Gators' Harvin learning to adapt as marked man

Bulked-up junior Percy Harvin is Florida’s top offensive weapon despite added attention from defenses.

Associated Press

Bulked-up junior Percy Harvin is Florida’s top offensive weapon despite added attention from defenses.

GAINESVILLE

It has become such a common refrain on the field that Florida center Maurkice Pouncey can anticipate when it comes. The moment No. 1 runs onto the field and lines up in a particular spot, the opposing defense goes into a panic.

"They'll say, 'Harvin in the backfield; Harvin in the backfield,' " Pouncey said. "They know when he's in the backfield, we're going to run the ball to Percy. And there ain't too many teams that have stopped it so far."

Harvin is Florida wide receiver/running back Percy Harvin, who wears No. 1 and is the Gators' No. 1 offensive weapon.

When he burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2006, Harvin earned a reputation for his speed and ability to make plays — both as a receiver and in the backfield.

These days, things aren't so easy. Everybody knows what Harvin is capable of, and that has made life a lot tougher for the junior from Virginia Beach, Va.

"You know what? I think people defend him a lot," UF offensive coordinator Dan Mullen said. "Different people have different plans schematically for (him) for different times. I think people have plans to kind of bracket him or take him away from the offense, but in the course of a game, you're not going to see that every snap. They think when we're going to him they are going to try to take him away."

For Harvin, it has been a season of adversity and adapting to being a marked man. He missed the first two games recovering from offseason heel surgery, yet trying desperately to return ahead of schedule.

He admits, he may have tried to do too much, too fast.

"I was supposed to be just oozing along and I kind of got out there and was trying to cut and do some stuff like I was never injured," Harvin, 20, said. "And I paid for that during the two-a-day practices. It was me being hard-headed. I was supposed to be just jogging through routes and I was out there cutting and acting like I hadn't had surgery before. I paid the price, but it was all good."

Because of the heel injury, Harvin, 5 feet 11 and 195 pounds, turned his attention to his upper body and the task of gaining weight and strength. Before this season, he maxed out at a bench press of about 325 or 350 pounds. Today, he lifts about 420 pounds.

"Every day I was in the weight room lifting," he said. "We all got together and it was kind of like a blessing in disguise because I needed to put on weight so I could take a little more pounding. Then I had this surgery and I put on the weight. And now I'm out there running good, and I still have my speed. So it worked out for the best."

Although he has been battling injuries and massive attention from defenses, Harvin is the SEC's second-leading receiver (247 yards) and is third in the league in points per game (8.0). He has five touchdowns and is second on the team in all-purpose yards (461) and third in rushing yards (177). Still, it can get frustrating being everybody's target.

"I think it is a little bit," quarterback Tim Tebow said. "I think he's handled it really well because teams are going to look and find No. 1 and make sure everybody's got an eye on him, so he's not going to get the same stats and get the breakaway plays and get some of those open runs where he can just run down the sidelines. It's just not going to happen. Teams just prepare for that and other guys have a much better look.

"He's just got to be patient. We're going to keep getting him the ball and keep getting him looks, and eventually he'll be able to spring those big plays."

Harvin missed several days of practice this week with a sprained ankle, but is expected to play against LSU tonight in Gainesville. Mullen and Florida coach Urban Meyer said the key to making things easier for Harvin is to spread the ball around to other players, similar to what happened in the fourth quarter of last week's victory at Arkansas. But ultimately, if Harvin's on the field, there's always a chance something good will happen for the Gators. Doubled or not.

"With Percy, there were some runs that he had last week that were just amazing,' " Meyer said. "… He is a much stronger player than he was a year ago. No question that a lot of the defenses are more focused on him. I think that Percy has the best first step in college football. Most of the scat-back types don't have the strength, but he really is just a powerful guy.''

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

Champ vs. champ

Tonight's game between No. 11 Florida and No. 4 LSU marks the first time in nearly two decades, and the 10th time in history, that the past two national champions will meet. The home team has never lost (7-0-1; one game played on a neutral site). The defending national champion has lost three in a row and is 4-4-1 in these games.

Meeting National champions Outcome

Oct. 19, 1940 TCU ('38)/Texas A&M ('39) Texas A&M, 21-17

Nov. 10, 1945 Notre Dame ('43)/Army ('44) Army, 48-0

Nov. 8, 1947 Army ('45)/Notre Dame ('46) Notre Dame, 27-7

Nov. 30, 1968 Notre Dame ('66)/USC ('67) Tie, 21-21

Nov. 30, 1974 USC ('72)/Notre Dame ('73) USC, 55-24

Oct. 14, 1978 Pitt ('76)/Notre Dame ('77) Notre Dame, 26-17

Sept. 6, 1982 Georgia ('80)/Clemson ('81) Georgia, 13-7

Nov. 25, 1989 Miami ('87)/Notre Dame ('88) Miami, 27-10

Oct. 20, 1990 Notre Dame ('88)/Miami ('89) Notre Dame, 29-20

Source: University of Florida

Today's state games

No. 11 Florida

vs. No. 4 LSU

8, Florida Field, Gainesville

TV/radio: Ch. 10; 970-AM

Line: Florida by 61/2

Weather: High 85, low 68; rain chance 40 percent

Miami vs. UCF

3:45, Dolphin Stadium, Miami

TV/radio: ESPNU; 1470-AM, 1040-AM

Line: Miami by 17

Weather: High 86, low 79; rain chance 40 percent

Gators' Harvin learning to adapt as marked man 10/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 10, 2008 7:29pm]

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