Gators regrouping

GAINESVILLE -- Coach Urban Meyer saw his Florida Gators sagging a bit. His team had dealt with a slew of off-field issues in recent days and had lost two straight football games -- something many of the players he recruited here hadn't endured since Pop Warner ball.

So come the start of last Thursday's practice, Meyer brought four assistant coaches onto the field. Then he pulled five players from the sidelines and challenged them to a rare old men vs. young guys scrimmage.


What came next was a rare sight for a struggling team -- laughing, joking and any tension floating away for a while.

"We need to make sure we get smiles on their faces," Meyer said Monday.


The day's highlights were as memorable. Receivers coach Billy Gonzales wowed the players with his athleticism. One of his pupils, Justin Williams, intercepted one of Meyer's passes. Senior safety Kyle Jackson's juke of co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong had the players howling.

"Coach Strong has terrible football position," linebacker Dustin Doe said. "Kyle Jackson just shook him out of his shoes."

The short session had a greater point, one Meyer tried to instill throughout last week and again Monday. Despite the two losses, despite the adversity -- which includes the death of walk-on Michael Guilford in a Friday motorcycle accident -- the season remains loaded with chances for a championship.

The Southeastern Conference East Division has shaken out so that UF sweeping its next four games, and Tennessee losing once, would give the Gators the division title. And with another expected powerhouse losing somewhere each week, most of the Top 15 can diagram a scenario that ends with them in the BCS national title game.

"All that goes through your mind is opportunity, opportunity, opportunity," Meyer said. "It is right there for you; I mean, the SEC East is wide open, and college football has never been like this as far as opportunities for so many teams."

Still, rebounding from the 20-17 loss to Auburn and the 28-24 setback at LSU remains an unfamiliar challenge. Quarterback Tim Tebow and receiver Percy Harvin said Monday they couldn't remember losing consecutive games in a season. Florida hasn't lost two in a row since 2004. Since becoming a head coach, Meyer has lost back-to-back games once -- in November 2002 when Bowling Green fell at Northern Illinois and USF.

Tebow conceded Monday that the two losses compound each other and make rallying harder. This past week's bye, which included three days off, arrived at the perfect time, he said.

"It gives us a chance to get away for a second, get back and refresh," he said. "The coaches are doing a great job getting our guys back to football and just having fun."


The fun would peak Saturday evening with the Gators celebrating inside Commonwealth Stadium.

A victory would give UF a leg up on Kentucky in the East race and make all that opportunity Meyer discussed more legitimate.

A loss might create a mood not even Strong's poor football position could soothe. A third consecutive loss is something no one at Florida wants to ponder.

"This is it for us," Harvin said. "We can't lose another one."