There was a sense of urgency, all right, but it took yet another near-crisis for the second wave of responders to arrive on the scene. While they were awaiting reinforcements, the Florida Gators invoked their territorial imperative, making a great case for the defense.
You never want to start out having your quarterback smacked in the mouth on the game’s very first play. And then two plays later, see that quarterback drop the pass from center, pick up the ball, bounce it off the head of an official, only to watch it fall to the ground to end a three-and-out series.
Such an offense not even a mother could love – let alone a coach.
We had all seen that movie, starring the 2010 Florida Gators, the week before. And now came what looked once again like the onset of snap, crackle and drop.
Although it was familiar to Urban Meyer as well, he denied that it looked like Groundhog Day.
“I really wasn’t thinking déjà vu,” Meyer said after the 38-14 victory over South Florida. “On the headsets we were trying to make sure we were getting some things going. Obviously they had worked on us all year and they were bringing some pressure – blitzing their tails off.”
The smackdown of Johnny Brantley was only the beginning, because the guys in white, green and gold were starting to look more like the South Florida Bullies. In fact, South Florida played more like an elite team from the Southeastern Conference.
With quarterback B. J. Daniels running the option masterfully, the Bullies chewed up large chunks of yardage and stuffed the football right down the throats of the Gator defense on a dominating 96-yard drive that consumed almost 10 minutes of the first quarter.
As the first half wound down with a 7-0 USF lead and the Gator offense stuck in neutral, any kind of definitive personality seemed to be lacking for Meyer’s team.
Saying the Gators were having a problem would be like saying Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton have a shot at getting in trouble on South Beach.
“They came out and kind of punched us in the mouth, right away, and wore us out,” said defensive end Duke Lemmens. “It seemed like a 30-play drive right away.”
It was only 17 plays, Duke, but you’re right – it consumed two ticks short of 10 minutes and, more importantly, made a statement about the new kids on the block from Tampa: They were not going to be intimidated on their first trip ever to The Swamp.
If anything, the Bulls strutted around like they wanted to make Florida Field their own personal pasture, as they appeared to be leaving at halftime with a 7-0 lead.
Some of the Gator defenders said it was a matter of tweaking the defense and waiting for their chance and they proved to be right.
Bad as it looked, there didn’t seem to be any sense of panic among the Florida coaching staff or players, although if they’d have checked the bridges and high ledges, certainly somebody could have rounded up a few of the more neurotic Gator fans.
Somebody forgot to tell them about this Big Play Gators, who say they stick together in all kinds of weather.
“We’re definitely a real close-knit team,” said senior captain Justin Trattou. “We’ll stick by each other through anything and I think we showed that today.”
About that sense of urgency … as if Meyer had put out an APB for help, a savvy senior safety answered the call. Ahmad Black’s name should be Ahmad Green, because he’s pure money. He lurked in the hot sun, waiting to pounce at the right time, and pounce he did.
Setting off a string of four interceptions by Florida, Black stepped in front of Daniels’ pass – you had to wonder, “Why is Skip Holtz passing?” —and collected the pick at the USF 31, his first of two for the day.
“Let him try to beat us running the ball,” Black said of Daniels. “Because we know for a fact he’s not going to beat us throwing the ball. If he puts the ball in the air, it’s ours.” He did, and it was.
Black’s interception was the game’s momentum changer with just over a minute left in the second quarter and it was just the juice Meyer’s offense needed. Brantley rewarded his defensive playmaker by hitting two big passes – one to Deonte Thompson for 23 yards, the second 11 yards to Carl Moore and the touchdown.
After taking a 7-7 “lead” into the locker room, the Gators came out a different team.
Brantley found his rhythm in the third period, the Florida tailbacks found their holes and the Gator defense found four more turnovers. Jeff Demps’ 62-yard lighting strike gave them a lead they would never relinquish.
There was a lot of “D” – Demps, defense and desire. The speedy Demps rushed for a career-high 139 yards and, including his 95 yards in returns and one pass reception, rang up 255 yard for the day.
You can’t tackle what you can’t see and the World’s Fastest Football Player was nigh invisible.
“You give him a crack, and that guy is gone,” Meyer said of the blur that wears No. 2.
The defense, after a slow start, acquitted itself nicely and slammed the door shut on Daniels—for the second straight week owning the air corridors with four more interceptions. And it was accomplished, once again, without all the starters. Safety Will Hill was inexplicably held out for the second straight week and cornerback Moses Jenkins is still injured. Jeremy Brown, replacing Moses Jenkins at corner, suffered a body cramp and his place as taken by two true freshmen, Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs.
“I just pity whoever,” Black said, in some light smack talk, “when we get our whole secondary.”
The desire was evident in the second half when the defense needed to solve the dilemma of stopping Daniels on the option.
“It was definitely real hot out there,” said Lemmens’ bookend defensive end, Trattou, who would become one of the heroes of the day. “But we definitely trained ourselves to be conditioned for stuff like that.”
Speaking of rewards, Trattou has been a workout warrior and one of the most committed leaders on the team, so his teammates were happy to watch him haul in an errant pass and turn it into his first touchdown as a Gator. Last season Trattou had intercepted the ball and appeared to be on his way for a score when he tripped over his own teammate.
“We got some good pressure on that play and they set up me up real nice,” Trattou said of his 35-yard return. “I saw a lot of green in front of me, but I was definitely not going to let anybody catch me from behind.”
Without a single superstar on the team, Meyer’s 2010 Gators are relying on effort, teamwork and an array of talent that reveals itself more each week. They are going to need that work ethic next week when they travel to Knoxville for their first SEC game against a surprisingly competitive Tennessee team.
“We’re a blue-collar team,” said Meyer.
Perhaps more suitable, an Orange-and-Blue collar team.