|James, Holliday help make Florida, LSU special|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 09 October 2008 13:03|
They both have breakaway speed, eyebrow-raising moves and a knack for making game-changing plays. Oh yeah, and they're just a shade taller than those sideline water coolers.
Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to underestimate these two return specialists. The smallest guys on the field could make the biggest impact when No. 11 Florida hosts fourth-ranked LSU on Saturday night.
``In games like this, you know the defense is going to come out and play and you know the offense is going to come out and play. It's special teams that can determine the game,'' James said.
No one knows that better that the Gators (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) and Tigers (4-0, 2-0). Special teams played a major role in their last two meetings, with the winner getting significant contributions from those units.
The Tigers scored a touchdown on a fake field goal in their 28-24 victory last season in Baton Rouge. A year earlier in Gainesville, the Gators forced a fumble on the second-half kickoff, recovered it for a safety and ended up winning 23-10 - a victory that propelled them to the national championship. Florida also recovered a muffed punt that led to a touchdown and blocked a punt.
``That special teams performance is probably the best I've been around,'' Gators coach Urban Meyer said.
James and Holliday could steal the spotlight this time around.
James ranks seventh in the nation in punt returns, averaging 20.5 yards, and has taken two back for touchdowns. He also ranks 11th in kickoff returns, averaging nearly 30 yards.
The 5-foot-7 junior returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the opener and returned another one 79 yards for a score at Tennessee, draining the energy out of Neyland Stadium. He also sparked several scoring drives with long returns, a welcome sight for an offense that hasn't quite found its rhythm through five games.
``You need special teams plays to kind of determine the game,'' James said. ``I just try to make an impact anyway I can. Each time we step out there, we just try to make plays. However we can do it and get our edge, that's what we're going to do.''
The Tigers are one the league's best at preventing returns. They have allowed just 24 yards on punt returns and lead the nation in kickoff return defense.
pprehensive about shutting down James.
``He's a very good returner, a great athlete,'' LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard said. ``I watched a lot of tape on him, been studying him, and he's been very impressive. He does a lot of different things. ... He's the total package.''
The Gators feel the same way about Holliday, a 5-foot-5 junior and five-time All-American in track who owns the school record in the 100 meters.
He ranks second in the country in punt returns, averaging 25.1 yards, and took one back 92 yards for a score against North Texas last month. He also leads the team in kickoff return, averaging 24 yards.
``That's going to be a key, key part of this game,'' Meyer said. ``We have our way of getting some stuff done on punt team, but kickoff concerns me.''
The Gators have defended punts as well as anyone since Meyer took over in 2005. They haven't had a single one returned for more than 18 yards in four seasons, and opponents still haven't eclipsed 200 yards combined over that span.
``We don't punt away from anyone,'' Florida punter Chas Henry said. ``Really, we don't care who's back there. It's kind of the same thing week in and week out, especially since we think every punt returner you play in the Southeastern Conference is a dynamic player.''
Thanks to Henry's high-lofted kicks and the speed of Florida's gunners racing down the sidelines, the Gators typically force punt returners to call for a fair catch.
They haven't been nearly as fortunate on kickoffs. Florida allowed 183 yards on seven kickoffs against the Volunteers and gave up 140 on five returns in a home loss to Mississippi.
Meyer threatened to make changes on the coverage team this week, especially knowing Holliday could be the guy carrying the football.
``Trindon is just another animal,'' Sheppard said. ``He's kind of unreal. ... He's probably the fastest guy in college football, but I've definitely seen him drop his shoulder. I think that's what people don't realize: Trindon will stick his head in there and actually hit somebody.''
James and Holliday would prefer to make somebody miss, though. It's what they do best and a big reason for all the comparisons - along with their size.
``You don't have to be a big, giant guy you see running out and hitting people,'' Sheppard said. ``Football is about a lot of different things: your knowledge, skill, of course, speed, strength and everything like that, and Trindon and Brandon James have all that stuff.''