Perhaps no unit provided a surge in hustle more than the Florida defensive line. The Gators defensive front didn't take plays off. They were very active in both run defense and getting pressure on Wyoming quarterback Corey Bramlett. That in itself is as big a victory, and provides hope for big games down the road.
The Gators also demonstrated a large measure of discipline. For the first time since probably the ‘70's, Florida escaped a game with fewer than five penalties. Holy Suntan Lotion Batman, the Gators finished with four penalties for 30 yards. That seemingly demonstrates a tremendous amount of discipline.
Individually or as a unit, I noted the Top Five things that I found impressive or equally unimpressive besides the hustle and discipline.
- Defensive Line Play - The move proved to be a success. Ray McDonald and Steven Harris switch positions and the move paid big dividends tonight. McDonald hustled from his defensive end position all night long, something that he didn't do last year. The Belle Glade native tallied two tackles for loss and a sack in his first outing. Harris, Marcus Thomas, and Clint McMillan disrupted the Wyoming running attack and helped get a strong push. These guys didn't slow down, and they didn't take plays off.
Behind an experienced offensive line, the Cowboys carried the ball 27 times for 72 yards (2.7 yards per carry). Jovon Bouknight had 31 yards on a 4th and 10 Florida meltdown with just over seven minutes left in the game. The Cowboys averaged 129.3 yards per game in 2004. Furthermore, the defense sacked quarterback Corey Bramlett three times.
I was also impressed with the play of Jeremy Mincey and Joe Cohen, who were all over the place as well. Mincey recorded one-half tackle for loss, one fumble recovery, one pass broken up, and a quarterback hurry. Cohen (with Ray Mac) wrestled J.R. Moore down for a three yard loss at the Florida one.
- Receivers - What more can be said about Chad Jackson. We described his playmaking ability as he schooled Vernell Brown, Dee Webb, Reggie Nelson, and Reggie Lewis in man-on-man drills, especially in the red zone. Jackson proved just as elusive against the Cowboys hauling in 10 passes for 138 yards, one carry for five yards, and four touchdowns. He did a little of it all tonight; One handed grabs, great moves to get separation from the defensive back, running after the play, and blocking. He made a definite impression on the Biletnikoff committee.
I wrote a column earlier this summer trying to decipher Florida's potential for a dual receiving threat -- "Specifically speaking, there is one statistic that the members of this group could potentially rewrite. That statistic is the same game 100-yard receiving performances. The Florida record (in a season) is five games in which two or more receivers went over 100 yards, set in 2001 with Rex Grossman at quarterback. During that season, Jabar Gaffney, Reche Caldwell, and Taylor Jacobs all had 100 yards in games against SEC rivals Mississippi State, LSU, Auburn, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee."
The obvious almost became evident tonight, as Jackson (143) easily eclipsed the century mark and Caldwell (99) missed it by a yard according the official release. An unofficial release had Caldwell with an even 100 yards. Add Dallas Baker and Jemalle Cornelius with an experienced offensive line in front of Leak and two of these guys should hit the century plateau each week.
Caldwell was very good in practice last month too. I would hesitate to say that he was as polished as Jackson, especially early on in August drills. But, Caldwell definitely came up big tonight. He (And Jackson) are two of the top guys on the Florida squad, SEC, and in the country.
Dallas Baker caught five passes for 44 yards. Jemalle Cornelius caught one pass for 19 yards. They'll certainly have better days in this offense.
- Blocking - This was not a performance a largely experienced Florida offensive would care to duplicate. There were several breakdowns that the Wyoming coaches exposed, particularly with defensive ends Aaron Robbins and John Flora stunting for the Cowboys.
I'm sure that when the coaches review the film, some things won't look as bad, while some others certainly will. That's usually how it works out. There were some mental breakdowns running a new system full speed against an opponent, a quality opponent.
It is a blessing that these breakdowns occurred before the Tennessee game in two weeks, because the Gators will need to work out these problems next week against Louisiana Tech. The Gators have a lot of work to do before they take on the Rocky Toppers.
- Third Down Conversions - The Gators finished 4 of 12 on third down conversions. This is usually largely due to the Gators inability to run the football effectively. However, there were several breakdowns in pass protection. In the first quarter, Florida had a third and one in which true freshman Kestahn Moore lost a yard on the play. One series later, Leak was sacked for a six yard loss on a third and six.
Leak was also sacked in the fourth quarter on a third and 27 and one series later would have to scramble out of the pocket to pick up eight yards on a third and seven. You have to convert on third down and pass protection.
- (Tie) Coverage and Chris Hetland - We've spent the greater part of August telling you about the much improved Florida secondary Cornerback Dee Webb broke up two passes and should've taken one for a pick. Vernell Brown did just that, picking off Bramlett in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys threw to his side repeatedly, and Brown was always in the picture. He broke up a pass early in the game.
Reggie Nelson, Kyle Jackson, Jarvis Herring, Reggie Lewis, Avery Atkins, and Nick Brooks were also solid. The Gators held Bramlett and the Cowboys to 150 passing. The Cowboys return All-American wide receiver candidate Jovon Bouknight and two other players who saw extensive action at wide receiver. Wyoming averaged 240.3 yards per game passing in 2004.
Junior Chris Hetland was very good. The Lee County, Georgia native was a perfect two-for-two, booting field goals of 40 and 47 yards after the Gators missed on two of their third down conversions.
Special teams are an underrated part of the game. Big field goals seemingly always come into play when playing the likes of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida State. A big one against Auburn helped former Florida great Steve Spurrier win the Heisman Trophy.
Missed PAT's won't be tolerated in Meyer's system. After review, you can bet the coaches will address this immediately.