Garcia looks to end Jefferson slump against Armwood

In what has grown to be one of the biggest rivalries in Hillsborough County, Fla., Armwood will try to win its fifth consecutive game over Jefferson.

Each team enters the contest 3-0, with Armwood ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 4A and Jefferson ranked No. 8 overall. Armwood is coming off a very successful 2005 season in which it lost to Tim Tebow's Nease squad for the state championship. Armwood won state titles in 2003 and 2004 and is looking to add another in 2006.

Jefferson won the southern region championship and was a state finalist in 2004 with an 11-4 record and posted an 8-4 mark in 2005.

In Armwood's four-game winning streak over Jefferson, it has outscored Jefferson 141-30. It would be safe to say that Jefferson is the underdog Friday night. So why is ESPNU showing a game that appears so lopsided? Two words: Stephen Garcia.

Jefferson offense vs. Armwood defense

The 6-foot-3, 218-pounds Garcia, an ESPN 150 quarterback, is the Southeast's ultimate gunslinger. He leads the Jefferson offense on the field Friday night in what the Dragons hope will be a more successful outing than past matchups against Armwood. Jefferson uses a wide-open offense with three- and four-wide sets and multiple personnel groupings featuring one or two backs and a tight end as part of the base package. This is a version of the spread offense and takes advantage of Garcia's ability through the air and on the ground.

Garcia's targets are talented and deep, according to head coach Mike Fenton. Senior Evan Cromer leads a group of seven wide receivers, including Anthony MacKinnon, Marcelino Rodriquez, Damario Smith, Lester Lewis, tight end Anthony Williams and tight end Byron McLeod. All contribute on a regular basis.

Given Garcia's athleticism, Jefferson will employ a two-back set to take advantage of the read-option game out of the shotgun, with running backs Darrius Faison, a senior, and Jamil Crews, a junior, handling the tailback duties, along with senior fullback Jamal Delgardo.

The offensive line, led by senior left tackle Michael Williams, is going to be counted on heavily to keep Garcia upright, with the likes of Armwood's ESPN 150 defensive tackle Torrey Davis and junior Sergio Joyner barreling down on the other side. Look for the Dragons to spread the Armwood defense out and get the Hawks out of their comfort zone, which is crowding the line of scrimmage.

Armwood comes into this game with one of the stingiest defenses in the state. The Hawks use an eight-man front with an emphasis on stopping the run, first and foremost. However, it may be difficult to stay in that look when Jefferson goes to the four-wide, one-back set. As mentioned, the Armwood front four is led by one of the most disruptive, talented defensive tackles in the country in Florida commit Davis, and he needs to be in QB Garcia's face early and often to disrupt the Jefferson rhythm.

The linebackers are speedy and talented, led by senior Derrall Anderson and sophomore Jamiel Smith. Coach Sean Callahan feels Smith might end up being the best player to come through the program in his tenure. The secondary is a young but talented group of excellent tacklers. There is only one senior in Justin Lassiter, and sophomore Angelo Hadley is the starter at strong safety. The Hawks will be pretty vanilla in terms of coverage, and Garcia likely will see a lot of two-deep and three-deep looks with a few wrinkles here and there. Expect this group to be challenged, especially if the front four can't get to Garcia.

There's an interesting note in regards to cornerback Aubrey Hadley. At the age of two, he lost his arm in an accident. He has persevered and is still one of the more productive players on the Armwood roster.

Armwood offense vs. Jefferson defense

This week ESPNU will feature an Armwood triple-option attack, likely the only true option attack we will see this year. When Sean Callahan arrived at Armwood in 1995, he realized the Hawks were not as big, strong or fast as their opponents, and he needed an offensive scheme that could maximize their strengths and mask their weaknesses. Eleven years later, he is 123-61 as head coach, and the Hawks are an offensive machine.

Senior quarterback Justin Hickman leads the attack as both a runner and passer. This is a triple-option team but not a wishbone or flex-bone team. The Hawks will line up in multiple sets and feature no tight end -- more of a spread option. Once the play comes in from the sideline, QB Hickman will make all the calls whether or not to give, keep or pitch.

Armwood uses the run to set up the pass and is a better passing team than you would expect. All three starting wide receivers and wingbacks are seniors, with Josh Maxie and Bryant Davis leading the way.

However, the running game is the foundation of this offense, and even the loss of Eric Smith, one of the state's best junior runners, to a season-ending injury in Week 1 couldn't make the offense skip a beat. the Hawks now use a "running back by committee" approach, led by seniors Marquise Branton, Tashard Dickens and Deondre Kyles. The unsung heroes for Armwood play offensive line. No one player is dominant, but all are solid performers in this scheme.

The Achilles heel of this Jefferson team over the last couple of years has been the defensive unit, particularly in this matchup. Therefore, during the offseason, head coach Mike Fenton made coaching and scheme changes. Defensive coordinator Lee Meitzler joined Jefferson after having tutored at nearby Hillsborough, and he will have three potential Division I prospects to work with in defensive tackle Tyler Hardin, defensive end DeMarcus Cleveland and safety Kevin Brown.

The Dragons will employ a new 33 stack defense, or 3-5-3 scheme, to take advantage of their safety/linebacker hybrid players. Senior middle linebacker Steve Balloon anchors a linebacker unit that will be counted on for run-stopping production and pass rushing. The goal of the 33 stack, according to Fenton, is to create confusion for the opponent's offensive line and quarterback in terms of where rushers are coming from with various alignments and looks.

The secondary is very experienced, led by seniors Kevin Brown as a nickel linebacker, Ernest Marshall at right cornerback and T.J. Simpson, who will see action at both safety and cornerback. So far this season the changes have made an impact, as Jefferson has posted two shutouts and allowed only 10 points total.

Recruiting Trail

• QB Stephen Garcia: Considering South Carolina, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida
• OT Michael Williams: Considering Kansas
• DE DeMarcus Cleveland: Considering Minnesota, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, South Florida

• DT Torrey Davis: Committed to Florida
• K Darren DeRochemont: Considering LSU and Central Florida
• LB Derrall Anderson: Considering Ole Miss and South Carolina
• QB Justin Hickman: Considering Georgia Southern, Middle Tennessee State and Division I-AA
• FB Marquise Bradenton: Considering Kansas State, Ole Miss, Illinois State, Middle Tennessee State

Bottom line

Armwood has had Jefferson's number lately, and I get the sense QB Garcia and coach Fenton feel the underdog role really works in their favor. Jefferson can put up points, no doubt about that, but if Armwood's triple-option attack can grind it out on the ground and keep that Jefferson offense off the field, it could be a frustrating night for Garcia & Co., because they won't see the field enough to score points. The defense for Jefferson is the key -- stop the run and get off the field as quickly as possible, and they likely will win the game, though that is easier said than done.

Tom Luginbill is the national director of recruiting for Scouts, Inc. Tom is a college football and recruiting studio analyst for ESPNU.