Offense sputters, defense shines

Chris Leak shakes hands with members of the band after beating Wyoming on Saturday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, September 4, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 3, 2005 at 11:50 p.m.
After all the hype, all the anticipation, all the expectations, the Florida Gators finally launched the Urban Meyer era with a rather pedestrian opening night performance in The Swamp.
The effort and emotion and intensity were present Saturday night. So were some typical opening-game jitters and mistakes, especially on offense and in special teams.
"In case you're wondering what the offense should look like, that wasn't it. Definitely not it," Meyer said. "Chris Leak has a lot of work to do and so does our offensive line. Chris Leak and the offense have a long way to go."
Despite a misfiring offense, it all worked out in the end, with the players and coaches joining the UF band and fans in the northeast corner of the end zone to sing the alma mater and school fight song and celebrate a 32-14 victory over Wyoming before the largest crowd (90,707) in Florida Field history.
The performance didn't match the great buildup, but it's a win and a successful start for Meyer.
"One-and-oh, no turnovers and I thought we played great on defense," Meyer said. "We have a lot of work to do. I remember two years ago at Utah we beat Utah State 40-20 and walked into the locker room and everyone was disgusted, upset and disappointed.
"The one thing I promised these guys at the University of Florida is we'll never be disappointed with a win."
The win wasn't disappointing, but the performance of the offense certainly was troubling, especially the absence of a running game, a vital aspect of Meyer's spread offense.
"If we don't have better production in the run game, I'm not sure we can win many more games, to be honest with you," Meyer said. "You can't win now days unless you're balanced. You just can't."
The Gators managed to do it Saturday night, but there are tougher games ahead.
Without a running game, the offense seemed out of sync much of the night.
Leak completed 26 of 34 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns and had a school-record streak of 17 consecutive completions, but he was sacked four times and the Gators managed only 91 rushing yards after enduring 85 yards in losses.
UF didn't put the game out of reach until wide receiver Chad Jackson scored on a 5-yard run midway through the fourth quarter to put the Gators up 32-7.
"I thought I was watching a different game," Meyer said. "I saw Chris Leak completed 17 straight passes. I must have been watching something else when that happened."
The Gators, who played without potential starting tailback DeShawn Wynn, didn't pose much of a threat at all on the ground until backup true freshman quarterback Josh Portis came on in the fourth quarter and rushed for 45 yards on five carries, including a 23-yard run.
"Balance. No balance. No inside running game," Meyer said of his sporadic offense. "When this thing is going it's because of balance.
"Josh Portis is dynamic. He's extremely talented. We're going to play him; we're going to get him ready to go. We're going to play him a bunch."
Despite the lack of balance, the offense produced 411 yards and a big-time performance by Jackson, who caught 10 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns.
"I just know that since I've been here, Chad Jackson has been tremendous," Meyer said. "He's one of the hardest working kids on this team. He does more than work hard. He provides leadership."
UF's most steady offensive weapons were Jackson and first-time starting place-kicker Chris Hetland, who was true on field goal attempts of 40 and 47 yards to salvage points on drives that stalled.
While the offense sputtered throughout the night, the defense dominated a potent Wyoming offense, limiting the Cowboys to 222 total yards and only 107 on the ground.
Wyoming's two touchdowns were set up by breakdowns in the UF kicking game.
"I thought the defense did well for us tonight," Meyer said. "I'm really excited about this defense. They got the season off to a great start tonight."
Even though the Gators didn't exactly live up to the hype and expectations that had been building throughout the offseason, it was a good start for Meyer, too, in his first Swamp experience.
"I had a ball here tonight. I had a hell of a time," Meyer said. "I was actually chewing some kid out and I heard 'We are the Boys' and I had to stop and check it out. Then I went back to chewing him out."
You can reach Robbie Andreu by calling 374-5022 or by e-mail at

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