0

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP NOTEBOOK: Meyer made impression on Saban's wife long ago

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- An unknown guy named Urban Meyer called Nick Saban's house one day some two decades ago looking for a job.

Saban, who had just taken over Toledo's program, wasn't home but Meyer passed the first test for employment: Impressing Mrs. Saban.

"He called the house and Terry talked to him," Saban, who only spent the 1990 season at Toledo, recalled this week. "Didn't know him from Adam's housecat. When I came home, she said, 'This guy named Urban Meyer called and I really think you should hire him. I really like him on the phone.' Terry throws it up to me every now and then that she's a very good evaluator of coaches."

Meyer wound up going to Colorado State as receivers coach in 1990. Now, he's leading No. 1 Florida into Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game against Saban and No. 2 Alabama.

The two coaches are friendly acquaintances, but neither is big on small talk.

"Coach Saban and I know each other from the meetings and we talk and we're very cordial," Meyer said. "And one thing about coach Saban is he's not a guy that's going to chitchat a whole lot. And I'm probably very similar. But we talk quite often about how to make our conference better, (about) certain issues he's had to handle and I've had to handle. And we have a very good relationship."

------

BLOCKING CODY:

When the Gators jumbled their offensive line last month, the coaching staff may have had Terrence Cody in mind.

The 6-foot-5, 354-pound defensive tackle, a senior from Fort Myers, Fla., has been a force in the middle of Alabama's stout defense.

"He's going to be the biggest load of the year," guard Mike Pouncey said. "He's massive. He's a great player. He stops the run real well, so we've got to work on how to block him. He's a big dude to block."

The Gators moved left tackle Carl Johnson to guard in hopes of solidifying the interior line. With Johnson inside and freshman Xavier Nixon starting the last three games at left tackle, Tim Tebow has been sacked just four times.

But the revamped line gets its biggest test against Cody and the Crimson Tide.

"It's going to be a good matchup," Pouncey said. "He ain't Superman, now. He can be blocked. You just have to go put out a lot of effort."

------

TAKING A PEEK:

Alabama tight end Colin Peek is an Academic All-American who is starting for a national title contender, and yet he's the "black sheep" of his family.

"My grandfather, my grandmother -- this is on my dad's side -- and my mom, my dad, my three uncles, my three aunts and eight of my first cousins have all gone to Florida," Peek said. "My dad and my three uncles are all in the Hall of Fame for Florida athletes -- two football, two swimming.

"I grew up going to every Florida game. That's just the lineage that I was born into."

Peek was recruited by Florida but opted for Georgia Tech instead after Ron Zook was fired, uncertain whether he'd fit into Meyer's offense. He transferred to the Tide for the same reason when Tech hired Paul Johnson.

This game means a little extra to the Ponte Verda Beach, Fla., native. "I joked around and said last week (the Iron Bowl) was for your state pride and this week is for my state pride," Peek said.

------

PRESIDENTIAL SUPPORT:

Florida right tackle Marcus Gilbert, whose father, Jeff, is a U.S. Secret Service agent and protected Barack Obama during his two-year campaign, says the president is pulling for the Gators.

"He e-mails my Dad," Gilbert said. "They talk a lot. He's rooting for us all the way, like he did last year. He definitely (wants the Gators to win)."

------

MOODY RETURNS:

Florida running back Emmanuel Moody, who missed the last two games because of a sprained ankle, is practicing again and will play Saturday against Alabama.

Moody has 50 carries for 372 yards and a touchdown this season. He is averaging 6.7 yards a carry against SEC teams -- better than Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey and Tim Tebow -- and gives the Gators a different dynamic in the backfield because of his speed, elusiveness and 210-pound frame.

Moody started two games before twisting his ankle against South Carolina, then sat out against Florida International and Florida State.

"He's almost full speed. He'll play," Meyer said.

------

MANY HAPPY RETURNS:

Punts are a bad time to hit the concession stand in this game, which features two of the top three punt returners on the SEC's career list. Alabama's Javier Arenas is No. 1 with 1,725 yards while Florida's Brandon James is third (1,359). Between them they have returned 12 kicks or punts for touchdowns.

"I've got total respect for him," Arenas said. "He's everything you want in a return guy. If I was a coach, I'd take him on my team any day. Very fast, very shifty, makes great decisions back there with the ball. This is a guy we've got to key on in the punt return game."

Arenas needs just 37 punt return yards to break the NCAA record held by Texas Tech's Wes Welker.

"I think Brandon James has a lot of the same characteristics that great returners do, but I think he's obviously one of the best returners in America," Meyer said of Arenas.

------

QUOTABLE: "

We say it all the time. Your college career is either going to be in a shoe box with a bunch of holes in it that you kick underneath your bed or it's going to be in one of those real nice oak boxes with glass that you shine up. You spray that Windex on there and you clean it up and your kid comes by and says, 'Dad, what was that year again?' If you have to reach down and pull it out of a shoebox, like my college career, that's not good." -- Florida coach Urban Meyer on importance of winning big games, championships.