Tune-ups Are Over; Let The Real Games Begin

The "exhibition" season ended for the Florida Gators Saturday night with a 41-3 win over Louisiana Tech at The Swamp that was an improvement over last week's win over Wyoming, but certainly not the kind of game that heightens expectations for the "real" season that begins next week when Tennessee comes to town.

Florida won by a 38-point final margin but it wasn't the fine tuned, well oiled performance that gives the warm and fuzzies with the mighty Vols looming on the horizon.

In the two tune-ups --- last week's 32-14 win over Wyoming and Saturday night's win over Louisiana Tech --- the Gators have scored 73 points and given up just 17, respectable numbers for sure but not exactly indicative of total domination. Without question, the expectations for games one and two far out-distanced the reality. Fans came into these contests expecting the Gators to march up and down the field in a manner reminiscent of the Spurrier years and even though the Gators have had some bright and shining offensive moments, it's clear that points have been left on the field in both games.

With Tennessee coming to town, owner of a defense that over the course of the season last year proved fairly ferocious, Gator fans would probably have a bit more confidence had the Gators sliced and diced Wyoming and Louisiana Tech. Once again, however, expectation and reality were probably worlds apart. Fans expected Star Wars numbers but what they have gotten are two lunch pail performances, hard working efforts that showed improvement but certainly nothing too showy or spectacular. What is important to remember is (1) the Gators are 2-0; (2) they showed improvement from game one to game two; and (3) they are two games into the season without a single significant injury.

In beating Louisiana Tech the Gators concentrated on working out the kinks in the running game while turning in their second straight solid defensive effort. The running game nearly tripled its game one output. The defense didn't allow a touchdown and though the passing game didn't generate nearly as many big plays as it did in week one against Wyoming, the numbers were very good.

Running back DeShawn Wynn #21 of the University of Florida Gators catches a touchdown pass in the second quarter over safety Bo Cox #5 of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 10, 2005 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

You could view games one and two by the glass half empty/glass half full analogy. The half empty part is points left on the field due to poor execution --- in the running game last week, in the passing game this week --- while the half full part is that the Gators have scored at least one touchdown in every quarter so far and the defense continues to make big plays.

So first, let's look at the positives:

The Gators had increases in points (41 this week, 32 last week), net yardage (475 this week, 411 last week), rushing yardage (251 this week, 91 last week), rushing attempts (49 this week, 36 last week), interceptions (3 this week, 1 last week) and total turnovers created (4 this week, 2 last week).

The Gators allowed fewer points (3 this week, 14 last week), fewer total yards (162 this week, 222 last week), fewer passing yards (117 this week, 150 last week), fewer rushing yards (45 this week, 72 last week), fewer first downs (10 this week, 14 last week) and fewer yards per play (2.8 this week, 3.8 last week).

For the second straight week, the Gators won the time of possession battle. Florida held onto the ball for 33:19 to Louisiana Tech's 26:41. Last week the Gators held the ball for more than 34 minutes.

Safety Kyle Jackson #3 of the University of Florida Gators makes an interception over wide receiver Johnathan Holland #7 of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 10, 2005 in Gainesville, Florida. Florida defeated Louisiana Tech 41-3. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

The negatives were the first turnover of the year, nine penalties for 85 yards after only four for 30 yards last week, missed chances for big plays in the passing game and special teams breakdowns on kickoff coverage for the second straight week.

That single turnover was a Chris Leak fumble as he was trying to escape the pocket in the second quarter. That allowed the Bulldogs to start on the Florida side of the field and it resulted in a field goal.

"Look at all the points scored in 2005 against the defense as a result of the special teams and the offense," said Coach Urban Meyer in his post game press conference. Wyoming got both its touchdowns last week because of errors on the special teams.

The defense played so efficiently that Meyer said that in two games he has "never felt like they're being threatened. At no time today did I feel like we were in trouble on defense and that has to continue." With the 4-1 turnover margin Saturday night, the Gators are 6-1 for the season, the kind of ratio that usually results in victories.

While the offense didn't hit often enough on all cylinders to suit Meyer, it did produce a 2-1 run to pass ratio in plays (49-24) and close to 50-50 in yardage (251 running, 224 passing). That was a better sign to Meyer after last week's Wyoming game in which the Gators threw for 320 yards to only 91 on the ground.

Florida's quarterback Chris Leak, (12) dives over the goal line for a touchdown as Louisiana Tech's Moqut Ruffins,(98) defends in the third quarter in Gainesville, Fla. Saturday, Sept. 10, 2005.(AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

"We call the game to try to keep the offense at 50-50," he said. "Tonight we had to get our running game going. We came out running the ball and at one point we had close to 200 yards rushing and not very much passing."

The running game was boosted by DeShawn Wynn's return to the lineup. The big junior didn't play last week, but Saturday he turned in Florida's first 100-yard effort of the season with 101 yards on 16 carries. He got two touchdowns on the ground and he added a spectacular catch of a Leak pass for a 24-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Wynn adjusted to Leak's throw by crossing in front of the Louisiana Tech safety to make the leaping catch at the two then it was a walk into the end zone.

What Wynn brought to the game, besides the production, was the threat of a big, fast 230-pound power guy who can operate between the tackles. A big guy who can pound between the tackles will open the perimeter game and that is where the big plays are made.

"He ran hard," said Meyer. "A 225-230 pound back needs to run like he ran."

Florida's Dallas Baker (81) is tackled by Louisiana Tech's Eddie White (97) in the first quarter in Gainesville, Fla. Saturday, Sept. 10, 2005.(AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

Wynn's hard running overshadowed one of the poorest halves throwing the ball that Leak has had since he became a starter midway through his freshman year. He hit five of his eight first half passes for a mere 66 yards, adequate but not nearly what they could have or should have been.

"I was disappointed in Chris Leak's play early," said Meyer. "For us to move up and down the field he has to hit his targets. He didn't do that early own but he's a very good thrower and later on he did hit the targets. He would be the first to say that it wasn't his best early on but I feel confident saying the things he missed tonight, you won't see him miss them very often."

So game two ended with a win that looked easy enough on the scoreboard and in the stat sheets, but it was also a win that leaves a lot of questions going into game three against a Tennessee team that is ranked third in the nation. The Gators know they can't give away 85 yards on a host of silly penalties and they know they have to protect the ball. They also know that special teams breakdowns against a Tennessee team that usually has stellar special teams could be a death knell.

"With all due respect to the two teams we've played, we probably have a little players than Wyoming and Louisiana Tech and I don't think many people would argue that," he said, noting that good teams can get away with silly penalties, turnovers and special teams mistakes when they outman their opponents. The Gators won't have the personnel advantage against Tennessee.

"You do flip the switch this week," he said. "We have to eliminate mistakes against a team like Tennessee. We better be on our game."

Head coach Urban Meyer of the University of Florida Gators sings along with his team after defeating the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 10, 2005 in Gainesville, Florida. Florida defeated Louisiana Tech 41-3. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Eliminating mistakes is one thing but there's something else. Unlike games one and two, game three will demand a team that is what he calls "game tough." Florida has five practices to prepare for the Vols but practice can't create game toughness.

"You don't get game tough during practice," he said. "It's either there or it isn't and we'll really find out if it's there next week."

So the exhibition games are over and now Urban Meyer gets to do what he came here to do, which is play the big SEC rivals. He was expected to win the two tune-ups easily and he did. No one in his right mind would expect an easy win against a big rival like the Vols. Getting a win will be tough but he knows there is a time tested formula that produces wins against big rivals.

"I know how to handle rivalries and that is to prepare like you've never prepared before," he said.

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