Question: How does Urban Meyer, Florida Gators head coach and two time national champion, replace his star big play maker and first round NFL draft pick, Percy Harvin?
Answer: You don’t. At least not with one player…
With two overwhelming victories in the books, many of the Gator faithful have shaken off what few preseason jitters may have been lingering as a result of all the self effacing comments coming out of Gainesville this offseason.
Well, "self effacing" may not have been the best choice of words. Better to just say that Meyer did not respond kindly to any act of self, or team, promotion coming from team members or staff.
But even though Florida thoroughly pasted Charleston Southern and Troy questions remain regarding the surprise factor of the offense especially when looking down the road to the Gator’s SEC opponents.
Yes, Demps and Rainey have provided plenty of fireworks running out of the backfield for the Gators this year. What is missing though, is the third element of the speed portion of the ground game—a five-to-ten touch rocket with the ability to turn and burn off the tackles.
Someone who opposing defenses feared even more than a tandem of blistering backs and a Heisman quarterback. A player whose mere presence on the field altered the perception of the opposing defense.
Throughout the first two games of the season it became apparent that Urban Meyer’s stable of speedsters didn’t contain "the next" Percy Harvin. Plenty of Gator running backs had opportunities to carry the ball but none showed the acceleration, speed, maneuverability, and reliability needed to fill a very flashy pair of cleats.
But what was discovered over the last two weeks was something very unique and potentially quite dangerous.
The combination of Riley Cooper and Brandon James.
Against Charleston Southern, Cooper established himself as a sure-handed receiving threat whose size and strength were something of a departure from traditional Florida wideouts. Five catches and 105 yards later it looked as if Tim Tebow had found his new favorite target.
Taking on Troy, Cooper not only duplicated his catch total from the previous week but also hauled one in for a touchdown. He also scored high points for his blocking, and his decoy routes were executed well enough to freeze the safeties and Velcro the corners.
But Coopers’ most interesting, and least expected, contribution came when he executed his one and only right side sweep for 14 yards and a first down. His speed didn’t blind anybody but his size and power did.
Brandon James finally got his kickoff return for a touchdown against Charleston Southern and had one run for 25 yards. As impressive as this was it overshadowed some flaws in his game, but these issues seemed to be corrected by the time he took to the field against Troy.
Against the Trojans, James had four rushes and two receptions for a total of 64 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for a special teams guru looking to find his backfield mojo.
Separately, the contributions of Cooper and James seem, well, ordinary. But an examination of the Troy game showed that Meyer may have a plan for these two. This plan won’t mimic the performance of Percy Harvin but will be just as productive yet remarkably different in style.
Meyer offered only hints but it looks as if Cooper will continue to be Tebow’s go-to receiver on gut passing plays. This is very important because of the potential influence on opposing defenses. Combine this with Cooper’s new contribution of successfully running power sweeps and you have multiplied the threat by two.
Cooper’s draw as a power sweeper will also match his size against the smaller/speedier corners now used in the SEC. This new wrinkle could prove very advantageous to the Gators.
Add Brandon James to the mix by continuing to use him selectively for rushes and deep routes and you have a play breaker available for use under the most optimum conditions.
The bottom line is this…Meyer has found a way to get the ball into the hands of two key playmakers to help fill the gap created by a departed Harvin without taxing Demps and Rainey further.
Not only does this arrangement fill the Harvin void but it has the added benefit of confounding defenses even further by utilizing the talents of two players.
The really good news is that this plan does not just replace speed with speed—it adds an element of power beyond the tackles, and that’s something Florida’s opponents haven’t seen coming from the Gators in a long time.