It was electrifying. From the inaugural “Gator Walk” to the first run out of the tunnel through the alumni players, the hype was huge. The largest crowd to ever see a football game in the state, 90, 707 were in attendance to get the “Urban” experience. But when it finally started, when they actually kicked it off, it was as if a pin was inserted in the balloon of hype and deflated. It took Florida and Urban Meyer’s spread offense 12 minutes into the first quarter to make their initial first down.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” numerous Gator fans said to me as they walked the concourse at Florida Field. “It’ll take a few weeks to get the kinks worked out,” others offered in passing. Meyer wasn’t as gracious after the game. The new Florida Head Coach was very critical of his own team’s play, saying Chris Leak and the rest of the offense have a lot of work to do. Meyer admitted that he’s normally a negative person, so perhaps it’s not as bad as he originally thought but it’s certainly not the panacea Gator fans were looking for.
Leak completed 26-of-34 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns, broke Steve Spurrier’s school record for consecutive completions (17) and led the No. 10 Gators to a 32-14 victory over Wyoming. But Meyer wanted more from his junior quarterback.
“In case you’re wondering what the offense should look like, that wasn’t it,” Meyer said, sounding a little like the Ol’ Ball Coach. “We have got a lot of work to do. Chris Leak and the offense have a long way to go.”
I suppose that’s to be expected when a new, complicated offense is installed at any major football program. It had it’s glaring errors, from muffed snaps to blitzes that came free and demolished Leak in the backfield. But you could see that, over time, this king of offense presents all kinds of problems for defenses. Perhaps Wyoming was more aware of what an Urban Meyer offense could do based on the two years he was a conference foe at Utah. But the pressure the offense puts on the defense, particularly at the edges, creates all kinds of problems that aren’t easily solved.
The opening game also showcased freshman quarterback Josh Portis, giving Gator fans a glimpse of the future with a running threat handling the ball on every play. Leak is the Gators QB, but under Meyer, his lack of speed is a liability. That’s why you’ll see Portis in every game.
“Chad Jackson is the best receiver around here in a long time,” one observer of Gator football noted in the third quarter. “He’ll be the best NFL receiver to come out of here since (Carlos) Alvarez.” That certainly looks to be the case. Jackson made three touchdown catches and ran for a fourth to be the main scoring threat for Florida. But his third catch was something special, an over the wrong shoulder one-handed grab that left most in the press box at a loss for words. Which is hard to do. “We just have great chemistry together,” Leak explained when asked how he found Jackson so often.
The Gator defense was quick on the line, quicker than they’ve been in a few years. The defensive backs are the best collecting that’s ever been at Florida according to the coaching staff. Even if they did drop a couple of sure interceptions.
The special teams were any thing but special, resembling the out of whack units they were last season. Coaching can fix that, if they’ll focus on it.
Perhaps Wyoming was the perfect opponent for the opener this year. Good, but not too good. Enough to give Gators fans pause in their rush to the national championship. Enough to give Gator players a reason to go back to work and enough to give the coaches plenty of fodder to get the players back to work. Louisiana Tech won’t be quite as big of a challenge but it’s good that they’re on the schedule. Tennessee is in town in town weeks, and that’s when it really counts.