Gators hoping to slow down McFadden

December 1st, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Gators hoping to slow down McFadden


Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Florida defensive tackle Clint McMillan struggled to recall a college athlete like Arkansas running back Darren McFadden. So he turned to the pros.
McMillan said McFadden's speed and elusiveness reminded him of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, a fitting comparison since the fourth-ranked Gators will try to slow McFadden on Vick's home turf in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday night.
"He can run the ball up and down the field if you don't play your responsibilities," McMillan said. "It's going to be a big challenge for us."
It also will be the key for the Gators (11-1), who are returning to the title game for the first time since 2000 and seeking their seventh league championship.
"Yeah, it's a test for us," linebacker Brandon Siler said. "But I've got faith in this team that we'll stand up to the challenge."
Florida leads the conference in rushing defense, allowing 69.7 yards a game. Arkansas' ground game is tops in the league, averaging 236.2 yards.
The Razorbacks (10-2) owe much of their success to McFadden, a sophomore who might be as much of an all-purpose back as Reggie Bush was at Southern California.
McFadden has rushed 244 times for 1,485 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has nine receptions for 122 yards and a score. He has completed all five of his passes for 70 yards and two more touchdowns. He even has eight kickoff returns for 226 yards, averaging more than 28 yards per return.
"He's one of those guys you look at on film and say, 'Hey, he's for real. He's not all just hyped up,'" Siler said.
The Gators haven't faced anyone like McFadden in two years under coach Urban Meyer.
So they are wary, especially since linebacker Earl Everett is slowed by a sprained ankle and Siler is recovering from a sprained knee ligament. Making matters worse, Florida's defense hasn't been the same since run-stopping tackle Marcus Thomas was kicked off the team four weeks ago.
"Every game is really going to be decided up front," McMillan said. "But this game especially because we know how they run the ball and it's going to come down to our front seven."
Florida's front came up big in wins against Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Florida State. But the defense got handled in a loss at Auburn and against South Carolina.
The Tigers had 133 yards rushing en route to a 27-17 victory, and the Gamecocks managed 135 yards on the ground in a 17-16 loss.
But none of those teams had anyone like McFadden, who gets the ball in a variety of ways. He lines up in the backfield, in the slot and even at quarterback - showing a much faster version of the single-wing offense Florida is accustomed to seeing when freshman quarterback Tim Tebow plays.
"When he's 100 percent, he's a bullet," Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. "He's got that gear that others don't."
Added quarterback Casey Dick: "Just about every game he amazes everybody with something that he pulls. ... He's just a complete back that can do everything."
Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt compared McFadden to Barry Sanders because of the former NFL star's work ethic, competitiveness and burning desire to improve.
Meyer said McFadden's ability reminded him of Bush, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, but said he had a unique style.
"He's a very distinct runner," Meyer said. "He's not a big plant-the-foot, cut-across-the-grain runner. He's an acceleration guy."
To prepare for McFadden, the Gators practiced much of the week in full pads and worked specifically on to-the-ground tackling drills - a rare move so late in the season.
"That's going to be how you win this game," Meyer said.
Although the Gators are quick to point out that Felix Jones (961 yards rushing) is equally important to slow down, they realize McFadden is the biggest threat, the reason Arkansas advanced to the title game and the focal point for their defense.
"With him, it's like giving Michael Vick the ball," McMillan said. "As soon as he gets it, he can see the whole field. It's obviously more of a challenge with an athlete back there. He's shown he can throw, run, do whatever he needs to do. It's an advantage for them, but it's something we're going to have to learn how to stop."

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