Hernandez carved niche in UF offense vs. Miami

Sophomore tight end Aaron Hernandez gains 38 yards during the third quarter against Miami on Saturday.

Brandon Kruse/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, September 11, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 12, 2008 at 12:15 a.m.

Cornelius Ingram must have been proud.

On a night that lacked many big plays out of either offense, sophomore tight end Aaron Hernandez cemented himself as a go-to receiver for Florida in the Gators' 26-3 win over Miami Saturday night.

Hernandez finished with a career-high five receptions and 58 yards, including the first touchdown of the game when he caught a 14-yard toss from quarterback Tim Tebow with 12:24 left in the first quarter.

The beginning of the play seemed to be going nowhere until Tebow was able to elude several Miami defenders before lofting the ball off his back foot into the corner of the end zone. All Hernandez had to do was outmuscle his defender and make the catch.

It wasn't just that Hernandez caught the ball, it was that he trusted his quarterback enough to stay put in the end zone and wait for the play to come to him.

"I knew to sit back, behind the cover-3 corner and Tebow made a great pass," Hernandez said of the touchdown. "It wasn't that hard of a catch because he threw it where it had to be.

"It felt like it was going in slow motion. I wanted to jump early, but I just had to keep waiting."

Hernandez said he missed the season opener against Hawaii because he didn't "practice that hard" the week leading up to the game. Miami became a statement game for him.

When Ingram went down in the offseason with a torn ACL, Hernandez was immediately elevated to playmaker status, and beginning the season on the bench was a poor way to start.

However, Hernandez seemed to redeem himself Saturday and appears to be back in the good graces of his teammates.

"He's matured so much since he's gotten here," Tebow said of Hernandez. "He was very focused, and unfortunately he wasn't able to play last week, and that hurt him a lot because he was really focused and determined to have a great year and a great game today."

Hernandez did look great on a few plays for the Gators. He even did his best Ingram impression when he took a simple crossing pass over the middle and went down the sideline for 38 yards late in the third quarter. It not only ended up being the longest play of the game, it was a crucial part of UF's second scoring drive.

"Tebow threw a great pass where I could catch the ball and make a move, and I just tried to make a play and hit the sideline," Hernandez said. "I wanted to score, but got hogged down.

"I'm not the fastest in the world. I just try my hardest to get to the end zone. Miami's a fast team, so they got me. I was kind of mad, but it was a big play so I wasn't that mad."

After his performance, Hernandez has a clean slate to work with, but he also has elevated his expectations for the rest of the season. He'll have to deal with being a Heisman Trophy winner's go-to big man as well as double teams from opposing defenses.

With Ingram on the sidelines constantly coaching him after each play, it shouldn't be too difficult to cope. Pleasing fans and coaches, though, could be a little easier than pleasing the man he's taking over for. Ingram isn't always the most forgiving teacher.

"He says I look ‘stank,' ‘not good' or ‘it was a good play,' " Hernandez said.

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