The lack of experience on the offensive line going into the 2011 season was a question mark for fans, and even the coaches, just a few weeks ago.
Left guard Xavier Nixon and left tackle Dan Wenger each have about a season's experience starting, but the rest of the offensive line is starting for the time in their respective careers.
Through two games, the young offensive line has been off the charts. Saturday night the Gators ran for 300 yards against the UAB Blazers in a 39-0 shutout in front of 87,473 fans at the Swamp.
The Gators have totaled for nearly 500 yards in two games, outscoring opponents 80-3, and have made sure quarterback John Brantley is not getting hit-for the most part.
"John does a good job of getting rid of the ball and not taking the sack," coach Will Muschamp noted after the game.
Brantley did take a hit on the opening play of the game, a flea flicker which he completed 40-yards to Quinton Dunbar, but was not sacked Saturday against UAB.
The Florida rushing attack was so good against UAB, seven different players, not including QB's, carried the ball. It really didn't matter who was running because the players upfront were able to make space.
Florida’s running backs averaged 6.2 yards after 300 yards rushing on 48 carries against the Blazers and are averaging 6.6 on the season with 502 yards on 76 carries through the first two games.
Senior Chris Rainey led the way with 16 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown. His ability to make players miss once again was very evident. He also took direct snaps in the Wildcat formation for the first time in his career. He said after the game it was "fun" and that he hopes Charlie Weis keeps the Wildcat in the gameplan.
Muschamp was non-committal on that.
“We install for the season," said the coach when asked if the Wildcat would be featured again.
He added, "We game plan each week and do what we can to win the game. Each week we pull a package – offensively and defensively – to do what we can to win a game."
Junior Mike Gilliese got some good work in carrying the ball for 79 yards on 11 carries and scored a 13 yard touchdown late in the 3rd quarter. Muschamp noted that Gilliese provides the Gators a nice change of pace with a bruising running style (a style we will see more of as the Muschamp era continues with recruits like Mike Davis in '12).
“He’s different than what we have. You look at Demps and Rainey – they’re both speed backs," said Muschamp.
"Mike can give us a tough drive up the middle. We like to run with him. He’s a down hill runner. We like to run with him at this point."
Freshman fullback Hunter Joyer got in on the action too, scoring a 3-yard touchdown in the first quarter. The coaching staff is very excited about the true freshman, who got time last week in the I-formation as well when Trey Burton got injured.
Burton showed his pure physical strength against the Blazers, carrying the ball six times for 46 yards and scoring a five-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
-Brantley had an efficient game, taking what the Blazers gave him, mostly swing passes to Rainey in the Flat, but occasionally did hit a receiver deep, as he did hitting Quinton Dunbar for 40-yards on a flea flicker which led to a Caleb Sturgis field goal. Brantley also hit Dunbar for a 18 yard pass on the first offensive drive for the Gators in the second half.
Brantley finished 12-of-19 for 195 yards without a touchdown and without an interception. The Blazers couldn't stop the run, and as is his style, Weis will continue call plays which work until the other team stops it.
True freshman Jeff Driskel again got some quality time in after the game was out of hand in the third quarter. Driskel finished with just 1 pass completed for 17 yards.
In total the Gators offense total 517 net yards, but Muschamp said in the postgame press conference that the Gators need to work on getting touchdowns rather than field goals. Caleb Sturgis was called in to finish three drives with field goals tonight and hit he all three attempts.
-The Bad: The Gators were penalized 9 times for 55 yards.
Muschamp said after the game there were a lot of procedural issues and a lot of things to "clean up."
"We had some miscommunication in one series," said Muschamp. "We had some penalties that put us behind; we had too many penalties – especially on third downs. The penalties were disappointing. We can’t afford to have those. You can’t put yourself behind in those situations. We’re going to go back and make the corrections we need to make.”
Procedural issues are something Muschamp often mentions but sometimes remain a mystery as to exactly what they are.. The specific procedual issue against the Blazers regarded substitutions.
“We had a couple of guys go down in drives, so the substitutions put us down in the play calling, especially when it came to calling personnel in," Muschamp explained.
"We had to make sure we had the right personnel in the game. We’re a personnel-driven team and that put us at a disadvantage.”
-Muschamp was also not happy about not scoring touchdowns in the Redzone.
"We slowed it down in the second half," said Muschamp. "I think Charlie Weis did a great job ironing the issues out. We moved the ball in the first half, but when we got in the red zone we broke down with just getting field goals. It’s disappointing. If they make a good play defensively, I can live with that, but when you shoot yourself in the foot, I can’t live with that."
The most notable Redzone stall was the opening drive of the game after Brantley hit Dunbar for the 40-yard pass. The Gators had 4-yards to go for six points. On first down, Rainey was stuffed. On second down Brantley had one-on-one coverage for Frankie Hammond Jr. in the left corner of the endzone for a fade but didn't get the ball to him quick enough which led to an incompletion over Hammond's head. On third down Burton ran for a loss, setting up the field goal.
-The defense was outstanding, limiting the Blazers to just 1-for-13 on 3rd and 4th down tries.
UF got good pressure on Blazer QB Brian Ellis but did not record a sack. Safety Matt Elam led the team with six tackles and linebacker Jon Bostic had three tackles.
It was the first Gator shutout since Nov. 18, 2006, against Western Carolina (62-0). The last time Florida gave up three or fewer total points over the first two games of a season was 1933.
Next up the Vols who beat Montana 42-16 in Week 1 and defeated Cincinnati 45-23 Saturday night.
"You can see the temper in the locker room after the game, you can see [our players] realize we're starting the SEC schedule," Muschamp said after the game.
Running back Jeff Demps left the game with a shoulder injury. There is no official word on his status or the severity of his injury. But Muschamp said Demps got "banged" on the shoulder.
Muschamp said that tight end Jordan Reed had a tight hamstring and probably could have returned to the game had he needed to.
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