ARMCHAIR QB: Grading The Gators vs. Wyoming

The dawn of the Urban Meyer era got off to a satisfying start before the largest crowd to ever witness a football game, college or pro, in the state of Florida, as the Gators beat the University of Wyoming 32 - 14 on Saturday. The most anticipated game since some guy with a visor coached his first game at Florida, the Gators looked a lot like a team that had not played a regular football game in almost nine months.

Meyer's Gators produced enough glimpses to show their potential, while leaving plenty of room for improvement.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

IMPRESSIVE: The defense in general, the defensive line particularly, and Ray McDonald and Vernell Brown individually. Chad Jackson and Andre Caldwell

SOLID: Defensive backs and linebackers, Chris Leak at quarterback, wide receivers in general.

NEED WORK: Offensive line, running backs, extra point snaps, the kicking game

THE GRADES

DEFENSIVE LINE:
Former defensive tackles Ray McDonald's move to defensive end appears to be a good one. McDonald had a sack and a quarterback pressure to stop one drive. Meanwhile, incumbent defensive end Jeremy Mincey was equally disruptive from the other end position record six tackles, including a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery, a deflected pass, as well as solid pressure on the Wyoming quarterback. Tackles Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris were solid stuffing the middle. Clint McMillan and Derek Harvey provided depth.
GRADE B+

LINEBACKERS:
Brandon Siler picked up where he left off last season. Siler should excel in this years style of defense. Siler recorded 7 tackles, including a sack. Earl Everett was solid at outside linebacker as was Todd McCullough, who was replaced in the Gators nickel and dime defensive packages. Florida rotated linebackers early and often with Brian Crum and converted fullback Billy Lasko seeing plenty of action. Lasko had a very good game as a backup recording 5 tackles. True freshman Jon Demps and Darryl Gresham also got into the action.
GRADE B+

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Vernell Brown proved the coaches must know something by having a monster game from his cornerback position. Brown out shined his more heralded counterpart Dee Webb, by recording 6 tackles including a tackle for loss, a pass interception, and a pass broken up. Brown would have a had a sack early in the game, when he correctly read Wyoming's naked bootleg but could not bring down quarterback Josh Bramlet. Dee Webb was solid at the other corner, breaking up a couple of passes. Starting safeties Kyle Jackson and Jarvis Herring provided solid run support. The Gators must have played about every defensive back on it's roster. Reggie Lewis, Avery Atkins, Reggie Nelson, Terrence Holmes, Terrence McCollum, and Nick Brooks all saw action in the secondary.
GRADE B+

OFFENSIVE LINE: The offensive line had their fair share of problems on Saturday. Tackles Randy Hand, Lance Butler, Guards Drew Miller, Tavares Washington and Center Mike Degory didn't block especially well on pass play allowing 4 sacks while the run blocking left little to be excited about. Usually reliable Degory had two uncharacteristically bad snaps that result in 43 lost yards. Whether is was the scheme employed by Wyoming or poor execution, the Gators had trouble blocking the backside of pass plays, allowing the backside rusher to go virtually untouched to the quarterback. On running plays the Gators allowed too much penetration, which disrupted the play.
GRADE C-

RECEIVERS: It looks as though the preseason hype of Chad Jackson is justified. Jackson shined by pulling in 10 passes for 138 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a one handed grab in the third quarter that was Chandleresque. Jackson also had a 5-yard touchdown run. Andre Caldwell just missed a 100-yard receiving night catching 7 balls for 99-yards. Caldwell added another 20-yards on 3 carries. Dallas Baker had a respectable evening catching 5 passes for 44-yards. This appears to be by far the strength of the offense, these guys need to touch the ball every game.
GRADE A

RUNNING BACKS: When you best rusher is the backup quarterback is the leading rusher you know you may have a problem. Skyler Thornton and true freshman Kestahn Moore started and red-shirt freshman Markus Manson all saw action but none distinguished themselves. Thornton led the way with 36-yards on 8 carries. In defense of the running backs it should be noted that they only touched the ball 17 times out 70 plays and two of those were on the underneath pass. This area must improve.
GRADE C

QUARTERBACK: Chris Leak can run this offense that is for certain. Leak completed 26 passes on 34 attempts for 320-yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. Leak under-threw two of his first three passes, the other pass being a completed Utah pass, before reeling of a school record 17 straight completions. While Leak's rushing numbers were not very good, 10 carries for minus 11-yards, four of those rushes were sacks for minus 35 yards. While Leak may not be the runner, true freshman Josh Portis showed he is very capable, carrying the ball 5 times for 45-yards. Portis did not attempt a pass.
GRADE B-

KICKING/SPECIALTY: These guys did some good things and some bad things. Eric Wilbur handled the punting and kickoffs, averaging 44.5-yards on punts. Wilbur had one shanked punt negated by penalty. Meanwhile his kickoff seemed erratic, a couple of his kicks seemed short. Chris Hetland handled the placekicking, connecting on kicks of 40 and 47-yards, looking very solid. The Gators did miss two extra point attempts due to miscues by the long snapper or holder. The Gators also gave up a long kickoff return, which help setup Wyoming's first touchdown and allowed a successful fake punt to set up the Cowboys other score. Otherwise, the Gators looked improved on special teams. Grade C

COACHING: Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen claims to have only about 20 offensive plays and the Gators ran most of them on Saturday night. Unfortunately, it looked like the Gators hadn't played in nine months, which they hadn't, because several plays looked to be open, but the timing was off about a half a count. Still you can't complain about 400-yards of offense and a win. Co-defensive coordinators Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison must be ecstatic after their revamped defense held the Cowboys to just 222-yards of total offense. Florida used an up-tempo aggressive defense to keep Wyoming off balance most of the night. Head coach Urban Meyer had to feel relief after a nine-month buildup to kickoff. Meyer seemed to have his charges ready to play, while not satisfied with the performance overall, he won't quibble with his first victory.
GRADE Offensive C+, Defensive B+, Overall A

FANS: The Gator Nation has been waiting for nine months for this day and they did not disappoint. 90,707 fans packed the stadium to form the largest crowd ever to watch a football game in the state of Florida. After three years the Gator faithful were ready for something different and showed the appreciation by staying loud and strong throughout the contest.
Grade B+

FINAL THOUGHTS

This game looked exactly like what it was, the first game if the season. First game jitters should account for some of the problems. The offense needs to work on it's timing, Dee Webb still needs to work on his catching the football, and Josh Portis needs to learn to hustle after botched snaps. Vernell Brown can play and the defense is going to be pretty good. Special teams need to get better, particularly the center holder exchange. The coaches, the players and the fans all need to knock off some of the rust. Not a bad way to start the season, enough good plays to show the potential and enough bad plays to show that there is still work to be done. Not a bad start, hopefully it will get better from here on out. OVERALL GRADE: C

Randy Platt
The Armchair Quarterback
Later GATORS, after while the rest!


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