Florida offense

The fact Florida will be without its two leading receivers of 2008 - Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy - gives some of its 2009 opponents a glimmer of hope. It's probably false hope, though.

Foes reason that the absence of Harvin (40 receptions, 16.1 yards per catch) and Murphy (38 receptions, 17.2 yards per catch) will hamper the Gators' ability to stretch the field for the run game and the short passing attack.

That's a nice theory but it may not be grounded in fact. Even without Harvin and Murphy, Florida has several bona-fide deep threats. Deonte Thompson is a 4.3 speedster who caught 18 passes for 269 yards last fall. Frankie Hammond displayed his big-play ability in the spring game with four catches for 131 yards (23.7 per reception) and two touchdowns. And there's no law against sending electrifying tailbacks Chris Rainey (4.24 speed) and Jeffery Demps (4.3 speed) deep on occasion.

In addition to Thompson and Hammond, the Gators have an excellent receiving threat in tight end Aaron Hernandez, a 6-3, 250-pounder who caught 34 passes for 381 yards and five touchdowns last fall.

Florida ranked 15th nationally in yards (445.1 per game) and fourth nationally in scoring (43.6 points per game) last season, but the 2009 Gators could be just as potent. That's because quarterback Tim Tebow is on a mission.

Since the stunning upset loss to Ole Miss last fall, Tebow has been a man possessed - guiding a 10-game winning streak that includes a 30-point defeat of No. 4 LSU, a 39-point defeat of No. 8 Georgia, a 50-point defeat of No. 24 South Carolina, a 30-point defeat of No. 23 Florida State, an 11-point SEC Championship Game defeat of top-ranked Alabama and a 10-point BCS title game defeat of Oklahoma, which was ranked No. 1 at the time.

Even if Tebow should get hurt and miss a few series this year, Florida may not miss a beat. That's because John Brantley is the SEC's premier backup QB. He distinguished himself in relief stints last fall, then exploded in the spring game by connecting on 14 of 23 passes for 265 yards with three passing touchdowns and two rushing TDs, guiding his Orange team to a 31-21 defeat of Tebow's Blue team.

Given that Florida has won two of the last three national titles running the spread option, you'd figure head coach Urban Meyer would stick with the proven formula. Reports out of Gainesville, however, suggest the Gators are toying with the I-formation this spring in an effort to boost the ground game and boost Tebow's NFL stock.

Really, the ground game doesn't need much boosting. Diminutive dynamos Demps (5-8, 183) and Rainey (5-9, 175) averaged 7.8 yards per carry each last fall, with Demps gaining 605 yards and Rainey 652.

Ole Miss showed last fall that you can beat Florida by hanging close and making a play in the final minutes. Hanging close to the Gators is no simple task, though. Florida outscored its opponents 328-58 in the first half in 2008, taking an average lead of 23-5 to the locker room.

Bottom line: Florida's offense was virtually unstoppable in 2008 and it should be nearly as productive in '09.


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