Getting the win and getting out without any injuries were the two main goals for Coach Urban Meyer and his staff. Kestahn Moore's eye got scratched and he may have a minor concussion, but that's the only player of note with more than a bruise. Moore was among five true freshmen who played as Meyer was able to get 54 players in the game. Meyer probably wishes he could have gotten more minutes for his backups but simply getting them on the field will have positive implications down the road.
The best way to describe game ones is that they are learning labs. They are the first chance for coaches to gauge how far the team has come since practice began in August and for players, it is the first chance to measure their speed and abilities against people they don't face in practice every day.
So consider that Saturday night was a learning lab. This is a coaching staff that prides itself in on the field teaching in practice. Mistakes will be pointed out in the film room but it is on the practice field that they will be corrected. Figure a good portion of the practice time this week will be spent working through the problems of game one.
You can also figure that what we saw Saturday night was pure vanilla. The offense didn't look much different than it did in the spring game and while the defense did a few things it couldn't do in the spring --- such as blitz --- what was seen on the field was fairly basic.
There is much more to both the offense and defense than what was shown Saturday night. While you can expect to see some new wrinkles in the game next Saturday against Louisiana Tech, the basic plans will probably be pure vanilla. Expect Baskin and Robbins the following week against Tennessee.
REVIEWING THE OFFENSE:
The offense showed a lights out passing game and a running game that needs work. The best news about the game was the Gators did not turn the ball over a single time. There were three fumbles (two on bad snaps) but Florida recovered them all.
Chris Leak threw for 320 yards, completing 26 of his 34 passes for three touchdowns. He had a run of 17 straight completions that knocked Steve Spurrier's name out of the record books. He showed arm strength on a 63-yard completion to Bubba Caldwell that traveled more than 70 yards in the air. He showed touch on a thread-the-needle 26-yard touchdown to Chad Jackson and he showed he can spread the ball all over the field. Of his 26 completions, only four were shovel passes and there were just two screens.
Chad Jackson had his greatest game as a Gator. He had 10 pass receptions for 139 yards and three touchdowns and he added a fourth touchdown on a five-yard run in the fourth quarter. Jackson became just the eighth Gator in history to score four touchdowns in one game. Bubba Caldwell had seven catches for 99 yards and he ran the ball three times for 20 yards. Dallas Baker had five catches for 44 yards but he was overthrown twice when he was open on deep routes.
The running game was inconsistent at best. The Gators didn't show much ability to convert in short yardage situations plays were continually stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Skyler Thornton ran hard in the second half and Markus Manson showed a real burst of speed when he came in to play in the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Josh Portis was the Gators' leading rusher with 48 yards. His 23-yard run was a highlight of things to come.
DeShawn Wynn didn't play because of a single-game suspension from something that happened back in February. As the game wore on, it was obvious that Wynn could be the missing link in the running game. He has the combination of size, speed and power that it takes to thrive in the spread option.
The offensive line was sporadic. When the line gave Leak adequate time, he sliced and diced the Wyoming secondary. However, the line let Wyoming get to Leak four times. There were a couple of bad snaps that resulted in 43 yards in losses.
The secondary that was considered an April weak link asserted itself against Wyoming. Florida allowed Wyoming only 150 passing yards on 32 attempts (less than five yards per attempt). The Gators played Wyoming straight up, man-to-man the entire night.
The Cowboys tried to pick on 5-8, 165-pound Vernell Brown, matching him up against Jovon Bouknight seven times. Bouknight came into the game with 173 career catches for 2,510 yards but he only had one catch for 11 yards in seven head to head matchups with Brown. Bouknight caught five passes for 54 yards for the night. Brown had an interception, a pass breakup and six tackles including one for a loss to show for his day of work.
The coverage in the secondary was helped by continual pressure from the defensive line. Florida continually collapsed the Wyoming line to force Corey Bramlett to either get rid of the ball early or throw to a dumpoff receiver. Ray McDonald was a combination of power and speed that Wyoming's veteran right tackle Chase Johnson couldn't handle. Jeremy Mincey commanded a double team most of the night from the left end. Steven Harris and Marcus Thomas were solid in the middle.
Florida spent a good portion of the night in a nickel package so for most of the game there were only two linebackers on the field. Brandon Siler had four solo tackles and three assists to go with a quarterback sack. Billy Latsko got a lot of work as a backup, registering three solo tackles and two assists.
While the defense allowed just 222 total yards, there were far too many missed tackles. The Gators allowed Bramlett to escape the rush too often. The Gators finished with three sacks on the night but they should have had at least twice that. Florida recovered one fumble and had one pass interception, but there were two other interceptions that were dropped.
SPECIAL TEAMS REVIEW:
The special teams sprung Caldwell for a 47-yard kickoff return and Vernell Brown for a 22-yard punt return. Chris Hetland nailed field goals of 40 and 47 yards. Eric Wilbur punted four times for a 44.5 average. Only two of Wilbur's punts were returnable and those two went for a grand total of six yards.
There were two extra point snaps dropped and Wyoming got a 66-yard kickoff return and a 31-yard run on a fake punt. Both the kick return and the fake punt set up the Cowboys' only touchdowns of the night. Meyer took personal responsibility for Wyoming's success on the fake punt.
It was a decent but not spectacular game one. Florida got the win, however, and that was what mattered most. Most coaches say that the greatest improvement they see in a season is made in the weeks after games one and two. Consider game one a learning experience. Expect a more efficient team on both sides of the ball next Saturday against Louisiana Tech.
SUNDAY MORNING CONFERENCE CALL:
Meyer said that Moore saw the field Saturday and will continue to see the field because he is one of the hardest workers on the team. Moore's work ethic in practice is why the 5-10, 205 pound tailback will get playing time.
"He's a great practice player," said Meyer. "The term 'he's a gamer' is not acceptable at Florida. You've got to be a great practice player, too. Kestahn Moore is a name that will be well known in the future."
Meyer said the two missed extra points were not the fault of kicker Chris Hetland or long snapper Jay Smith but the problem was with the hold.
"The ball was dropped, the snaps were fine," said Meyer. "We'll make a change at that position."
Meyer said that he was unhappy with the speed of the offense, noting that part of the reason is that players are still not 100 percent familiar with the new system. He said the speed of the offense should pick up as players gain confidence in what they're doing.
"Football is a reactionary sport," he said. "If you are thinking where you have to go you're not playing very fast."
In evaluating the offensive line, Meyer said that part of Florida's problems Saturday night was because of inexperience at the offensive guard positions. Sophomore Drew Miller started at right guard and senior Tavares Washington started at left guard. Miller saw limited action last year and Washington had 65 career plays coming into the season.
Meyer said the line needs "to get better and I think we played a pretty good team."
Meyer said that he was glad to get true freshman Josh Portis in the game as Leak's backup quarterback. Portis ran for 45 yards on five carries although he did have a problem handling a low snap that led to a 27-yard loss. Meyer said that the staff will be working with Portis on ball security and he hinted at what fans might be seeing in the future.
"There are times when we might play Chris and Josh on the same play," he said.
On the defensive side of the ball, Meyer said he was pleased with what he saw of the defensive line and to expect to see more blitzing in the future. He said that he still believes that Dee Webb is the team's best corner but that Vernell Brown "has earned his way around here."