An early take on Gators

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With this being the bye week, it seems like a good time reflect on what’s happened so far and what might lie ahead for the Gators.

The offense: The Gators finally started clicking in the fourth quarter against Miami, but overall the offense has been out of sync. In the opener, UF really didn’t try to do too much, which was obvious because Tim Tebow didn’t do too much other than hand off to those freshmen tailbacks. I thought we’d see the complete (and the real) offense against Miami. What I saw kind of stunned me. The offensive line, which the coaches have hyped as a team strength, was consistently beaten in the first half and failed to protect Tebow, failed to create any openings in the running games. After talking to the coaches Monday, they said the offensive line wasn’t physically beaten by the Hurricanes. The poor play was attributed to mental mistakes instead. The Hurricanes threw a lot of stuff at the front and the experienced line didn’t handle it well at first. Adjustments were made throughout the game and the line played much better in the second half, especially the fourth quarter. The running game never came around, though, and Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps were physically punished. Emmanuel Moody, who sprained his ankle in the opener, didn’t play. My take on this offense so far is that the Gators aren’t making enough effort to involve the wide receivers and stretching the field with the passing game. And what’s with all the runs on first down? I know no one works harder than Kestahn Moore, but handing him the ball on first down was basically wasting a play against Miami. With the tough SEC schedule looming, the Gators need to open things up like they did last year and do a better job spreading the ball around to the playmakers. Percy Harvin certainly will be a focal point in the coming weeks. He had only six touches against Miami. Look for that total to at least double from here on out as long as his heel holds up (Urban Meyer said it did in the UM game). Of course, for the offense to be as good as everyone thinks it can be, the offensive line is going to have to do a much better job recognizing what defenses are doing and then picking up the blitzes and stunts. Obviously, UF opponents are going to study that UM tape hard and try to do some of the things the ‘Canes did to disrupt the offense. Tennessee will be coming after Tebow like Miami did. It’s probably going to be like that the rest of the season.

The defense: So far, so good. Coverage has been much better in the secondary, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham has dramatically elevated his game and the play at tackle has been solid and consistent. But the strength of the defense has been the linebackers, who are playing fast and making plays all over the field. A.J. Jones is a different player from a year ago, and Ryan Stamper has become Mr. Versatility with his ability to play all three positions. Getting the big guy (Brandon Spikes) back for the UM game was huge. He was a major factor in shutting down the ‘Canes’ running game. The big question now is this: has this defense really been tested yet? Answer: not really. Hawaii was struggling with new quarterbacks and skill players, and Miami started a redshirt freshman quarterback (Robert Marve), and the Hurricanes do not appear to have any dynamic receivers, at least not yet. We’ll know a lot more about this defense when we see how it does on the road at Tennessee. UT’s quarterback play was very inconsistent in the loss to UCLA, but the Vols have a big, experienced front and plenty of playmakers around Jonathan Crompton. A week after the UT game, the UF secondary will receive a severe test against Ole Miss, which has one of the SEC’s hottest quarterbacks in Jevan Snead, the Texas transfer who originally committed to Florida. One player I’m still waiting for to emerge is sophomore defensive end Carlos Dunlap. We heard a lot about this physical freak in the preseason, but he hasn’t done much yet. Another guy we might see more of as he plays himself into shape is true freshman defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who has impressed the coaches with his strength and explosion.