Opening Daze — Gators get off to shaky start
Published: Saturday, September 4, 2010 at 6:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 4, 2010 at 6:51 p.m.
Heeerrreee come the Gators, stumbling, bumbling and fumbling their way into the 2010 college football season.
Three Things to Know
1. The Gators experienced an almost total offensive meltdown in quarterback John Brantley's debut, producing only 13 total yards in the first half and 25 through three quarters.
2. Center Mike Pouncey, one of UF's best and most reliable players, dribbled three shotgun snaps to Brantley, the first being recovered by Miami (Ohio) to set up a field goal early in the game.
3. The UF defense produced two crucial turnovers in the second quarter — an interception by Janoris Jenkins that was returned 67 yards for a TD and an interception and return by Ahmad Black that set up a TD.
Can anyone remember a bigger opening-day downer than the one No. 4 Florida inflicted on its fans Saturday?
Yes, the Gators won the game, beating mighty Miami (Ohio) 34-12 before 90,178 in The Swamp, but this was a performance that raised troubling questions, and left many feeling almost depressed.
Just before the band struck up the fight song after the game, quarterback John Brantley leaned over to wide receiver Deonte Thompson and said, "I feel like we lost."
That might have been a popular sentiment around Florida Field (and Gator Nation) on Saturday afternoon.
Here's the No. 1 reason this victory didn't feel so good: In Brantley's much-anticipated debut, the offense was basically non-functional for the majority of the afternoon.
There were fumbled snaps, snaps at Brantley's feet, fumbles, penalties, blown assignments, dropped passes, missed blocks, questionable play-calling. The entire mess added up to 25 total yards of offense through three quarters.
Let's repeat that.
Twenty-five yards in three quarters.
"Not so much embarrassed, because I know the potential of our offense. We have a great offense," said Brantley, who produced two touchdown passes but threw for only 113 yards. "Mike Pouncey is a great center. I know he's going to get better.
"I'm not embarrassed at all. It was one of those days, I guess you could say."
The Florida offense broke down early, and it started at the starting point, the shotgun snaps from Pouncey to Brantley. Pouncey bounced three snaps to Brantley that he couldn't handle, one that was recovered by the RedHawks. The snaps were an issue for much of the day, forcing the Gators to line up under center for a significant part of the second half.
Pouncey, a senior and a team leader, took responsibility.
"It was my fault," Pouncey said. "I'm going to get in here in the morning to fix it. The ball kept slipping out."
Pouncey, Brantley and others said the shotgun snaps were never an issue in preseason camp.
"Not at all," Brantley said.
The snaps were only a part of the problem. The Gators fumbled the ball eight times (losing three), Thompson dropped a sure touchdown pass in the first half, and the Gators could never get into any kind of rhythm (except a bad one).
UF led by only nine points (21-12) early in the fourth quarter. The Gators didn't put the game away until tailback Jeff Demps broke free for a 72-yard TD run with 12:31 to play. UF's final score came on a desperation fourth-down pass from Brantley that was tipped and then caught in the end zone by Chris Rainey from 25 yards out with only 1:21 to go.
Take away those two fourth-quarter plays, and the Gators had only 115 yards of total offense.
UF coach Urban Meyer said he foresaw a possible struggle coming into the game, but not quite like this one.
"I was not that shocked that we didn't play well," Meyer said. "I was shocked that the ball was on the ground. I thought our defense would come out and play well. I'm extremely disappointed in our kicking game. Very disappointed.
"We've got a long way to go, man."
In the offense's defense, the Gators were playing with a patchwork offensive line, with four players starting at new positions, one (guard Jon Halapio) in his first start. The latest reason for the shuffle was the apparent suspension of senior starting guard Carl Johnson.
But the offensive ineptitude was shared by many.
"You can't turn the ball over," offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. "You start turning the ball over and you're never going to get any continuity and you can't get anything going. We're going to fix that snapping stuff, and we're going to be fine. We just have to get back to work and get it corrected.
"Football is momentum and rhythm. It's hard to have that when you turn the ball over."
UF might have been shut out in the first half had it not been for its defense (and a botched fake punt by Miami).
Cornerback Janoris Jenkins returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown to give the Gators a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter. Later in the quarter, strong safety Ahmad Black's interception and return set the Gators up on the Miami 5. True freshman quarterback Trey Burton converted that turnover with a 2-yard TD run.
Overall, the defense was better than the offense, but the defense had its problems, too.
"They played OK, but it still didn't look like Florida football," Meyer said. "We didn't have the big hits."
Some might be wondering about Brantley's confidence after the hit it took Saturday.
But he seemed fine after the game.
"I think this is going to bring the offense closer together and make us work harder," Brantley said. "The only thing we can do is get better from here and learn from it. We're going to get better each week. That's all we're looking for."