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October 1, 2011

Five on the Spot



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Here are five Gators who are on the spot today as Florida attempts to upset No. 3 ranked Alabama at home in the Swamp.

* John Brantley - It is going to be an every week thing with Brantley appearing in this column and for good reason. It's not that he played poorly against Kentucky - 8/14 for 115 yards and a touchdown is adequate considering the primary running backs carried the ball a total of 37 times. It is more about Brantley having not yet truly proven himself to be something other than a throwing option for a team that has primarily run the ball against three weak opponents and one up-and-coming foe.

Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis may go through the season never asking Brantley to be a true vertical threat as a quarterback. Even though he said he going to throw the "kitchen sink" at Alabama this week, that doesn't necessarily mean that Weis is going to have Brantley throwing the ball all over the field.

That is not what matters.

Brantley will step onto Florida Field looking to bounce back in a big way against a team and defense he struggled mightily against one year ago. He was 16/31 for 202 yards with two interceptions and a fumble last season against the Crimson Tide, and Alabama turned his first two turnovers into a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Perhaps worst of all, Brantley's first interception and his fumble late in the game both occurred on the opponent's goal line, negating two opportunities the Gators had to score. Florida possessed the ball for five minutes longer and gained eight more total yards on the evening, both of which were negated by miscues.

If all Brantley is going to be for the Gators this year is a game manager, that is perfectly fine. If he's going to take what the defense gives him and that continues to be Weis's mantra on Saturday, that works, too. The key for Brantley this time around is simple: Hold on to the ball.

* Deonte Thompson - Florida is going to try like hell to use their two playmakers to move the ball up and down the field on Saturday but there is going to come a time, probably early in the game, when the Gators realize that they are going to have to make some plays through the air.

His name may not be a hot topic of conversation like it has been for the last two years, but Thompson is on the spot this week because, let's face it, it's put up or shut up time.

Yes, he's had the opportunities. Thompson was the primary receiving threat in 2010 and caught 38 balls for 570 yards but only had a single touchdown to show for it. He became a solid third-down option but amounted to nothing more than that throughout the course of the season.

With only seven receptions for 93 yards through four games, Thompson is the second-leading receiver in 2011, four catches and 121 yards behind a running back.

One big game - heck one extremely productive game - can do a lot to change perceptions, and Saturday night may be Thompson's last opportunity to put the past behind him and prove he can be a solid contributor for his classmate and his team.

* Jaye Howard - There is no questioning Howard's impact on the defense this year. The elder statesman on the unit, he Florida's third leading tackler (12), has 2.5 tackles for loss and is third on the team in sacks (1.5).

But with sophomores defensive end Sharrif Floyd and defensive tackle Dominique Easley at the very least banged up for the contest, the onus will be on Howard to step up and prove that he can be as dominant against a stout Crimson Tide offensive line as he has been against "lesser" competition.

These are the types of games that professional scouts watch and use to evaluate talent. Howard's primary objective (and likely the only thing in his mind) will be playing his heart out for the Gators, but the truth is that he has plenty on the line Saturday and that is why he's on the spot this week.

* Jeff Demps & Chris Rainey - It's one thing to pile up ridiculous yardage and fill your highlight reel against cupcakes, and it's another to prove you can do it against one of the best defenses in the nation. Do not be fooled by what you saw last week - Kentucky is obviously nowhere near Alabama in terms of talent and ability. There should be no question whatsoever that Demps and Rainey have their work cut out for them on Saturday.

The last time Demps put on a legitimate show against an opponent of this caliber was when he ran 10 times for 129 yards and a touchdown against LSU in 2008. That was three years ago, UF won by 30 and he had a 42-yard rush in that game. Rainey has never done it - at least not to that level.

Both have been productive against top competition before, but they had Tim Tebow and a big-time offense to support them. Not this time.

Demps and Rainey are going to have a big load on their collective shoulders this week. They don't have to carve the Crimson Tide up, but they have to be effective the majority of the time they touch the ball. They're going to get hit hard and roughed up, all while finding out they are not going to have their way with their opponent.

Tenacity and gumption are what this duo needs to show Saturday. Neither can get frustrated nor rattled. Keeping a level head will be important, especially if things don't go their way from the get go.


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