Grand Opening: Gators reign

Published: Saturday, September 1, 2007 at 6:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 1, 2007 at 7:08 p.m.

Ever since his arrival in Gainesville, Urban Meyer has been adamant that there is no Urban Meyer offense. The offense is what it is, he's said, designed to fit the talent of his players and different from year to year, team to team.

Well, that sure looked like the Urban Meyer offense Saturday, the one that was so productive and so popular at Utah. The one he was supposed to bring with him to Florida three years ago.

With Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen spreading the field (and forcing outmanned Western Kentucky to defend every inch of it) and sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow doing a pretty fair Alex Smith imitation, the Gators overwhelmed the Hilltoppers 49-3 before 90,086 in The Swamp.

The only thing capable of stopping the Gators on this day was the weather. The game was terminated with 8:23 remaining following a one hour, two-minute lightning delay. It is the first time a game at Florida Field was not played to completion.

The Florida offense did enough damage in the shortened game. In his starting debut, Tebow completed 13 of 17 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns as the Gators rolled up 510 yards of total offense.

"It was a good day with a lot of playmakers out there making plays," said senior wide receiver Andre Caldwell, who caught three passes for 103 yards, including a 59-yard reception on Tebow's first attempt of the game. "It's the style of dynamic offense I've been looking for since I've been here. It's happening right now.

"You could see during the preseason that this was going to be the style of offense that (Meyer) looked forward to with all these playmakers. We went out there and played for him today and made plays."

With Tebow hitting deep passes and keeping the Hilltoppers off balance with his ability to run, the offense looked much like the true spread option offense that sort of made Meyer famous in his two seasons at Utah.

And it should look even more like that offense in the coming weeks. Meyer said there were no pre-designed runs for Tebow in the opener and there will be starting with next Saturday's game against Troy.

Meyer said Tebow struggled at times managing the game, but it was still a pretty impressive debut.

"Overall, I was very impressed with the way he threw the ball," Meyer said. "We needed that game because he did not manage perfectly. He threw the ball very well and executed the offense.

"As far as game management, I'd grade him down a little bit because of just managing the 25-second clock and the tempo. We're going to work on that this week. Our playmakers did fine."

Tebow and the offense got off to a near-flawless start Saturday. He completed his first six passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns as the Gators built a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Tebow ran 1 yard for a TD on UF's first possession, then threw a a 59-yard scoring strike to Riley Cooper and a 19-yard TD pass to Percy Harvin in the Gators' next two possessions.

"I'm feeling great," Tebow said. "It was a lot of fun. We just wanted to come out there and put together a great effort. I think, overall, it was a good performance. We're definitely happy with it. There's always room for improvement. There were definitely some mistakes out there, but we're going to learn from them and get ready for Troy."

In last season's offense, Tebow was a role player backing up senior starter Chris Leak. His role was mainly to run the ball. Because he rarely threw the ball, Tebow's ability to pass was questioned by many coming into the 2007 season.

He seemed to answer that question with Saturday's passing performance.

"He's legit," Western Kentucky coach David Elson said. "He can do it all. People questioned his throwing motion. I never did. He threw for a bunch of yards in high school and he's going to throw for a bunch of yards in college.

"He's a special talent and a special quarterback."

Tebow retired for the day after throwing a 42-yard TD pass to Cooper with 4:08 left in the third quarter to give the Gators a 35-3 lead. The final score came on a 4-yard run by No. 2 quarterback Cameron Newton on what became the final play of the game with the arrival of the lightning.

While the Florida offense pretty much had its way with WKU, the young UF defense, which features nine new starters from a year ago, appeared a little susceptible at times.

In the game's opening drive, the Hilltoppers drove 62 yards to the UF 10-yard line before linebacker Dustin Doe stuffed tailback Tyrell Hayden for no gain on fourth-and-1.

The defense, however, gave up only 204 yards of offense on the afternoon.

Meyer said he would not judge the defense's performance until looking at the tape of the game.

Doe said the young defense will improve on its opening performance.

"We're going to go watch our film and we're going to improve upon ourselves," he said. "We'll be able to see the mistakes we made and we can improve on them."

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