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Defense believes it can be nation's best
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published September 12, 2006
GAINESVILLE - The shutout was no fluke. At least not as far as the Gators defense is concerned.
Florida's 42-0 win over Central Florida is just the way the defensive players envisioned. With experience, talent and the shutout, their confidence is sky high entering Saturday's showdown with No. 11 Tennessee.
"We feel we really do have the best defense in the nation," said safety Tony Joiner, who tackled Golden Knights running back Kevin Smith in the end zone for a safety in the third quarter Saturday.
"That's how we are going to play, and that's what we're going to look forward to doing week in and week out, shut a team out."
Joiner has numbers to back up his talk. The Gators are second in the SEC and nationally, allowing 3.5 points per game.
"We're just playing with unbelievable confidence right now," said Joiner, the Gators' defensive MVP for the second straight week. "We have a bunch of guys who are very, very talented who are getting the job done every time we step on the field. We have a great scheme. We have great defensive coaches. Everything is in place."
JUST ANOTHER BIG GAME: The Gators have a long list of young players who have never been to Neyland Stadium, but don't expect senior quarterback Chris Leak to be among the starry-eyed in front of more than 100,000 fans. Leak has been attending Vols games "since sixth or seventh grade."
"I don't get nervous because I've played in big games my whole, entire career," Leak said. "I'm more excited than anything. I'm excited because it's going to be a great game and a great atmosphere."
WE'LL SEE: Coach Urban Meyer said everyone, including the Gators, will have a better idea of how good this team is after Saturday. The Gators are 2-0, ranked No. 7 in the nation and have outscored opponents 76-7, but Meyer isn't getting caught up in the madness of two nonconference victories.
"We did what we were supposed to do," Meyer said. "Florida is supposed to beat the two teams we just played. We play in a tougher conference. We recruit a little different athlete. I like the way they're playing, and I like their lifestyle. That's pretty important."
INJURY WOES: Tennessee will be without two starters Saturday. Cornerback Inky Johnson had surgery to repair blood vessels in his right shoulder and will need further surgery for a nerve injury. Tackle Justin Harrell ruptured a tendon in his left bicep and also will require surgery.
Harrell, a senior, was the only consistent starter from a year ago returning among the front seven. He was replaced Saturday against Air Force by Turk McBride.
Tailback Arian Foster and offensive lineman Ramon Foster sprained ankles but are expected to play.
COOPER'S NICE WORK: He's on scholarship because of his ability to catch passes, but what impressed Meyer most about Clearwater Central Catholic graduate Riley Cooper's debut Saturday was his toughness on special teams, the kind Meyer has been in search of.
"Here's what I like about our special teams: Guys are arguing, begging and tearing up because I was going to take a guy off kickoffs and put a freshman in there," Meyer said. "Riley Cooper ... what a play he made. Seven yards out in front of everybody else, a guy tries to block, and he knocks him down. I'm more excited about that than the 58-yard (touchdown) reception Percy Harvin had because we need that in this program.
"We had guys running down on kickoffs wondering why they didn't get carries. The element there is changing, and that's really important to championship teams."
DID YOU KNOW?: Florida leads the SEC in five categories: passing offense (340.5 yards per game), total offense (514), first downs (48), third-down conversions (70.8 percent) and red zone defense (one touchdown in five chances).
Antonya English covers Florida athletics. She can be reached at (813) 226-3389 or email@example.com.