Things to Look for

There are several things to look for when the Gators take the field on Saturday against Hawaii. Eight months ago, Florida fans left the Citrus Bowl in Orlando with a bad taste in their mouth after a bad loss to Michigan. Even though many of the faces are the same this fall, differences are abound.

Pass rush

The Florida defense posted 29 sacks last season, which by comparison was about the same per game average as the 2006 championship squad, but the completion percentage of opposing quarterbacks was much worse last season. Florida allowed QBs to complete 59 percent of their passes a year ago after allowing just 53 percent two years ago. Yes, the Gators had issues in the secondary last season, but a high completion percentage also means that the quarterback had more time to throw and more time to set their feet and ensure proper mechanics. This is evident with regards to quarterback hurries. Last year, the Gator defense had 15 QB hurries compared to 34 in '06.

Pass coverage

After having one of the worst pass defenses in the nation last season, the Gators should be much improved this year. And a pass-happy Hawaii defense should allow Gator fans to get an understanding of how far the secondary has come. Both Joe Haden and Wondy Pierre-Louis have a full season of experience under their belt, and there are at least four qualified corners to back them up, which the Gators didn't have last season. How important is that? New cornerback coach Vance Bedford has the ability to rotate corners in and out to keep their legs fresh and to give opposing offenses a different look. The Gators picked off ten fewer passes and gave up nearly 1,000 more yards in 2007 compared to 2006. Improving the secondary play is more than something to watch, it's a necessity if the Gators want to return to Atlanta.

Running backs

How will they be used? Will Tim Tebow be the go-to-guy in tough, short yardage situations? Until the Florida backs can prove their worth, Tebow is still the likely candidate to carry the football in game-changing situations. Plus, the now Heisman winning quarterback likes to put the game in his hands. But by the end of the season, look for someone from the backfield to emerge into a big role. Last season, the Gators relied on Tim Tebow like a crutch. It was most evident during the Ole Miss game where he ran time after time in the fourth quarter, not to win the game, but to move the chains, keep the clock running and preserve a lead. Two seasons ago, DeShawn Wynn slowly earned the trust of Urban Meyer and became the "move the chains" back in the fourth quarter. Saturday may give some indication of which Gator back is capable of that role.

Questions or comments? Contact's Chris Chmielenski

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