The Armchair Quarterback grades for the Florida-Hawaii game are in. The Gators opened its 2008 season by using two 28-point quarters to blow out the Warriors, 56-10. Florida did not need the services of two of its best players, wide receiver Percy Harvin or middle linebacker Brandon Spikes, both held out of the game with injuries, nor much of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow as the Gators got points from the offense, defense (yes, I said defense) and special teams.
Impressive: Joe Haden, Ahmad Black, Lawrence Marsh, Chris Rainey, Jeffrey Demps, Brandon James, secondary in general.
Solid: Offensive line, receivers, linebackers, defensive line, special teams.
Needs work: Penalties, particularly defensive offside; deeper kickoffs.
Defensive line: Jermaine Cunningham put in a nice day’s work, picking up a sack and a half. Converted nose tackle (from defensive end) Lawrence Marsh was the most impressive lineman. Marsh seemed to get a good push up the middle, recording two sacks, while tying up a lot of Hawaii’s offensive linemen. Plenty of players saw action as the Gators substituted liberally throughout the game. Only real negative were the offside penalties. Grade: B+
Linebackers: With Brandon Spikes out with an injury, Ryan Stamper got the call to start at middle linebacker and played well enough, recovering a fumble despite suffering a broken thumb. Thought AJ Jones at strong linebacker had a couple good plays early in the game, but overall linebacker play was uninspiring. Backup linebackers Lorenzo Edwards (middle) and Brandon Hicks (sgtrong side) were more impressive than the starters. Grade: C+
Defensive backs: What a difference a year makes and maybe a little change in scheme, as well. Converted safety (from cornerback) Ahmad Green had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. Fellow safety Major Wright also returned an interception for a touchdown. Backup cornerback Jacques Rickerson also had a pick. The most impressive, though, was cornerback Joe Haden, playing from the nickel-back position. Haden was a terror. He was everywhere, knocking down passes, picking up a sack, causing a fumble and recovering another fumble. Overall the secondary held the Hawaii Run-and-Shoot offense to just 181 yards passing, most of the damage coming in the fourth quarter against the backups. Grade: A
Offensive line: Marcus Gilbert got the start at left guard for the injured Jim Tartt. The offensive line was fairly quiet in going about its work on Saturday. A couple of less-than-perfect shotgun snaps by new center Mike Pouncey. Despite the errant snaps, the offensive line was able to help open enough holes to allow Florida to rush for 255 yards while allowing just one sack. Grade: B
Receivers: Given the defensive scheme Hawaii put up against the Gators, the receiving corps did not have many opportunities on Saturday. Louis Murphy did haul in one touchdown pass, but the receivers only got seven of Florida’s 10 total receptions in the game. Tight end Tate Casey had two receptions, Murphy two and Carl Moore, Riley Cooper and Deonte Thompson each had one. More impressive, thought, was their down-field blocking. Cooper had a great block on Chris Rainey’s 33-yard touchdown run. Grade: A
Running backs: Kestahn Moore started the game at running back and played well. But what were most impressive were the debuts of Chris Rainey and Jeffrey Demps. Rainey, a redshirt freshman, took an inside handoff late in the second quarter, waited on his offensive linemen to seal off the defenders and then went 33 yards for a touchdown. Not to be outdone, true freshman Demps started the scoring off in the third quarter with a sizzling 62-yard touchdown run, taking an inside pop through a crease and literally outrunning every Warrior defender to the end zone. Brandon James started the Gator scoring for 2008 with a one-yard waltz to the end zone in the second quarter. Grade: A
Quarterbacks: Tebow was not called upon very much on Saturday and that is a good thing. Tebow rushed only 9 times and attempted only 14 passes. Tebow seemed a little tentative early in the passing game, causing him to have to resort to some playground scrambling, which he accomplished exceedingly well. Cam Newton did a very respectable Tebow impersonation in the third quarter when the Gators had first-and-goal. Newton took two tries to hammer the ball in for the touchdown. Grade: B-
Kicking/special teams: For the most part, the special teams were just that – special. Brandon James had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown and then a series later raced down on punt coverage to make an open-field solo tackle, which pinned Hawaii deep in its own territory. Placekicker Jonathan Phillips connected on all eight PAT attempts. Punter Chas Henry averaged 52 yards a punt and ran 17 yards for a first down on a fake-punt attempt. The coverage units were solid, but the kickoffs left a lot to be desired.
Coaching: Offensive coordinator Dan Mullen featured the running game fairly extensively throughout the game and de-emphasized the role of Tebow. With only 55 offensive plays, Tebow accounted for just 23 of them. Running backs accounted for 24 plays. Defensive coordinator Charlie Strong unveiled his 3-man defensive front, which was effective in limiting Hawaii’s offense. Strong’s adjustment to the shuttle pass in the first quarter pretty much stifled the Warriors’ offense until the fourth quarter. Meyer kept the players focused during halftime as the Gators put Hawaii away in the third quarter. Grades: Offense B+, Defense A-, Overall B+
Fans: The 12:30 p.m. starts are a killer on the Florida faithful. Grade: B
Remember, this is the first game and Hawaii was not the same Hawaii team that met Georgia in the BCS Sugar Bowl last year, not by a long shot. It was what it was: The first game. The three biggest areas of concern to start the season – the defensive line, the secondary and running backs—acquitted themselves well. So let’s go back to work and figure out how to line up properly. That should cut the penalties in half. We need to fall on the ball when it is lying on the ground instead of trying to pick it up. We need to find somebody to kick a football inside the 5-yard line on kickoffs. Finally, we need not get too full of ourselves. We need to get ready to renew some old acquaintances and settle some old scores with the University of Miami Saturday night.