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Spreading It Around

A two-quarterback system has worked to perfection for No. 2 Florida, which awaits another tough test against Auburn this week

October 12, 2006|Chris Dufresne

If Florida is fixing on a long-haul rankings battle with USC, well, this might be the time to get better acquainted.


Location: Landlocked Gainesville -- why you build a school in Florida not near the water is a good question.

Conference: Southeastern.

Nickname: Gators.

Best sport: Basketball.

The Gators play a little football on the side, and are off to their best start since the 1996 team celebrated a national title on Bourbon Street.

Best all-time player Los Angeles Rams fans would know: Jack Youngblood.

Steve Spurrier used to be Florida's coach, but now it's Urban Meyer, named after a pope although that didn't stop him from turning down Notre Dame.

Florida is an interesting outfit, not overly impressive in six wins but persuasive enough to win over many Associated Press voters and two-thirds of the ESPN GameDay crew.

The Gators have a big challenge this week, at Auburn, and they could lose, which would leave the almighty SEC without an undefeated team.

The most curious thing about Florida: What's going on at quarterback.

Meyer is managing a delicate dance that, for now, seems to be working.

The situation: Meyer runs the spread offense -- remember Alex Smith at Utah? -- but at Florida he inherited a quarterback, Chris Leak, who is a passer. So, Meyer is shoe-horning in tough-guy Tim Tebow, a difference-maker with his feet.

Florida fans aren't sure what to make of it. They still boo Leak and went into a swamp stomp when Tebow entered last week's Louisiana State game and threw a touchdown pass so ugly it looked like a Shaquille O'Neal free throw.

Leak has thrown for 14 touchdowns while Tebow has averaged 5.6 yards in 41 carries.

No team in the Bowl Championship Series era has won a national title using the buddy system.

Can Florida get away with this?

Youngblood, the Hall-of-Fame Rams defensive end who was recently inducted into Florida's Ring of Honor, is an expert on quarterback controversies.

His Rams of the 1970s ushered in a string of new quarterbacks: Ron Jaworski, Pat Haden, Joe Namath, Vince Ferragamo.

"We never knew who the guy was going to be," Youngblood said. "Then when you selected one, and it didn't work out, then you'd say, 'Who's going to clean up the mess?' "

Youngblood explained what Florida is doing is nothing close to the Rams negotiating play time for no-knees Namath.

"It's not exactly a platoon," Youngblood said of Leak-Tebow. "He [Meyer] is strategically playing the kid [Tebow] at particular spots. It's a balanced thing. It's not something that's planned. It's practiced and rehearsed, but the situation has to arise in the game."

You would think Florida fans would be conditioned to this.

Spurrier, in 12 years at Gainesville, was in a constant state of tinkering.

One year, he rotated quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise on alternate plays.

"I guess we did it because I didn't know which one to play," Spurrier said Wednesday. "Let's play both. That way we don't have to worry about the signals being stolen by the other team."

Spurrier added that "all coaches wish they had one quarterback that was clearly the best player and should be in the game all the time as long as it's close."

When Spurrier won his only national title, he did it with one wife and one Wuerffel.

A decade ago, at Ohio State, John Cooper nervously nursed a Stanley Jackson-Joe Germaine combination to a 10-0 start, all with Germaine coming off the bench. For the Michigan game, though, Cooper started Germaine and lost. He started Jackson in the Rose Bowl and Germaine was the most valuable player.

It seems crazy now, but Lloyd Carr at Michigan used to take Tom Brady out of games and put in Drew Henson, who had the leverage of leaving football for baseball.

Mack Brown may have lost a national title in 2001 when he waffled between Chris Simms and Major Applewhite.

"It wasn't even playing the two quarterbacks, as much as how the public response was," Brown said.

Oregon's Mike Bellotti has, with success, used multiple quarterback systems -- Jason Maas mixed with Akili Smith; A.J. Feeley paired with Joey Harrington.

"Every time we've played two quarterbacks, we felt each one could bring something to the table," Bellotti said. "It's all in your approach."

Leak and Tebow have completely different styles -- sort of like Penn & Teller. With Florida's rushing game a shambles because of injuries, Tebow gives the Gators an extra set of legs.

"I absolutely don't see much difference in playing two quarterbacks in that type of situation as you'd play two tailbacks or two tight ends," Spurrier said.

Will it work at Florida?

So far, so 6-and-0.

Can Meyer keep both quarterbacks and the fans happy?

"The fans need to understand this is strategic," Youngblood said. "It's not a popularity thing."

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