This was the day that Meyer had been building toward since officially taking the job at Florida back in December. After nine months of handling all the duties that are a necessary part of the job, the Florida football coach finally got to do what he was hired to do, which was win a football game. He also got a chance to institute some new traditions to go with the old traditions such as singing "We Are the Boys."
One of the new traditions was the Gator Walk before the game when Florida's coaches and players found themselves walking through a sea of Orange and Blue from University Avenue to Gate Eight two hours before the game.
"I thought that was big time," said Meyer. "They stopped us when we were on the way to do the Gator Walk and said there were just thousands and thousands of people along the way."
There was the tunnel of former players who welcomed the Gators onto the field for game one, too. That was made even more special by one of the former Gators holding up jersey number 33. That one belonged to Tommy Durrance. Durrance was watching from his sky box in heaven.
Coach Meyer in his first game at The Swamp - AP PHOTO
There was the post-game celebration where the players ran to the northeast corner of the field and sang the alma mater followed by the fight song.
"Awesome, this is just awesome," said Shelley Meyer after handing out high gives and hugs to players as the fight song concluded. "I knew it was going to be great but this is beyond all expectations."
And then there was one more new tradition. In the locker room after the game, one of the players was required to stand and sing the fight song to the entire team. Brandon Siler got the honors.
"He was horrible," said Bubba Caldwell. "He can't sing a lick."
"It's not like he was trying out for American Idol or nothing like that," said defensive end Ray McDonald.
"Bubba said I can't sing?" Siler asked in astonishment. "I'm a real good singer."
Siler's ability to sing may be debatable. What is not debatable is that the Florida defense outperformed the offense. The Gators allowed Wyoming only 222 yards and both of the Cowboys touchdowns were made possible by special teams breakdowns. A 66-yard kickoff return by Jovon Bouknight set up the first Wyoming score and the second was made possible when Bouknight took the snap on a fake punt for 31 yards on a fourth down, a play that Meyer took the blame for personally in his post-game comments. Meyer acknowledged that he should have been aware of the fake punt since he saw it in the Mountain West Conference the past two years.
The tone for the defense was set by the defensive line and by corner Vernell Brown. The defensive line made its presence felt early and often, pressuring Wyoming quarterback Corey Bramlett the entire evening. Bramlett, considered the best quarterback in the Mountain West Conference, completed 14 of 32 passes for 150 yards but he was picked off by Brown and sacked three times. Bramlett kept trying to pick on Brown, the 5-8,165-pound senior corner from Gainesville High. Brown helped blanket Bouknight, who came into this season with more than 2,500 receiving yards in his career. Bouknight caught five passes but for only 54 yards.
Chris Leak tries to elude on the rush (AP PHOTO)
"Vernell proved he's an SEC corner," said Meyer. "He was outstanding."
It was on Wyoming's third possession of the game that the Florida defense began to dominate. On consecutive plays, the Gators sacked Bramlett twice. The first was a nine-yard loss thanks to Ray McDonald, who blew by Wyoming tackle Chase Johnson like he wasn't there. On the next play, Steven Harris and Jeremy Mincey combined to bring down Bramlett for a two-yard sack.
For the remainder of the game, Bramlett was on his heels.
"They're big, fast and physical up front," said Bramlett. "That's definitely one of the best units we'll play against all season. They brought a lot of looks that confused us."
The defense got the job done in dominating fashion, but the offense sputtered. There were moments of near perfection with the passing game but the moments of excellence were tempered by a lack of consistency in the running game. Florida produced 411 total yards but 320 of those yards came through the air. The Gators had 176 yards rushing but the net was only 91 due to 85 yards lost due to sacks and two bad snap fumbles.
"If you're wondering what the offense should look like, that wasn't it," said Meyer. "We have got a lot of work to do tomorrow. Chris Leak and this offense has a long way to go."
The offense got four touchdowns and two field goals but there were points left on the field in part because the Gators couldn't get any kind of consistent running game going. The offensive line missed assignments in the running game and there were some breakdowns in pass protection. Wyoming sacked Leak four times.
When Leak did have time to throw he was laser like. He completed 26 of his 34 attempts for three touchdowns to Chad Jackson including a stretch of 17 completions in a row. However, when the Gators needed to pound the ball, the offensive line didn't deliver. It was that kind of inconsistency that threw the numbers way out of proportion.
"We had no balance in this game," said Meyer. "There was no inside running game. We score on passing and that tells me we don't have balance right now. If we're going to win games we have to be balanced with a running and a passing game. I would rather pass for 250 and run for 250."
The Gators did get one running touchdown from Jackson, who scored from five yards out on his only carry midway through the fourth quarter. Jackson turned in the kind of day that gets NFL scouts thinking first round draft choice. He had 10 catches for 139 yards and three touchdowns, one of which was a spectacular one-hander in the southeast end zone near the end of the first quarter.
Jackson was spectacular and so was Bubba Caldwell, who had seven catches for 99 yards, 20 rushing yards on three carries and a 47-yard kickoff return.
But for every spectacular play, there was a glaring inconsistency so the final offensive numbers skewer the fact that Florida probably could have and should have scored more often. Still, for a first game in a brand new system, this wasn't a bad effort at all.
Meyer knows there is work to be done before next week's game with Louisiana Tech, but he wasn't about to let what could have been on this night outshine the fact that the players got a win, which is the initial and most important objective.
He put it all in perspective when he said, "One thing you'll find from all the coaches is what really matters is going into that locker room and singing the fight song with your team, hugging them and telling them ‘job well done.' It's a great feeling to be able to say ‘congratulations, you're 1-0.' "