The second year of the Urban Meyer era started with a 34 –7 victory over
Southern Mississippi on Saturday evening at the SWAMP. Despite
spotting SMU a 7–0 lead in the first 2½ minutes, the Gators were able to
run off 34 consecutive points and win the game. The Gators overall showed
some rust from their long off-season layoff and found several areas of their
team, which will still need some work.
Not a bad start to the 2006 season, but certainly not one that answers all the questions.
IMPRESSIVE: Reggie Nelson, Tony Joiner, defensive secondary, Chris Leak, Brian Siler, Earl Everett, Dallas Baker, Percy Harvin, Deshawn Wynn
SOLID: Defensive line, linebackers, the receiving corps, running backs
NEED WORK: Offensive line, special teams
DEFENSIVE LINE: The fact that defensive tackles Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris did not play due to disciplinary reasons only demonstrated how much depth Florida has along the defensive line. Defensive end Ray McDonald returned after an injury plagued 2005 season to lead a defensive line consisting of defensive tackles Joe Cohen and Clint McMillan and defensive end Jarvis Moss. Depth was provided by defensive tackles Javier Estopinan and Lutrell Alford, along with defensive ends Derrick Harvey and true freshman Jermaine Cunningham. Despite being strong against the run and generally controlling the line of scrimmage the defensive line could not get much of consistent pass rush. GRADE B-
LINEBACKERS: Starting inside linebacker Brandon Silar and starting weak-side linebacker Earl Everett are known commodities, each garnering pre-season accolades, and they did not disappoint. Siler and Everett were everywhere making tackles all along the line of scrimmage to lead the Gators in tackles for the game. Red-shirt senior Brian Crum held his own as the starting strong-side linebacker. Depth came from two true freshmen in Brandon Spike on the inside and Dustin Doe on the outside who saw significant playing time in the fourth quarter and acquitted themselves fairly well. GRADE A
DEFENSIVE BACKS: With two new starting cornerbacks in Ryan Smith and Reggie Lewis, the defensive secondary was considered to a possible weak link in Florida’s defense. Fear not, as Florida’s secondary will be fine. Led by safeties Reggie Nelson and Tony Joiner, each of whom had an interception along with Lewis, the Gators shutdown the Golden Eagles passing attack despite a marginal pass rush. The secondary allowed just 176 yards passing and a completion percentage of less than 50 percent. Reserve’s Kyle Jackson, Jon Curtis, Nick Brooks, and Dorian Munroe at safeties with Jermaine and Tremaine McCollum, Lamont Sheppard and Markihe Anderson at cornerback gave up 47 passing yards late in the fourth quarter and demonstrated that they may still need some work GRADE A
OFFENSIVE LINE: Much of the off-season was spent discussing how Florida would replace an offensive line that lost 4 starters. Unfortunately, Saturday didn’t do much to answer those questions. New offensive starters Phil Trautwein and Carlton Medder at tackles along with Drew Miller and Jim Tartt at guards joined former starting guard now playing center Steve Rissler were able to provide decent protect for quarterback Chris Leak and some holes for the running came, but were inconsistent. Medder and Rissler seemed to have the better day but clearly this group has work to do. GRADE C
RECEIVERS: By far this is the unit will be the strength of this year’s Florida football team. Led by senior Dallas Baker’s 9 catches for 123 yards and one touchdown, this group has playmakers everywhere. Starter Jemalle Cornelius only had one catch, but it went for 29 yard score. Fellow starter Andre Caldwell had just three catches, but missed connecting on several deep throws in which he had his man beat. Freshman Percy Harvin saw extensive playing time providing 91 yards of offense on 3 catches and 4 runs. While converted quarterback Cornelius Ingram had one catch for 12 yards while seeing significant playing time at tight end. GRADE A
RUNNING BACKS: Starting senior running back Deshawn Wynn had what looked like a very impressive night going, scoring one touchdown and rushing for 45 yards on 7 carries with one reception for 8 yards, before leaving the game in the 3rd quarter with an injury. Backup sophomore Kestahn Moore had 78 all-purpose yards including a 16-yard touchdown reception. While both Wynn and Moore ran hard, Wynn had a fumble he recovered, and Moore averaged only 2.1 yards on 11 of his 12 carries. Even usually reliable fullback Billy Lasko whiffed on a block, resulting in a sack. GRADE B
QUARTERBACK: Chris Leak is the quarterback of this year’s Florida Gator football team; of that there is no doubt. Leak had an impressive opening day, completing 21 passes on 30 attempts for 248 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception. Leak just missed on a couple of passes to Andre Caldwell that would have significantly enhanced his stats. Leak looked much more comfortable in the offense. Heralded freshman Tim Tebow got to see a little playing, entering the game late in the third quarter after the Gators setup shop with a first and goal at the SMU 6-yard line following Reggie Lewis’s interception. The Gators promptly jumped offside while listening to the cadence. Two plays later Tebow used a fine stiff-arm on a 2-yard run for touchdown, which started as a busted play due to a low snap and the wrong formation. GRADE A-
KICKING/SPECIALTY: The special teams were not very special on Saturday. Kick coverage was so-so, kick return Jermalle Cornelius made a mental mistake on the opening kickoff, and an extra point was botched. Eric Wilbur didn’t have his best average, but did have two of his punts downed inside the 10. Grade C
COACHING: Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen looked to get the ball to his playmakers throughout the game as he spread the ball around. Mullen called several plays designed to get the ball into the hands of Baker, Harvin, Ingram, and the like. Defensively co-defensive coordinators Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison obviously new they were facing and inexperienced quarterback as they were using several blitzes early in an effort to get pressure on the SMU quarterback. Coach Meyer’s special team units were marginal at best. GRADE Offensive B+, Defensive A-, Overall B
FANS: Buoyed by the appearance of the 1996 National Championship team during the pre-game festivities, the Florida faithful were ready willing and able to start the game. Unfortunately, an interception and a quick score by the Golden Eagles quickly doused the crowd. By the time Florida regained the lead in the game, the Florida faithful has regained their energy and were strong throughout the remainder of the contest, including a wave during the third quarter. Grade B+
It made me proud the way former head coach Steve Spurrier was treated when he was announced with 1996 National Championship team. Now come Novembers, all bets are off. Percy Harvin looks to be the real deal. Florida has a lot of freshman that are going to play significant minutes this year. Joe Cohen is huge. Reggie Nelson really is a special player. A new season has started and this team has potential. OVERALL GRADE: B
The Armchair Quarterback
Later GATORS, after while the rest!