While Florida’s high-powered offense is one of the best in the nation, coach Urban Meyer has been most impressed with the play of his defense.
After opening the SEC season with a lopsided victory over their archrival, the third-ranked Gators (3-0, 1-0) look to continue rolling Saturday against Mississippi in their first road game of the season.
Led by sophomores Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon James, Florida has gained at least 500 yards in each game and is the second-highest scoring team in the nation, averaging 55.7 points.
The Gators racked up a season-high 554 yards in crushing then-No. 22 Tennessee 59-20 on Saturday, recording the school’s highest point total in a conference game since beating Kentucky 59-31 on Sept. 23, 2000.
“That’s a statement for us in SEC play and it’s going to set the tone for the rest of our games,” safety Tony Joiner said.
Tebow threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two scores against the Volunteers.
“We have to go out there and practice and work on getting better and not just be satisfied with the big win,” Tebow said. “All we’ve done is go 3-0 and beat one SEC team.”
In three games, Tebow has completed 45 of 61 passes (73.8 percent) for eight touchdowns and one interception, and has gained 192 yards on the ground with five rushing TDs.
Harvin led the team with 75 yards rushing and 120 yards receiving against Tennessee, while James, named SEC special teams player of the week Monday, returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown and finished with 203 all-purpose yards.
Meyer, though, sought to look beyond the Gators’ gaudy offensive numbers from Saturday.
“You can talk about Tebow and Percy, but the reason we won that game was because of excellent defense,” said Meyer, whose team moved up two spots in the AP poll.
The defense, which has nine new starters after the team won the national championship last season, gave up 13 points, 37 yards rushing on 21 attempts, forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown against the Vols.
“I’ll be honest, I was a little - I don’t want to say shocked - but I was,” Meyer said about the unit’s performance. “I was awful impressed with the way they played against the run.”
Through three games, the Gators have allowed 138 rushing yards on 79 carries - a 1.7 average.
Mississippi (1-2, 0-1), meanwhile, ran for just 54 yards on 32 attempts - also a 1.7-yard average - in a 31-17 loss to Vanderbilt last week. The Rebels will be facing a Florida team that has won 10 in a row as it arrives in Oxford.
“A lot of guys haven’t played on the road and it will be new for a lot of people,” Tebow said. “We have to really step it up and hopefully keep it going.”
Ole Miss managed just 262 yards of offense and its quarterbacks were sacked six times Saturday in dropping its league opener for the fourth consecutive year.
“I know they don’t feel good about their performance, neither do I, neither did our coaching staff,” Rebels coach Ed Orgeron said. “But we have a lot of football left, and we are going to show improvement and we’re going to get better.”
Senior Brent Schaeffer relieved Seth Adams at quarterback in the fourth quarter against the Commodores after Adams sprained his right shoulder.
Orgeron said Schaeffer, who threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace on his first attempt of the season last week, will “probably” start this game. Schaeffer started all 11 games last season, throwing for 1,442 yards, nine TDs and 10 interceptions, but lost the starting job to Adams in the offseason.
Ole Miss has dropped two of its first three games for the fourth straight year. The Rebels lost their fourth game in each of the last three seasons.
Florida has dropped its last two matchups with Mississippi, but the schools haven’t met since Oct. 4, 2003, when the Rebels beat the then-No. 24 Gators 20-17 in Gainesville.
The Gators are 24-4 under Meyer, who will be facing Ole Miss for the first time.