Sometimes a snoozer isn't such a bad thing

As first games go, consider Saturday's season opener against Eastern Michigan a success. The Florida Gators accomplished all that was important. They won. They played a lot of players. They didn't have any significant injuries.

Now, if you're looking to break down the film and issue grades, the Gators 49-10 win wasn't a thing of beauty. In fact, it was downright boring and methodical. If this game had been a beauty contest, the Gators would have been lucky to come away with Miss Congeniality. This was a day when simply having a great personality was good enough. Beauty wasn't the important issue and that translates this way: It was game one, and not only game one, but a season opener delayed by a week because of a hurricane that severely affected family and friends of so many players and a game that was halted in the first half for more than 45 minutes for a weather delay because of lightning strikes in the area.

So, if you're trying to make heads and tails of this Gators win, just remember it was game one and you should never read too much or too little into game ones, particularly if the opponent is of the caliber of Eastern Michigan.

Oh sure, Eastern Michigan struck first with a long drive that ate up nearly half the first quarter and they shocked the unaware Gators with a nifty onside kick to get the ball right back after taking that 3-0 lead. And let us not forget that by halftime the Eagles had 10 points and had thrown for 190 yards.

Those kinds of things happen in season openers, particularly against opponents whose first year coaches convince their kids that they can be Rocky, even if for only a quarter or so. The first half had its brutal moments but the outcome was never a question. That the Gators would win was never doubt in any but the most anxiety ridden minds. The only relevant question in most minds was would the Gators score enough to cover the spread? A 28-10 halftime lead had most friendly wagerers thinking the 37 and a half needed to cover was within the grasp.

The Gators tossed in three cruise control touchdowns in the third quarter, eliciting a collective sigh for all those who had a fin or more on the Gators covering. When the final point was tacked on by Matt Leach the gamblers were the last of the official inflated crowd count of 90,009 (at least 5-8,000 of those came cleverly disguised as empty seats) to celebrate.

There were some good plays such as a spectacular 27-yard catch of a Chris Leak pass by Dallas Baker and an equally sensational leaping 39-yard grab of another Leak pass by Chad Jackson who also showed some jets on a 47-yard kickoff return. Ciatrick Fason dipped, ducked then broke for open field on his way to a 44-yard run that was the highlight reel of the ground game. Billy Latsko, the former walkon who got his scholarship the old fashioned way — he earned it — even got a touchdown on a quick little pass from Leak and later he would catch another pass from Gavin Dickey. Randy Hand would turn in a superb blocking performance at right tackle. Channing Crowder played a dominating middle linebacker and even the smallest guy on the field, corner Vernell Brown, all 5-8, 155 pounds of him, body slammed an EMU wideout.

But it was boring. It really was.

Leak completed 64% of his passes and threw for a career high three touchdown passes in the game but he wasn't particularly sharp, simply quite methodical and efficient. He didn't throw any interceptions or make any major blunders, but he didn't have that razor edge that most came to see. He missed some open receivers and even threw away a ball to the sideline when both Fason and OJ Small were doing their impressions of Maytag repairmen. They were so wide open on opposite sidelines of the field that they had to feel like the two loneliest guys in the stadium. Leak chose to heave it about 25 feet over Fason's head, a throw he will relive in his mind at least 75 times tonight.

Fason got 104 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns, but other than the one electrifying run of 44 yards, it was a rather pedestrian performance. He burst through holes, got his yards and also gave up a few such as a seven yard loss on an ill-advised reversal of field.

Small had a career high 99 yards on six catches including a 36-yarder, another Maytag job. He also had a touchdown in the back of the end zone. But he also dropped an easy 18-yard pass over the middle that would have gained at least that many yards after the catch.

After Baker made the tough catch in traffic over the middle as well as a nice touchdown grap in the corner of the north end zone, he let an easy one go through the wickets, too.

The offensive line played well, but it really didn't pound anyone into submission. For the most part, everyone did their job. Hand had some spectacular blocks, Lance Butler hustled to lead some sweeps and Mike Degory toyed with the nose tackle. Jon Colon and Steve Rissler were workmanlike. All that equated to the running backs getting 159 yards, and allowed Leak and Dickey to exit the game with fairly clean uniforms. Leak was sacked only once and hurried only a few times. Dickey was in there to keep the clock rolling, but it was evident by a couple of his throws that he could have walked away with some decent stats if he had been cut loose.

On the defensive side of the ball, there were at least four dropped balls in the secondary that could have been interceptions, two by Dee Webb, who also mistimed a jump that allowed EMU's Eric Desalauriers to make a catch that was good for a 44-yard gain.

Crowder recovered a fumble and had 10 tackles, but none of his hits brought the crowd to its feet. Jeremy Mincey leaped high to bat down a pass at the line of scrimmage but didn't record a sack.

The secondary held the Eagles to only 11 passing yards in the second half and only 18 completions in 40 passes for the entire game, but awe-inspiring it wasn't. Eastern's lefty quarterback Ken Bohnet had plenty of time to throw most of the day, but a lack of accuracy kept anyone from drawing comparisons to a young Kenny Stabler.

Even punter Eric Wilbur's three punts which averaged 42 yards were high, lazy spirals (I've waited all my life to use that phrase which Otis Boggs used to use so frequently to describe punts) that looked really nice but didn't inspire anyone to call him Thunder Foot. They just got the job done.

It was boring. That's the only way to describe it. It was relatively unexciting and far too workmanlike. In other words, boring.

Sometimes, however, boring isn't such a bad thing. This was one of those times.

For all the lack of spectacular plays and sharp, eye-catching performances, the goal for the day was get in, get out, get a win, get a bunch of players in the game and get away without a single significant injury. Mission accomplished.

The Gators did enough good things to earn some praise from Coach Ron Zook and staff, and they did enough bad things to probably earn a lecture or two from the head coach. The staff will probably have to do a bit more teaching this week than what could have been expected 10 days ago when Hurricane Frances postponed the scheduled season opener with Middle Tennessee State. But, even that might not be a bad thing. Because of the mistakes and the effort that will be required to correct them, Zook will be able to get his team's undivided focus because of the impending threat of facing a team that's light years better than Eastern Michigan.

Had the Gators blown out the politically correct Eagles (they used to be known as the Hurons, remember James Fenimore Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans"?) with a truly dominating performance filled with spectacular offense and smothering defense, Zook might have had to spend the next two or three days bringing his young but ever so talented team's feet back down to earth. He won't have to face that task because the Gators simply did a fairly lunch bucket yawner of a win.

It really was a snoozer. It's hard to imagine that a team could score 49 points so methodically and shut down the opponent so efficiently in the second half that it could have put to sleep what was left of the crowd after the lightning delay. This performance worthy of a narcolepsy study at Shands may prove to be the best thing that could have happened to this team, however, if Zook can get them focused quickly, correct the mistakes and then gradually build the kind of momentum for the performance it will take to win at Tennessee.


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