Although it has been 16 years since the Florida Gators last visited the Orange Bowl, the Gators wasted no time in rekindling the fires of the old rivalry.
Gator guard Shannon Snell began the trash talk when he said that he hopes his team will make Miami QB and ex-Gator Brock Berlin’s “mouth bleed.”
But Snell wasn’t the only Gator trying to stir the emotional pot. Backup defensive end Bobby McCray told the Orlando Sentinel: “We’re going to have a party in the backfield.” Along with insulting Miami’s offensive line, McCray also decided to bash running back Frank Gore by saying, “he’s nothing compared to [Willis] McGahee” (Miami’s starting running back last season).
Despite the invitation for entertaining banter, the Hurricanes have stayed focused on the task at hand, declining to fire back and insisting that their actions will speak for themselves.
“I didn’t just tell [the team], ‘hey, caution to the wind guys, let the juices flow,'” coach Larry Coker said.
Coker must have made an impact on his players because their comments lacked any shred of pre-game hype.
“We always try to just stay calm and talk after the game, I mean there’s no reason to talk before the game cause if you don’t do it it’s like putting your foot in your mouth,” guard Vernon Carey said. “So we’re just going to keep our mouths closed, play the game, and let our actions speak.”
“We’re leaving all the talk to them. The game is played in the Orange Bowl, between the lines, and you can talk all week and that just adds more fuel to the fire,” wide receiver Kevin Beard said. “All that talk is going to come to a reality on Saturday at eight o’clock.”
Despite the bland statements coming from the Miami camp, the team will have no problem getting excited for their first home game of the season in front of an expected sell out crowd.
If a packed Orange Bowl doesn’t excite the ‘Canes, then the thought of losing to a team who they won’t play for another five years should have them fighting hard for bragging rights.
“You don’t want that [losing] taste in your mouth,” Beard said. “You’d have to relive that every day of your life, even if you move on to the NFL…so we’re going to go out there and play as hard as we can.”
The most excited player on the field come Saturday may be Berlin. After finishing his high school career undefeated, he headed to Florida and rode the bench for two years. Instead of sitting behind QB Rex Grossman for another year, Berlin transferred to Miami and sat out last season as required by the NCAA.
Berlin would love nothing more than to prove that he made the right choice when he switched schools. Coker insists that Berlin will not let his former team be a distraction.
If Miami’s offensive line doesn’t get healthy before Saturday, Berlin may not have time to think at all. Carey, who re-injured his sprained ankle before the Louisiana Tech game, will need to have a big game if starting right tackle Carlos Joseph is unable to play due to a sprained ankle of his own. Coker seems certain that someone will be ready to step in if Joseph and/or Carey are unavailable.
“We’ve had players that when they’ve had opportunities have stepped up,” Coker said. “We have some good young players. [Offensive tackle] Rashad Butler, I think he’ll have an opportunity and I think he’ll step up.”
Unlike Coker, who picked Berlin as the starting QB after spring practice, Florida coach Ron Zook waited until UF’s first game to announce whether sophomore Ingle Martin or freshman Chris Leak would take the snaps. Even though Martin won the job, Zook plans on interchanging the quarterbacks throughout the game.
“It really doesn’t matter who plays quarterback,” defensive end Thomas Carroll said. “We’re still going to try to get after them the same way.”
Defensive pressure played a big part in Miami’s 41-16 win at the Swamp last year and the young Miami defensive line hopes to repeat that performance against Florida’s inexperienced signal-callers.
“They probably won’t have as much pocket presence as some of the other quarterbacks,” Carroll said. “They probably won’t get out of there as quick and hopefully they’ll sit too long in the pocket and let us get a couple of sacks.”
The places where the Gators do have experience are in their secondary, where playmaker Keiwan Ratliff and three other seniors wreak havoc on opposing team’s passing games, and the offensive line, where seniors Snell and Max Starks lead the way.
Berlin will have to improve from the La. Tech game when he completed half of his passes and threw one interception along with a couple more passes that should have been picked off. If Berlin makes mistakes this week, the Florida secondary will not let him slide as easily as Tech.
It has been made clear that Berlin will have a bull’s-eye on his back come Saturday night, but we will have to wait and see if the Gators can back up their trash talk at the Orange Bowl.