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MIDSEASON: Gators grade out at 91.9 percent

GAINESVILLE -- This is a midseason edition of the weekly report card. (So, I guess it's a six-week report card.) Before we begin handing out grades and awards, here's some food for thought. Florida was ranked No.4 in the country before losing to Ole Miss. The Gators are now ranked No.5.

That "devastating" loss doesn't seem like a very big deal now, does it? Oh, how quickly the voters forget. OK, let's award and grade the Gators.

On a team that includes the best player in college football (Percy Harvin) and a Heisman Trophy winner (Tim Tebow), the first-half overall Most Valuable Player award goes to a guy that doesn't even start on offense or defense. Special teams standout Brandon James is Florida's overall MVP for averaging 131.7 all-purpose yards per game for the Gators. That's amazing, considering he's not an offensive starter. James ranks 42nd in the country in all-purpose yards but second in the SEC behind Arkansas starting running back and return man Michael Smith. James is ranked fifth in the country with 20.88 yards per punt return and 13th in the country with 29.25 yards per kickoff return.

In addition to his skills as a return specialist, James recovered a key fumble against Arkansas. Ironically it was Michael Smith who fumbled. James also successfully ran a fake punt.

Tebow continues to adjust to his role this season, which is considerably more limited than in 2007. Despite his reduced statistics and touchdowns, he remains the Gators most valuable offensive player. Take him away out of the Gators' starting line-up and, in the words of Urban Meyer, that would "be a bad deal."

He leads the team in tackles with 47 and had two interceptions against LSU. Not a very good punter, though.

Tim Tebow doesn't have the same numbers as last season but he is still having a great year. Tebow has thrown 10 touchdowns and just one interception. He also has a quarterback rating of 152.8.

RUNNING BACKS 94 percent
Overall, the Gators are averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Hard to ague with that number.
After watching the replay of Chris Rainey's injury against LSU several times, it appears he injured his right shoulder when his elbow hit the ground. Imagine cradling a football, extending your arm away from your body (my shoulder actually pops out slightly when I do this) and then landing square on your elbow behind the weight of your body. This is what caused Rainey's shoulder to apparently dislocate. Just watch the replay in slow motion and see for yourself. (By the way, UF's official word on Rainey's shoulder injury as of Tuesday afternoon was "Continues to be evaluated. Will know more tomorrow.")

Rainey, a redshirt freshman, was one of two running backs for the Gators to emerge as playmakers during the first half of the season. Rainey has rushed for 286 yards on 42 carries (6.8 ypc) and a pair of touchdowns. True freshman Jeffrey Demps leads the Gators with 307 yards on just 23 carries (13.3 ypc). He also has four touchdowns. Percy Harvin is averaging 6.6 yards per carry with two touchdowns.

Emmanuel Moody, a redshirt sophomore, has been a disappointment thus far. He showed glimpses (5.2 ypc) of his ability in two games this season but missed the season opener, didn't play against Miami and hasn't seen the field since injuring his ankle against Ole Miss.

Kestahn Moore, a redshirt senior, isn't being asked to carry the ball much this season but his downfield blocks have almost been as impressive as his leadership and dedication to the team. This should not be overlooked even if he is.

RECEIVERS 91 percent
Percy Harvin (25 receptions for 396 yards and five touchdowns) is Tebow's favorite target and one of the best receivers in the country. Senior Louis Murphy is second on the team with 18 receptions for 294 yards. Taking over for injured tight end Cornelius Ingram, UF sophomore tight end Aaron Hernandez has 15 receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Receivers Riley Cooper, Deonte Thompson and Carl Moore have been impressive in spots. The ability of the receiving corps to get downfield and make important blocks for the Gators' tiny running backs, especially on option plays, is an important facet of UF's offense.

This might seem like a harsh grade, but the Gators' offensive line has made some critical mistakes this season, particularly in the loss to Ole Miss, the win against Arkansas and the win against Miami. Against Ole Miss, the Gators failed to convert on fourth and 1 at the end of the game but that mistake was magnified because experienced linemen allowed a blocked extra point during the fourth quarter. Against Arkansas, the offensive line was flagged eight times and UF coach Urban Meyer referred to the Gators' offense as "awful" at times.

To their credit, the Gators' offensive line responded against LSU and played with focus, executing consistently throughout the game. Third-string left guard Carl Johnson has filled in nicely for injured guards Jim Tartt and Marcus Gilbert.

Increasing the space between linemen against LSU gave the Gators a decisive offensive edge. Offensive linemen normally line up about two feet apart but against LSU the Gators' O-linemen were split apart by three or four feet. This allowed the Gators running backs to run between the tackles more effectively.

Florida's most consistently productive play this season has been an option pitch to Jeffrey Demps, Percy Harvin or Chris Rainey. Credit the Gators' offensive play callers for recognizing this and giving the Gators' running backs room to use their speed.

Subtract points for the loss to Ole Miss. Florida should have kicked a field goal in the first quarter instead of pass on fourth and 3.

Defensive end Carlos Dunlap might not technically be a starter for the Gators but is definitely the team's best pass rusher. He leads the team in sacks through the Gators' first six games with 3.5. Defensive tackle Lawrence Marsh has emerged as the lines biggest surprise, though. He has 5.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and three sacks. Jermaine Cunningham leads the Gators' defensive linemen with 27 tackles, including 4.5 behind the line and three sacks for minus-22 yards. Subtract points for the absence of Torrey Davis and John Brown.

LINEBACKERS 95 percent
Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, who leads the team in tackles with 46, had a remarkable performance against Ole Miss despite the loss. He was named SEC defensive player of the week for his two interceptions against LSU. Career reserve Ryan Stamper (redshirt junior) has emerged as a pleasant surprise. The same goes for Brandon Hicks, who filled in when Stamper suffered an ankle injury. A.J. Jones (26 tackles) is quietly becoming one of UF's best defenders.

SECONDARY 93 percent
Safeties Major Wright (34) and Ahmad Black (28) and cornerback Joe Haden (37) are among the Gators' leaders in tackles. Black is the model of consistency while Wright turned in one of the best performances of his career against LSU. Haden is in line to be an all-SEC defender. Meyer named freshman cornerback Janoris Jenkins (22 tackles) the team's defensive player of the game against LSU. Subtract points for Wondy Pierre-Louis' demotion.

STRATEGY 98 percent
Benching cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis was a necessary move and the Gators' coaching staff didn't hesitate to send Pierre-Louis to the bench when it appeared the cornerback lost his confidence against Tennessee. Freshman cornerback Janoris Jenkins has the look of a future super star. Starting Ahmad Black at strong safety has also turned out to be a great decision by the Gators' defensive coaches. Black (5-9, 185 pounds) has played nearly mistake free in the Gators' first six games.

SPECIAL TEAMS 96 percent
Kicker Jonathan Phillips is 9 of 9 on field goal attempts and punter Chas Henry is having an all-SEC season. Meyer is 2 of 2 on fake punts this season and opposing teams are averaging 5.4 yards per punt return compared to 20.2 yards per punt return for Florida return specialist Brandon James. James is a special teams dynamo. He leads the team in all-purpose yards (131.7 per game). That's a remarkable statistic considering he is not an offensive starter. Subtract points for the blocked extra point against Ole Miss.

HEAD COACH 88 percent
The Gators' loss to Ole Miss hurts the overall numbers considerably. Florida should have creamed Ole Miss and the loss is Meyer's fault. The team wasn't prepared mentally for the Rebels and proof of this were the myriad mistakes, which cost the Gators the game. I counted 12 critical errors that led to the defeat.

The loss to Ole Miss aside, Meyer has done an excellent job this season. The Gators are ranked No.5 in the AP Top 25 and still have a chance to play in the SEC championship game, if not the BCS title game. The offseason hiring of assistant coaches Dan McCarney (defensive line) and Vance Bedford (cornerbacks) cannot be overstated. The Gators' defensive line is playing well. Joe Haden appears to be an all-SEC cornerback at midseason and freshman cornerback Janoris Jenkins is playing like a freshman all-American. Florida is tied for third nationally in turnover margin (+1.67).

Lapses in focus aside (ie Ole Miss), the Gators' season now comes down to one regular-season game: the Nov.1 rivalry game against Georgia. Tim Tebow wasn't healthy for that game and it cost the Gators. Meyer's change in philosophy, reducing Tebow's role in the offense to preserve his health for a full season, appears to be going according to plan.



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