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Coach confident his Gators can keep their focus
By Times Staff Writer
Published December 27, 2005
TAMPA - After taking four days off, Florida returned to the practice field Monday to begin preparations for the Outback Bowl, with coach Urban Meyer insisting the team is honored to be playing in Tampa.
The Gators will be in town practicing longer than they would for a regular-season road game, but Meyer doesn't view the lengthy stay as a distraction.
"It's going to be a great week on the road," he said. "It's a great week in a place our players are very familiar with, and I think that's a positive.
"I'm glad we're coming down on a Monday so the distractions aren't quite as much as if it were a Friday. We've given them four days off, which I think is the right thing to do. But I'm also worried that they'll lose their edge. We've got to get that edge back. We ran them pretty good (Monday), and (today) will be full-padded practice. So it's not a long week, it's a great week."
It appears Florida will have to face a physical Iowa team without starting sophomore safety Reggie Nelson , who sprained an MCL last week in practice. Nelson attended practice Monday but remains in a cast.
"Yeah, I think he's out," Meyer said. "He's one of those guys that you always hope, but I think he's out."
After practice, Meyer was as eager to talk about his team's academic performance as he was the bowl.
"We had over 20 guys with over a 3.0 (grade-point average)," Meyer said. "I'm going to release that to you later, but we had over 20 guys in the fall over a 3.0. I thought that was really important."
For the players, being back in Tampa is a chance at redemption. The last time the Gators played in the Outback Bowl, they lost to Iowa 37-17 in 2004. They also lost 38-30 to Michigan in 2003.
"Oh, yeah, there's some pride (at stake)," senior linebacker Todd McCullough said. "We haven't played too well in this bowl game. We want to show these guys at the Outback Bowl that we're a better team than that."
MISSING GATORS: Sophomore defensive end Jarvis Moss and freshman receiver David Nelson missed practice but were expected to join the team by this evening.
"Jarvis Moss is late, he missed a flight," Meyer said. "And David Nelson had some flight issue, but they are both going to be here. As we speak, they should be rolling in."
GOT HIS VOTE: Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz thought sophomore running back Albert Young was snubbed by All-Big Ten voters, who didn't name him to the first or second team even though Young's 125.2 yards per game topped conference rushers.
"He ended up leading the Big Ten in rushing despite probably having negative yards in the first (conference) game (against Ohio State)," Ferentz said. "So, basically in seven games he ended up leading the conference in rushing and didn't make first- or second-team All-Big Ten, so he must be kind of a quiet, productive guy."
Young was the first Iowa runner to lead the conference in rushing since Dennis Mosley in 1979. Though Young followed '04 Outback MVP Fred Russell as featured back, Ferentz thinks he compares more favorably with ex-Hawkeye Ladell Betts of the Washington Redskins.
"Fred was more of a quickness, cutback, dart-type guy, whereas Albert's, I'm not saying he's Ladell Betts; he's probably closer to Ladell Betts in style, maybe a little bit more like that. Fred was a pretty unique runner, obviously very, very productive. I guess Albert's productivity must be a little bit quieter, fly under the radar screen."
OUTSIDE THE BUBBLE: As Iowa opened workouts at Jefferson High, Ferentz said he was happy to be back outside after practicing in Iowa's indoor facility, called "the bubble," last week.
"I'm so appreciative we have the indoor facility that we do, but it is nice to be outdoors," Ferentz said. "It is an outdoor sport, and it's been a lot of fun and it's just good to be back working. The guys are working hard. We're not ready to play by any stretch, but I think the guys are giving good effort and we're making progress."
NEW DIGS: Iowa is practicing at Jefferson because of construction at Jesuit, where the Hawkeyes prepared for the 2004 Outback Bowl. The team also considered South Florida.