Saturday, August 30, 2008

Florida 56, Hawaii 10

Impressions from opening day:

1. Jeff Demps is fast.
2. Chris Rainey is fast.
3. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey need to read the playbook a little closer.
4. Brandon James is a special teams God.

Those four points pretty much define my beloved alma mater's opener against over-matched Hawaii. Tim Tebow didn't put up Heisman Trophy numbers; nine of 14 for 137 yards passing with one touchdown. He did not score a rushing touchdown, which broke a string of 14 straight games with both a running and throwing touchdown. He didn't have a terribly effective passing day, notwithstanding those numbers. Florida's pass protection was surprisingly mediocre, and Tebow spent much of the game scrambling out of the pocket and throwing on the run.

UF's leading receiver was Louis Murphy, and he only caught two passes for 51 yards. (And a touchdown) Freshman Deonte Thompson let a long touchdown pass slip through his hands.

But as mentioned above, it was UF's three shortest players who ruled the day. James' returned a punt for a touchdown in the second quarter, and it was electrifying. He had to wait on a punt that rolled and tumbled along the ground. Once he scooped it up, he streaked through the Hawaii punt coverage unit, made several nifty cuts and broke a few tackles. It was his third career punt return for a touchdown, one shy of the school record. (Held by Jacquez Green)

Demps and Rainey, meanwhile, flashed extraordinary speed. Demps carried the ball just twice but gained 76 yards and scored a touchdown on a 62-yard run that included a couple broken tackles and a Hawaii cornerback left wondering how Demps blew past him despite the great angle he had. Rainey carried six times for 58 yards and a touchdown and most of those runs came between the tackles. The Gators put up 255 rushing yards, which is a total you'll take most days.

Both players screwed up a couple assignments, including teaming up for a roughing the punter penalty that so infuriated Urban Meyer he nearly slapped Demps. Rainey botched an option play and left Tebow to tote the ball instead.

Perhaps most interesting was the lack of carries for Emmanuel Moody, who sprained his ankle early in the game. Kestahn Moore is supposed to be the starter, but while he carried the ball seven times none of those rushes came when the game was close. Tight end Aaron Hernandez evidently sat out the game, as did Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes. Things get tougher next week when Miami comes to town, and it would be nice to get Moody, Hernandez, Spikes and Harvin healthy.

The defense played awfully well, though it was facing a Hawaii offense that was gutted of most of the players that led the Sugar Bowl team last season. The Warriors played three quarterbacks, none of them Colt Brennan, and none of them talented Brennan back-up Tyler Graunke. The Gators intercepted four passes, about half of the total they reeled in last year, which is good. On the other hand, the first interception came on a horrendous overthrow of an open receiver by Hawaii QB Greg Alexander.

I was happiest about Florida's pass rash. The Gators picked up four sacks, and two of them came from defensive tackle Lawrence Marsh. UF simply could not push the pocket last season, so it was encouraging to see a defensive tackle get in the backfield. Jermaine Cunningham chipped in with 1 1/2 sacks and cornerback Joe Haden, who played a fantastic game and can really hit, chipped in another 1/2 sack.

It wasn't a perfect game; the passing attack in particular still needs some work and Florida was penalized 13 times, including several pointless offsides infractions. But while Hawaii isn't a great team this year, they're not untalented, and they're a much better opening opponent than the Western Kentuckys and Charleston Southerns of the world. In that context, a 46-point beatdown is, at the very least, an auspicious beginning.

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