Despite that awful start that put Florida down a touchdown after only 2:23 had been played, the Gators controlled the game the rest of the way. The Florida defense did not allow Southern Miss inside the 29-yard line until the fourth quarter. They also chipped in with three interceptions, one of which (Reggie Nelson's) denied a touchdown the other (Reggie Lewis') set up a Gator score. Florida's offense was spotty most of the night, yet when all was said and done, Chris Leak had passed for 248 yards and three touchdowns and a trio of Florida runners (Harvin, Wynn and Moore) had combined for 154 yards on just 23 carries.
Here are some of the highlights and lowlights of opening night.
Percy Harvin ----- The fleet-footed freshman was everything he was advertised to be and more. He bounced back from his mistake early on the contest to accumulate 91 yards running and receiving. He's ideal for running the ball on reverses and will only get better as a receiver.
Chris Leak ----- The vocal leader was evident when he got on Harvin for the missed route. The unselfish guy was clear when he was as thrilled as Tebow was after the freshman scored a touchdown. The poised, patient passer was shown on two of his touchdown throws.
Defensive Line ----- Without Marcus Thomas and Stephen Harris, this is not the deepest, most talented unit on the team. Southern Miss has a very good offensive line, but not getting a single sack in 37 pass attempts is unacceptable. Especially considering both quarterbacks were pretty raw. Derrick Harvey seemed to play very well, but Florida got nothing from Ray McDonald or any other ends. Joe Cohen and Clint McMillan had to play way too many snaps at tackle. Even when "scoop" returns, Florida has to consider playing one of the freshmen (Brandon Antwine/Terron Sanders).
Offensive Line ----- I thought they did an acceptable job up front against a pretty physical defense that came at them from every angle imaginable. Leak was sacked twice but one of those was a running back's fault and the other might fall on the Gator QB. Considering the lack of experience, the absence of future star Ronnie Wilson and quality of opposition, I'd say 391 yards on 59 plays (6.6 yds/play) is pretty solid. There's plenty of room for improvement and with just one senior that seems virtually certain.
Rebuilt Secondary ----- After the first two plays, which were scary the defensive backs seemed to play very well. Three interceptions were grabbed and two were worth a touchdown. Southern Miss completed less than 50 percent (46) of its passes and averaged less than five yards (4.8) an attempt. Those are winning numbers against almost every opponent. Reggie Lewis rebounded from a questionable holding penalty to play very well with excellent coverage, pass breakups, an effective blitz and the interception.
Strategy ----- Didn't understand not going for a 47-yard field goal on fourth down in the third quarter. Gators instead tried to make the 13 yards, Leak got sacked and Southern Miss had great field position. Also wonder about risky semi-blind shovel pass deep in Gator territory late in the first half. Too much risk, too little reward as far as I'm concerned. I did like the corner blitzes and blitz decoys. The use of Harvin in reverses was particularly astute and effective.
Big Plays ----- I draw the line at 30 yards to qualify as a "big play". By that standard Florida did not have any. However, the Gators did have two 29-yard plays, a 28-yarder, a 27-yarder and three other plays of over 20 yards. That certainly should get the attention of defensive coordinators down the line.
All in all the Gators had an effective and productive opener. The biggest issue I saw out there was the play of the defensive line and the expected return of Marcus Thomas should alleviate concerns there. This team is better than it was on opening day a year ago. And that's progress.