Gators Settle Down After Shaky Start

Minutes after kickoff Saturday, it all looked the same. The offense was struggling for continuity and flow while the defense looked even worse. After USF quarterback B.J. Daniels led a 96-yard touchdown drive to give the Bulls an early lead, a sense of panic spread through the stands of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. However, it didn't make it to the Florida sideline.

"I really wasn't thinking déjà vu," Florida head coach Urban Meyer said after the team sputtered out of the gates in the season opener.

USF started the game by "blitzing their tails off" on defense. The Florida offense line seemed overwhelmed and surprised at different packages, while Meyer said they weren't prepared for all the blitzes the Bulls showed.

"The first drive, that was bad," Meyer said. "The crowd was on our side, but that tells you they've got a veteran quarterback. They made some plays. It was mostly him running and scrambling. I really think their quarterback is a superstar."

The Bulls had five third-down conversions in their opening drive. They ended the game 5-12 on third-down conversions.

Once Florida slowed the game down and got comfortable, the defense improved and kept Daniels in check.

The offensive line also got more comfortable, and the Gators ran for 251 yards.

"We obviously played a better defensive front than last week," Meyer said. "It wasn't a mismatch. They were bringing it from everywhere. They ran a plus-one blitz that we weren't ready before because they didn't show a lot of that.

"Early in the game, I felt that we were getting stymied at the line of scrimmage, but it was because they were blitzing from everywhere. We settled it down, and found formations where they weren't pressuring much, and then the offensive line took over. Our offensive line won that game for us."

PLAYERS OUT: Meyer wouldn't specify on Chris Rainey's injury, but he did say Rainey should be fine for next weekend's game at Tennessee. Jeremy Brown suffered from a full body cramp that took him out of the game.

Will Hill, Frankie Hammond, Dee Finley and Dominique Easley didn't play, as Meyer said all four "weren't ready to play." Meyer said earlier in the week that Hill was expected to be back, and the Gators now head to Knoxville expecting their free safety to play his first game of the season.

"I'm always concerned if a guy hasn't played," Meyer said. "But I also saw what I saw during training camp and that new commitment. We'll see next week. If he has a great week of practice and does everything right, I think he's one of the better safeties in the country."

FRESHMEN IMPRESSING: Jeremy Brown's injury forced three freshmen into the game at cornerback. Cody Riggs, Joshua Shaw and Jaylen Watkins split time as the second cornerback.

The Gators also had plenty of freshmen going on special teams, estimating six or seven newcomers on kickoff coverage.

"That freshman class is starting to come on, even the guys you don't see much of like Neiron Ball," Meyer said. "Cody Riggs and Josh Shaw started on kickoff for the first time."

Robert Clark got reps as the slot receiver and made his impact felt on kickoff coverage.

"Robert Clark did a heck of a job. He pierced one (kickoff). Those are all really good players, and they have to be. We're starting to find some of them."

Sharrif Floyd collapsed the pocket at defensive tackle, and even got Meyer excited on the sideline with his enthusiasm.

"I love when Sharrif gets up," Meyer said. "He plays with enthusiasm. He fires that Gator Chomp, and I love when he gets warned by the official. That got me fired up."

OFFENSIVE IDENTITY: The Gators got closer to finding out the offense they have in the second half. After stumbling to seven points in the first half, Florida answered with a 21-point third quarter.

"You saw some play action and handing the ball off to some pretty good backs with an offensive line trying to control," Meyer said. "That's kind of what I think we are, but I still don't know. I think we're still searching. That's what we want to be."

The offensive changes are different for the Florida staff. They have run an offense for years under quarterback Tim Tebow that would never have been confused for pro style. Saturday they added the draw play and more play action passes to switch up the looks.

"It's different because we haven't played that style in a while," Meyer said. "It might not be as exciting as running the stuff here, but it's also very effective. It lets you control the ball at the end of the game like that."

Florida also didn't want the offense to be predictable. Last weekend there was a steady pattern to the Florida offense.

"We were very high percentage last week on run on first down, then pass on second down or third down," Meyer said. "With this, we tried to switch that and throw a lot more on first down. We also mixed in some run on third down."

The key adjustment for the second half came in Jeff Demps. He had four touches for 34 yards in the first half. The Florida staff made an effort to get him more involved in the second half, as he ended with 160 total yards and a touchdown on 12 touches.

"We did a nice job with adjustments," Meyer said. "We went to formations they had well defended in the first half. One is that basic formation with a fullback in the backfield, so we started to go more trips. Jeff Demps is a guy you want to have the ball."

DEFENSIVE SECONDARY: The Florida secondary has tallied eight interceptions in the first two games this season. While they still search for a consistent pass rush, the play of the secondary has caught the head coach's eye.

"It always is," Meyer said. "If we don't have those, that's not the way we win a lot of games around here. Our defense has to do that."

Janoris Jenkins has two of the interceptions, also recording a sack and four pass breakups this season.

"If there's a better corner right now than the guy we've got… I think he's as good as of a corner as there is in the country," Meyer said.

MOVING ON: Meyer saw after the game how important the win over USF was to his team. He also saw some maturity, as they realized what is at stake next weekend in Knoxville.

"I saw the sideline and I saw the locker room," Meyer said. "There were tears in a couple eyes in there because they wanted to win this one so bad.

"It was a little emotional because they realize it's SEC time."
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