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September 12, 2011Here are a dozen observations from Florida's 41-3 win over Alabama Birmingham, including Offensive and Defensive Players of the Game, Surprising, Disappointing and much more.
In case you were wondering, the season opening game performance against Florida Atlantic was not a fluke for Chris Rainey. After scoring three ways in the first week, the senior from Lakeland, Fla. led Florida's running attack for a repeat performance as offensive MVP.
On 16 carries, Rainey spun and juked his way to 119 yards on the ground, including one touchdown.
It looks like everything is coming together for Rainey in his senior season. Something about the new offense - whether it's lining up like a traditional tailback, the new passing routes or the teaching of Charlie Weis - has helped Rainey become a complete runner in his final season.
The fifth-year senior has always been able to run past defenders, now he's finding the holes, making jaw-dropping cuts and breaking through initial contact.
The UF defense finally got its first turnover of the 2011 campaign when Marcus Roberson scooped up a fumble to open the third quarter.
Even after allowing only three points over six quarters, the Florida defense still felt pressure to produce a takeaway. Roberson, a freshman cornerback from Ft. Lauderdale, was praised throughout camp, and is earning significant playing time in the infancy of his collegiate career.
The Gators did not meet their goal of three turnovers per game, but Roberson's awareness helped ensure they didn't put up another bagel.
It is often a sign of problems when a team's safety leads all defenders in tackles, but somebody has to make those plays. Sophomore Matt Elam led all Gators with six tackles on Saturday.
While Roberson is getting the media mention for the lone turnover, it was Elam who made the strip in UAB's first possession of the second half.
If Elam follows in the tradition of Ahmad Black and continues to lead the team in tackles, he will establish himself as an indispensable part of the defense.
Though the score sheet may read that the Gators scored on all seven trips to the red zone, by offensive coordinator Weis' standards, UF only went 4-for-7.
Fans' approval of Weis increased with his comment last week that field goals in the red zone are offensive failures. Despite the strong words, the Gator offense still "failed" three times inside the 20-yard line.
The most worrisome red zone failure may have been the opening drive. After the under thrown flea flicker from John Brantley to Quinton Dunbar, the Gators could not punch it in from four yards out. What should have been an easy six points instead yielded only a disappointing field goal.
ON THE RISE
Jeff Demps was hurt, but the Florida offense did not miss a beat thanks to hard running from Mike Gillislee. The junior from DeLand, Fla. provided 79 yards on 11 carries of solid interior running. Look for Gillislee to stay in the rotation to keep Rainey and Demps from being overworked.
A healthy Trey Burton saw more playing time after sitting out most of the opener with an injury. Burton will line up just about anywhere, but he's on the rise for taking hand-offs and giving the Gators a physical 46 yards on six carries.
Andre Debose was rarely mentioned in camp, but he looks to be earning solid playing time at receiver. If Debose understands the playbook and continues to make his blocks, expect to see Weis draw up ways to get the ball in the speedster's hands.
ON THE BUBBLE
William Green's playing time will take a hit this week with the return of Sharrif Floyd. Green has filled in admirably for Floyd, but after a zero-sack day from the defensive line as a whole, and not much production from Green as an individual, expect Floyd to receive the majority of playing time.
Ronald Powell was also MIA from a production perspective. The former No. 1 rated prospect in the nation plays a special position designed to utilize his unique skill set and physical gifts. Two tackles, neither for loss, and zero sacks and hurries will not cut it from the 'Buck' position.
Moses Jenkins' experience was supposed to be an asset in the Gators' unproven secondary, but it looks like coach Will Muschamp prefers the young talent of freshmen Roberson and De'Ante Saunders over the senior Jenkins.
Former Gator Ahmad Black tweeted his congratulations to Florida for the 39-0 win over UAB. In the same tweet, he openly expressed jealously that the 2011 defense achieved a shutout - something missing from his career.
It's true. Black was part of the incredible 26-2 run over the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but even the back-to-back BCS defenses never put a zero on the board. The Gators previous shutout came in 2006 when UF defeated Western Carolina 62-0.
The fact that the reigning SEC co-defensive lineman of the week, Jaye Howard, and his fellow front seven five-star studs Powell, Dominique Easley, Jelani Jenkins and Company, came up with zero sacks, certainly disappointed Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
The Gators are missing Floyd, a dominating presence at end, but the opposing offensive lines are about to get bigger and stronger with the start of SEC play.
Had the ball been thrown a little better, the game opening flea-flicker would have scored a touchdown and won this award.
However, since it didn't, we'll go in a different direction.
Hunter Joyer was blocker extraordinaire in the first week, but against UAB he established himself as a short-yardage runner with his three-yard touchdown run. Joyer could be the answer to UF's red zone problems. His leg drive could be the difference between getting stuffed at the goal line and six points.
THE GOOD NEWS
In eight quarters, the Gator defense has only given up three points. The Blazers brought in a much more open offense than FAU, giving Florida a game film full of things to work on for Tennessee week.
The offense is humming along going into the first big challenge of the year. Rainey showed he can create his own yards, and that there's more to his game than catching passes in the flat. Brantley is effectively managing the game and getting the ball to a variety of targets. The offensive line is providing good protection for Brantley and opening up necessary blocks for the running backs.
THE BAD NEWS
Red zone struggles are one of the few carryovers from the 2010 Steve Addazio offense to Weis' new system. Florida posted an SEC-low 60.1 touchdown percentage in the red zone in 2010. In two games in 2011, the Gators have scored seven touchdowns in 12 red zone trips (58.3 percent). The defenses are about to get better than FAU and UAB. The offense has to figure something out.
On the other side of the ball, one turnover is not what Muschamp and Quinn were looking for going into conference play. UF will need to win the turnover margin more often than not, and one fumble recovery every other game is unlikely to get it done.
A LOOK AHEAD
Tennessee (2-0) comes into Gainesville fresh off thumping a Big East opponent, Cincinnati, 45-23. Online columnist, and admitted Vols homer, Clay Travis touts Tyler Bray as the best quarterback in the SEC after his 34-for-41, 405-yard air raid on the Bearcats defense. The Gator pass rush will need to step up, because the secondary is unlikely to contain this passing attack if Bray has time to make his throws.
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