While much of the focus surrounding defending national champion Florida in its opener last week centered on new starting quarterback Tim Tebow, the Gators’ defense didn’t live up to coach Urban Meyer’s standards - despite not allowing a touchdown.
The fourth-ranked Gators look to iron out some of those defensive problems Saturday when they host Troy in their final tuneup before the start of SEC play.
Florida cruised to a 49-3 win over Western Kentucky last week in a game that was called with 8:23 left in the fourth quarter because of lightning. Tebow, a highly touted recruit out of Jacksonville two years ago, completed 13 of 17 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score in his first game as four-year starter Chris Leak’s replacement.
“Overall, very impressed with the way he threw the ball,” Meyer said.
The coach wasn’t as impressed with his defense, which has nine new starters. The Gators allowed the Hilltoppers to gain 62 yards on their opening drive, but yielded just 142 the rest of the game.
“Guys were really anxious to get out there and play and show what they had,” safety Tony Joiner said. “They needed to relax, and they did that after the first drive.”
Meyer may make some changes on defense for Florida, which has won eight straight overall and 16 in a row at home.
He’d prefer to insert cornerback Markihe Anderson into the lineup after the sophomore missed the opener due to a sprained MCL in his right knee. Anderson may be available Saturday and his return would come at a good time since Troy features reigning Sun Belt Conference player of the year Omar Haugabook, who threw for more than 2,400 yards last season.
“Obviously, we’re at the mercy of healing,” Meyer said. “We’d love to get him ready because they’re going to come in here and throw that thing all over the field.”
Anderson would likely replace Wondy Pierre-Louis, who made his first career start and was cited by Meyer for poor play. Free safety Kyle Jackson and defensive tackles Javier Estopinan and Clint McMillan also did not play well, according to the coach.
The secondary and defensive line should receive a boost since defensive back Jacques Rickerson and defensive end Lawrence Marsh are expected to make their Florida debuts after serving one-game suspensions for violating team rules.
Marsh is a 6-foot-5, 273-pound redshirt freshman who excelled in spring practice and may see action at tackle.
“I think Lawrence Marsh certainly has the body type,” Meyer said. “He’s not played football here at Florida yet. He’s got to learn to keep it on a 10 at all times. We’re going to find that out this week because we could use Lawrence.”
The matchup with the Trojans should be tougher than facing the Hilltoppers, who are making the transition from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) to the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A).
Troy went 8-5 last season, beat Rice in the New Orleans Bowl and will be facing a ranked opponent for a second consecutive week for the first time in school history. The Trojans trailed by just six points at halftime before suffering a 46-26 loss at then-No. 21 Arkansas last weekend.
It was a rough opener for Haugabook, who went 15-of-43 for 204 yards, one touchdown and one interception before getting hurt in the fourth quarter when his throwing hand hit an Arkansas helmet. The injury, however, isn’t serious.
“I felt like I broke my hand,” he said. “I didn’t hear a snap, but I was a little scared because I am not used to being injured. If I was needed to come back into the game, I would have been right back in it.”
Troy has 29 players from Florida, more than any other FBS team outside the state except for Army, which has 30.
Florida, which meets No. 24 Tennessee in its SEC opener next week, has never played Troy.