Big Plays Carry Gators

We knew the Florida Gators would be able to put points on the board, and they didn't disappoint in their season opener. In front of 90,575 at The Swamp, the Gators posted 56 points on Hawaii, while the defense held up their end of the bargain.

Without Percy Harvin and with Tim Tebow putting up mortal-like numbers, the Gator offense was still potent. The arsenal that included Brandon James, Jeff Demps, Louis Murphy, Chris Rainey and Kestahn Moore was devastating in helping the Gators (1-0) to the 56-10 win.

The defense that was mediocre at best last season, struggled early, but kept Hawaii out of the end zone. They began to gel together by the start of the second quarter and finished with four interceptions (they had 11 in all of 2007) and picked up two fumbles. Hawaii's offense was held to just 241 total yards and went just 2-of-11 on third down conversions.

"I'm very proud of our team," Urban Meyer said. "That was a good solid effort. I'm really glad the way this whole deal worked out. It was hot, and it was against a team that really had us against the ropes in the first quarter."

Ahmad Black provided a solid performance putting to rest, at least for now, the questions at safety. Black picked off two passes, including one that he returned for an 80-yard touchdown. His other pick came in the first quarter as Hawaii was driving. He also tied for a team high four tackles.

"We worked on pass defense all summer and it showed," Meyer said. "Ahmad Black is a football position guy, and he made some nice plays."

Tebow had his worst game statistically as a Gator, but still managed Florida's offense on five scoring drives. His biggest play of the afternoon came on a 48-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy across the middle. Tebow completed just 9-of-14 passes for 137 yards and rushed nine times for 37 yards. It was the first time as a starter that Tebow didn't pass and run for a touchdown breaking a streak that dates back to his freshman season.

"Aw, shucks," Tebow said. "I don't care."

"It's going to be hard to not have '1-5' carrying the ball when we're close," Meyer said. "We're trying to take the wear and tear off of Tim and not rely on him too much. But when the game's on the line, Tebow will carry the mail for us."

The Gator offense was led by their speedy and elusive running backs. Chris Rainey carried six times for 58 yards, breaking a 33-yarder for a touchdown in the second quarter. Freshman Jeff Demps also got into the action showing what he can do. Demps carried just two times, but electrified the crowd in The Swamp when he went for a 62-yard touchdown showing why he was a finalist for the U.S. Olympic Track team.

"We kind of like fast people around here, and Jeff Demps is fast," Meyer said. "He's not a track guy playing football. He's a football guy running track."

Brandon James was also back to form returning a punt 74 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. It's the fourth punt return for a touchdown in his career.

"That was a great return," Meyer said. "I think Brandon James is a terrific player. He's never prepared like he did this year. Coach Mickey (Marotti) gave out the iron man t-shirts and he gave out 20-plus t-shirts to the ones that made every practice. Brandon James was one of them. He's in the best shape he's ever been in and the best strength."

The combination of James, Rainey, Demps, Murphy and Tebow accounted for 324 offensive yards.

"One of the great thrills as a coach is when you have some good checkers and we certainly have some good-looking checkers to throw out there right now, especially in the backfield," Meyer said. "We have some very good running backs and a very good offensive line. We wanted to establish the run early and I think we did that. We were in a lot of run mode and I think our guys did well."

Tight end Aaron Hernandez sat out because of disciplinary reasons, and redshirt senior Tate Casey picked up the slack. Casey caught two passes for 36 yards, including a 34-yard catch that converted a third down for the Gators on their first scoring drive. On the day, the Gators converted 5-of-10 third downs.

"Aaron Hernandez wasn't ready," Meyer said. "If he gets ready, he'll play. He wasn't ready to play this week."

The defense showed promise, sacking Hawaii's trio of quarterbacks four times and forcing six turnovers. Along with Black, Brandon Hicks also posted a team-high four tackles. Thirteen Gators had two or more tackles as the defensive staff worked 23 different players into the game.

John Brantley and Cameron Newton played roughly the same amount of plays sharing the backup QB duty. Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen rotated them on every other play in the fourth quarter, and the two combined for 1-of-3 passing for 14 yards. Newton came in during a goal line situation in the third quarter and scored from one-yard out.

The only real negative on the day was Florida's kicking game. Hawaii's average starting field position after a kickoff was their own 32-yard line, and they started from the 40 or better twice.

"We'll get it straightened out," Meyer said. "It's something we have to get fixed by next week. There are some good returners jogging in here next week."

Chas Henry punted well, averaging 53 yards on four punts. He landed one inside the 20, and kept another drive alive when he scampered 16 yards on a fake punt for a first down, although, it wasn't planned that way.

"That was his last snap at the University of Florida if he did not get that," Meyer said. "I have to give Chas credit. That was not called. He saw a gap and he took it. He will not do that again."

With Henry's fake punt, James' punt return, two interceptions returned for touchdowns and six turnovers in all, the Gators' ability to create big plays will be a big weapon this season.

"It completely takes the wind from your sails," Meyer said. "Can you expect that from us? There are some guys that we have that if you make a mistake and they touch the ball, you're going to pay for it. It's fun to watch."

Next Saturday, Florida renews a rivalry with Miami who they haven't faced since the 2004 Peach Bowl. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. at The Swamp.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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