September 04, 2010
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Florida 34, Miami (Ohio) 12. First, some context: Miami (Ohio) finished 108th nationally in 2009 in total defense, worse than all but two other teams in the MAC, en route to a 1-11 finish. So even if you weren't among the many observers who sincerely expected the mighty Gator offense to regain some of the ferocity under hyped new quarterback John Brantley that was often lacking last year under hyped old quarterback Tim Tebow, to describe a debut that netted 48 yards total offense through the first three quarters as a "disappointment" would be something of an understatement.
It would be one thing that Brantley's celebrated right arm – allegedly the one clear advantage he brings to the attack over Tebow – failed to challenge the RedHawks downfield at any point. But he and converted guard Mike Pouncey, replacing his NFL-bound brother at center, consistently struggled to execute the shotgun snap. The Gators' first drive ended with a comically off-target effort from Pouncey that sailed past Brantley to set up the first of four Miami field goals, followed by a fumble and a turnover on downs when Emmanuel Moody dropped a toss on 4th-and-1 for a 10-yard loss.
The fumble on the second possession came one play after another 4th-and-1 stop in the Gator backfield, negated by an offsides penalty against Miami that (briefly) extended the drive. After converting a pair of second-quarter RedHawk turnovers into touchdown "drives" covering 21 yards and 2 yards, respectively, the Gators returned in the third quarter to turn the ball over on downs, punt from their own end zone following another botched snap that nearly resulted in a safety and miss a field goal on their first three possessions of the second half. They turned it over again in the fourth quarter, on their fifth fumble of the game, and later committed number six on yet another skipped snap from Pouncey.
The good news, statistically speaking, is that the offense found enough in the fourth quarter to pass the 206-yard effort in a 21-17 loss at LSU in 2005 as the worst offensive performance of the Urban Meyer era, thanks mainly to a 72-yard sprint by Jeff Demps that more than doubled UF's total output over the first three quarters. Mike Gillislee broke a 41-yarder a few minutes later, followed by a fluky 25-yard touchdown grab by Chris Rainey on a fourth-and-long, Hail Mary tip in the end zone to push the final to a respectable margin. But the disgusted look on Meyer's face after Rainey came up with the ball told the story you won't see on the scrolling ticker: In real time, it was anything but respectable.
The other good news is that the defense and special teams delivered as expected with a blocked punt and four interceptions, one returned for a touchdown and another to set up the offense at the RedHawk two. Miami had the ball in the Florida red zone four times, twice courtesy of Gator turnovers, and came with only four field goals. But the really good news is that this didn't turn into some kind of Appalachian State-esque disaster, and there's seven days to figure something out before South Florida's visit next week. With a sample size of one, though, this was probably as bad a start to the post-Tebow era as Florida could have realistically imagined.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.