Emmanuel Moody says Florida has speed to burn USC

Sitting behind the batter’s box at Dolphin Stadium, wearing jersey No. 21 for the Florida Gators, shielding his eyes from a searing sun, Emmanuel Moody would not commit to a prediction on the big game.

Florida versus Oklahoma for the Bowl Championship Series title on Thursday night?

No, Florida vs. USC in the PCS (Pete Carroll Series), a mythical, can’t-happen game between Moody’s new team vs. Moody’s old team.


“I think it would be an intense, high-energy game, with the whole country watching,” Moody said.

Could Florida score on USC’s defense?

“Of course,” said Moody, incredulous the question was even asked.

Carroll said after USC’s Rose Bowl win over Penn State last week that no team could beat his Trojans right now.

“He believes they are the best team,” Moody said. “A coach has to think like that.”

But Moody, a prized tailback recruit from Texas who averaged 5.8 yards a carry for USC in 2006 before transferring to Florida last year, has spent enough time in both camps to know USC would have serious trouble matching up.

“I really can’t see any team being as fast, or even faster, than us,” Moody said. “Too many guys who were track stars in the past.”

After sitting out 2007 because of transfer rules, Moody contributed solid numbers as a redshirt sophomore, rushing for 417 yards with an impressive 7.3 per-carry average.

But an early ankle injury limited his playing time and turned Moody at times into a timekeeper at the Florida track trials.

Moody left USC because of a player logjam at the tailback position, then got to Gainesville and found at least four players on offense he says could beat any Trojan in a race.

USC’s fastest player?

“Taylor Mays,” Moody said of USC’s star safety. “And he’s 240 pounds.”

The argument down here is whether Florida is the fastest team in the history of football -- college or pro.

The Los Angeles Raiders once boasted Olympians Ron Brown and Willie Gault at wide receiver and Bo Jackson at tailback. The players would race sometimes after practice and Jackson was usually the fastest for the first 60 yards.

Moody is hardly a snail, and says he’s “in the mix” when it comes to Florida foot speed, but there’s no way he’s lining up against receivers Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, or freshmen tailbacks Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey.

As a senior last year at South Lake (Fla.) High, Demps ran the fifth-fastest high school 100 meters in U.S. history, and followed up with a 10.01-second time at the Olympic track and field trials.

The New York Times, after a study of statistical data, pronounced Demps as possibly the “swiftest running back ever to play college or professional football.”

Demps was so fast when he got to Florida he sometimes tripped over his feet carrying the ball, yet he settled in to rush for 582 yards as a freshman, averaging 8.4 yards per carry.

Fastest Gator?

“If you go by times, you’d have to vote Jeff Demps,” Moody said.

Harvin isn’t ready to concede.

The junior hybrid receiver/running back will be back in the lineup Thursday after missing the Southeastern Conference title game because of a severe ankle sprain.

“I’d probably say it’s between me and Demps,” Harvin said when asked which Florida player was fastest.

Harvin is the most polished player of the speedsters, with 3,010 combined rushing and receiving yards in three seasons.

In high school, Harvin became the first athlete to claim five gold medals at the Virginia state track and field championships.

Moody says Harvin is to Florida’s offense what Reggie Bush was to USC’s.

“Percy definitely is a playmaker in that aspect, as Reggie Bush was a playmaker,” Moody said. “Percy’s speed is fast, or just as fast as Reggie Bush.”

Imagine, though, having four Bushes.

Rainey, a redshirt freshman tailback from Lakeland, Fla., averaged 7.9 yards a carry while rushing for 655 yards this season after a prep career in which he scored 90 touchdowns.

“He’s quicker than most people, more than he is fast,” Harvin said.

Murphy is the Gators’ senior deep threat, averaging 17 yards a reception this season. At Lakewood High in St. Petersburg, he ran the anchor leg for his school’s 400-meter relay team.

Murphy said he’s gotten even faster since he arrived in Gainesville, dropping his 40-yard time from 4.5 to 4.3.


“Drills and competition,” he said.

The Gators have not felt it necessary to officially settle this sprinter’s debate.

“We’ve never really sat down and had a big race,” Demps said.

Murphy said the men in charge actually are not too keen on the idea.

“Every time we get to the point of lining up and racing, the coaches stop us,” Murphy said. “They say ‘No, No! We don’t want any pulled hamstrings!’ ”

We’ll never know this season, because of football politics and a loss to Oregon State, whether USC could hang with Florida . . . or even Oklahoma.

This season, like most of the country, the Trojans will only be able to catch the Gators on TV.