Gators feel urgency to get off to a better start

Published: Friday, September 17, 2010 at 6:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 17, 2010 at 6:40 p.m.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — At Florida, it's all about the fourth quarter.

Dominate the fourth quarter. Impose your will in the fourth quarter.

Win the fourth quarter.

Over the past several years it has been ingrained in the players, hammered home during those demanding and exhausting offseason workouts concocted by strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti.

But what about the first quarter?

If the Gators have a plan for it, it's not working this season — unless the plan is to stagger and stumble through it.

While UF again has shown strength and resolve in the fourth quarter this season, the Gators have been almost comatose in the first quarter.

In the first two games, the Gators have combined for a mere four first downs, 23 total yards and zero points in the first quarter. UF's offense has averaged less than one yard per play in the quarter.

UF managed to overcome those first two ugly first quarters with strong second halves (and strong fourth quarters).

But what happens if the Gators stumble out of the blocks again Saturday?

If they do, the outcome could be very different — because the atmosphere and the opponent are much different than in those first two games.

This is Tennessee, an arch-rival, and this is the start of SEC play. A bad start might be a lot tougher to overcome against a fired-up rival in front of a large, hostile crowd.

"We're going to come out and try to throw a knockout punch early," UF offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert said.

That would be a reversal of how things played out in the first two games, where the knockout punch came late.

But the strong second-half performance a week ago in a 38-14 win over South Florida has given the Gators hope that they can get off to a more positive start Saturday.

"I do think the offense is coming together," quarterback John Brantley said. "The next thing we need to do is have it together at the beginning of the game.

"We started out a little slow again (against USF). Toward the end of the first half and in the second half, we got it going. We need to have that together for that first drive against Tennessee."

The poor first quarter last week was only partly to blame on the sputtering offense. The defense also played a major role. On USF's first possession, the Bulls drove 96 yards for a touchdown on 17 plays and consumed a giant chunk of the quarter (nine minutes, 48 seconds).

"We can't let that happen in this game," senior defensive tackle Terron Sanders said.

Everyone seems to agree, the Gators need to get off to a better start Saturday.

"Obviously, you want to come out strong. You want to do that," offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. "To say anything less would be ridiculous.

"At the same time, there are ebbs and flows to a football game. It's managing those that's even more critically important. OK, so you don't come out strong. OK, next series, let's go. We're going to keep pecking away and finding those combinations (that work). We're going to get there. That's the way it is."

UF has not been able to get there thus far in the first quarter. The Gators have been shut out 10-0 in the quarter, but have managed to crank things up from there, outscoring the opposition 72-16 over the final three quarters.

If the Gators start off slow again Saturday, well, there's always the fourth quarter, which they have dominated, outscoring their opponents 23-3.

UF has owned the fourth quarter, not just this season, but the past two seasons.

"With our whole program with Mickey Marotti, it's really all about we're going to stand strong in the fourth quarter," Addazio said. "That's really a rallying point in this program, which is a huge tribute to his strength and conditioning program that our kids are involved with.

"We believe that we're in shape and strong, and we practice hard so we can handle those hard situations. And in the fourth quarter, when it's really hard, we're going to put our hand down one more time. That's kind of a mind set. It's a big part of what we do."

Winning the fourth quarter is always a Gator goal. Saturday, so is winning the first quarter.

"It would do a lot for our confidence," Brantley said.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or

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