By MARK LONG
AP Sports Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's inexperienced secondary has been the team's biggest weakness all season.
It might get exploited against rival Florida State.
The 12th-ranked Gators (8-3) could be without starting cornerbacks Joe Haden (ankle) and Markihe Anderson (knee) against the Seminoles (7-4) on Saturday, leaving the defending national champions with a precarious matchup against wide receivers Greg Carr, De'Cody Fagg and Preston Parker.
``It's as big a concern as we have,'' Florida coach Urban Meyer said. ``We're just thinned out right now back there.''
Haden sprained his right ankle last Saturday against Florida Atlantic and Anderson tweaked a knee injury that has slowed him all season.
Both players missed practice time this week, leaving sophomore Wondy Pierre-Louis and redshirt freshman Jacques Rickerson to step into starting spots. Pierre-Louis has struggled much of the year in place of Anderson, and Rickerson has played sparingly.
Another option could be Moses Jenkins, a freshman who has played mostly on special teams.
Regardless of who's on the field, the matchup could be favorable for the Seminoles, who have lost three in a row in the series.
Carr, Fagg and Parker have combined to catch 130 passes for 1,976 yards and 11 touchdowns. Florida State hasn't been shy about throwing balls up for the 6-foot-6 Carr and the 6-3 Fagg, especially against undersized cornerbacks.
``I really respect their corners,'' FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford said. ``They're very talented guys. They're obviously young, but they have a lot of experience under their belt having played a whole season. They've definitely improved as the season as gone on.''
Maybe so, but the Gators gave up 311 yards in the first half last week against Florida Atlantic.
``That is about as bad as I have seen us play on defense,'' Meyer said.
The defense turned things around in the second half, but how much of that will carry over to Saturday's game?
The Gators, already playing without defensive tackle Javier Estopinan, also could be without defensive tackle Mike Pouncey (knee) and defensive end Lawrence Marsh (toe). And linebacker Brandon Spikes has been bothered by knee tendinitis.
``We are dealing with some significant injuries on defense,'' Meyer said.
But the more significant problem has been in the secondary, where Florida has been burned by big plays and soft coverages.
``They play in the SEC and they play against a lot of great teams that throw the ball extremely well, so they have a lot of experience and have been tested a lot,'' Weatherford said. ``I've see a great improvement in the film that I've watched.''
The Gators hope an effective pass rush will help take pressure off the secondary. Florida State has allowed 19 sacks, including 14 on Weatherford.
``We think we can get to him,'' said Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey, who has 6 1/2 of the team's 23 sacks. ``We definitely need to.''
Source: ncaafootball; Photo Credit: SECSportsmeda