After a day of eyebrow-raising scores and reports, the Florida Gators poured onto the turf at the Swamp on Saturday night fully expecting to return a sense of normalcy to what might be described as one of college football’s most bizarre opening weekends.
By kickoff time in Gainesville, college football fans had already heard of Iowa escaping with their lives (twice!) against Northern Iowa, Syracuse taking Minnesota into OT, Navy’s botched two-pointer against Ohio State, and UMass almost putting it to Kansas State.
Yes, the stars certainly seemed in alignment for scares and upsets Saturday—but Charleston Southern was on the menu at the Swamp and all the tarot-card readers and 1-800 psychics couldn’t have willed anything other than a Gator victory.
And what a big victory it was: 62-3.
But what can you learn from a season opener like this? More importantly, what didn’t we learn? No disrespect intended to Charleston Southern, but a traditional game analysis of Florida’s blowout over the Bucs would tell us little beyond the obvious.
But there was something interesting to learn from this matchup and a “reading between the lines” approach to reviewing the game shows Urban Meyer is a very patient, cunning, and mischievous head coach.
The first thing we learned is the 2009 version of Urban Meyer’s spread option is alive and well. What was surprising was how quickly Rainey and Demps began their quest for top honors in the backfield next to Tebow. Is this a case of intra-squad competition by design? Perhaps, since nothing could please the Gator coaching staff—and the Gator Nation—more that to see these two cut, slash, and burn defenses in an attempt to one-up each other.
Everybody wearing Blue and Orange wins in that type of contest and the second round begins against Troy.
The offensive play and audible relay systems, an area of preseason concern due to coaching changes, did stumble on occasion and add to the penalty yardage totals but didn’t appear to be suffering beyond repair. However, the real test of this process will come when the Gators take to the road and visit Kentucky in Lexington later this month.
We also learned that Urban Meyer—as well as the entire offensive coaching staff—was very eager to allow Tim Tebow an opportunity to practice his revised passing motion. Tebow’s subtle yet noticeable incorporation of a sweep arm release looked a little mechanical, but produced several very impressive long balls and timing dumps.
He also looked very, very comfortable. It was hard to determine if the Bucs defense could translate Tebow’s motion into a jump on a receiver routes, but we will know more when the speedier defensive backs of Troy come to town.
Brandon James, the Gator special teams “uber-athelete” finally broke a kickoff return, flag free, for a touchdown. This overshadowed a less-than-spectacular start to his role as a potential member of the offensive backfield speed rotation. This is actually good news since the Gators will now benefit from Brandon—now identified as an actual human being—working and practicing even harder to perfect his offensive backfield game.
The Florida offensive line and wideouts performed well but didn’t show anything beyond what was needed to win the game. The line, quick and fluid, looked aggressive and competent when executing vanilla blocking schemes. The receiver corps, hungry and arrogant, shook off the rust and began to soften their hands.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that Meyer and his staff are keeping a lot hidden under the rug, especially since the line already has one guard questionable for next week’s game and the playbook has hardly been touched. Look for fireworks come the LSU game!
Finally, John Brantley looked like...what Meyer wanted us to see John Brantley look like. Brantley performed a perfectly scripted backup game plan that included snaps with both offensive fronts and a variety of backs and receivers.
However, in light of the loss of Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford to a shoulder sprain, it reminds every coach that movement in the quarterback depth chart is only one play away. It’s a stretch, but expect to see Brantley on a looser leash come the fourth quarter against Troy.
Defensively, the Gators flexed more muscle than they needed to, but perhaps it was done on purpose. Charlie Strong looked as if Urban Meyer was giving him carte blanche to make as strong an impression as possible. This is not to say everything was shown—that's certainly not the case.
But Florida had to make a very strong statement that the same defense responsible for smotherinig Oklahoma was back and even better than last year.
Gator fans will have to wait at least one more week to see if the rumors of making under-center plays and new formations a cornerstone of the offense are true. But if Meyer is true to his nature, the most exciting—and damaging—components of any new schemes will be reserved for SEC opponents.
Against Charleston Southern, Urban Meyer showed only what he wanted to. If we learned anything on Saturday from the Gators, it’s there is a time and a place for everything.