus on them. They have great athletes. They have great wide receivers (such as) Percy Harvin and a whole bunch of other people.

"You can't really look back into the backfield (at Tebow). You have to pay attention to what you have to do. It's a tough match-up and I know he's going to make plays, but we're going to make plays. In the end, it's who made the most plays. That's who's going to win."

FLORIDA FANS WORRIED ABOUT OFFENSE: Florida is unbeaten and frankly, unchallenged, so far this season. The Gators have rolled over Hawaii, Miami and Tennessee. Still, Gator fans are evolving into Nervous Nellies, worried that the offense isn't putting up the gaudy numbers they've grown accustomed to in the Urban Meyer era.

"Statistically, I know there are a lot of concerns out there about why there is not a million catches or something like that, but those guys are really playing well," Meyer told The Tampa Tribune.

After averaging 457 yards per game in 2007, the Gators so far are moving at 331 yards a Saturday this year. Tebow completed eight of 15 passes for 96 yards Saturday against Tennessee. Last year he bombed the Volunteers, going 14-of-19 for 299 yards. At this point in 2007, the Gators were averaging more than 55 points. Now, it's 37.

"I see the same thing," Meyer said. "I look at the score sheet and go 'What in the hell? Where are the points, where are the yards? What are we doing? Man, let's go.' But at the end of the day, I don't believe that at all. The three teams we've played - they were not Western Somewhere - all made a conscious effort to keep the ball in front of them and force us to run the football. Last year, we had a major issue on defense and felt like we had to score every time we had the ball."

Tebow told The Tampa Tribune that the strategy in Gainesville is different this season, thanks to a strong defense and dynamic special teams.

"With us having the lead early on, we didn't feel the need to open up and big-play them to death," Tebow said. "I guess we're a little bit content with three or four yards and a cloud of dust. Control the clock."

Meyer has also been critical of a new NCAA rule this year intended to shorten game times does not set well with Meyer and contributes to lower offensive numbers. From the moment a play is blown dead, the offensive team has 40 seconds to get its next play off. Also, the clock does not stop when the ball goes out of bounds except in the final minutes. So far, average game times in the SEC have dropped from 3:23 in 2007 to 3:11 this year.

Total plays have been reduced by 15.2. The result is that after getting off 65.2 offensive snaps a game last year, the Gators are averaging 57 this season.

"I'm not a fan of the clock rule," Meyer said. "I think it's wrong. I feel like they are cheating the fans and, more importantly, the players. The players need more plays. Right now we are scoring at a 51.4 percent clip. Every time we have the ball, over half the time we're scoring points. Last year we led the country at 54 percent. So, it is not that big of a difference."

NO CHANGES PLANNED FOR REBELS' STAFF: Ole Miss offensive coordinator Kent Austin said Wednesday that he will remain in the press box on game days, despite the problems quarterback Jevan Snead has had in recent weeks. This past Saturday, Snead threw four interceptions in a loss to Vanderbilt and seemed to be flustered.

"We had those discussions before the season and we decided I could serve the team better from the booth," Austin said. "We haven't discussed it since the preseason."

EASON BREAKS OUT: Ole Miss starting tailback Cordera Eason had the best game of his college career against Vanderbilt on Saturday. Eason picked up 88 yards on 12 carries, though the performance was overshadowed by the Rebels' loss and by Eason's failure to score from the Vanderbilt 1 on third down and fourth down in the third quarter.

"I thought outside of that series (at the goal line in the third quarter), Cordera played one of his better games this year," Austin said. "He really played well in all three phases. He's really coming on and becoming a complete back."

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