Idaho provides perfect opener for Florida

Florida takes on Idaho Saturday in the season opener. It’s a game that should provide an ideal opportunity for the Gators to get started on the offensive side of the ball.

We’ll start with the Idaho defense. The Florida offense, under first-year coordinator Kurt Roper, desperately needs to get off on the right foot and should have that opportunity against Idaho.

There’s no nice way to put it. The Vandals were atrocious on defense in 2013. On top of finishing the season 1-11, Idaho hit its low point on November 23 in Tallahassee by giving up 80 points to Florida State. The Vandals finished last in the country in scoring defense, allowing 46.8 points per game.

Idaho gave up 40+ points in nine of its 12 games last season. The Vandals allowed 50+ points four times and 60+ points twice. They allowed an average of 529.4 yards per game last season. Idaho’s opponents threw for 315.8 yards and ran for 213.6 yards per game while scoring 32 touchdowns on the ground and 40 touchdowns through the air.

The Vandals were outscored 561-218 on the season, making their average game score a 46.8-18.2 defeat. Their opponents averaged 5.5 yards per rush and 12.5 yards per catch. The defense had just 23 sacks and forced 19 turnovers. Over the entire season, Idaho scored 27 touchdowns and gave up 76.

There is no statistic that makes the Idaho defense look good. Frankly, there isn’t one that makes it look average.

Three of the team’s top four tacklers from last season are returning -- linebacker Marc Millan (91 tackles), safety Bradley Njoku (89 tackles) and defensive end Maxx Forde (63 tackles).

The most disruptive returning defensive player on Idaho is defensive lineman Quayshawne Buckley. He recorded seven sacks and 16 tackles for a loss last season, adding one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble. He made 46 tackles on the season, good for ninth best on the team.

There are six returning starters on the Idaho defense.

The Idaho offense was better than the defense last season, but it still struggled mightily. It averaged 18.2 points per game, which was good for 115th in the country. The offense returns seven starters this season, and four of those are on the offensive line.

Chad Chalich started at quarterback for the first seven games last season before going down with an injury that cost him the remainder of the year. He’s now in a battle with redshirt freshman Matt Linehan, the son of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Idaho coach Paul Petrino hasn’t ruled out the chance of playing both of them on Saturday.

Dezmon Epps was set to return as the team’s leading receiver with 980 yards and four touchdowns last season, but he was dismissed from the team for violating team rules in the offseason. The team’s leading receiver that returns is now Deon Watson, who had 279 receiving yards and one touchdown last season.

Leading rusher James Baker (593 yards, six touchdowns) is no longer on the team. Jerrel Brown (216 yards) and Richard Montgomery (196 yards, two touchdowns) will dominate the team’s carries in 2014.

The toughest thing on paper for this offense is that they lost their best playmakers at running back and wide receiver from last season. Epps and Baker posted those numbers on an offense that was otherwise anemic.

The numbers from last year were so bad that it’s tough to imagine things will get worse for Idaho this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Even if that defensive improvement does come, this is the perfect opponent for the Florida offense to open the season against.

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