Amazing first two quarters overshadow horrific finale
Published: Sunday, September 25, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 25, 2005 at 1:43 a.m.
There was a point of realization for the Gator fans in Commonwealth Stadium and those watching at home when they suddenly thought something they didn't think possible.
Hey, this game isn't over yet.
After an almost perfect first half, a 49-7 halftime rout had suddenly become scary in the second half. Urban Meyer found out what he feared during summer camp, that he has very little depth.
So he put the starters back in and they closed out the victory and sang the fight song and celebrated a road victory.
They should have. Because as ugly as the second half was on a steamy Saturday, what you should take from this game is not what went wrong but what went right.
Of course, it all happened in the first half and Florida could be in serious trouble if all 22 of its starters come down with the mumps. But that first half was amazing.
And the second half was the best thing that could have happened to the Gators.
Jeremy Mincey said he was "horrified." Meyer was "disgusted." But if Florida had done what it was on its way to do - winning like 80-7 - the Gators might have been a little too cocky heading to Tuscaloosa.
Meyer's offense was brilliant when the starters were in there, scoring on seven straight possessions and converting third downs like they were playing against air, which offers more resistance than the Kentucky defense. The defense was again dominant.
Forget the second half. It was bad, but it's what the first-team players did that give Gator fans reason for optimism the rest of the way.
"That's how it's supposed to be," said Chris Leak of an offense that looked unstoppable in the first half.
Leak was on fire, completing 21-of-26 passes in the first half, four of them for touchdowns. He finally looked comfortable running the offense, running the option, pulling it out of the running back's gut and making the "Spread 'n' Shred" slice through the Wildcats like they were yogurt.
OK, Kentucky isn't much. Meyer said during the week he didn't think his offense was ready to score 56 points in a game but obviously nobody had told him about the Wildcats.
He was on his way to 56, 66, 76 points before showing his kinder, gentler side and calling off the Gators. Too soon? Yep. But at the same time, the last thing Meyer wanted was to have a key player injured in the second half.
You saw why in the second half.
But blow off those 30 minutes of football. Hit the erase button. What matters is that this team is ready to face the challenges of the rest of the season. The offense is clicking. The switch has been flipped. And it's hard to imagine the defense playing better than it has the last two weeks.
"It's time the light was turned on," Mincey said. "Nobody can touch us if we keep playing like that."
And in the end, they also can look back on this game and know what they should have known going into it - that you have to keep playing like that.
"It's going to help us in the long run," Mincey said. "We know now that teams aren't going to give up."
And the starters on this team and their coach also know just how good they can be. They showed that in the first half, which is all you need to know.
All Meyer needs to know is that things couldn't have worked out much better for his first road game at UF. His team nearly emptied a stadium by halftime, but it still has work to do, especially on special teams. The offense has the confidence that the defense has had all season.
"I saw confidence in their eyes," Meyer said of the offensive players.
The next road game won't be quite so easy. The starters won't be watching from the sidelines during most of the second half. But they head into that game against Alabama with enough of the swagger restored.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 374-5053.
You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.
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