Saturday night delight?
Florida looks to get back on track after troubling week
Posted: Friday October 5, 2007 5:43PM; Updated: Friday October 5, 2007 5:43PM
Focused. Embarrassed. Hungry. Angry. What else will the Florida Gators be when they venture into Death Valley this Saturday night?
In addition to everything else Urban Meyer hit hard this week -- cutting down on third-and-long; eliminating sloppiness on special teams; never opening the gate at an impound lot without the expressed permission of the help -- the Florida coach hopefully emphasized the importance of getting at least eight hours' sleep. Preferably at night.
Nearly three quarters of Florida's scholarship players -- 73 percent -- are freshmen and sophomores. In addition to being one of the youngest teams in the country, the defending national champs seem intent on proving that they are its most nocturnal. It wasn't just senior safety Tony Joiner getting arrested after trying to liberate his girlfriend's car from an impound lot at 4:30 last Tuesday morning. In the hours after last Saturday's 20-17 loss to Auburn -- Meyer's first-ever defeat in the Swamp -- two men were shot at 2:30 in the morning after leaving a Gainesville night club. Police questioned a trio of Gators who'd been at the club, and whom they thought may have witnessed the shooting. (The cops emphasized that none of the Florida players were suspects).
Joiner's judgment off the field was on par with Florida's performance against Auburn. The Gators were uncharacteristically sloppy and unintelligent in that loss -- their first in a dozen games. The offense that averaged 49 points in Florida's first four outings of '07, didn't score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. In its last two games, the Gators offense has become an increasingly predictable spectacle best described as The Tim & Percy Show. With quarterback Tim Tebow and wide out/playmaker Percy Harvin getting the majority of touches, tailback Kestahn Moore was reduced, once again, to decoy/footnote status. The junior carried three times for seven yards against Auburn, a sorry stat for which Meyer called out his offensive line. "At no point during that game," the coach recounted, "did I feel like we were blocking them well enough to turn around and hand the ball off. At no point during that game.''
The tough talk telegraphed how Meyer intended to rally his youthful team. As Tebow told me early in the week, the Gators would respond to the loss "by having discipline, working hard, grinding in everything we do, on the field and off the field, in the classroom -- getting back to basics. That's what we're going to do. That's what our program is built on."
Missing that memo was Tebow's roommate, Joiner, who early the following morning used his lift-and-drive tackling technique to move a heavy electronic gate at Watson's Towing. The owner of the lot, one Stan Forron -- seeing an opportunity, perhaps, to have towing magnates depicted as something other than parasitic lowlifes -- later explained that it was all a misunderstanding. He and Joiner had arranged, before hand, for the student to come pick up the car. When no one emerged to help him, Joiner helped himself to the car. When a Watson's employee informed him that the police had been summoned, Joiner parked the car and calmly awaited his fate.
Meyer stripped him of his captaincy, but did not rule out the possibility of Joiner playing in Baton Rouge. He did say that Joiner would "certainly" not get on the field if he was charged with felony burglary. Lo and behold, the AP is reporting this afternoon that state prosecutors have dropped that charge, quoting chief investigator Spencer Mann as saying, "The victim is adamant that he sustained no loss or damage and does not wish to pursue criminal charges. Based on that information, we cannot sustain a criminal charge. Without a victim, I have no crime." While Joiner remains in Meyer's doghouse, he will play against LSU. That's great news for Gator Nation -- in the short term.
Taking a wider perspective, the Gators have spent far too much time since that glorious night in Arizona discussing their legal woes. Joiner, as has been widely reported, is the eighth Florida player to experience legal difficulties in the last nine months. Saturday night's game in Baton Rouge appears to be a collision of two teams on diverging trajectories.